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Manga / Shadows House

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The Lady and her soon-to-be "face".

Shadows House is a manga by Somato, author of Kuro. Starting out as a Slice of Life story, but gradually accumulating more elements of mystery and horror as it goes on, it follows Emilico, a young and cheerful doll who serves Living Shadow Kate.

The faceless family of Shadow nobles live in a vast mansion, attended by "Living Dolls" who spend much of their time cleaning up the soot endlessly emitted by their mysterious masters. As one of these Dolls, in addition to being her maid, Emilico is expected to become Kate's "face" once her mistress is old enough to be introduced to the other residents of the mansion. Emilico believes that all she needs to do is work hard and make Kate happy, but things in the mansion aren't that simple or pleasant...

The manga began serialization in the seinen manga magazine Weekly Young Jump in 2018, and is ongoing. In December 2021 Yen Press announced it had licensed the manga for release in North America, with the first volume released in June 2022.


An animated adaptation was announced in 2020, premiering in April 2021, with a second season announced in September 2021.

Shadows House provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Powerful Student Council: The Star-bearers, somewhat; the Shadows in the children's building don't attend classes together, but if their faces perform particularly well, they're elevated to a leadership position and have the potential to be noticed by the Great-Grandfather. They're also allowed to know about their soot powers and the process of 'awakening'.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: Several instances in the anime.
    • The Great-Grandfather and his advisers, as well as Edward and his friends, first appear in The Stinger at the end of episode 3 (which adapts up to chapter 16). In the manga, Edward first turns up in chapter 22, the Great-Grandfather and his advisers in chapter 28, and Edward's friends in chapter 36.
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    • Shirley as a morph appears far earlier in the story as part of the anime-original ending. This also ends up giving away the reveal that both Rum and Shirley survived the debut trials immediately after the debut ended, far earlier than when the manga showed it.
  • Adaptational Late Appearance: The Robe doesn't appear in episode 4, which adapts the mini-arc that first introduced them; Rum instead gets spooked by the appearance of a faceless doll, which sends her running away. The announcement video for S2 reveals they'll be debuting there.
  • Aerith and Bob: Emilico and Rum stand out against a number of other more ordinary Western names. Rum did name herself, however.
  • Alien Catnip: Coffee has an euphoric effect on Shadows, akin to alcohol for humans.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The timid Rum is bullied by many of the other Living Dolls due to the fact that her Shadow barely acknowledges her. It's so bad that she talks to her pinky finger for company.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: The inhabitants of the mansion are all nobles (albeit with no actual titles used as of yet), and while some of the younger ones aren't so bad, the ruthless position-jockeying encouraged among their number turns many of them into this as they get older.
  • Asteroids Monster: If the soot generated by the Shadows isn't properly cleaned and disposed of, it gathers together and starts spawning animate blobs called 'Scorches' (or 'Clingers' in the fan translation), that try to latch onto and kill the dolls. It is also possible for Shadows without strong personalities to dissipate and turn into their smaller Morph form, as Shirley demonstrates.
  • Awful Truth: The Living Dolls are actually human children who are mind-wiped by the Shadows. Furthermore, undergoing 'unification' with a Shadow kills them. Learning both of these drove the former pride of the Star-bearers, Christopher, to take his own life.
  • Bifauxnen: The Shadow Maryrose wears a frilly shirt and breeches unlike the fancy dresses favored by the other female Shadows, many of whom think she's cool.
  • Big Bad: The Great-Grandfather of the Shadows is building up to be this, using his soot to brainwash the dolls - and their Shadows by extension - into fawning loyalty towards him.
  • Big Fancy House: The Shadows House is a gigantic mansion composed of two large buildings, each of which consists of many rooms and halls.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The debut trials. Emilico gives Rum the courage to approach and befriend her Shadow, and makes it to the finish line with Kate in the nick of time...but Rum and Shirley don't. Shirley falls apart as a result, and Rum is taken away to be made into one of the faceless servant dolls.
  • Black Comedy: Louise sculpting a Scorch out of soot in a world where soot regularly comes to life and creates havoc is a bit...
  • The Blank: The Shadows look like nothing more than living silhouettes with clothes and hair decorations.
  • Blank Slate: A Doll whose Shadow breaks apart is turned into one of these by being forced to drink soot-laced coffee for thirty days, wiping their memories and reducing them to a 'faceless doll' servant seemingly incapable of speech.
  • Body Horror: The sight of what happens when a Shadow and Living Doll's fusion fails. Tendrils from a spidery black mass squatting on the Doll's chest - the Shadow - reaching up the Doll's upper body, both Shadow and Doll dead.
  • Booby Trap: The corridor that leads to the mansion's exit shoots arrows at anyone who tries to leave without permission.
  • Brainwashed: The Living Dolls are given coffee laced with soot from the Great-Grandfather that makes them rapturously loyal to him. The soot of the other Shadows is also shown to pacify humans.
  • Cast Herd: You take your cast and multiply by two because they all come in pairs of Living Doll/Shadow. But each Living Doll and Shadow are part of at least one team/clique; and if you know one of either the Living Doll or Shadow, you can remember their other pairing.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: At first, the manga focuses on Emilico trying to better herself as a maid and her growing friendship with Kate. Once they have their first meeting with another Shadow, however, the twisted nature of the mansion begins to come to light.
  • Chaos Architecture: It's subtle if you aren't paying attention, but the layout of the Children's Building has shifted dramatically over the course of the series. Notably, the view from Kate's room in Chapter 7, including the vantage from which Emilico sees Barbie and Barbara walking on the bridge, is impossible given the current layout seen in more recent maps.
  • Connected All Along:
    • As more of the Living Dolls' memories return, they come to the realization that they all knew each other prior to entering the Shadows House, having come from the same village and even gone to the same school. The lone exception is Emilico, who instead came from a traveling circus that was in town the day before the selection and eventually befriended Shaun, Lou, Ricky, and Rum after she was fired.
    • Kate and Emilico also met each other on that same day through sheer coincidence. It was Kate's sudden appearance that caused Emilico to mess up her circus routine, leading her to befriend the other children and make her way to the mansion.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Some time after Emilico and Shaun are freed from brainwashing, they have a chance together to imagine what freedom might look like outside the Shadows House, wonder what their lives were like before they arrived, and reconcile their identities between their roles as actual humans and Living Dolls.
  • Corporal Punishment: Mia is on the receiving end of this from Sara, who is nowhere near as kind a master as Kate. Even worse, she's internalized the belief that it's a way for Sara to 'better' her when she makes mistakes, so at one point she brings the cane to Sara and requests it.
  • Cross Counter: John and Shaun exchange a classic one during their brief scuffle to free Shaun from the effects of the coffee.
  • Cutting the Knot: In the maze, Kate is imprisoned in a cage suspended over a bed of thorns which is slowly breaking apart. They'll lose the trial if Kate's clothes are dirtied or Emilico's face is damaged, and the crane holding up the cage is locked by a key Emilico doesn't have. So Emilico cuts through the thorns with the shears that were given to her by Ricky, and catches Kate in the flower cart she brought when she falls out. However, they only have ten minutes to get back to the start of the maze at this point, which would be impossible on foot. Their solution? Use the cart as a makeshift raft to traverse the maze's waterways and launch themselves over the walls with Kate's soot powers.
  • Death of Personality: Shadows merging with their Living Dolls, if successful, will have this happen to the latter. The Shadow's personality will be the primary personality, while the human underneath serves as a vessel and disguise, nothing more.
  • Decadent Court: The adult Shadows, and even some of the younger ones like Sara and Patrick, get up to a lot of scheming in their efforts to be favored by the Great-Grandfather of the mansion. 'Weak' or disloyal Shadows are implied to be weeded out quite often, mostly through the debut trials.
  • Dramatic Irony: When initially confronted with Living Doll Emilico, Kate wishes she'd got her name when they first met, so she could help her start to remember, unaware Emilico didn't have a name then.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Shaun, Ricky and Rum first appear in episode 2 of the anime, during Emilico's first venture outside her and Kate's rooms (chapter 8 of the manga), while in the manga Shaun and Ricky first appeared in chapter 16, and Rum in chapter 17.
  • Empathy Pet: A human and justified variation. Proper Living Dolls are supposed to carefully time their movements to match their Shadow's emotions, in order to act as their face.
  • The Fair Folk: The original forms of the shadows, known as Morphs, are referred to as such. They're shapeshifters who normally lack an individual personality until they begin mimicking humans.
  • Food Porn: The buffet of desserts from the first half of the debut.
  • Funny Background Event: During chapter 59, while the gang is mapping out the gardens of the Children's Building, there are several panels where John can be seen picking up a stick and playing with it in the background.
  • Gecko Ending: From episode 11 the story goes on an anime-original route so to not end the season in the middle of a quite large arc, though it's made in a way that allows the second season to continue where it left off in the manga.
  • Gendered Outfit: Both genders of Living Dolls, when they officially become a Face, wear a similarly navy-blue uniform with fishnets covering their arms. Where it differs is that for girls they have a dress and a white frilled collar, while the boys have shorts and a white wing collar. Before they are officially recognized as a Face, the girls have a frilly blue and white maid outfit while the boys wear a green patterned vest with a white shirt and blue pants.
  • Gothic Horror: The story has many hallmarks of this genre, having a dark, mysterious atmosphere and taking place in a shadowy European mansion where mysterious beings made of soot are served by children they refer to as "Living Dolls". Main character Emilico and her assigned mistress Kate soon realize that things are not what they seem, and they gradually uncover several dark secrets hidden by the inhabitants of the mansion.
  • Grand Theft Me: The Shadows and their faces are intended to eventually 'awaken/unify' by one absorbing the other. This enables the Shadow to switch into a human form at will. Also something of a Fusion Dance; while the Shadow's personality seems to be the primary one, the faces are trained to be loyal to the house so that the Shadow takes on this trait, since the Great-Grandfather's brainwashing soot doesn't affect them otherwise.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: The blonde Emilico is pure-hearted and kind to everyone.
  • Hedge Maze: As the final step in determining their eligibility to debut, the dolls have to traverse one of these and return with their masters within a time limit.
  • Hidden Purpose Test: During the debut trials, Living Dolls are asked if they know why the hall between two buildings of the house is quite long. The right answer is to not give one and state the "Living Dolls should not think any unnecessary thoughts" rule; the Shadows whose Dolls give the right answer start with a higher score than the rest of the group.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: John forces Shaun to hit him in order to snap the latter out of his soot brainwashing, but it takes some resistance before he starts hitting back.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Shadows, of course. They’re sapient soot who mimic other living beings, such as humans, and can absorb/merge the living being they're copying.
  • I Don't Pay You to Think: “Living Dolls should not think any unnecessary thoughts.” The bigwig Shadows of the Great Grandfather's Third Floor even debate Edward's conduct of the debut where the Living Dolls have to think.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: The Living Dolls are more or less forbidden to deviate from being exact clones of their shadows, and it's repeatedly stated that they shouldn't think about anything 'unnecessary'. Emilico's markedly different personality from Kate often gets her accused of being defective, and Louise takes offense at Ricky seemingly getting a crush on Lou. On the part of the Shadows, this is justified; the whole point of the current system is to have the Shadows bond to their Living Doll and be able to use them as their proper body, so if they are not on the same page there's a good chance the Shadow won't develop a personality, which was unfortunately Shirley's (seeming) downfall.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The Living Dolls are actually children taken from other villages and brainwashed with the Great-Grandfather's Soot. They still retain their abilities and skills.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Shadows, who are supposed to be the nobility, have a huge set of the same outfit. But they have to change thrice a day since their soot accumulates on their clothes as time passes.
  • Living Shadow: The Shadows have the name and look, though they're actually fairy-like creatures made of living soot.
  • The Masquerade: There’s actually a masquerade inside the masquerade. The villages near the Shadows House don’t realize the Shadows House is more than just a “helpful” family of nobles. And at the Shadows House itself, inhabitants of the Children’s Building don’t realize the inhabitants of the Great Grandfather’s Building are Shadows who merged with their Living Dolls.
  • Men Use Violence, Women Use Communication: Kate and John break Emilico and Shaun out of their conditioning this way. Kate makes Emilico drink some water to flush the soot out of her, and then convinces her to think the situation through more. Meanwhile, John and Shaun have a fist fight to make the latter realize his humanity.
  • Mind-Control Eyes: Emilico and the other dolls who drink Great-Grandfather's coffee have their pupils turn large and sketchy.
  • Mirror Routine: Living Dolls are expected to do a version of this after their shadow debuts, mimicking the shadow's movements exactly and showing an expression befitting their emotions when they speak. It's more than a little unsettling in action given that the first example we see is Mia, a doll who Emilico had started to befriend, playing "face" for her Alpha Bitch shadow, Sara.
  • Nonstandard Character Design: In contrast to all of the other Living Dolls, Barbie has a feral, fanged appearance with a large scar on her forehead. Barbie was badly injured when in one of Barbara's soot explosion at close range, which is why the latter is temporarily disqualified to be an adult.
  • The Ojou: The Shadow girls are all various types of this due to their aristocratic surroundings. Kate is closest to the classic type, Sara is a Royal Brat, Louise is Spoiled Sweet, and Shirley is reserved and lonely.
  • Princely Young Man: John and Patrick, the two boys in Kate's debut group. John is earnest and gentlemanly, while Patrick is more of a Spoiled Brat.
  • Raised as a Host: The origin of the Living Dolls - they're humans taken from villages near the mansion as children who have their memories wiped by the Great-Grandfather's soot. The Shadows that imitate them eventually fuse with their bodies.
  • Really Royalty Reveal: Royalty might be overstating it but one such reveal occurs in Chapter 106. After spending the past few chapters regaining her memories, Emilico comes to the realization that she had met Kate before her admission into the Shadows House and goes to confront her mistress. Kate then reveals that she is a member of the Mirrors House who seeks to take back the Shadows House from the Great-Grandfather.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Kate calls out the Star-Bearers for being manipulated by Edward.
  • The Reveal: The Shadows aren't really human at all. The Dolls, however, are.
  • Shadow Archetype: Pun aside, Kate hypothesizes that Shadows imitate a part of their Living Dolls as part of their mimic nature, though not necessarily their surface traits.
  • Significant Double Casting: Kate and Emilico notably avert this in the anime, being the only Shadow-Living Doll pair to not share a voice between them. Later chapters that were published following the first season's completion reveal that Kate isn't a Morph mimicking a human like the other Shadows, but rather is her own being separate from Emilico.
  • Small, Secluded World: It takes several chapters for Emilico to even see parts of the mansion beyond Kate's bedroom. A glimpse of the world outside the mansion itself isn't seen until after the debut trials.
  • Smug Snake: Patrick looks down on the other shadows and boasts how Ricky is obviously the best face among them, but when they're separated for the final part of the trial, he starts to panic and his thoughts reveal him to be fairly insecure. Despite that he still goes out of his way to help Lou and she gives him her shears afterwards to let him cut through the hedge maze.
  • Species Surname: All Shadow Masters are regarded as family, and while the manga uses Only One Name, volume summaries refer to Kate as Kate Shadow, indicating that the rest of the House are called in a similar manner.
  • Stepford Smiler: Mia acts like a Cool Big Sis to the other Living Dolls in her part of the mansion, but is viciously abused by her Shadow for failing to become a Star-bearer.
  • The Stinger: Episode 3 has an after-credits scene with the Third Floor nobles asking Edward and his friends about preparations for the upcoming debut, and Edward thinking privately to himself about how this will be his big chance.
  • The Symbiote: Under normal circumstances, Shadows are the Commensalism version; they mimic a living creature they spend a long time with, which is unaffected by their mimicry. When they imitate a human, they imitate their form and their ability to think. If a Shadow becomes unable to imitate properly, they typically can't return to morph form, and seem to die from emaciation.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Of a sort - a Shadow is expected to give their doll a name like their own in some way, whether it be rhyming (John and Shaun) or a shortened version (Patrick and Ricky, Louise and Lou). Those who don't, like Kate and Emilico or Shirley and Rum, are viewed as strange. The Belle twins, however, are a traditional example of this trope.
  • Third-Person Person: The Shadows tend to speak like this.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Mirrorside, one of the villages that the Shadows provide with their soot charcoal, sends their children to work at the mansion in exchange. The children never come back and are made into the 'Living Dolls'. Additionally, the villagers themselves don't seem to be aware of this due to the soot smoke making them docile and obedient; in fact, they view their children being selected as the ultimate blessing.
  • Unwinnable by Design: The debut trials are set up so at least one candidate will fail. Edward allows the dolls to take one item each from an assortment of gear into the maze...and Emilico only realizes when she reaches Kate that among them was the key to the crane holding up her cage. Fortunately, the two of them are able to find a way around it.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: To cure soot sickness, the best cure is water-induced vomiting. You can see the soot mixed with the water.
  • Wham Line: The final line of chapter 106, which flips everything we thought we knew about Kate and the Shadows House itself on its head.
    Kate: "My name is Kate Mirror. I came here in order to take back the Mirrors House."
  • Wham Shot:
    • Mia talks glowingly about Sara to Emilico as the two of them take a bath...and then we see her back is covered in bruises.
    • Shirley disintegrating after she and Rum fail to complete the debut trials.
    • The Belles smashing the "coffee".
    • Robe being revealed to be Maryrose.
    • The other Robe being revealed to be Anthony.
    • An imp transforming into an original Shadow creature with Shirley's cowlick, transforming into a ribbon resembling Rum's.
  • Whole Episode Flashback:
    • Chapters 75 to 77 feature Barbara and Maryrose's flashbacks to when they were debutantes, illuminating certain aspects of current events.
    • Chapters 103 to 106 have the debutante class remember how they first met Emilico.
    • Chapters 107 to 114 recount Kate's origins, overlapping with the debutante class's story.
  • You Have Failed Me: And failures will be “disposed” one way or another. Sometimes to great cheer by everyone else.