Mon. Jan 17th, 2022

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m reaching deep into our bag of outstanding projects, as we check out the first episode of the recent production Shadows House. I know very little about this production, beyond the fact that its source material seems relatively well-liked, and that the adaptation received a modest but altogether consistent degree of praise. 

Director Kazuki Oohashi cut his teeth on a variety of SHAFT productions, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some degree of the post-Shinbo school’s signature tricks represented here. After that, he storyboarded and directed several episodes of the Persona 5 anime, meaning he’s also spent time with that irrepressible stylist Masashi Ishihama. Given this combined education, I’m expecting ornate scene-setting, a strong focus on overall layouts, and a general disregard for naturalism as a cinematic goal. Ishihama is one of very few directors who can pull off horror in animation, so I’m eager to see if Oohashi brings some of that style to this production. Without further ado, let’s dive into Shadows House!

Episode 1

Ooh, evocative first cut. A bird defined only by its soot-like outline flies overhead, and the camera flips to follow it, revealing our gloomy estate. Already the shadows of the title are appearing as living figures in this world, and the camera movement demands immediate attention, while also showing off some post-processing finesse through the blurred panning through trees, and “lens flare” as we pass the sun

Unfortunately, the backgrounds themselves are significantly less compelling, as they’re clearly just filtered CG sets

We see the titular shadows immediately, wandering around their house as black-filled outlines. I imagine this aesthetic is a bit trickier to make work in animation than in manga, where the contrast between black and white is so much more clear

The post-processing textures and filters are doing a great job to tie this aesthetic together. Everything has a faded, storybook-reminiscent sense of wear and volume

Also like the Gankutsuou-reminiscent use of full block patterns for the shadows’ clothing. They’re clearly not going for naturalism, so why not embrace collage, which further enhances the show’s sense of being a cut-paper storybook?

The bird actually dissolves into soot when one of the shadows blows on it. So are they all made of soot? Ghosts of people who were burned alive, perhaps?

More use of soft focus, explicitly emulating the limited focal point of a camera as glasses are filled

Quick cuts and partial body shots also amplify the sense of disorientation. Oohashi’s clearly determined to make an aesthetic statement with his first full production!

“Let us always remember. The Shadows are an outstanding family of nobles. To serve them is the pride and joy of every living doll.” The avoidance of any faces enhances the alienation of this moment. It all does feel a little reminiscent of From the New World’s initial, disorienting style

Our first non-shadow heroine sleeps in a box, not a bed. Very generous animation for her hair flowing, as a jaunty violin melody implies the danger has passed. I like how much the tone is driven by the shifting orchestral backing

As she assesses herself in the mirror, we see she is attempting to emulate the profile of one of the shadows

She finds a big lever, and yanks on it, as you must

Interesting genre mix here, with this girl’s moe affectations dispelling the gloom of this manor

The distinct shading textures of the manor extend to the characters’ own shadows, creating a better sense of aesthetic congruity

The dynamic timing of the opening cuts also extends to the snappiness of this sequence’s comedy beats. Good – timing is like nine tenths of comedy, and so few anime get it right

It seems like the shadows are made of soot and ashes, as it gets on everything they touch

The show’s already using that fact to excellent aesthetic effect. With their soot marks lingering wherever their fingers touch, they really do feel like ghosts within this place, just barely able to mark the world around them

More effective use of camera-reminiscent blur and glare when the human girl opens the blinds. The management of lighting in this show is clearly crucial

The next shot establishes a clear contrast between the two of them, with the human girl almost lost in the brightness of the sunlight, while the shadow girl lingers in the dark corners of the frame. They are framed as representing two sides of the same coin without a word

The shadow girl is “Mistress Kate,” and the human is the “living doll” that will be serving her from today. Kate says that this living doll must be given a name, with her idle ideas further emphasizing how this “living doll” now has no identity beyond her role as duplicate. Whoever this human was before she came here, she is now Kate’s un-shadow

The OP pans across scenes from the manor conveyed through outlines of its inhabitants, further emphasizing the focus on outlines and contrast

Kate and her Doll are further defined as opposites through their clothing choices: Kate is all in red, and the Doll is all in blue

The backgrounds in Kate’s study are an improvement, featuring the irregularity of form and line weight that marks hand-drawn illustrations, and thereby feeling more effectively reminiscent of the imperfect architecture of reality itself

“Kate doesn’t like looking people in the eye.” Kate seems to be directing her Doll in ways to better emulate her own personality

“The soot? It emanates due to anger or other negative emotions”

Kate also seems to refer to herself in the third person, making me wonder if soot-Kate is also simply doing her best to emulate the long-lost living Kate

There are piles and piles of notes on the Doll’s wall, but she can’t read them. A grim implication that this girl will be replaced, too

The Dolls all seem to be tasked with intentionally Sisyphean labors, dusting and cleaning just for their masters to fill it all with soot again. It feels like a metaphor for the decay of an ancestral house – you can do all you can to clean the drapes, but this dynasty’s glory days remain long behind it

“My body isn’t working right. Can I fix it by applying oil somewhere. If I break, will I be thrown out, too?”

“Living dolls, such as you, serve as our faces.” They’re not just servants, but public representatives

It seems like the Dolls genuinely were created, as Kate’s doll seems to know humans exist, but that she is not one

The contrast between this show’s ominous worldbuilding and slice of life comedy is… pretty dramatic, to say the least. I feel like Girls’ Last Tour balanced these poles more effectively, or rather integrated them into a cohesive aesthetic

“Kate would like to know what she looks like when eating something delicious.” Another line that points to the masters here being more remnants than living beings, echoes of dead people who can now barely remember their old faces

“Did you forget already? Don’t stare.” Kate also seems in some way embarrassed or ashamed of her soot nature

The Doll drags a bag of soot into Kate’s study, and Kate ends up making a sootman out of boredom

Kate begins teaching her doll how to read

“It’s kind of hard to read. But I’m sure I’ll be able to read better tomorrow. I can’t wait!” Oh god. What horrible secrets will this girl be rewarded with once she can read all of her predecessor’s warnings

Kate’s doll oversleeps the next day, and Kate’s room is utterly overwhelmed with soot by the time she arrives

“Though the timing differs, we all get a living doll as recognition of our coming of age.” Interesting. That seems to disprove the idea that Kate is a remnant of a prior living human

The two have a pretty natural dynamic. Kate’s doll is so consumed by self-doubt that she can’t realize how much excitement she’s bringing to Kate’s life

Interestingly, Kate has an elegant makeup box, but reacts in horror when her Doll suggests using it to reveal her face

“You are Kate’s cherished identity”

The dolls are apparently forbidden from wearing the shadows’ clothing, as it makes them “look like perfect human beings”

And Kate’s doll is at last named Emilico, not a shortening of Kate, but a name all her own

And Done

That certainly was an interesting first episode! To be honest, my interest in the production was mostly aesthetic; it’s a rare slice of life production that grabs me, and I’m also not into mysteries in general, so the actual plot of Shadows House isn’t really up my alley. But in terms of direction and art design, it was intriguing just seeing Oohashi and his team establish such a distinctively melancholy aesthetic. The layouts and ominous early tone felt strongly reminiscent of Oohashi’s former superiors, but the focus on film-evoking post-production effects seems like an innovation of his own, and an unexpected counterbalance for a director who rose through SHAFT productions. Overall it’s not my sort of show, but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on what Oohashi does next.

This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.

By admin