What They Say:
Are you seeking something unusual in a pet to fill an empty space in your heart? Then venture, if you dare, into a strange little pet shop in Chinatown, where the mysterious proprietor knows your every need and desire. But watch out. When you buy from Count D, what you get may be what he thinks you deserve rather than what you want. So even if that rare rabbit does somehow look just like your lost child, perhaps you’d be safer shopping somewhere else. That’s certainly what Detective Orcot of the LAPD would advise, as nightmarish things seem to keep happening to the shop’s customers. Unfortunately, there’s never been quite enough evidence to implicate the Count. And until there is, business will continue to boom.
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 using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. This is really the biggest upgrade of the series but it’s also 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 using the MPEG-2 codec. While this is on Blu-ray, it’s a standard definition release that uses AVC codec to get things done in a better way than the old MPEG-2 format that was old when it was first used. Oh, wait, they used MPEG-2 to encode this. I presume there’s a reason why but it means it pretty much looks exactly like the DVD release from 2016. 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 design for this release is a nice welcome change from some of the prior editions that used the mostly dark and murky material they had. With it done as a kind of split, we get a darker right half with some neat grey tones and the feathers working well while the left goes lighter and whiter with the leads from one of the more disturbing stories of the set. The blad splatters and framing on the left are nice little additions as well. The logo is what we’ve usually seen before and it works well enough, moved lower so as to let the character artwork attract most of the attention, and still looking stylish enough after all these years. The back cover goes dark and bloody along the top before it seeps into a black background. We get a few tantalizing shots from the show in full color and a decent tagline before it works into the expansive summary of the premise. The production credits are clearly listed and we get a solid breakdown of the production information with how the set is put together. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this show is pretty minimal at best as we get a close-up visual of Count D along the right with the murky look of his shop in the background giving it a foreboding look. The logo is kept to along the top, center-left, while the navigation is along the main left column. It has some nice stylish framing elements and the red, black, and white color design is spot on since it has an older look. I like the font used for the numbering as well as that hit a kind of sweet spot. Submenus load quickly and everything works without a problem, though like most SDBD releases that is now pop-up menu functiona available. .
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 twentieth-anniversary release a Blu-ray edition, albeit one that is just standard definition and seemingly a straightforward port of what was on the prior Sentai Selections edition.
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, so it’s no surprise really to see an standard definition Blu-ray produced. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really generate anything beyond a better audio encode as the space savings are negligible and it looks like the same encode using the old MPEG-2 tools. That said, I continue to 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. 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: July 9th, 2019
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.