Pet Shop of Horrors Anime Review
ペットショップ オブ ホラーズ
Pet Shop of Horrors
US Release By
Subtle Tragic Horror
TV Series / OAV
4 25-minute episodes
1999-03-01 - 1999-03-22 (TV) / 1999-05-08 - 1999-08-01 (video)
In New York's Chinatown, there is a little petshop that specializes in particularly exotic animals. The owner, a mysterious man known as Count D, has a pet to suit almost any taste. But if you come seeking an animal to help cope with a tragic loss or fill a gap in your life, be wary... the Count may have what you're looking for, but if you're not careful about taking care of it, your pet may get the better of you in the end.
The story follows Leon, a detective who always seems to stumble upon the cases of people who have come to a bad end and have something to do with the Count. Through their eyes, we are treated to four short and tragic tales of the macabre.
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Pet Shop of Horrors is a collection of carefully sculpted little macabre vignettes. Not for fans of action, grizzly horror, or subtle plots, the stories are obvious, the macabre situations are heavy-handedly built, and the story used to tie it all together is too unserious, but each of the tragic tales has a carefully constructed feel and appropriately creepy twist that should appeal to fans of more subtle "horror" stories, and to those who just like a good tragic yarn. Adding flavor to the mix is the unexpectedly interesting Count; far from the standard gothic gatekeeper of the bizarre, he is a colorful, surprisingly believable, and appealingly refined character. His awkward rapport with the shallow Leon spices up that otherwise formula character. Round out the picture with moody art, unusual settings, and a top-notch dub.
Pet Shop of Horrors isn't a wildly original series, nor one one full of shocking surprises, but it is a decent collection of subtle, arty atmospheric horror stories for folks who enjoy that sort of thing.
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At first glance, Pet Shop of Horrors has all the earmarks of yet another gory horror series with some demons sneaking around and a lot of work put into being horrific, and it was even released by Urban Vision. For the most part, that's essentially what it is, but instead of focusing on gross demons and graphic action, it spends its time carefully piecing together tragic situations with a supernatural twist and macabre overtones.
It doesn't aim to frighten--the stories are told from a detached perspective that makes them seem more inevitable and less personal. But as an interesting counterpoint, some of the situations are so creepy or unnerving that in a way it actually ends up being more horrific, in the true sense of the word, than most horror movies.
The stories themselves are each separate vignettes tied together by the pet shop owner--a character I'll get to in a bit--and Leon, a NY cop that is dead-set on finding something wrong with the unusual business that the shop deals in. There is little substance to this connecting thread; the all-too-classic loose-cannon detective sees a case with a tie to the pet shop, goes to hassle the Count, investigates (or, in episode 3, gets told) the story of whatever bizarre occurrence revolved around the unusual "pet," and ends up walking away without anyone (or thing) to arrest. This part of the story is shallow, obvious, and a little too upbeat compared to the rest of it (some of the police department banter and the Count's over-cute bat in particular seem at odds with everything else).
What keeps the framing from being a total liability is the Count and his rapport with Leon. Though the Count initially appears to be the standard wistful and opaque goth character, he turns out to be one of the best parts of the series. Aside from an interesting look, he's much more of a real person than this sort of allegorical series usually allows. His fondness for sweets and refined yet genuine joy at receiving gifts is completely at odds with the detached "gatekeeper of the bizarre" image, and I loved the way that played out. His extremely awkward relationship with the overly shallow Leon is also more interesting than I was expecting.
That's the way it's served, but what about the meat? The vignettes that the Count lets us in on are rather like sculptures, carving out one part at a time to create a final macabre image. The mood is uniformly slow, slightly creepy, and generally unsettling, with strong tragic overtones. The outcomes are relatively obvious, but that's not the point; the series is about style and creating an evocative image, not surprises. If you like a clear direction in a story, you'll be endlessly frustrated by this series--many of the stories really don't have any point past the final image, and the focus on its construction overrides realism and even logic.
Creativity isn't a strong point; the first episode is basically a much creepier Gremlins, though later episodes do improve. More of an issue is that the hand of the sculptor is very visible as the stories are constructed. The "morals" are similarly blunt (and, ironically, they don't seem to make much sense, either).
Pet Shop of Horrors is attractive, although not memorably so. The backgrounds are dark and subtly creepy, if rather sparse, and they effectively set the mood for much of the series. The pet shop in particular looks appropriately unnerving, with walls and ceilings obscured by darkness, sheer, flowing curtains, and the eerily-lit hallway where the most interesting pets are stored. The characters are an interesting split. Many are graced with fine, sharp features and lanky, somewhat shoujo-style physiques. Evangeline Blue in part 2, for example, is quite attractive, and the Count's look is simple yet unique. The character art is similarly refined and detailed, making use of an appropriate color palette. In contrast are Leon and some of the "normal" characters; in a reflection of their insubstantial personalities, they are designed and drawn rather simply, and their coloring even looks a tad washed-out. The animation is an exercise in minimalism; the stories are (appropriately) told with more standing still than movement. What little action there is is good enough not to stick out.
The background music in this series mostly consists of creepy atmospherics and bluesy wailing, and generally matches the mood appropriately. The end theme, however, is a disappointingly traditional, slightly sad J-rock song.
I have only seen the English dub, but I must say that I was impressed with it. The dialogue is well-written, and there are a couple of commendable performances. The Count, again, is one: John Demita's smooth, effeminate tone and hint of an accent gives the character a unique, exotic air, and his acting is equally fitting. The other noteworthy performance is Matthew K. Miller as Robin Hendrix in part 3; he has a casual, charismatic air that does a lot to give the character personality. The rest of the non-recurring characters are good for the most part. Alexander Fernandez's Leon is a little overblown, but he does about as good a job as can be expected with the character.
In all, Pet Shop of Horrors is a collection of little, carefully-sculpted macabre vignettes. Not for fans of action, grizzly horror, or subtle plots, the stories are obvious, the macabre situations are heavy-handedly constructed, and the story used to tie it all together is too unserious. Yet, each of the tragic tales has a carefully-crafted feel and appropriately creepy twist that should appeal to fans of more subtle atmospheric horror stories, and to those who just like a good tragic yarn. Add moody art, unusual settings, and a few interesting characters, and you get a decent series of subtle, arty tales of the macabre for folks who enjoy that sort of thing.
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Will likely appeal to fans of the Vampire Princess Miyu TV series, which it is rather similar to, as well as the OAVs, which are more abstract and somewhat better. Tactics is also quite similar in its tales of the supernatural, but is otherwise a much more upbeat series.
Notes and Trivia
Based on the manga series by Mari Akino, available in English from Tokyo Pop. The animated version, rather unusually for what otherwise appears to be an OAV series, first aired as a miniseries on Japan's TBS network; the OAV-standard individual VHS and LD volumes went on sale shortly afterward.
US DVD Review
The (now out of print) "Special Edition" DVD from Urban Vision includes all four episodes with Japanese and English audio tracks.
It has since been re-released by Sentai Filmworks.
Generally creepy feel and mature themes put the series into the 16-up range.
Violence: 3 - Not overly gory or graphic, but people die (and in weird ways).
Nudity: 2 - Light nudity in part 2.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Generally mature themes.
Language: 2 - Not particularly strong.