I have to admit, I am very ambivalent about Another Castle. On the one hand, I really appreciate that this gives us a strong heroine who does all the saving herself. Similarly, the cast is diverse and there are some good messages in there about breaking stereotypes and letting people be who they want to be. But at the same time, the plotting was off, the panels lacking fluidity, the storyline extremely simplistic, and the characters lacking nuance and depth. I’m guessing from the Disney-esque heroine design that young girls and boys are the target audience and I think they will enjoy this fairy tale.
Story: Princess Misty doesn’t wish to marry and instead wants to take up the kingdom’s magical sword and defeat the evil Badlug. When Badlug tricks her into surrendering herself to save her kingdom, she feels all is lost. But she makes friends among the monsters at Badlug’s kingdom and soon finds ways to fight back. At the same time, her fiance, a nice if somewhat bumbling prince, will use the magical sword to fight to get to her. But Badlug has his own allies and soon Princess Misty must use all her resources to help save two kingdoms – Badlug’s Grimoire and her own Beldora.
Author Wheeler cited video games of the hero saving the princess as his inspiration and I can’t help but feel the Dragon’s Lair video games of the 1990s must have been that influence. Our heroine is feisty, sure, but she doesn’t really have to use her brain so much as circumstance to figure out how to outwit the somewhat dim villain and his one-dimensional henchmen. All the typical fairy tale tropes are here: a dragon a prince and princess, and an evil single-minded bad guy. But of course, the prince and princess changed roles, the sword is bright pink, and hey,the monsters are people too!
Artwork inspiration was listed as coming from Legend of Zelda, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Dragon Age. But honestly, it felt more like a cross between He-Man (Badlug looks to be the son of Skeletor and Hitler, oddly enough) and The Little Mermaid (Ariel and the princess Misty of this story are dead ringers). Missing for me was the charm of Zelda, the heart of Dragon Age, and the subversive pluck of Magic Knights Rayearth. The art is nice and easy to follow but but if you’ve seen one Don Bluth movie, you’ve seen these characters before (minus the songs, of course).
I had a hard time with the panels/layout. There were odd segues that could have been drawn differently to help the story flow better. E.g., characters would suddenly appear or a scene would abruptly change without enough transition information to help it make sense. I found I had to go back to reread several times, assuming I had missed something. Layouts could have been much tighter and thought out better, to be honest.
I did like the side characters, even in their simplicity. Misty was a bit overwritten to pound in that she’s fierce and the plot was kind of silly and all over the place. As such, the lack of sophistication means this is likely to appeal to a fairly young audience. But I do feel that toddler and elementary school level readers will really enjoy this story of a plucky princess who saves the kingdoms and promotes democracy and harmony among races. Most importantly, you can see the author and artist’s hearts clearly in this work (a rare thing these days in the graphic novel medium). Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.