Shadow’s House: The TRUE Purpose of the Living Dolls

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Shadow's House, now streaming on Funimation.

The Nobles of Shadow's House have a strange hold on their "Living Dolls." Not only do these servants clean and care for their --literally -- shadow-y masters, but they do so for the entire house as well, and cheerfully. The Living Dolls of Shadow's House have an unwavering enthusiasm for all their work, even as the anime reveals that the Nobles asks each of them to sacrifice themselves for their charges.

Episode 2 of Shadow's House introduces Emilico to the other Living Doll servants of the Noble mansion and followed her on her first day learning her new cleaning duties, beyond the rooms of her mistress, Kate. However, the second part of the episode reveals a marked difference between Kate's relationship with Emilico and the other Shadow Nobles with their Dolls.

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Episode 1 of Shadow's House introduced the basic rules of the House: Each Shadow Noble is served by a human-like Living Doll made in their image -- or what their image would be, if they were visible. The Nobles are literal shadows: their bodies are inky-black, with no recognizable traits beyond their profile, their movements and their attire. Living Dolls are expected to keep their Noble master comfortable, and their living quarters clean of the soot they give off. The ultimate goal of every Living Doll is to eventually become their master's "face in front of the world."

In Episode 1, this is hand-waved away. It's clear that something sinister is going on, but the way Kate explains the "face" concept to Emilico makes it sound more like a diplomatic assignment than anything, and everything else is so foreboding that it seems, by far, the most normal thing in the show. Of course a living shadow wouldn't be able to just go out in Victorian times to do business -- it's only natural that they would send a more human-like representative in their place.

However, Episode 2 shatters this notion when Kate and Emilico run into another Shadow-Doll pair in the gardens: the slightly older Sarah and Mia. Mia, the Living Doll, was Emilico's mentor and guide earlier in the episode, picking her up in the morning, guiding her through the maze-like mansion, introducing her to the other servants and generally being a kind, funny and helpful colleague. However, her role as Sarah's Doll comes before everything -- including her personality. Mia perfectly mimics every single one of her Shadow's movements, down to her unseen expression, without speaking a single word with her own voice. This is what a "Face" is.

The effect is eerie: Mia, the vivacious friend, is gone -- what's left is a graceful puppet, her cruel Shadow mistress and her Shadow voice, which she uses to taunt Kate with veiled threats and mock Emilico's inability to mimic or even guess her mistress' expressions. As a parting jeer, Sarah says that "Grandfather wouldn't like this," implying that perfect synchronicity between Shadow and Doll required to be fully accepted as a member of the Shadow family, and a key step to becoming an "adult."

The horror of Shadow's House is that the obviously alive, upsettingly young Living Dolls are being forced to not just do manual labor for free, but to give up their own thoughts and personalities in the service of their Shadows. It doesn't matter how different they are or what opinions they hold. In Mia's case, she not only gets along with Emilico, but she's nothing like her master at all. Where Sarah is snide and cruel, Mia is upbeat and kind. Her imitation of Mia is perfect and exactly what is expected of her as a Living Doll, but the level of dissonance between the pair's personalities means that Mia definitely sacrificing pieces of herself to imitate her mistress. The house's rules have forced her to erase herself to fall in line.

But the dissonance between Kate and Emilico's personalities speaks volumes as well. Kate actively encourages Emilico's agency and unique personality, which is why, when Sarah meets them, Emilico doesn't know how to even begin imitating Kate. Kate treats Emilico as a friend, meaning that the Shadow who should be on the side of the villains is actively refusing that role -- at potential personal cost. The mention of "Grandfather" means there's a higher institution threatening the Shadows as well, so it's not as if Kate necessarily benefits from giving Emilico what little freedom she can.

Although the Living Dolls discourage "thinking" and Emilico is a go-getter, happy-go-lucky girl who prefers to act rather than to think, she decides to use the tools that Kate gave her — pen and paper — to pour her worries into a journal instead of having them floating around in her head. And having all the questions and worries about her experiences in Shadow's House spelled out in front of her unlocks something. Emilico goes from "tired but determined" to "scared and remembering" in a single second.

Did Kate know that this would happen, and if so — what does she want? Does she have a plan to break the Shadows' dependency on Living Dolls, is she motivated by her love for Emilico or does she just have principles that do not involve enslaving the minds of living children? The mysteries surrounding Kate and the Living Dolls will likely only deepen as more pairs make their debut.

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