“I am a Shadow, the true se-“. Wait, this isn’t Persona? But they look exactly like each other, just like a darker reflection of themselves. How is this not Persona?!
In the Shadows House lies many Shadow nobles, each of whom are tended by a living doll that’s made in the likeness to their Shadow master. The living doll has the responsibility of tending to their Shadow master, doing everything from cleaning the mountains of soot that piles up in their room to acting as their face for expression purposes since Shadows do not have an obvious face for those to see. It is here where a new, unnamed living doll (later renamed Emilico) tends to her Mistress Kate, as the two become more acquainted and gradually unearth more about the Shadows House that they live in.
Credit where credit is due, I think Shadows House is a really unique story that has a lot to love because of its intrinsically unique worldbuilding and branching mystery that extends as a result of the narrative effectively blossoming out from one point. Given how the show starts in a rather cramped room where our duo of protagonists stay in, the show over time shows us more and more of both the setting and the story, increasingly revealing parts of the Shadows House at an even pace that gives the audience more of an understanding of how everything in this giant mansion house functions. Every rule, every structure, and every role in this show is solidified over time, giving a nice rigidity that feels good to follow and easy to watch. And because the show is so well-paced in this aspect, everything snugly ends up falling in place once some of the bigger reveals are shown at the end of the series due to the build-up being both earned and the mystery feeling more or less satisfying as a result of the show’s pacing.
If I had any real gripes with the show’s story, it would definitely be the slower middle portion where we get the full scope of our ‘main cast’. Personally I feel like the entire ‘debut’ arc takes way too long, something that is entirely due to the pacing of the series before and after said arc where the story both introduces and talks about a lot of new information at an even pace. By comparison, the debut feels extremely sluggish because there’s hardly anything new. It’s great for character interactions and for the 5 pairs of shadow masters and dolls to get to know each other, but in terms of moving the story along, I think it does a pretty poor job at that. I’d also be remised to mention the sort of ‘grand reveal’ that happens towards the end of the season where pretty much all of the important factors of the show are explained. For stuff like this, it’s not really a steady drip feed as we’re used to, but is instead a big loredump that feels kind of out of place given the tension and pacing that was expressed prior. True, they do have to reveal stuff at some point, but it definitely feels thrown in there instead of something that’s more naturally integrated with the plot.
That being said, there’s not actually that much I can complain about Shadows House’s story. The show pretty much delivers on the macabre and happy story that it sets out on the table, slowly feeding the audience bits of this story in a well-paced mystery/thriller that both has moments of tight tension and relaxed brevity, providing a married mix of quality storytelling in between meaningful character interactions between its cast. If anything, I hope that this show gets a season 2, because it bloody deserves it given how unique and genuinely interesting the story seems continuing from this point onwards due to how many more secrets there are remaining in the enigmatic Shadows House. That and like they definitely set some stuff up for intrigue, and I’m greedy for more of a good thing.
Due to the unique nature of Shadows House, it’s kind of hard to talk about any individual character due to the dual nature of the Living Doll and the Shadow Master. Emilico and Kate serve as a grand antithesis to a majority of other similar pairs on account of their individuality from each other (right down to the fact that the two of them have different voice actors compared to the other pairs being voiced by the same person). While Kate is more reserved and soft-spoken, Emilico is a dumb child who acts innocently to the things around her. The two act as stark contrasts to each other, and create an interesting dynamic because they’re such an awkward pair. The differences are why these characters work so well in the story since they shine in an environment and thematic where master and servant are concrete statuses where one quite literally follows in the footsteps of the other. And their relationship serves as a wonderful focal point in the series which echoes beyond that of their own little group of friends.
In a similar vein, the other child pairs: Ricky and Patrick, Rum and Shirley, Shaun and John, and Lou and Louise act as examples in the story that show off the various relationships and personalities that exist within the Shadows House. It’s interesting given how these are effectively 8 separate characters, but mostly function as only 4 given how each pair is a single unit that provides a combined perspective to add to the story. Which the story I think uses to its fullest extent, both by letting the masters and dolls stay together to act out the personality combination they have, as well as separating the pairs so we get a perspective of what the characters are like by themselves without the other one around. It’s honestly a great way to get character moments in a show that’s mostly story-based, and I’m really happy the show took the leap to do what it delivered.
Side characters are also an interesting bunch from a worldbuilding perspective. The rest of the cast are pretty much just establishing points to set the stage for the world, including but not limited to Barbie the Star Bearer, Edward, and the higher shadows in the 3rd floor governed over by the prestigious ‘Lord Grandfather’ who seems to be the one calling the shots over everything that occurs in the Shadows House. True many characters don’t really get their time in the spotlight, but they’re all great in their own right due to what they provide for the story compared to who they are individually.
I think Cloverworks did a really good job with Shadows House, though it certainly does deviate from the manga’s original storybook style. Sure there’s a loss there, but I think the details of the corridors to the design of the frilly dresses and color-schemed shadows and dolls more than make up for a bit of stylistic loss. The shadows in particular I think are a great point of interest to point to because of their entire silhouette being that of a completely black figure with no discernable shading or highlights to speak of. That and the smoky soot effects that they constantly emit look good with everything that’s going on, thus adding more to the overall look of the show with all of these additional (and sometimes excessive) particle effects that go practically everywhere and are used everywhere in the show.
As for the OST, honestly, it has no right to be as good as it is. ‘a hollow shadow‘ by Suehiro Kenichiro, the music producer for the show, is a completely instrumental track that helps set the viscerally uncomfortable tone that the Shadows House creates. A place of somber peace, yet something is…not quite right with how everything is. The op really sells this imagery and I really love the aesthetic choice of a purely instrumental piece as it stands out among a sea of J-pop songs and really makes Shadows House seem like its own.
On the flipside, ReoNa’s “NaiNai” is a dynamic, shifting song that, much like the show, gradually grows in tension the longer the song plays for. It does a lot of heavy lifting, especially since its sister is just a purely instrumental piece. Because of this, NaiNai stands out a lot, alternating a lot between her usual style of song in between these sound bites and other softer moments that help sell the dramatic nature of the living dolls and Shadows that feel unsettled by everything here in the Shadows House. It’s a memorable song, especially due to how it starts and what it leads up to. That may be my partial bias towards me liking ReoNa’s work, but this song in particular really fits with Shadows House, and I really find it to be a great song that’s memorable to boot.
Compared to some other things that I’ve talked about this season, this show definitely got a little bit more clout than others, but not by much I think in the public eye. The show is a lovely little mystery, combining both the unsettling with sometimes comfortable and cheerful moments in a setting that’s both imposing and grand in its scale. Everything settles so neatly in Shadows House that it ends up putting a lot of previous actions and/or moments into a more malicious perspective, thus giving the show an air of uncertainty even in its more cheerful moments. All of this rings especially true in perspective of Emilico and Kate, as Emilico especially I find to be a special kind of ‘stupid cute’ where she’s airheaded about basically everything but manages to work her duties in spite of that. Something that I never really would’ve expected from this show because typically dumb anime girls in particularly are like that for the moe factor. Which sure, you can argue that, but I think it serves more of a purpose this time around due to her unique position as a contrast to the world around her, so I’m more than willing to give it a pass on that front.
While I have my qualms about the debut arc and its fucking maze overstaying its welcome, everything else in the show makes Shadows House a unique piece of fiction that fulfills its own little niche within stories that feature doppelgangers of some kind. There really isn’t anything else to say about it because the show works through all of its story beats in a competent manner, and I honestly just want more. There’s so much about this story that hasn’t been talked about or shown, and I really want to see more of this setting and what other twisted and macabre shit goes on in this Shadow filled house.
Which means…go watch it. Seriously, gold star recommendation. Shadows House is a very unique show; practically nothing like it exists in the realm of anime. Truthfully I can’t think of anything that serves as its equal, and I’m really happy that this little gem showed up to showcase a level of creativity that sometimes anime just doesn’t take the dive to get into. I only wish there was more of it because there really is more to this story than what we’ve seen already, and I could definitely use more sequel seasons of shows that have interesting storylines instead of more isekai or ones that’re underserving of the sequel treatment.
Now, one last time, are we SURE this show still just isn’t Persona? (For legal reasons, this is a joke.)