WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Episode 1 of Shadow's House, now streaming on Funimation.
Shadow's House, based on the manga written and drawn by mangaka duo, Somato, was one of Weekly Young Jump's most unique series. With its (quite literally) shadowy characters and full-color printing, even aside from the foreboding story, there's no seinen quite like it, even now.
The first episode of the anime follows the plot of the manga, introducing a young, nameless and eager servant girl living in a massive mansion. The servant calls herself a "Living Doll" and believes herself to be a mechanical automaton. Her job is to take care of and learn from Kate, an equally young noble. There are a few issues, though: Kate is not a real girl, but a literal shadow and the servant is not an automaton, but a living girl who has somehow forgotten that she needs to eat food to survive and doesn't understand why she doesn't have enough energy to accomplish the most basic tasks.
The setting is sinister, but the relationship between the two girls is quite sweet, considering. Kate acknowledges and encourages her new servant, feeds her so that she can be strong, teaches her to read and even gives her a name: Emilico. Emilico, in turn, becomes more and more devoted to her mysterious mistress, promising to be the best Living Doll there ever was. Their bond becomes so strong that when Emilico oversleeps, skipping one of Kate's reading lessons, Kate's sadness fills the room with soot and ash. This dark matter takes on a sort of life, creating soot-bugs that can attack Kate -- this is why it's so important that Emilico keeps the rooms clean and Kate's mood balanced.
It isn't until the episode's midpoint that Kate unveils the most important reason why she needs Emilico: Emilico will be her face to the world when she comes of age, and must learn to behave just as Kate would. Emilico wants to succeed in this task; she even arranges her hair so that it looks like the silhouette of Kate's, tries to guess Kate's mood through the shape of her mouth when it's in profile and it is hinted that Kate is bending the mysterious rules that govern them both for Emilico by letting her wear her extravagant clothes and treating her like a friend.
The sweetness of their relationship contrasts the foreboding tone of the setting: the mansion is isolated, accessible only by railroad and covered with dark ash, the screen has a grey tint to it and it is never explained how Emilico lost her memory of being human or how, exactly, she will become Kate's "face" in the future. The Living Doll is full of joy when she sees another noble and her shadow walking in the garden, but when the Living Doll glares at Emilico, even the most optimistic viewer would suspect that something extremely sinister is afoot.
Fans of the manga will know who, what and why is in control of the Noble House, but eagle-eyed anime viewers might be able to catch a whiff of a clue in the opening credits.
Shadow's House, based on the manga of the same name by the duo Somato, was created by CloverWorks, directed by Kazuki Ōhashi, written by Toshiya Ōno, with character design by Chizuku Kusakabe and music by Kenichiro Suehiro. It's currently available on Funimation.