What They Say:
Seeking something unusual in a pet? A new companion to fill an empty space in your heart? Then come visit the strangest pet shop in Chinatown, where the mysterious Count D seems to know your every need and desire. But watch out – buying a pet is a contract for life, and when you buy from the Count, the pet you get may be the one you deserve rather than the one you want.
Even if that rare rabbit does somehow look just like your lost child, perhaps you’d be safer buying a puppy from a different establishment. At least, that’s what Detective Orcott of the LAPD suspects, as nightmarish things have happened to many of the shop’s customers. And yet, evidence directly implicating the Count always comes up lacking. But then, who would know how to play the game of cat-and-mouse better than the master of the Pet Shop of Horrors?
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the previously created English language mix, both of which are encoded at 224kbps. The series is one that’s certainly not going to really stretch or do anything surprising as it’s mostly dialogue driven and working on the idea of mood and atmosphere as opposed to big moments. The times when the mix feels like it stands out a bit more is with the score from time to time, but even that’s fairly muted overall. The dialogue aspect of it is fairly well handled overall and what we get is a decent if unmemorable design that works. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 1999, the transfer for this four-episode TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The materials come from the Urban Vision release so it’s a fairly awkwardly edited piece where it’s broken into two parts with two episodes in each part. Animated by Madhouse, I like the look and designs of the show but it’s one whose transfer really needed both a remastering in Japan and a better presentation here. It’s one that shows its age with the bits of line noise during stills and pans and there’s a touch of cross coloration here and there as well. The darker backgrounds are murkier than they should be, though again, some of this comes from the time in which it was made and not being a show that has had a proper updating in Japan. While the show has its fans overseas, it’s not one that’s gotten attention in Japan for a remaster and proper cleanup and the transfer here shows that it both needs it and that it’s likely not possible.
The packaging for this release is definitely solid and it helps to further solidify what to expect with the Sentai Selects line. The front cover has a good color design with the darker reds and black for the border that contains the character designs that almost feel like illustrations but are more from the animation itself. The logo along the top is the familiar one and the use of the Sentai Selects banner along the top blends in well with the overall color design while not standing out too badly. The back cover ups the gory side of things a bit with the bloody skeletal hand and lots of bloody splotches all over and that sets the tone far better. The shots from the show don’t do much to sell the show, but they add a kind of surreal aspect to what’s inside. With a good premise and breakdown of the episode count, all that’s left are the production credits, kept simple as the dub wasn’t done by Sentai, and an accurate technical grid. Being a Sentai Selects release, it has artwork on the reverse side where we get a better-looking design that has creepy images from the second episode coming out of the darkness for the main panel while also retaining the logo but eliminating the Selects line. The back cover is given over to some decidedly creepy material from the first episode. No show related inserts are included, but the packaging itself is really solid throughout.
The menu design for this show is pretty minimal at best as it doesn’t even has the name of the show on it. We get a black background which has some artwork on the right side blending into it with Count D in close-up. It’s a good looking image, but when combined with the small inconsequential widget along the lower left and a simplistic bit of navigation with the episodes number and title down the middle, it just feels uninspired. And usual Sentai menus are pretty good with some nice design elements, which leaves me thinking that there just wasn’t a lot to work with here. And that isn’t a surprise for a show that came out back in 1999. Navigation itself is easy and without problem which is what you want, but it feels like it could have set the mood a bit better.
The only extra included is the clean version of the ending sequence.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga from Matsuri Akino that ran from 1995 to 1998 that culminated in ten volumes of material, Pet Shop of Horrors is a four-episode anime series that aired in the winter of 1999. It was part of a miniseries run during the month of March in Japan and it found itself relatively quickly picked up for release in North America from Urban Vision. Since then it’s had a few releases and has landed in the hands of Sentai Filmworks, who has now given it this low-priced Sentai Selects release that uses the same materials as the Urban Vision release. We talked a bit about that in the video section with how the show is laid out, which could be mildly problematic for some folks.
The premise of the series is one that works well and I really do think would make for an enjoyable modern upgrade in anime form as a TV series that could run a couple of seasons. The show focuses on Count D, a man who runs a pet shop for his grandfather in the Chinatown section of Los Angeles. It’s a kind of mysterious place in general with how it looks on the inside, more a place of curiosities than a traditional pet shop to be sure, but it’s also fairly well known by those in positions of power and wealth as a lot of what’s here can cost a pretty penny while others are free for the taking. We get nods of the political elite here being aware but also important aspects such as the chief of police knowing and being a client, which raises its own questions of course that I wonder if they were ever tackled in the manga.
With its episodic nature, we mostly just get to work the idea of seeing various pets being taken in by new owners and the chaos that unfolds from it. Some of it feels like karmic justice, others just human nature in how things can go so badly versus what the person actually wants. While Count D, who never actually admits to the name, is the main character, it’s a smaller role, more like that of a narrator and incidental player in orchestrating things. He gets a little bit of balance through Leon, a police officer who starts seeing connections with the shop and wants to investigate more but is stymied for various reasons, both through those above and simply how the cases play out, leaving him unable to really go much further.
The stories within the show are fairly familiar ones, not exactly morality plays in a way yet also working through some interesting character issues as they face problems in their lives. The opening one involves a wealthy couple whose daughter died recently and they end up acquiring through Count D a girl who looks exactly like her but is called a rabbit. They’re given instructions on how to care for her with them signing to follow it to the letter. It’s like a Gremlins moment, of course, and you just wait to see how disastrously wrong things go. The anticipation is a good part of the enjoyment here in seeing the couple make their mistakes through human nature and their own sense of caring and desire to have their daughter back while also knowing that it’s likely going to kill them in the end. When you add in the surreal nature of the girl and her rabbit-like expressions and actions, it looks like it’s going to be comical but it’s played so straight and serious that you do find yourself drawn into it and accepting the suspense of disbelief.
The four episodes work through some interesting stories and while the constants are there, mostly, when it comes to Count D and Leon as well as the pet of the week, the stories themselves are nicely varied. One works with an idol singer and her manager where things go wrong in their own way while another focuses on an actor whose career has fallen off and is looking for something to help move him up again. The fourth one delves into both relationships and politics with the goal of ending poverty and war in the world, which makes for nice things to be talked about in abstract but really doesn’t click well in terms of actual story.
Pet Shop of Horrors is a series that I’ve seen several times over the years, owning the original VHS years ago and a couple of DVD editions as well. I like the concept behind it and I like the stories that we get here, though it’s not really horror or terribly chilling as a lot has changed in the last twenty years. That said, there’s still so much potential for it and something that can be different if updated and brought out today. Sentai’s release is decently done, and I’m stretching that a bit, as I’m assuming the materials access is minimal since they’re using Urban Vision’s release rather than something cleaned up and fully proper. I’d love to see this get some real treatment and done up with a smoother presentation and even high-definition, but I’m not holding my breath. With a great cover design and some fun material, it’s worth checking out considering its low price.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: C+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: January 5th, 2016
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.