Pet Shop of Horrors
Mike Toole rates it:
There's a big problem with this show. It's the title. I'm sorry, but reading "Pet Shop of Horrors" just makes me think of a gigantic, jive-talking, singing plant. Turning around and reading the back, which elaborates, "Welcome to the most magnificent pet shop in Chinatown. The Count has some of the nation's prestigious clients. Join the line to find the perfect companion hidden deep within the Count's incense laden folds," just makes me think of a huge plant going, "Feeeeeeed me, Count! Feeeeeed me awll naght lawng!" Because of this, I actually avoided watching the show for several months, as it was released on VHS.
However, the DVD was a different story. Same silly title, but there were actual extras, including a commentary track! I was intrigued. I had to see it. And you know what? This one took me completely by surprise. Pet Shop of Horrors is good. In fact, it's damn good. But let me elaborate.
The pet shop in Chinatown is indeed resided over by a certain Count D, an effeminate, weird-looking (take note of his eyes-- they're creepy) man in flowing robes. Despite the slightly odd location (how many pet shops are in your local Chinatown?), the pet shop is quite popular. The thing is, a lot of the clientele of the place end up having something horrible happen to them a few weeks after visiting. This arouses the suspicion of a homicide detective named Leon-- he makes a point to almost constantly harrass the Count for information. What the hell is the story with these pets, anyway?
Well, it's complicated.
I'll avoid spoiling any of the vignettes (there are four stories) on the disc-- suffice it to say, there's rabbits, fish, lizards, and a flaming horse with dragon scales, so the "pet" part definitely applies. Heh. What makes the story interesting is that it's built around the good old "monkey's paw" rule of storytelling, where wonderful things happen to people, only to reveal hidden, tragic consequences later. The rub is, every pet that Count D sells comes with a contract. The contract's rules are a little tough to follow, but not really that bad-- but if you stray from the contract, management takes no responsibility for what happens afterwards. As the disc progresses, Leon gets friendier with Count D, but the stories remain intense and weird and well-constructed. The disc is frequently characterized as "horror", and that's true-- there's some particularly disturbing imagery in episode 1-- but there are other themes, like love and loss and ambition. Leon is torn between charging Count D with endangering people with his "pets" and acknowledging the fact that every misfortune the pet owners suffered was their own doing.
The dub is fairly well done (in Dolby 5.1, no less!), with Alex Fernandez delivering an amusingly cynical Leon and John Demita an amusingly faggy Count D, complete with stilted pan-Asian accent. Fans of the Japanese version of Trigun will definitely want to see this, as Masaya Onosuka voices Leon in the Japanese dub. What's really fun to listen to is the commentary track-- Fernandez, Demita, and voice director Jack Fletcher have a lot of fun both explaining technical details of the dub and riffing constantly, MSK3k style, on the story and their performances as the characters. I really hope we see more commentary tracks like these, from both Urban Vision and other publishers. As for the show's production, it looks pretty good-- as usual, MADHOUSE animates, Toshio Hirata directs, and Hisashi Abe designs the characters. I think it's a little misleading to list Rintaro and Yoshiaki Kawajiri on the cover, as the former only directs the extra music video sequence, and the latter only did the script treatment for one of the segments. Still the production looks nice, and the DVD transfer is sparkling and crystal clear.
Just as a side note, I should also mention that the artwork of the show's original manga author, Mari Akino, looks very shoujo, and the weird tension between Leon and Count D could easily be interpreted as the makings of shounen ai stuff. I know that there's an audience for this sort of thing out there, so take a look-- you won't regret it...
All told, Pet Shop of Horrors really surprised me with its depth, quality execution, and nice visual style. It's an engrossing look at just how moral and immoral people can be, and it's executed in a way that's unusual and interesting to watch. In an era where most of the anime being released are cleverly written but derivative, Pet Shop of Horrors is a truly original experience.
Added: Saturday, October 18, 2003
Related Link: Urban Vision