This review will contain spoilers for the manga and anime series The Man in the Mirror. While the manga may vary slightly from all other forms of media, it may have similar story elements and could be considered spoilers.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to xenophobia, gossip, oppressive familial expectations, self-harm, and blood, as it appears in the manga.
Sal is the next head of the Senba clan. The family is well-known for their talents in Ikebana, the art of flower arrangement. Every year, the Senba clan takes part in a competition where they display their art and always come out with high praise. It's Sal's turn to participate, and his victory will mark his official takeover as head of the Senba clan. While Sal loves flowers and enjoys arranging them, the pressure from his father is almost too much to bear, and his arrangements are suffering as a result.
While in his workroom, he is stressed out and puts his hand against a floor-length mirror in the room. To his surprise, the mirror's surface gives way beneath his touch, and when he completely passes through, he finds himself in an entirely new place. It's full of beautiful, and in some cases tropical, flowers, but the most beautiful thing by far is the man standing among the blooms. He is the prince of the country Sal finds himself in, and before he can learn who the prince is, he is told of a cultural custom: if they share each other's names, they will be officially engaged.
Sal and Prince Shaal come up with nicknames for each other and go back and forth to each other's countries through the mirror. Shaal gives Sal the thing he was missing for his work: inspiration. More than that, Prince Shaal stirs something else in Sal. Could this be love?
The art is very pretty. I actually don't find that the cover art does the actual series artwork justice since Sal looks a bit odd. If you're even mildly interested in the art from the cover, you will be rewarded with even better art within the story itself. Particularly, Shaal is so attractive. He's often posing with flowers, commenting on how talented and beautiful he finds Sal, which is just *chef's kiss*. Long-haired tops are my fave, and Prince Shaal is no exception here. Sal is very cute, too, and together, they make quite the arrangement (see what I did there?).
Now, the work's main theme is very much on the nose. The imagery of a mirror has very obvious connotations, particularly when paired alongside our two leading men. Both are under immense pressure, Shaal from his people and Sal by his parents. They reflect each other's struggles and fears. Not to mention, their names are so similar they seem to mirror each other there as well. While it's not the most unique symbolism, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing. Two people with similar struggles coming together to find support and solace together? I love it.
While this is an adult title, there is only one sex scene, so if you are hoping for scene after scene of smut, you might be disappointed. This is much more focused on each character's emotional growth, mainly Sal's, which I loved. As the two grow closer, sharing their troubles and showing support for one another, it is heartfelt and sweet when they finally consummate their relationship. It is, of course, as sexy as any other manga smut out there, but there is clearly a powerful emotional tie between the two. Prince Shaal longed for someone who treated him as an equal, something he would never receive within the confines of his country due to his status. On the other hand, Sal wants to live and create without the pressure of his family, which Shaal gives him. These two have what the other needs, fueling their romance and lust for one another. It's great.
Unfortunately, one of the main points of contention between the two is based on a misunderstanding that could easily be solved with a little bit of communication. The occasional misunderstanding doesn't bother me, but I know some people try to actively avoid this element in fiction being used as the main source of tension. However, the way it is resolved is super romantic. Prince Shaal isn't the type to just hang around wondering what went wrong. He is all about action, and it's worth reading just to see how he reconciles with Sal. I'll save that spoiler for you all because it's just too good not to experience for yourself.
I love this title. It's a perfect title for those who are just exploring the yaoi genre in manga, with plenty of romantic development and a touch of spice. And for my fellow degenerates well-versed in the genre, this is a lovely palate cleanser from the smuttier titles. It has heart and meaning and is just so sweet overall. I can't recommend this one enough. It's an instant favorite, for sure.
Have you read The Man in the Mirror? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!