Dead on Arrival: Pet Shop of Horrors

Just picture it: a manga, beautiful in its story craft, dashed after a few short episodes on the big screen. I think every Otaku has that one comic they adored and were sad to see canceled after a short run on an anime circuit. For me, this loss will perpetually be Pet Shop of Horrors, an elegant horror manga that got lost in naval gazing. And when your source material can’t decide what to do, how can your anime?

Let us back up and examine where our dear Count D went astray on the big screen.

Created by artist Matsuri Akino, Pet Shop  follows the mysterious and androgynous Count D, owner of a lavish pet shop in Chinatown. They offer the basics of any store, but his also has something extra for those who are desperate in heart: animals with human-like appearances. These animals will give you everything you want, provided you follow the strict rules of taking care of them. Sadly, not everyone is good at keeping to contract, and those who don’t will often meet some terribly gruesome fates.

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We’re not at Uzumaki levels of “nope” but we’re brushing against it.

The series is well-paced, heavily atmospheric, and best enjoyed with a fan-annotated copy of the comic. While a more obscure series, it did get popular enough to warrant an anime. As a huge fan of the show, I was delighted to see the quality animation and to feel the same sense of mysticism and dread that the manga was so good at. Then, just as quickly as it came, the series vanished after four episodes. The adaptors decided to turn the manga into a small miniseries, only covering the first four chapters, before fading out of existence.

Given the style of the source material, this was a shock. While there was a small common storyline that went through all the chapters, the manga took the anthology route, giving a new story and characters each chapter. With 41 chapters of stories to work with, this series could have easily taken the Twilight Zone route and provided at least two seasons worth of stories.

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The killer rabbit story itself is very Twilight Zone-like anyway, so why not?

So, if we have so much good material to work with, why do we only have four episodes to our anime? I can’t find a source to give a definitive answer (and will happily accept any) but I always theorized it was because of the material’s tonal shift in the second half.  While the first half of the manga is great psychological horror, Akino decided to spend the last half of the series very philosophically. It quickly shifts to examining human weakness, the nature of various different emotions, and other “meaning of life” things.

This shift away from obvious horror would have been difficult to market to a general audience or even the obscure-loving Otaku, so I can see them deciding to cut their losses and focus on the first four chapters. Such a shift midway would appear sloppy and unfocused, ultimately lowering the quality of the show. After all, it’s much easier and probably more profitable, to sell this series as a quick and scary horror-miniseries than as an oddball comedy/drama after being in Scary Town for so long.

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I agree, D. I agree so hard…

Whether or not the animators should have taken the time to invest in what would ultimately be a cult classic anime, I can’t say. But I do think that the lack of an anime for Pet Shop of Horrors is a shame. This series is haunting, witty, and thought-provoking, with only occasional moments of jarring comedy. Had it been made to a full series, spanning all 41 chapters, we may have seen something on the same level as Princess Bride. For now, we have a series that can hopefully hook people towards the manga, ‘cause the other way around isn’t gonna happen anytime soon.

 

 

 

 

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