Per tradition, I always like to give you guys a treat of a review for Halloween, and once again it's one of my favorite series ever. Happy Halloween!
PETSHOP OF HORRORS (Pettoshoppu obu Horazu), by Matsuri Akino. First published in 1995, and first published in North America in 2003.
Deep in the heart of San Fransisco's Chinatown is a petshop run by the mysterious, androgynous Count D. He will sell you any pet that you wish, and depending on the owner that pet can bring fortune or ruin in its wake. Detective Orcot is convinced that the Count knows more than he is letting on in regards to the recent deaths of some of his clients, and as such keeps returning to the shop to investigate Count D and his menagerie of magical animals.
Morality tales are a common form for horror stories, and have been so since the first peasant needed a way to scare their kids into obeying the rules. This is doubly true for horror manga, as is suits the serialized nature of manga magazines in Japan. It was a veritable trend in 1990s shoujo, and Petshop of Horrors was one of the first and one of the best of the lot, a masterful combination of atmosphere and sly humor.
It helps that Count D isn't just the Cryptkeeper-style narrator, but instead an active participant in every chapter. Not only does he sell and reclaim the creatures he sells, but he has his ongoing relationship with Detective Orcot. Despite what the pretty artwork and the fandom might suggest, their relationship is surprisingly free of homoeroticism. If anything, Akino plays the relationship between the two more for laughs than for fangirl appeal (and those laughs always come at Orcot's expense). Still, their weird, quasi-friendly relationship is woven well into each chapter, fitting in perfectly with each new story.
The actual tales are also well-written. Structurally they're quite simple: Count D provides someone with a pet, along with a short list of rules for the new owner to follow. Of course, the owners end up breaking one or more rules due to some human failing - curiosity, indulgence, ego. Others fall victim to more innocent emotions such as love or devotion. Sometimes the end result is just a bit of sadness and hard-earned wisdom for the owner; other times the results are outright deadly. In a stranger twist, the owner often perceives their new pet as some sort of beautiful man or woman where others can only see a rabbit, bird, or dog. The story never explains how D knows just what drives these people to seek a pet or if he has any hand in how they act. That mystery only goes to add interest to the stories instead of lingering as a plot hole. It fits in perfectly with the same air of mystery D has cultivated around himself, the same one that modern-day man Orcot is determined to explain away and the same air that make this series such a delight to read in the first place.
The art for Petshop of Horrors is at once lush and delicate. While there are some fashion choices that instantly date this series to the mid 1990s, the characters are nicely detailed (if a little flat due to lack of shading). This is especially true for Count D and his many elegant gowns, as well as the costumes for the pets' human costumes. There's also a fair degree of subtlety to the art, as Count D can convey much from just the slyest slip of a smile or a narrowing of his eyes. The character designs are as extravagant as the art gets, though. The composition is fairly restrained and the backgrounds are mostly washes of black and white, broken up only by the wacky patterns that come out during the wacky moments. It's artwork that is very much of its time, but it's one of the best examples of its sort.
This series has more than earned its status as a classic. It finds a fine balance between the horror and the humor, and the art restrains itself enough to let its delicate characters designs shine.
This series was published by Tokyopop. The series is complete in 10 volumes, and all are currently out of print.
You can purchase manga like this and much more through RightStuf.com!
It's a good day to give the Carolina Manga Library a treat by donating some funds towards their Indiegogo campaign. They're currently 90% funded - they only need $154 to meet their goal, and you can help them reach that before October ends!