Shadows House Season 1 Review: Free Thought Versus Indoctrination
Welcome to Mono's Anime Rants! In Spring 2021, Cloverworks studio released Shadows House, an unusual anime based on the manga by Soumatou. Although it contains strong elements of slice-of-life, this series is a fantasy mystery/ fantasy drama at heart. Today, we'll be reviewing the first season of the anime by judging five different categories.
The art and animation look excellent. The character designs are very cute, with a good deal of detail. The lighting, shading, and settings are great too. Shadows House has a particular style to it, wherein the skies are grey, the lighting is low, and there are many scenes of hallways and gothic building wings. Sometimes, shots of the mansion look almost like they were drawn with charcoal pencils. The greyness and dimness are quite appropriate for a series about shadow-like beings who constantly give off a soot-like substance. In contrast to the dark settings, the characters-- Emilico especially-- look cute and bright. I also really like the face expressions in this anime.
Shadows House follows the life of young Emilico, a "living doll" servant for a shadow-like mistress named Kate. Most of the season covers the Debut, which is when the young shadow masters and mistresses enter the society of shadow adults. The Debut is a series of tests for the servants like Emilico. The pacing is good and there were a lot of exciting moments. There were also emotional moments that pulled me in, as well as entertaining plot twists. The writing and basic plot are both good.
The lore of the shadows is extensive and fascinating. There are so many mysteries and so much interesting information that's revealed over the course of the show. This is what I would call excellent world-building. Themes are another important part of the story category. The themes explored in Shadows House include teamwork, independent thinking, loyalty, love, and discovering truths about the world. I place immense value on critical thinking and I love stories of people breaking out of false beliefs to become more free. So, it should be obvious that I love the central themes in Shadows House.
I couldn't possibly ask for better music, songs, or voice-acting than what I heard in Shadows House. The excellent instrumental music was all composed by Kenichiro Suehiro, an amazing composer best known for creating the music in Re: Zero. I love listening to the music in Shadows House. In particular, I like the main theme, "A Hollow Shadow," which also serves as the anime's opening. As for the ending song, it's "Nai Nai" by ReoNa. I love this artist and all her songs, which often appear in anime series. ReoNa's outro for Shadows House is a gorgeous and emotional song. There's no doubt the music in this anime is astounding. Additionally, the Japanese voice-acting is great. I didn't recognize many of the seiyuus as I usually do, but I'm impressed by these newer, lesser known cast members.
(Video: "Nai Nai" by ReoNa full version)
I love the characters in Shadows House, and for the most part, they are written and developed well. Naturally, some characters received more time and attention than others, but the imbalance was not too jarring. The five main living dolls and their five masters have varied personality types, and their interactions are explored to a decent degree. These central characters are more than one-dimensional, with perhaps the exception of Louise. (Even halfway through season 2, she has yet to have a remotely interesting personality.) The two main protagonists, Emilico and Kate, are both very likeable and cute.
Naturally, there are weaknesses to the way Shadows House writes its characters. Even if there was no outright bad writing, something is missing that prevents them from being masterpiece quality. I believe it's that they lack depth and detailed backstories. To be fair, part of the issue is that the main characters are children, and do not have many experiences yet. There is no true villain in Shadows House (at least the first season), except the system of the Shadows family itself. However, Edward serves as a visible, short-term antagonist. His personality was too over-the-top, and the reasoning behind his actions was not relatable.
Despite these weaknesses, I still believe the character category deserves a strong score.
Personal Enjoyment: 9
There are many things I enjoy about Shadows House. I'll go over three examples. First, take the story themes of indoctrination and freedom of thought. Emilico and the other "living dolls" are basically not allowed to think. Using several clever methods, the Shadows family forces the children to be slaves-- and to be happy about it, too. Though it's a slow, uphill battle, Kate and Emilico strive to free the minds of the living dolls as well as teach other young shadows to oppose the slavery system. I have personal experiences with strong indoctrination and emotional abuse, so these story themes feel especially important and relevant to me. It's crucial to be able to think for yourself and question the systems in place.
Another element I love in Shadows House is the world-building. This includes things like the atmosphere of the house, the daily routines of the living dolls, and the hierarchy of shadow nobles. Additionally, it includes the fantasy lore of the mysterious "faeries" who call themselves the Shadows Family. I enjoy stories and myths where the Fae are barely distinguishable from demons. Shadows House is great for this. Some websites even classify this anime within the "demons" subgenre of fantasy. The specific lore of how the shadows work is basically a huge spoiler, so I won't go into any details. I just want to note that I had fun learning about it.
I was going to write "specific character notes" for the third example of enjoyable aspects in Shadows House. But I would ramble about the various characters for too long. Instead, let me just mention one single character-related dynamic: the strong bond between Emilico and Kate. The two girls become inseparably close and trust each other completely. Their relationship is truly beautiful. I liked how the anime didn't make this relationship into a sexualized yuri couple, but also didn't shy away from showing them do normal things like hugging and holding hands. That balance is pretty rare in anime.
Overall score: 8.6/10.0
The overall score is the average of the five scores from the categories explored above. I honestly didn't expect to end up giving Shadows House such a high score. Hopefully, I managed to be fair with my review. A lot of it comes down to personal enjoyment of the characters and the story themes. If you can't emotionally connect to the characters or get excited about their secret rebellion, it makes sense that you wouldn't like this anime. Maybe that's why the current score on MAL is only 7.80. I think Shadows House deserves way better than that. Anyway, thanks for taking a look at my review. Happy Holidays!
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