Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pet Shop of Horrors

Pet Shop of Horrors, as a collective 4-episode anime and preceding manga, is a work I’m torn on. The bind it puts me in is not unlike what the animated version of The Maxx does:  in both cases, I know the original comic version has both a longer and more detailed storyline on its side, as well as the simple fact of being The Original. However, there’s just something a tiny bit more elegant and more compelling about the shortened animated version.

Pet Shop was originally a manga by Matsuri Akino. A pet shop operates in an American Chinatown, selling magical and fantastical creatures. It is run by the androgynous and soft-spoken Count D, who provides each customer with a contract; break its terms, and lessons will be learned, sometimes harsh ones, though external threats can also arise. It began as a series of standalone “episodes”, but as the manga goes on, continuity and recurring characters appear, and the plot formula appears in a greater variety. The OVA adapts four chapters.

In a general sense, I like both versions for their elegance, atmosphere, and emotion, with the occasional appealing message. Yet the manga version, there is comic slapstick inserted between the darker moments, sudden flashes of sweatdrops and wingding backgrounds that knock the viewer right out of the darker parts. Matsuri Akino never quite manages to balance these tone switches, but the OVA dilutes those comedic moments to ones that don’t feel as jarring when they appear.

Another aspect that draws me more to the OVA, against my better artistic instincts, is simplicity that its shortness preserves. The manga, because it is much longer, must, introduce more elements if it wants to remain active. The presence of detective Leon Orcot also ensures that more story needs to be told: if there is a recurring character who is not the master of everything, the anthology format is harder to sustain. Something demands that this recurring second cast member must be explored. However, this all feels like a distraction rather than an expansion of the show’s world. Leon is present in the OVA, but because it is so short, there is no need to go into further detail with him. I don’t truly blame Akino for adding more to the story than just letting it remain The Twilight Zone with animals, but there’s something alluring about the simplicity of the OVA.

Furthermore, as it continued the manga introduced more and more of D’s moralist preaching, which soured my enjoyment. Granted, the OVA adapted stories which did not have explicit speechifying, but the view it offers, a view of a smaller Pet Shop of Horrors without D speaking with disdain about mechanical devices, fad diets, American food, the sentimentalization of prey animals, or humanity’s treatment of the planet, is pleasing, and thus keeps my affection for D’s character intact. The OVA avoids the chapters where the pets’ human forms are represented as people with animal ears, horns, and what looks like cutesy Halloween costumes. Some of the pets here are chimerical, yes, but not in the same cornball fashion that a few later manga characters were.

I feel a little guilty making these complaints: most of the time, I do prefer a story’s original version, and I am a fan of the manga. However, here’s a once-in-a-blue-moon occasion where a highly reduced adaptation has something to offer that the source material does not. I still enjoy many of the other manga-only PSOH episodes, but the OVA’construction undeniably has its specific attractions.

There’s nothing else to say but that Pet Shop of Horrors is one of my favourite little pieces of Japanese animation. On top of everything else I’ve just mentioned, the music and the artwork are top-notch. I might not be able to reconcile my feelings about the OVA vs. the manga, but neither is easily forgotten. That the animated version remains so, even after reading the original comic, is proof positive of its quality.

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