In Shadows House, living dolls are created to work for mysterious and faceless masters, with the main role of these dolls being to serve as the faces of the members of the Shadows family. Emilico is a living doll who serves Mistress Kate, and spends her days cleaning and conversing with her master so she can learn to be Kate’s mirror and act as a conduit for her expressions and emotions. But while Emilico and Kate are able to form a close bond, neither seems very interested in pursuing the traditional relationship between a shadow and their face. However, such an approach may be disastrous for their upcoming debut, where they will need to prove to the rest of the Shadows family how united they are to transition into full members of Shadows House and avoid erasure.
From CloverWorks, the animation studio behind Promised Neverland, and Wonder Egg Priority, comes Shadows House – an anime that is charming, mysterious and never without a veneer of unease. Based on the manga series of the same name by a duo of creators using the pseudonym So-ma-to, Shadows House tells the intriguing tale of the younger inhabitants of Shadows House as they attempt to navigate the roles prescribed to them by the heads of the Shadows family. This includes both living dolls like Emilico and Shadows like Kate, as they and their companions prepare for the big debut that will allow them to properly enter the ranks of the Shadows family – if they can pass the test, that is.
Of course, things are never that simple. There is very little direction from fellow members of the Shadows family on how to even successfully take part in the debut aside from the importance of the dolls acting as their Shadow’s face. Additionally, the role of a living doll also includes a number of cleaning duties such as cleaning up the soot the Shadows regularly emit throughout the estate – an extremely important task as too much uncleaned soot can amass itself into dangerous creatures that attack dolls. The mysterious and often dangerous environment of Shadows House and how it functions lends an air of peril an unease to the series – it is an effective set-up and environment in which characters can investigate the secrets of the Shadows estate, keeping the audience intrigued as its many mysteries unfold.
Aside from its interesting set-up, Shadows House has a compelling cast of characters that are part of Emilico and Kate’s debut group – Sean and John, Ricky and Patrick, Lou and Louise, and Rum and Shirley. They each have unique personalities and perspectives on their roles as dolls and Shadows, and how they perform their doll-Shadow relationships varies in interesting ways. Sean and John have a fun and often annoying sibling relationship, while Lou and Louise are quite close but in a way that is possessive – emphasising Lou’s role as a face and Louise’s self-absorbed tendencies. These different personalities and relationships are really effective in Shadows House, not only because the variety make the series more intriguing and characters more memorable, but because it creates interesting scenarios. For example, when these characters are forced to solve puzzles or come up with strategies, their personalities and relationships carry over into how they make decisions and approach problem solving.
Speaking of relationships, Shadows House has a darkness to its concept based on the servant/master relationship between dolls and their Shadows, and the expectation that those forced to serve will diminish their identities to act as the face for another. While the series doesn’t dive too deeply into the more disturbing implications of this reality (although it does have its moments), it is certainly still an ever-present theme that different characters struggle with and manipulate to varying degrees – and I suspect will continue to become more and more emphasised in the show’s second season.
Shadows House is wonderfully charming, gothic, and filled to the brim with mystery – with many secrets for its audience to decipher about the Shadows family. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s an entertaining and intriguing watch (don’t feel the need to appreciate that pun, I enjoyed it thoroughly in your stead).
A review copy was provided by Crunchyroll to the author for the purpose of this review.