Pet Shop of Horrors
Today I’ll be reviewing Pet Shop of Horrors . I’ve wanted to see this 4 episode series, animated by Madhouse, for a long time now. But I only recently got to watch it, once the DVD was re-released (and you can bet I watched it as soon as I got the DVD home from the store). I heard a lot of good things about it, and luckily it lived up to them all. Pet Shop of Horrors is an OVA that was originally released in Japan in 1999, and first released in the US by Urban Vision in 2000. It is based on a manga by Matsuri Akino, and the OVA was directed by Toshio Hirata.
Pet Shop of Horrors is largley an episodic horror series, although there is one little overarching story. Each episode involves someone or a group of people aproaching Count D, the owner of a creepy petshop in China town, for a pet. But these people have heard stories that the Count’s pet’s are not normal, and this is anything but an average petshop in L.A. (yeh this takes place in California) . The people going to see the count seek more then just a regular pet, and they useally get what they want. But not without a warning from the mysterious and quirky Count . “Do this, and that” he says “Follow the rules…don’t breach the contract” he states. And as long as the people follow his rules, they will be ok, better then ok because they get the strange wonder that they wished for. For example two greiving parents enter the petshop in search of something , and what does the Count present them with? Their dead daughter of course, only she’s not dead, she there, alive and well. Only the Count keeps insisting that it’s not really their daughter, but its actually a rabbit. Just a regular rabbit. Rabbit or no rabbit the parents want their daughter back. So they buy their child, and take her home. But they also sign the Count’s contract, which says no one else should see the “rabbit”, and they should only feed it vegetables and water no matter what, because after all rabbits don’t eat people food. But when their child begs for real food, for cookies, what do you think the parents will do? It’s all very reminiscent of the time when their child was in the hospital, dealing with withdrawls from some illegal drug. And just like when she was in the hospital they cave in and give her what she wants, even though they know it’s not in her best interest. Just because they can’t stand to watch her suffer. I won’t ruin what happens, but let’s just say you don’t breach the Count’s contract and live a happy life afterwards. Braking the contract can destroy you, and everyone around you as well. Many of the episodes play out this way, they are mostly a set of morality tales (think Tales from the Crypt or the 1989 Live Action movie Creepshow). And they are all incredbly frightening at times. There are some very creepy scenes in this anime. Some of the themes this anime deals with are very interesting. And some of the characters will really stand out. Also this series will impact you emotionally a little, which is always a plus in my book. The only real problem with this series is that (***Spoiler***) none of the characters listen to the count, and follow his directions, even when they are quite easy. This is a little hard to believe. Every single character brakes the contract with the count in one way or another. This of course leads to a rather tragic conclusion to each episode, and makes me think these people are all very stupid. Ok so I can believe a few of them won’t listen to him, but all of them? Someone out there has to have a brain, shame none of them get a pet from the Count, I’d like to see how that would play out. (***End Spoiler***) Of course this brings me to my next small problem with the show, it’s two damn short! Perhaps if they had made more episodes, this would have fixed the first problem of the show, because they could have taken the show in many different directions, but lack of episodes made them want to focus on what they did. Anyway this is a show that could have gone on for 12 or even 24 episodes and still stayed fresh, and it’s truly a shame that it didn’t. That’s my only other real beaf with it. Oh and while you watch this, keep an eye out for the Star Wars and Mark Hamill refferences. Not sure why, but I found them quite amusing.
And it’s also worth noting that they overarching story involves Detective Leon Orcot trying to prove Count D is up to no good, and that his petshop is directly responsible for all the unexplainable deaths and missing people. We follow Leon as he tries to prove the Count is really behind all these things, despite Leon’s boss just thinking he’s stressed out or worse, crazy. Leon keeps investigatingthe Count up until the last episode, and although he seems to be discovering quite a bit of evidence here and there, nothing much comes of it. It feels very open ended, like perhaps there’s more about this in the manga or something? Because after everything is said and done, it doesn’t really matter because the show just ends. It gave me a feeling of “ok so what was the point?”. Although it is nice to have some sort of story develop over the four episodes, but I can’t help from thinking that it would have been even better for it to have gone somewhere (like Leon proving for once and for all that the Count was behind everything, or the Count stoping Leon some how). But I did like how the overarching story played out. And some of the funnyest, and weirdest moments happen when Leon is talking to the Count . The way the count plays with Leon is just great. And it’s during these scenes that we really see just how odd, eccentric, and quirky the Count really is. He’s much less serious when he’s talking to the Detective, and the way these characters intereact is just fun to watch. As the Detective Leon is truly trying to get the root of everything, and the Count really just doesn’t care, and likes to mess with him, and play games with him. Watching the two interact is a strong point of the series. Although I have to mention I think Leon is very boring in comparision to the Count. But I guess it’s not really fair to compare anyone to the Count, because he’s quite a character, and anyone would seem boring in comparison. But I do wish Detective Leon was a bit more interesting. Even some of the minor and episodic characters are much more interesting in comparison, which to me is a bad sign. But this is a very small problem, and it’s easily over looked.
As far as the artwork goes in this anime, I thought it was great. For 1999 it did seem a little simple, but overall I thought it was very well done. The backgrounds look like their watercolored but very nice. Although at times they do appear to be a litle cheap looking. I did enjoy some of the interior shots, as I felt they were very dark and creepy looking, which is a must for this show. It’s not too detailed, but I did like everything. The character designs were however perfect for this show. All of them were original, in a different style, and just looked great. Extra points for the oddball design of the Count, and all the creepy monster/pet designs. The only real problem with the artwork is it feels a little flat, like the characters can’t really move back and forth very well. It feels like they are stuck in a spot. There really isn’t an illusion of real physical space for these characters. But this isn’t a big deal or anything, it’s just something Madhouse usually does quite well, and didn’t seem to bother with much here.
As far as the music goes, it’s fitting. It’s all very spooky and atmospheric. I liked it alot, although it’s nothing outstanding or anything. Some of it had a great 80’s detective vibe, that felt very Jazzy, which I loved. And some of it had a horror-feeling going on, which was also quite good. As far as the dub goes, I thought it was great. Detective Leon is played by Alex Fernandez, who fits the part, but feels a little lost and confused at times. But he has a great voice, and really can act when need be. He just needed a little more guidence in my opinion. But he is useally quite good. It is a shame his performance is not as good as it could have been, but I personally blame the director. Count D is played by John Demita, who makes the character feel spooky, otherworldly, and odd. In a word, he’s perfect. He really helps bring out the eccentricities when need be, and bring out the spooky side of his character, when it’s time. This guy knows what he’s doing, and I just wish he’d be cast in more roles. I rather liked his performance and he has a really unique voice. The other detectives that work with Leon are cast quite well, and do a good job. The minor characters are useally great, although a few are quite bad (the guy who get’s a Tiger in episode 1, really all of that sounds pretty bad). But the good easily out weights the bad. It is a very fresh sounding dub too. My only other problem with it is some lines here and there feel a little awkward. But overall this is a great dub, even though it does feel like it aged quite a bit. It probally won’t stand up well against today’s dubs, but for my viewing it was more then adequate. Plus John Demita for the win, really. He’s just nuts at times.
You can watch the entire series, legally for free on Youtube, thanks to the Anime Network. The DVD was recently re-released by Sentai Filmworks, and although it has no real extras, it’s still great to own. As this is a show that was once going for over $100.00 on DVD (the old Urban Vision release) on auction sites, now you can own it for under $20. And it’s really an all around great show, one every horror fan should own. Oh and props to Sentai Filmworks for practically taking the same image Urban Vision used on their DVD release, and making the cover still look 100 times better then it was.