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DVD Review

DVD cover

Pet Shop of Horrors


Starring (voice): Toshihiko Seki and Masaya Onosaka
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 15
Available 02 August 2010

In New York’s Chinatown there is a little pet shop 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, beware. 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...

Horror in the medium of animation isn't easy to do well, a particular shame in the case of Japanese anime, given that country's wealth of supernatural folklore and ghost stories. With so many constraints on budget and censorship, manga tends to do much better in this field - meaning that anime adapted from well-known horror manga is almost always on a losing proposition. Pet Shop of Horrors, adapted from the shojo manga series by Akino Matsuri, is no exception, but has some fun with its brief run of episodes.

The common horror format of a series of disparate tales united by a storyteller-protagonist and a minimum of recurring characters is used here, our host being the charming Count D, a familiar Mephistophelean figure who offers gullible souls their hearts' desire from his collection of exotic animals, with a Gremlins-esque set of conditions for feeding and care of the creature. (It's amusing that the exoticisation of the Chinese as wise, yet slippery pedlars of unnatural wares as seen in Gremlins is on display here too, with the twist of Japanese prejudice against the Chinese displaced into an American setting.) His patrons in these four tales are exclusively wealthy and powerful people who have lost - or fear losing - something or someone precious and are persuaded that the Count's chosen animal can fill their needs: a couple mourning their lost daughter, the manager of a deceased pop idol who worshipped her before her untimely death, a has-been actor in search of meaning and an idealistic political aide seeking to boost her boss's career. Naturally, all four have hidden agendas and secrets that tempt them to disregard the Count's advice with fatal and gory consequences. Meanwhile, a police detective and his assistant - both dressed in the implausibly flashy style only seen on Americans, police detectives, and American police detectives in anime - try in vain to find the Count guilty of some wrongdoing, largely so that the narrative can have someone normal around to bear witness to the grotesque goings-on.

Despite being an OVA and in principle having access to a better budget and fewer restrictions than a TV anime, Pet Shop of Horrors suffers from minimally-executed animation and a rather tame approach to the heady violence and sexual content that might be allowed in this context. While explicit material isn't needed to produce effective horror, the stories told are a little lacking in inspiration - the final outing, with the tangled relationship between the young congressman, his wife and his friend drawn with slightly more care than I was anticipating, is the best and most intriguing of the pack. The series shows its age in the production values and the quintessentially 1990s character designs - it's no surprise to see the name of Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll) among the production crew - yet the music and voice acting, on both Japanese and English audio tracks, are of good quality and the series as a whole is quirky enough to stick in the mind after viewing. A good choice for reviving a curiosity from an earlier era of anime.


Richard Hunt

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