About Breaking Down Watch Barriers
Shadows House was a massive reminder to me to break out of my shell of what I watch to try something new and different. Well, as long as there is time to watch it. There is a cliche of most anime fans only being a part of the fandom for about two years and then dropping out. Something which I believe agree with because how I continually see the similar sorts of arguments or topics appear on twitter in what seems like endless cycles. Or how people only see iconic anime in terms of shonen battle series and nothing else. Sometimes online spaces get boring and annoying because of that way of thinking.
Seriously, seeing someone compared A Smile Down The Runway to MHA couldn’t piss me off more because that makes absolutely no sense at all.
Anyway, back to talking about something good which is Shadows House. This anime is one of the most creative and interesting pieces of anime that I’ve watched recently. It is one of those types of anime series that reminded me why I love anime and why I am an anime fan. There is a strong lack of creativity in a lot of western produced media recently and I branched out into Japanese animation not just because I watched anime as I was growing up, but because there are types of stories that I find in anime that I can barely find anywhere else. Shadows House is on that list and is such a blast.
The Setting of Shadow’s House
This anime series is a gothic sort of story telling set in the environment called Shadows House. Something which sounds a bit on the nose, but this is an anime series focused on the inner workings of this location. A location of where, we see at a young age, that young shadows have servants called Living Dolls which are supposed to do their own bidding. Or so we are supposed to figure out as we start on ground zero with a shadow and her living doll as they are stuck in their room until they are let out. It’s storytelling that is really organic in nature and really solid.
The Shadow that we meet is a young girl named Kate and her living doll, which is supposed to look like the Shadow host except as a human being, is named by Kate as Emilico. Something that we learn to be unique among the shadows as the master and living doll most of the time have names that sound very similar to each other. The two are also supposed to be somewhat similar in nature, but Kate is the silent and intelligent type while Emilico is the much more playful and ever observant action girl. These characters don’t change fundamentally throughout the show, but their circumstances and situations do in some really creative ways.
Stepping out of the door first, because Emilico is a living doll maid that not only has to clean up her master Kate’s soot she creates when uncertain, she has to work with other living dolls to clean the mansion. Something which naturally places us viewers to start figuring out the world but what other masters and living dolls are like. Or at the beginning, just the living dolls before we see how living dolls and masters should interact in public with others. The shadow being the voice and the doll perfectly syncing up with what their shadow master is doing up to their facial expressions because well, you can’t see the expression on a shadow’s faces because they are, after all, a shadow.
Season 1’s “Debuts” and Afterwards
The one activity that takes up season 1 is the debut itself. As in, each master and their “living doll” has to pass a series of tests to make sure they can stay around or else be destroyed. So it is a very long sort of victorian sort of games. Or you know, surviving a gigantic maze for a certain time limit while the upper class members of Shadows House watch. It really is a fun little event that is well paced and tells the audience almost every appeal of dichotomy in the show. The classes of people, their goals and attempts, and the sheer fun they have watching young masters and shadows struggle to keep their existence.
My favorite part is that the small sorts of dynamics that were built before debut grew. As I’ve said before, we only saw the world from Emilico’s eyes and she always hung around and dealt with the living dolls while they cleaned and problem solved. So we knew the other living dolls that are debuting. Shadun is a very intelligent and thoughtful guy, Lou is a very quiet and cute girl who can be blunt but is very loyal to her master, Ricky is the overly cocky and smart living doll, and Rum is a living doll that has a lot of trouble talking to her master or gaining any confidence.
From that bit of start, we start to learn about their masters and how each of them are so different from each other. Compared to Shaun, John is loud and boisterous. One could say a himbo. Patrick is a lot inward and has almost no confidence compared to Ricky, Louise is way louder then Lou while being more commanding, and Shirley kind of suffers from a lack of personality. Seeing each of them solve one issue after another really shows each of our cast’s personality more than if they were just talking to each other. Most of them pass their exam. Most :(.
If I had anything to really complain about when it comes to season one, the ending works in context for season one itself, but doesn’t do anything or affect season two at all. For instance, the main villain of season one is Edward. A mysterious person who is looked down on by the higher class people in Shadows House itself. Apparently he failed, tried to kidnap Kate to resolve what he was trying to do, failed yet again, and was just demoted. It really doesn’t mean anything considering that he already failed. The season loses a lot of weight right there.
Season 2’s Mysteries, Intrigue, and Kate
Season one is a prologue and Shadows House really does start with this season. All the prerequisites are out of the way, now everything can be explored and talked about a bit more because the world of Shadows House is so intriguing. Intriguing enough that backstory episodes are much better then so many other anime series by themselves. It is just that good of a show. But the story itself is carried by soot monsters that appear anywhere disrupting what we know as the Children’s Wing controlled by the mysterious Veiled Doll.
So there are a lot of interesting bits of our cast spreading out, exploring areas of Shadows House that we weren’t able to see before, and characters playing mind games to play along with the current system at play in the Children’s Wing with the Star Bearers (leaders of the children’s hall). A major curious bit of seeing the world expand in so many interesting ways, but also in such a controlled way where everything we see in season 1 is logically expanded on here in season two because all the rules we see are still there. The difference is the depth.
Without a single doubt, Season 2 is all about Kate. I mean, you say it the other way but you would be wrong. Emilico is the action girl and that defined the first season and some excellent bits of season two. Kate is the less physically fit, but more intellectual person and her intellect is needed when trying to find out who the veiled doll might be. Especially when trying to find any hints of what could be out there, what kind of soot was used to create these monsters that are attacking people. In the end, she does it while also being helped by her friends and/or debut crew. It’s really good stuff.
One thing that needs to be mentioned are the Master’s soot powers. We learn at least a little bit about soot levels, power types, who has what powers, and what soot can do. It is something that plays into almost every attribute about Shadows House too. Especially since soot powers are something that play heavily into the mystery of who the Veiled doll could be. Same with who might get the most leeway and/or power because of how much soot they could generate compared to others who barely control or can’t control soot at all.
Coffee and Control
Shadows House’s sense of control is here and it comes in the form of coffee. Coffee that has a very specific set of soot in them to get Living Dolls to be more obedient. This pushes a lot of tension in the story because it means that Kate can’t trust as many people as they could because suddenly, everyone is being tested for how obedient they could be. That in itself requires Kate to be much more clever and see who she can trust as she starts her rebellion against the house itself. Yet, once again, she sees how much she can trust her friends as a result.
A bigger deal is that the coffee pots get destroyed. Coffee that comes from another area, which the Star Bearers try to come up with their own coffee. Something about how the other areas can mistreat them or look down upon them for failing their job. So suddenly, that is in play and the soot coffee isn’t the same as it used to be. I’m kind of stunned by how much of a big detail that this coffee plays when it comes to just fighting the final boss of this season. Finding a way to get people to not be held down by coffee was a major deal for all of this.
Wrapping Up Shadows House (hopefully there will be a season 3)
This show is so, so beautiful. The production behind all of this series feels very lavious and full of passion. No frame feels wasted and the colors and styles in all of it are great. Same with all the cool bits of character designs between the Shadows and their dolls which they are supposed to have the same profiles. The clothing that the masters wear is just really cool and they have a lot of great, Victorian drip. Meanwhile the casual clothes the living dolls wear are plain but in character for everything that the show wants them to be placed in. The animation also simply has great action scenes and some incredible character animation with facial expressions and everything.
Yeah, I barely have any bad things to say about Shadows House at all. It is such a wonderful and creative show with such excellent writing and great characters that I just love all of them so much. I want more of it because this show deserves more. Especially after the cliffhanger that we are left on in season two’s conclusion. Please, I’m desperate. This is a show that I barely caught up on right before season two started and it was absolutely worth just digging into. Watch this show and give it a chance, because it will just blow you away.