“All the legends are true.” This is what Jace Wayland tells Clary Fray, as she and the audience are thrown into the dangerous Shadow World.
Airing on FreeForm since January 12, 2016, is Shadowhunters, the latest live-action adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s acclaimed book series Mortal Instruments. While more faithful to the books, it retells the story in a more modern light.
Shadowhunters follows redhead Clarissa “Clary” Fray in New York. Clary celebrates her 18th birthday with her childhood best friend, Simon, not knowing a typical fun night at the club would quickly turn into a bloody showdown between Shadowhunters and demons. The young Fray is then forced to choose: her old life as a prospective art student or a new life as a Shadowhunter.
The Denizens of the Shadow World
Shadowhunters are half-angel, half-human creatures that seek to maintain order throughout the Shadow World. Most of the show’s central characters hail from this race: the strong-willed Clary Fray, the pompous Jace Wayland, and the Lightwood siblings comprised of responsible older brother Alec Lightwood and the feistier Izzy.
These fighters maintain peace and order through vigilance and warfare. They have their traditional swords called seraph blades, but they also use magic in the form of angelic runes. These are mystical marks that bestow a variety of effects—from augmenting abilities to protection from certain elements—upon its user (and they’re nice to look at, too). A new aspect in the series though is the incorporation of sophisticated technology like digital maps and surveillance systems into this arsenal. All the better for Shadowhunters to mete out angelic justice.
On the opposite side of the balance are the demon-blooded Downworlders, comprised of four races: werewolves, vampires, seelies, and warlocks. Each, of course, has their own qualms with the way Shadowhunters run the place. Warlock extraordinaire Magnus Bane serves as a major vantage point for Downworlder struggles, as his romance with Alec Lightwood comes into conflict with the war between good and evil.
A Story between Good and Evil (Again?)
The divide between good and evil appears to be simple. On one side, we’ve got the angels. On the other, there are demons. Yet the story’s narrative proves otherwise, as all denizens of the Shadow World are forced to unite against Valentine Morgenstern, a rebellious Hitler-like figure, who attempts to raise an army that endangers everyone Shadowhunter and Downworlder alike—and the humans caught in between.
Relationships are also emphasized in the narrative. The Shadowhunters befriend werewolves, vampires, warlocks, and even the seelies to some extent. On romance, the show constantly highlights and puts its leading couples to the test: Clary and Jace coming to terms with the complications of their respective family histories, and Alec and Magnus struggling with the conflicts of their respective races.
The romance of Alec and Magnus has also been praised as one of the more progressive and inclusive attempts at gay romance. It involves two fully developed characters, and the relationship is integrated with the storyline—the Shadowhunter-warlock pairing plays a major role in bridging light and dark.
A Shadow of Our World
The show also boasts a stellar (and as some have compared, more suited than the movie adaptation’s) cast that captures the complexity and conflicts of its characters. Outstanding performances include Matthew Daddario (who plays Alec), who won as Choice TV Sci-Fi/Fantasy Actor at the 2018 Teen Choice Awards, where the show bagged a total of seven awards. This became more prominent in later seasons as the actors improved upon their portrayals of their roles.
The same can be said about cinematography. The series began with overly bright visuals: light-saber-esque seraph blades and starkly lit alleys and buildings. Season 2 onwards, the show took on a darker and more cinematic tone. Wider shots brought the series’ fantastical-and-modern setting into the fore, and the bloodier scenes and dimmer visuals lent a much-appreciated realism and maturity to the show.
Shadowhunters successfully employs gritty visuals to highlight the characters’ struggles as they wade through the darkness of the Shadow World. The cast brings out the sincerity of the relationships on the show, not only giving viewers healthy doses of on-screen chemistry but also emphasizing the stakes of the ongoing war for all races involved.
These characters may be born from legend, but they reflect completely human struggles—Shadowhunters is not just a magical, darker, and sexier mirror of our reality. It is also a deeper look into the human experience.
The show is currently on its third and final season. Shadowhunters is set to return with the second half of season 3 in spring 2019.
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