Shadows House Season 2 is Full of Sinister Mysteries – This Week in Anime

As a counter to Cloverwork’s second season of The Promised Neverland, Shadows House‘s second season only continues to build on its creepy groundwork to deliver a satisfyingly twisted mystery.

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Chris

Nicky, I feel like I need some guidance in my life. Maybe a little career advice? Well, anime has never steered me wrong, let’s see if one of the series that just wrapped this past season has any ideas.



Hey, thanks for the suggestion, show! That at least sounds way more effective than, say, selling my body and soul into fealty to a family of aristocratic soot-fae creatures!
Nicky

Hey, let’s show some respect. Being a full-time housecleaner is a tough gig. You gotta run a high constitution and strength build and everything!



Apparently it also involves playing detective and sleuthing out underlying conspiracies.
That’s right, change course from Sonic’s Apartment, and turn down that invitation to Tails’ Condo, because this week we’re taking a tour of Shadows House!



Now with 50% more shadows and house by volume!

The first season of Shadows House really impressed me. Easily ended up being one of my favorite anime just on the sheer amount of vibes. Its gothic aesthetic and spooky atmosphere all combined with main character Emilico’s brute cheerfulness and willingness to make allies under what most people would consider a pretty dire situation. Being captured, brainwashed, and enslaved for the purpose of serving a bunch of parasitic shadow entities isn’t just something you can easily smile your way out of, but it’s a seemingly insurmountable challenge is part of what made this continuation worth checking out.

I ended up a pretty big fan of the Shadows House debut as well. At first I felt like Emilico’s cloying, near-moe persona was kinda at odds with the heavier gothic effects (this is a show that can sell itself almost entirely on its style), but dang if she didn’t win me over the same way she did so many others by the end. And that turns out to be a key point heading into 2nd Season here, that Emilico’s efforts are rubbing off on her Shadow master Kate, who is herself looking to take charge and find out what her freaky family really has in store for her, the other children, and their ‘faces’.

In my previous TWIA on S1 I also delved into Shadows House as a heady psychological metaphor for the self, with Emilico being the kind of extrovert conscious personality with the brawn and Kate being the introverted brooding unconscious mind, and how both halves work together to form a relationship. The metaphor is less heavy in S2 but between many Shadows and their living dolls we get to see different dynamics play out. Part of what makes S2 very different from S1 is the focus on Kate as a character and less as a metaphorical tool. After making her social debut at the end of S1 and discovering the truth about the house, Kate is now a lot more active in the story with Emilico falling back into a supporting role. However, it’s still clear that these two are in this together and it’s their bond that forms the backbone to stand up against the Shadow society.

Yeah, that was definitely a bit of a surprise for me coming into this one, seeing how much more focus Kate was getting this go-around. That is a good thing, mind! There’s a mild irony that the Shadow half of the pair, who in-universe is supposed to be the dominant, driving force in the relationship, here feels like the one who has only recently asserted more agency in the plot. But it also fits, demonstrating those sunshiny side-effects of Emilico’s influence, as well as this season’s story theme about Shadows and Faces working as contrasting, complimentary pairs, rather than one controlling the other.



That context is also important because this season introduces us to a lot more new duos to keep track of.

A lot of characters introduced during the previous social debut and throughout Emilico’s cleaning adventures are all back. None of them are stuck to just hanging out in their rooms anymore, so every group gets a bit more to do. Season 2 features many new areas, new rules, and a lot more about what exactly Shadows are capable of. Kate has the ability to control and manipulate soot to a high degree, but she’ll need a lot more help if she wants to achieve her goals.



Which is good, cuz they’re all dorks, they’re cute, and I love them. Even newer characters like the Star Bearers in charge of helping control the Children’s Wing have their own interesting quirks, personalities, and ideas. You CAN’T go wrong putting a character that’s just a mad inventor into the mix.

Oliver and his Face, Ollie, were definitely highlights of the crowd of cool and creepy new kids introduced. Mad scientist, sure, but an oddly earnestly good-natured one. These techies are even sweetly appreciative of Emilico where so many of the others working in the House have only seen her as an annoyance.



The Research Team also has a matched-up pair of sharp-tongued mean girls in the bunch, which I’m certainly never going to be opposed to.


I mean, Emilico did do a pretty awesome job rockin’ the vacuum cleaner against the gigantic phantom threatening everyone. Anyone worth their salt should’ve been impressed by her heroism.




Though, it was neat of them to be chill after they Looney Tunes-style wrecked their secret base.

Shadows House‘s classical allusions stretch back to Buster Keaton and beyond. Truly, this family is cultured.



The Research Team, and those aforementioned Star Bearers they work closely with, are important elements for Kate’s cool kids club to become closer to. This whole season delves further into how and why those structures were established in the house in the first place, and the mysteries driven by them being cordoned off from the Adult wing.
And that’s great news for the story, since any focus on the Star Bearers means we get more focus on that barb-toothed best girl, Barbie, and her Shadow, Barbara.


Even the hauntingly beautiful ED focuses on her.

Well, her and my other fave this season, but we can get to them in time.

On a side note, the OP and ED are both very different from last season, but fit the show and look damn good. I was worried they wouldn’t be as catchy, but sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

Yeah, I missed the instrumental OP from the first season, but I dig how the lyrics to S2’s opener combine with its seemingly-upbeat presentation to deliver similarly pseudo-sweet lines that just become more haunting as the plot of this season rolls on and we learn more of the truth of the Shadows and their human hosts.







Mmmm, dissonance…
Oh god, I never thought about it that way. Yeesh. I did say this season was different, but it’s certainly not any less dark.
It’s not as ambiently creepy with more focus on the active mystery, but there’s some stuff that’s still super unsettling, like watching all the living dolls that got sick after the big phantom attacked everyone. Also witnessing several brainwash parties where living dolls are spoon-fed “coffee” meant to control them. The brainwashing in particular made trusting others with information extremely difficult and created a lot of tension of who was reliable early on.


It’s a good move, with the concentration on crowds of characters lessening the viability of that previous haunting ambiance, to cast those creepier elements at the characters themselves instead. So Shadows House 2nd Season is still able to illustrate haunting effects of that brainwashing brew, or the unsettling imagery of what happens to Living Dolls who contract the soot sickness, and how they are treated as a result.





During the chaos the special coffee carafes also get broken, so it becomes less of a problem but it definitely hints that Kate isn’t the only one unhappy with the situation. The antagonist of the 2nd season is a third party nicknamed Master Robe, a mysteriously cloaked figure masterminding an attack calculated to shake things up. Kate already went through extreme hoops to avoid getting caught in her investigating and collaborating, but the whole incident causes the authorities to get even more suspicious of her. She has no choice to get to the bottom of this in order to clear her own name.

Now I haven’t read the original Shadows House manga, but from what I understand that first season’s ending storyline with Edward was something of an anime-original creation. So it’s actually neat to see 2nd Season tie its continuation of adapting material rather seamlessly with whatever those prior embellishments were. Having Kate still under suspicion, along with the menacing background presence of Master Robe, gives the whole thing more of a sense of urgency and purpose.



That’s important, since otherwise so much of the ‘action’ throughout all this primarily consists of the kids exploring the house and its grounds, talking with characters to get clues and info, and talking amongst themselves about their feelings.
They do have to do a lot of sweeping under the rug here and there, mostly in the first episode, but once that’s cleaned up it transitions pretty well. Edward, the adult in charge of the children’s wing, is still a threat but he’s less immediate than just getting caught in the first place.

This is especially good because the last time CloverWorks did a second season of something I loved was The Promised Neverland and I am still unhappy about how that whole thing went down.

Please don’t remind me. I know a lot of people were worried going into another second-season adaptation by that studio of a story about children trying to escape from the murderous conspiracies of a mysterious house, so it’s definitely a relief that Shadows House stayed so firmly on the rails for this season.

Visually, the direction is still solid, too. There’s more focus on characters this time and we spend a lot of time in dark environments that can be a little dull, but it’s consistently a nice-looking show with occasional flourishes, like Lou’s spectacular face game montage.

Lou is the absolute queen of that, but others, like the always inimitable Emilico, get their moments.

Even the Shadows that don’t have faces to emote carry a lot with their body language, like Rick’s awkward apprehensiveness.

Right? I love when they let you catch things like just the briefest glimpses of something like a smirk in silhouette.

Or John who is just super kinetic, appropriate for a man whose best skill is solving things with punches. I love John so much. Though maybe not as much as he loves Kate, which is a lot.

God I love the fact that Kate’s calculated signal to getting him to join in on her efforts was passing him a literal Dear John letter.

She knew exactly how he’d react because John is a predictably pure lad. It’s a point of evidence that they’d actually make a good couple.

He’s stupid. She likes that in a man.

His extreme sincerity means it’s impossible for him to hide anything and his devotion to Kate and desire to make her his fiancé insures that he’d never intentionally stab her in the back. He sticks to her like glue this entire season. The banter between the two and John’s stupidity becomes a lighthearted staple. The illusion of dating also creates a very convenient alibi for Kate, even if it’s an embarrassing one.

As I alluded to, so much of the development this season is around our main characters getting to know each other better now that they aren’t directly competing in the Debut. So you get things like Kate and John’s cute compatibility being shown off, or Emilico and Shaun learning more about each other as a vector for learning more about themselves.

The emphasis on equal partnership isn’t gone either. There’s the importance of communication between Lou and Louise when the Face ends up pushing herself a little too hard and doesn’t say anything.

I mean, what’s a reflection of your shadow self to be if not the best possible partner to spot you while you’re working out?





We also learn that Shadows and Faces can want different things like Ricky and Rick both having different people set in their hearts with Rick still crushing on Emilico.

Patrick’s crush on Emilico is an example of those character connections this season so enthusiastically espouses with a more class-intersectional, star-crossed bent to it.




Right now he’s just suppressing the feelings as the taboo he knows they are, but as Kate’s faction becomes more clear in their efforts to overturn the hierarchy of Shadows House, Patrick’s feelings for Emilico could propel him as a staunch ally of Kate’s side.

That especially goes given the big revelations this season about what happens to the Faces as individuals once the Shadows receive their invitations to adulthood.

Concerning adulthood, what does it mean to be an adult Shadow? Well for one we learn that once they get an invitation for adulthood, they leave the Children’s Wing never to be seen or talked about again. Second, there seems to be some sort of aptitude that they’re assessing before deciding who gets to be adults, likely concerning their ability to control soot. Adults also have way more social power, they can even petition for marriage.

But we also learn that a Shadow reaches adulthood after fusing with their living doll, completely taking over their body, and essentially killing them.



This explains part of why living dolls are treated as so disposable and trained into feeling lesser. It’s not only a way to keep them in line, but it makes them more likely to comply in a moment of death, while their Shadow masters don’t have to feel guilty about taking someone else’s life.

And all that awful assimilation is the ‘good’ outcome, if the fusion actually goes off without a hitch. Some of the less compatible…




…aren’t so lucky.

The revelation of this whole structure (foreshadowed by Edward in the first season), firmly marks out why Kate is such a threat to the Shadows’ structure, and how she might sway others from her generation to her side. She, and people like Patrick, are perfectly fond of Emilico as she is, and don’t have any desire to see her absorbed and annihilated.

Yeah, unwilling to devour someone else in order to survive high society is a sign of weakness. But for our main characters, their empathy and closeness with each other is a sign of strength and their main inspiration for growth. Ironically, this makes them more likely to be chosen for adulthood, not less!

We already briefly touched on Lou/Louise, whom I do feel like get the least to do of the ‘main’ child pairs over the course of the story. But they still represent a particular possibility for a Shadow’s ‘self-love’ for their living doll being transferable into actual affection for the human themselves.

Even if Louise treats Lou more like an adorable pet than a person at times, I think she would balk if she was asked to kill her cutie for her own gain.

And it just so happens that there’s another major character focused on this season who goes all-out demonstrating how devoted one can go in that kind of self-reflected satisfaction.







I think we get a pretty clear idea of what it is Maryrose really likes doing in all these rooms.
She’s having a ball! And so am I! We got a bit of Maryrose before, but as a walking Takarazuka gimmick, I was surprise she got more focus as the gang’s trusty senior.

I say suspiciously and nervously glancing over at the ED for many, many episodes.

She and her Face, Rosemary, steal the scenes they’re in early in this season. And as alluded to by that ending sequence we mentioned earlier, we find out they’ve got their own past connections with Barbara/Barbie, involving the formation of the Star Bearers and the mysterious ‘Christopher’ whom everyone in the house has some kind of ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ deal going on with. So it rings a little odd when Rosemary seems to abruptly get taken out of commission, and involvement in the story, by a scorch attach early on.

For the second time, I might add!

It’s like these things, or whoever’s controlling them, just happen to be naturally attracted to her!
Of course, it’s all a sooty smokescreen for the big reveal that Maryrose is Master Robe. Which we could’ve easily guessed had we just been able to follow John Logic.




A regular Detective Conan.
John, for once, was late to the punch, because although it’s revealed that Rose’s motivations truly are in line with Kate’s, she’s also out of options and can only resort to desperate measures. Her role as both hero and villain matches her theatrical roots.


The fundamental setup of Shadows House is steeped in layers of tragedy, and already digging Maryrose as I did, I really felt that for her character in this turn. You’d love to think it would be possible for her to pull back her machinations and align with Kate’s currently slower-boiling rebellion. But Maryrose has already gone to such extremes to try to protect Rosemary that she’d never be able to blamelessly integrate with the children again even if she wanted to. And that’s apart from the whole ‘Edward is getting ready to force them into a merging that will likely kill both of them’ thing.



It’s a tragedy of timing: Just as the governing Shadows of Lord Grandfather pit the soot beings as oppressors of the humans for their own persistence, the staggered generations of Maryrose and Kate pit them against each other even though they both want the same thing. The Shadows House always wins.
It’s also sad because Kate could’ve very much have ended up the same way if she hadn’t reached out and expanded the amount of people she could trust. Maryrose and Rosemary only have each other. Despite once being close friends with Barbara, she ended up without a single person to turn to.

The writing is not shy about playing up this angle, since Maryrose, as well as others later, directly call it out as the source of Kate’s strength and her potential to change things.




And that continues so well from the previous season of the show, since we know Kate’s desire and ability to connect with others only came about as a direct result of her bonding experiences with Emilico.
Also despite being tragic, Rose is a total joy to see perform in action. The way she uses scorches is really cool. It never stops feeling like she’s trying to be an older sister and is really trying to foster the kids’ growth, even as she’s ultimately threatening them. The solution to her downfall is also super clever and made an excellent episode-to-episode watch. Y’know, assuming you don’t get any soot in your eyes (or too many tears).

After so many episodes of slower, investigative advancements, it’s really cool to see the show utilize the various soot-powers it’s been defining all season, and setting up various phases and twists to the fight. It all fits with the offbeat stylings of the series, where Maryrose and John will be trading and reflecting shadowy projectiles one moment, and then our heroes are saved by the foreshadowed power of pocket bread the next.




Although if reversal via roll isn’t your speed, then perhaps role-reversal as the mechanic for the climactic finish would be.


All solutions are a combination of unconventional thinking, good intuition, and most of all, trust. The humans could’ve easily been a burden against a powerful Shadow, but they prove to be equally reliable. Which is good because fighting Rose Shadow-to-Shadow turned out to be a fruitless against her ability to use another Shadow’s soot to her advantage. No one else would’ve done it that way since it goes against the House’s values.

Still, even in their final moments there’s a clear display of love for each other. In a mad attempt to decide their own fate, Rose and Rosemary launch themselves from the house and into the chasm below, with Rose putting herself below her human companion in whatever small chance it means of survival. A lover’s suicide.

I’d like to imagine an Adolescence of Utena-style ending for them where they get to live a life outside the system that’s clearly being alluded to, even if nobody turned into a car!

Kate and Emilico aren’t as dangerously close to their Shadowlescence as Maryrose and Rosemary were, but the presence of that oppressive structure has definitely been laid out as what they’ll need to dismantle if they want to save not only themselves, but everyone.

Currently, they can’t know what lies on the outside, but they know that it exists, and that’s enough. But even if the two Roses obtained freedom, the house still stands and a house based on cruelty towards everyone living under it should fall! Though, that path is not all sunshine and roses, either. The last episode had Emilico struggling with the weight of her situation, thinking that it might’ve been better if she could simply live her life in blissful ignorance sipping coffee like everyone else. Similarly, there are some that cannot handle the truth. Christopher taking his own life after learning the secret of adulthood was the trigger for the Roses’ descent. For some, life in the house is idyllic, peaceful, controlled. There are even those who realize its faults but still have optimistic ideas about the system, thinking it can be changed from the inside.



I believe characters such as the Barbies and Edward to be the latter. They seem equally, if not more, disgruntled with the current system despite acting as parts of it.
Barbara and Barbie in particular seem set up to serve an interesting role moving forward. They’re effectively the last left now of the main players from the generation that Maryrose and Christopher were from. Knowing all that we do now about that backstory, the writing seems to be positioning them as a mirror of Kate and Emilico; A duo that had potential to enact change on the same level as our heroes, but lacked those all-important coherent connections with their peers.



Heck, the final shot of the series clearly confirms them as united with Kate and Emilico in desire, if not specific design!


Barbara, with her deep blue color scheme and rose-filled hair particularly starts looking like an inversed Kate. This season had a lot of themes about who you should trust and with Rose it shows that things aren’t as hard-lined as being sympathetic or against you. Barbie may seem like an enemy now but she could be a potential ally or someone to learn for just as much as Rose. Hell, maybe even Edward could teach Kate a thing or two? Who knows. It’s not unusual to share some form of kinship when they’re all living under the same roof (both literally and metaphorically, so to speak). Part of the inherent tragedy of systems is that it encourages you to inflict pain upon others as badly as it was inflicted upon yourself, incorporating you as part of its structure to uphold it as it weighs down.

We’ve seen that since the first season, when the children were made to compete against each other in the Debut, only for Emilico’s influence to mitigate so many of the defeats and failures that the leadership had demanded of Edward. 2nd Season then delivers on being an expansion of that, and the potential of our lead characters to break the tragic cycle. It’s great as a continued escalation of the story’s themes, and I do hope we’ll see a continuation of it at some point. Though perhaps asking for a third season of a CloverWorks adaptation really is tempting fate.


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