First Look: Shadows House

Alternative title(s): Shadō Hausu
Manga Adaptation – Anime original by CloverWorks
Streaming on Funimation

Premise

High atop a cliff sits the mansion known as Shadows House, home to a faceless clan that pretends to live like nobles. They express their emotions through living dolls that also endlessly clean the home of soot. One such servant, Emilico, aids her master Kate as they learn more about themselves and the mysteries of the house.

Peter’s verdict: Oh, so this is where CloverWorks’ budget for Promised Neverland 2 went

This First Look is a bit late as episode 2 has already aired, but that’s a good thing as episode 1 doesn’t really reveal what this show is actually about. Episode 2…also doesn’t really explain what the show is about, but I can see the vague direction it’s going, so that’s enough to get started I think.

We begin episode 1 with a series of contextless clips establishing these shadow-like beings dressed like nobles in a giant mansion, with a steam train approaching, and heavy emphasis on coal, soot, and shadow. These clips culminate in a group of people with actual faces and visible skin drinking something and pledging allegiance to the Shadow family. None of this is explained in the first two episodes, but I can make some guesses as to what happened.

We then meet our main protagonist, a “living doll” with the sole purpose to serve Kate, their shadowy master. Not only is Kate entirely a shadow, but she emanates soot based on her mood, meaning the room gets dirty enough to need a big clean by the doll every day. The doll also serves as the “face” of their master, since it’s hard to tell the members of the shadows family apart since all you can see of them is shadow.

It’s here where Shadows House begins to make a name for itself. The show as a whole is beautiful, with detailed backgrounds, heavy use of darkened rooms and soot markings of course. However, since Kate is just a shadow, you might think she’d be shown as just a blank outline. That’s not the case at all. There are numerous shots of her side-profile, which is detailed enough to see her eyelashes, mouth movements, etc, something which our doll protagonist points out a few times and I thank her for it.

Now, episode 1 introduces us to the general concepts of the Shadows family, Kate, and our protagonist as a living doll, who eventually gets the name “Emilico”. Episode 2 introduces more of what happens outside of Kate’s and Emilico’s living spaces as we meet a large number of other living dolls, all of whom very friendly with each other, and they all sing a lovely, motivating, and definitely not worrying song about being useful and not fretting about trivial matters…

Various things happen which then lead to Kate and Emilico going outside, although not by choice, and Kate definitely didn’t want to go outside. This leads us to meet our second member of the Shadow family, Sarah, along with the living doll Mia who helped Emilico earlier. Except this time, Mia is mimicking everything Sarah does, including facial expressions, but not talking at all. In fact, Emilico is berated by Sarah for speaking, referring to Emilico as just a “face”. The episode rounds off with Emilico struggling to sleep because of what’s happened that day, starting to question “don’t fret about trivial matters”.

I said it before, but Shadows House is beautiful. There’s an interesting world, and the show is not afraid to explore it slowly and deliberately. It seems like the long-term goal of this series is simply exploration and discovery and otherwise unravelling the mystery of this family and the living dolls who serve them. However, there are certainly hints of something much bigger going on, so I expect it to go more into full drama than a slice of life, though probably not action/adventure as Funimation describes it. Maybe they know better than me.

So, time for some quick speculation. You have been warned.

Sarah mentions Kate hasn’t had her debut yet. My understanding of noble debuts comes from reading the Ascendance of a Bookworm novels, and a noble’s debut is when they come of age and can be seen by people in general. Prior to that, they’re basically kept hidden from the world, barely even acknowledged by their parents, so they can be brought up to noble standards in private. With the Shadow family, these noble standards will likely also involve getting their doll to mimic their movements and facial expressions.

Meanwhile, on the “living doll” side of things, that song about not worrying about trivial things is giving me big The LEGO Movie “Everything is Awesome” vibes. The final scene before the end credits in episode 2 has Emilico questioning it, but struggling to do so. I’m putting money on these “living dolls” that are “designed to mimic humans exactly” are real actual humans but brainwashed, and that drink at the start of episode 1 probably has something to do with it.

Speculation over. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of this series. I can speculate all I want, but the journey to find out if I’m right or not will be interesting either way. This series is definitely a keeper.

Artemis’ verdict: Creepy In All The Wrong Ways

At first, I thought it was just me and that I was being too overly sensitive/mistrustful… and to be fair, that’s possibly still the case. However, my gut reaction the further I got into this first episode was that there was something implicitly predatory about the way our main character was being presented. Watching Emilyco prance about in her cutesy Lolita-inspired outfit, often in her underwear, “adorably” knocking into things and endlessly apologizing in her incredibly high-pitched voice for her clumsiness and lack of knowledge, didn’t only get tiresome, but progressively creepier. I’m all for experimental concepts and generally enjoy things that intentionally venture into supernatural, uncanny valley territory, but that seems to be only half of what Shadows House appears to be selling here. The other half is all about the pseudo-Victorian-inspired Gothic moe that puts most of its emphasis on making Emilyco, quite literally a “living doll” (allegedly), little more than an object to be fetishized by its target demographic. In short, I liked the concept but hated the execution, and no matter the show’s potential, I just can’t bring myself to watch a second episode.

2 thoughts on “First Look: Shadows House

  1. I forgot to say in the actual post, but the opening theme to “Shadows House” is instrumental, which is a genuine rarity in TV anime, joining the likes of “Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files {Rail Zeppelin} Grace note”, “Baccano!” and “Trigun”. I guess “Cowboy Bebop” too if you ignore the “3, 2, 1, let’s jam”.

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