Originally produced in 1999 and released by Urban Vision on DVD in 2001, Sentai Filmworks has decided to pick up and re-release Pet Shop of Horrors for the US market to help build their library of releases. Having been out of print for quite awhile now, I have to say that picking this four episode OVA series up is a great start. Even as the show turns ten years old, it remains a very unique, atmospheric title I'm happy to see on the market once again.
What They Say
Welcome to the most magnificent pet shop in Chinatown! Operated by the shadowy Count D, the shop specializes in rare and hard to come by petsα but with each sale comes a contract. And if that countract is broken, watch out! Detective Orcott has linked many odd and unexplainable deaths to Count D's shop. Will he solve the mystery or fall prey to it?
Both language tracks are a 2.0 stereo mix that offer little that stands out. The dialogue is clear and sticks mostly to the center stage with little directionality. The English dub is the old Urban Vision dub produced by Sky Quest Entertainment with translation and subtitles by New Generation Pictures. You will find some familiar names in there such as Matt Miller, Kate T. Vogt (Tenchi Muyo! alums) and Wendee Lee. However, the dub as a whole just falls kind of flat. I really liked Mr. Miller's performance though as the washed up actor Hendrix in "Despair". The Japanese cast gives a better performance here with Masaya Onosaka (Vash, Trigun), Toshihiro Seki (Legato, Trigun) providing the foundation as Leon and Count D respectively. I also have to add that the score for the show is really quite good and is easily the best part of the audio as Mario Litwin provides a moody, haunting presence to each episode. It's very rich and is quite helpful to the overall success of the show.
I'm a little confused here though. In cross-checking older reviews, the English dub seemed to be a 5.1 mix. On this disc however, it's a 2.0 mix. Was a 5.1 mix lost in the shuffle here?
The video is quite a mixed bag. It's been quite awhile since I've seen the older Urban Vision disc so I honestly can't compare the two right now. Perhaps the show's look just hasn't aged that well and our new-fangled HDTVs do not hide the imperfections as well as older ones did. The show keeps a very soft, subdued look that uses a variety of colors from blues to oranges to contrast the dark look of D's pet shop. D's clothing often provides a great dose of color as he is quite fond of vibrant designs and colors on his robes. Scenes outside of the shop are often brighter with more intricate set ups such as the indoor pool shown throughout the second episode or the cool, calming look of Hendrix's apartment in the third.
Knowing how the show is supposed to look, the picture looks like it's a little too soft and even a little grainy as well. This seems to be much more noticeable in the first episode as there are plenty of scenes within the pet shop and a mansion which is kept dark as well. There is a loss a detail here in the picture that seems a bit off to my eyes. There are also some instances of cross-coloration and some blocking within the blacks. As the show moves throughout its episodes, the picture does get better. Perhaps the problem lays with the master given to Sentai Filmworks or the new DVD transfer for the disc. I'm not sure. However, I was really bummed to see this kind of mediocre picture quality on such a good looking show.
The front cover of the title is a very nice picture featuring the two main characters from the story "Delicious". It's very detailed as the gentleman lays down in a peaceful state while a good looking lady looks over and goes to possess him in a bloody hue (this image is from "Delicious"). The stylized logo positioned at the top with a box quote from this very site featured for all to see (Way to go, Boss!). This design is a noticeable step up from the older Urban Vision cover. The back continues the same type of layout with a selection of screen shots and the summary. There is no insert.
The menu is simple, quick and the looping music (while good), doesn't have a chance to annoy you as you make your selections. Each episode is presented right on the main menu for easy selection. The font is easy to read and the backgrounds on each menu screen is the same type of lovely red present on the cover. It's bare bones but it's all you need to get into the show quickly while fitting the overall theme.
Unless you count trailers for over Sentai Filmworks titles, the only extra here is clean closing animation. Animation being used loosely as the closing sequence is just a series of fly-bys featuring artwork from the manga. I'm curious as to what happened with the extras featured in the previous release such as the music video and the commentary track by the English voice director and a couple of the actors. This track ran across all of the episodes and was actually pretty funny from time to time. I'm actually willing to bet there was some sort of rights issues with that but I'm drawing a blank as to why the music video wasn't included.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the successful manga of Matsuri Akino, Pet Shop of Horrors was produced by Madhouse in 1999. A four episode OVA series, directed by Toshio Hirata and written by Yasuhiro Imagawa, was produced and was originally shown on TV in bite sized chunks on TBS during a block called "Wonderful". Due to the way Pet Shop is structured, this style of broadcast would make for very interesting viewing. In many ways, this show reminds me of a slightly modified Tales from the Crypt. Both shows feature short stories featuring a new set of characters and twists, but Pet Shop keeps a set of central characters who appear as part of the story in every one. Notably, Count D and Leon Orcot.
Count D is the caretaker of an exotic pet shop in Los Angeles' Chinatown. He is an androgynous man who can easily be mistaken for a woman due to his dress, mannerisms, nail length and strange penchant for sweets. He carries a mysterious aura about him as he is always calm and cool with a strange bat-like creature around him as his constant companion. Lastly, he eyes are two different colors; yellow and purple (although that yellow eye seems to like to switch to blue). He has a deep affinity for nature and seems to actually pity humans a bit. Leon Orcot is a hot-blooded police officer that has made a connection between a rash of deaths and the Count's pet shop (all of them were customers). Believing the shop may be a front for drugs, slave-trade or worse, he goes to confront the Count and is slowly drawn into the weird world of the Count who claims to only sell "love, hope and dreams".
Each of the stories in this OVA play on these concepts each with a delightfully macabre twist. "Daughter", "Delicious", "Despair" and "Dual" all revolve around themes of love, hope, and dreams and the dark side of these concepts. In Daughter, a married couple come to the pet shop in search of something to quell the heartbreak of losing their daughter. Delicious involves a man, who lost his newlywed wife at sea, looking to pick up an animal his wife had ordered before his death.. Despair tells the tale of a semi-washed up actor who seeks consolation in buying rare lizards. Finally, in Dual, a politician and his aide seek out a legendary beast that can make their wildest dreams come true.
These "pets" appear to both the viewer and the customer as a human or humanoid creature. To the point where they truly believe Count D is dealing in some truly shady business. However, he assures them, they truly are animals and the contract they sign to take them must be followed or his shop will assume no responsibility. Of course, the characters in these short stories, for one reason or another, can never seem to abide by the rules and the consequences are dire. Because of these consequences, Leon always seems to end up visiting the Count looking to get any dirt he can find to put him away. Over the course of these episodes, Count D and Leon form a cute little relationship. He eventually learns that pulling instead of pushing seems to be a better tactic with the Count and they participate in discussions over the details of unsolved mysteries ("Daughter" and "Delicious") or just the nature and quirks of humanity. Leon also quickly finds out that D has friends in very high places of power, much to Leon's chagrin.
My two personal favorite stories in this OVA series are "Delicious" and "Despair" for many reasons. The visual design of both episodes are really striking, the two main characters are interesting to watch and the "pets" they take in are both their own characters with two very distinct personalities.
"Delicious" is set around a man named Jason who comes to the shop to pick up a pet his late wife, the famous pop singer Evangeline Blue, had ordered. To his surprise, the animal was a mermaid who looked just like her (not counting the fish tail, webbed hands and fins). He immediately signs the contract and takes the mermaid home. In events going on around him, the death of his wife is an unsolved case that Leon just happens to be digging into. As details of the case slowly unravel themselves, Jason finds himself more and more entranced with his pet as his guilt over the events of her death replay in his mind.
Now, the fish can't talk here of course, but through the use of movement, visual cues and other techniques, we can see that this mermaid is her own character out for her own means. She really is seducing the poor guy. Sadly, for Jason, he forgets about one of the key conditions of the contract, which results in a gruesome end and a fun twist. What was really fun was trying to figure out if he truly forgot about the contract or if his fate was actually what he wanted. All of this playing out to a surreal vocal score and the slightly hypnotizing visuals of an indoor pool.
"Despair" is about an unmotivated actor named Hendrix whose one brush with stardom was as a tragic alien prince that has caused him to become typecasted and locked into that kind of role. His wife has left him and all he has is a collection of reptiles that brings him his own joy in the world. Showing up at D's doorstep, D introduces him to a special pet. At first glance, it appears to be a beautiful girl, but there's no mistaking that it's a reptile as her body turns to scales on the way down. She is blindfolded, with good cause as one look into her eyes means that's all she wrote (figure it out yet?). Now, I can't blame him for jumping at the chance to pick up this creature as it's truly a wonderfully designed character.
The two spend time together and really seem to actually connect on some deep level that goes unspoken. Again, like the mermaid, this creature cannot talk but we're shown through movement and expressions that she is becoming attached to this man without any possessive pretenses (the main difference between the two pets). Slowly, Hendrix realizes that he now has a new reason to live especially if he would like to keep taking care of his pet collection. He becomes motivated, confident and we catch a small glimpse of his potential as a star as he auditions for a new role. Unfortunately, circumstances outside of his control deny him. Is he really cursed? Haunted by his past success? We'll never know as the finish to this particular episode is especially bittersweet.
As I said before, I'm really happy to see Pet Shop of Horrors back on the market once again. It's a truly unique, dark and lovely OVA series. While the tales it tells can be considered morbid, it never tries to survive solely on its shock value. Each story has a message and it is delivered with care and finesse. Traits that I wish Sentai would have adopted with the production of this DVD. There is a missing 5.1 track I'm sure English dub fans would have liked to hear, missing extras that may or may not have been out of their control and a picture that is average as you can get. The quality of the show will always rise above the technical flaws pushed upon it by the format it's presented on though. Pet Shop of Horrors is no exception.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Samsung PN50A400 50" Plasma HDTV, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver, Yamaha 5.1 Surround Sound Speakers, PlayStation 3 at 720p via HDMI