Review Date: August 13, 2002
Released by: Urban Vision Entertainment
Release date: 2/27/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
I like animals, and I love having pets. I even have a taste for the "exotic" pets, having owned a tarantula, alligator lizard, and I'm considering getting a rat. But even when buying these animals, I stick to fairly normal pet stores. I certainly would never go to a bizarre pet shop with a mysterious owner in a seedy part of Chinatown. However, if everyone followed that advice, we'd never have the OVA (Original Video Animation) Anime series Pet Shop of Horrors, available from Urban Vision Entertainment. Let's see what animals Count D has for sale.
Pet Shop of Horrors is four separate (yet also similar) tales of the supernatural that center on a strange Chinatown pet shop. The proprietor of the shop is one Count D (voice of Toshihiko Seki), an eerie and also somewhat effeminate character with a very bizarre bat/rabbit companion. His nemesis is Leon (Masaya Onosaka), a young police detective who suspects Count D in many of the various murders that always seem to involve the shop's customers.
In the first episode, "Daughter", a couple mourning the death of their daughter comes to the Count's shop. He shows them a girl who looks exactly like Alice, their deceased daughter. However, he also explains that it is actually a rabbit and not a human, and there are three strict rules the couple must follow. Faster than you can say "mogwai", the rules are broken, and the couple is overrun by bizarre creatures. The mother will have to face up to the real reasons behind her daughter's death.
Next is "Delicious", a somewhat similar story. In this episode, a man named Iason is mourning the wedding night death of his wife. His "pet" to purchase also resembles his lost love, but this time the doppelganger is in mermaid form. Leon thinks that Iason killed his wife and investigates further, eventually learning the truth of what happened that night. Meanwhile, Iason might just be giving new meaning to the term "sleeping with the fishes."
The tone changes a bit for the third story. In "Despair", Robin Hendrix, a one-hit wonder actor acquires a "Medusa lizard" which also seems to have a human form. And yes, the laundry list of forbidden actions comes with this pet, too. Robin has been looking for another hit film so he can once again feel the adoration of the fans, but it's his new pet that shows him true love. Too bad the gaze of his lover's eyes will turn him to stone.
Finally we have "Dual", a radically different tale to close out the quartet. This strange little story is about Kelly, an assistant to a young politician named Roger Stanford. Kelly feels he owes his life to Roger, and attempts to acquire The Kirin (an ancient demon that will guarantee political success) from Count D. Kelly does manage to purchase the strange pet, and Roger's political future seems secure, but at what cost?
Pet Shop of Horrors is very reminiscent of anthologies like Tales From the Crypt and The Twilight Zone. Each story has an ironic ending that usually includes some kind of morality lesson. And also like those famous shows, the violence is minimal and off-screen, relying more on a climax that exposes the dark sides of the protagonists. So those expecting heavy violence and/or major creepiness may not find them in this pet shop. Instead, the "horror" is more in the customers than in the shop itself.
The first episode is extremely dark and disturbing, and tackles subject matter that Western directors would never even consider filming. Just dealing with the death of a child is harrowing enough, but in Daughter, the Count sticks the knife in even deeper and even twists it around a bit. It's extremely unsettling, and this radically different storyline may even show why so many horror fans are now flocking to Asian releases.
Unfortunately, the remaining three episodes are all a step below. They're still good, but the bar was set so high in the first story that very little can compare. Admittedly, three more episodes with the dark tone of Daughter would probably sink the viewer to new lows of depression. But perhaps the main reason I was underwhelmed with the rest of the episodes was in their repetitive nature. The Delicious episode is almost a remake of the first. Despair begins to refresh the storyline a little, which makes that an interesting episode, and by Dual all of the conventions and rules are thrown out. I wish they hadn't waited till the fourth episode to finally diversify the plot a little. There is talk of more Pet Shop of Horrors episodes, and I'm all for it, especially if they can continue to vary the storylines.
While the episodes are not as graphic or violent as many people might prefer, I'm OK with that since violence in animation never quite "works" for me. I'd rather they use animation to create impossible things, and the shapeshifting human "pets" are all well served by using the animation format. Plus, the obvious influence of some American films (the first two episodes are disturbing remakes of Gremlins and Splash) may also make this show a little more accessible to Anime newcomers. Many other Anime horror stories use Japanese gods and demons that can be more than a little confusing to Western audiences, but the stories here are mostly straightforward.
Shorter Anime series like these also lend themselves well to inexperienced viewers. There is often discussion amongst serious fans (otaku) of the superiority of feature-length films vs. series with 26 (or more) episodes. I do like the series format a little more, since the character development is usually better. But convincing newcomers to invest in several DVDs just to view all of the episodes can be a difficult task, so these short "OVA" series provide a nice balance. Shows like this are great for those not wanting to make such a major commitment to a long series. If you enjoy Pet Shop of Horrors, especially because of the small number of episodes, I also highly recommend the original 4 OVA episodes of Vampire Princess Miyu.
Made for video, Pet Shop of Horrors is presented in a full-frame ratio and not enhanced for widescreen televisions. It looks pretty good, with a fairly soft feel that works well with the mystic nature of the show itself. The color scheme is muted too, again keeping the mysterious sense of the stories, with most of the color used on Count D's traditional outfits. OVAs have a degree of animation that usually falls between the quality of television shows and movies, and that's the case with Pet Shop as well. It's not quite as "smooth" as the full-length features, but also not as "static" as several 26-episode series like Neon Genesis Evangelion. Here the animation appears to be an even mix of computer-generated effects and traditional cel animation. The character-driven storyline does not lend itself to some of the gorgeous artwork, backgrounds, or action sequences seen in other Japanese animated works. I'd recommend Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (also released by Urban Vision) for horror fans that want to see just how beautiful Anime art can be.
Here's where we face a familiar Anime dilemma. The natural Japanese soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0, but the English dub is in full 5.1. The 5.1 has a great soundfield, but not all of the English actors seem to really grasp their roles. I did like the dubbing on the Count, but every other voice seems "cartoony." I definitely preferred the Japanese actors on the 2-channel mix, but I liked the sound a lot more on the 5.1. If you're an original language purist like myself, the choice may be difficult, but for those that prefer not to read subtitles, you will very much like the Dolby Surround track. The voices and sound effects are deep and full, with a nice amount of reverb (even though the surrounds get little use). The Japanese 2.0 track is well done too, but nowhere near as lively as the English 5.1 is.
Urban Vision provided some nice little extras on this disc. The most interesting is an audio commentary with Jack Fletcher, the English director, as well as John Demita and Alex Fernandez, the English voices of Count D and Leon, respectively. They spend a lot of time making fun of the show, which may offend some of the Pet Shop of Horror fans. But they also discuss the issues with translating and matching mouth movements, and they also provide interesting opinions on Anime itself. Now, some purists get real offended when English voice actors are given space on a DVD, but I found their opinions very interesting, even if I don't agree with everything they say. This is definitely one to listen to.
The "deleted scene" promised on the cover is actually an unused title sequence. I definitely noticed the lack of a title sequence, as to me it is a integral part of any Anime show. I can't imagine watching Cowboy Bebop without the "Tank!" intro, ditto with Serial Experiments: Lain and "Duvet." But this wasn't a very good sequence (probably why they canned it), although had they just removed the live action clips of the singer, it might have been usable.
Last up are a whole host of Urban Vision trailers, noted by the conspicuous absence of either of the Vampire Hunter D movies. Still, there are a several more shows and movies they carry, and the trailers are the best way to get some idea of what they're about.
Horror and animation are genres that are rarely combined, and even more rarely are those combinations successful. Pet Shop of Horrors, with it's sense of poetic justice, is a nice venture into the world of horror/Anime, but it's not quite up to par with the psychological thriller Perfect Blue or the adventurous Vampire Hunter D movies. Still, for those of us who enjoy the horror anthology shows and movies that were quite popular in the 60s and 70s, this is a nice crossover of two genres. Plus, Urban Vision did a nice job with the DVD release (though I'd love a Japanese 5.1 track as rich as the English one), and Asian horror fans as well as Anime lovers will find this a nice addition to their collections.
Movie - B
Image Quality - B+
Sound - A-
Supplements - A-
- Running Time - 1 hour 35 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1
- Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0
- English Subtitles
- Deleted opening song
- Audio Commentary by the English director and cast
- Urban Vision Trailers
- Urban Vision Website