Pet Shop of Horrors 10

December 11, 2010

Matsuri Akino – Tokyopop – 2005 – 10 volumes

I read this about a month ago, in a long marathon, but I wanted to wait a bit to talk about it in order to let the ending sink in a little. The final was great, but I had a lot of mixed feelings about D and everything leading up to that finale, so I wanted to give myself time to process rather than going with the knee-jerk reaction to just finishing it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 90% of my content here is just that. But I thought Pet Shop of Horrors deserved a little more.

I’m going to do a spoiler-free section, then do a cut and mark for spoilers on the ending to talk about it a little more in-depth.

The entire volume is the conclusion to the series. It was satisfying that so much time was devoted to a proper ending, because too frequently in series like this we simply get a one-chapter conflict and explanation that wraps up “loose ends.” The entire thing is very upsetting, fairly dark even for this series, and both Leon and D are very much personally affected by the ending. Chris is dealt with in terms of the “fantasy world” he lives in within D’s shop, which I had wondered about since… well, the series seemed very pro-fantasy, but D mentioned several times Chris would have to grow up at some point. The ending involves Leon trying to figure out D’s stance on human beings, the Feds getting called in to dig up the dirty past of D, and a lot of running around and explanations of D’s true nature.

Without giving too much away, it was the “true nature” thing that I really disliked. The series has gotten pretty far out there, and D has used some “magic” in some of the stories, but the explanation here seems a little… random, and suffered from being too complex a topic crammed in two few pages, and an idea that probably should have been introduced gradually rather than dropped on the reader at the very end.

That was my only issue, that and the fact D acts strangely under pressure here, though to say it’s out of character would be wrong since… well, we’ve never seen him deal with anything quite like this. There is a very satisfying chase, and some very satisfying dialogue by way of explanations between Leon and D. And there is a little bit of an open end, but I can’t complain too much in this case. I adore the idea.

The mystery of D was what spoiled it partially for me, and I think that’s still a problem, but with lots of action, upheaval, chase scenes, explosions, comings-of-age, partings, meetings, and a ton of weird animals, this last volume has everything I wanted. And most importantly, I loved seeing both Leon and D’s resolutions and how they finally reacted as characters. There never really are any romantic vibes between the two, ultimately, but there’s definitely a deep friendship, and I can really appreciate that.

I loved the characters, I loved the “be careful what you wish for” formula with the animals, I loved both the one-shot chapters and the character-oriented longer stories, I did like the end, I like shoujo horror in general, and I loved the art. I wouldn’t call this absolutely essential, but it’s definitely a must read for a pretty sizable chunk of the shoujo fanbase, if you can get ahold of it. It’s pretty unique, a good mild horror title, and the fantastic art and mild, vaguely slashy relationship between Leon and D should sell it immediately for a lot of people. It does have a pretty 90s flavor to it, but it’s easy to overlook in this instance.

Now, for a little more, I’m going to cut.

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Pet Shop of Horrors 9

October 31, 2010

Matsuri Akino – Tokyopop – 2004 – 10 volumes

I broke my own rule and went ahead to the tenth volume after this one. It was good. Really, really good.

More and more hints about D’s identity are dropped. Small things mostly, everything from telephone conversations with his father to flashbacks to his childhood to… judgment calls on his part. The volume ends with an intense and bizarre story about a 16-year-old girl who thinks that she is destined to be with D. It’s an interesting story, because it shows both a human side and an inhuman side. It reveals without really saying much. It’s characteristic of the series, and somehow, is not as infuriating as it sounds at this late stage of the game. As I said, I wasn’t really expecting to know much about D, since who he is isn’t terribly significant to anything that goes on.

There are one or two standard chapters in here too, one about a gift of a tiger to a young girl getting pushed around by an underworld kingpin, and another about a family that keeps finding their pets suffering from unfortunate, gristly deaths. This one had a nice twist at the end, and while it wasn’t completely a surprise, it was interesting that the story worked both with and without the twist.

The other character-centric story was about a young woman seeking vengeance on Leon for the death of her boyfriend, a man Leon killed while trying to apprehend him. Chris and D are both involved. It’s a pretty dark story, and I do like that these plot-centric stories grow increasingly dark and closer to the characters as the series progresses. Previously, it was more a matter of all the characters getting involved in someone else’s escapade, and we’d get some character development when we saw how Leon and D reacted differently to the situations. But now, it’s all about the lives of Leon and D.

It’s also increasingly strange how close the two are. They bicker like a married couple, and Leon is increasingly buddy-buddy with D. He still puts up a front of trying to bust him, but he’s over at the pet shop all the time, and… I’m not entirely sure that Chris and Leon don’t live there, because Chris is over there all the time.

But I know there’s more to that story, and volume 10 proves it. The last volume was a strange ride, giving me all sorts of stuff I wasn’t expecting. But that’s a story for next time.

Pet Shop of Horrors 8

October 26, 2010

Matsuri Akino – Tokyopop – 2004 – 10 volumes

I am writing this in haste, because compulsion dictates I write it up before moving on to the next volume, and I kind of want to finish the series tonight.

The first story in this volume involves a mermaid and the legends surrounding her. On an island vacation (that, inexplicably, both D and Leon take together, along with Chris), the characters encounter an old sailor with one eye that insists he gained his numerous scars due to a vengeful mermaid and the storm she kicked up. Of course, D gets caught in her clutches and winds up losing all his memories. There’s a misunderstanding, a big heroic finish, some romance, and some comedy and mystery thrown in for good measure. The explanation of how D lost his memories is completely out of left field, but within the realms of believability for D. What isn’t as believable is that none of the characters called him out on it… while he was explaining. I know why they didn’t call him out on it later.

The next story is about a family that can’t agree on a pet, so D gives them one that each member sees as whatever it is they want to have. Only one quiet young girl knows its special human form and can talk to it. This has a pretty predictable twist towards the end, but I have to admit that I did not see the special Pet Shop of Horrors twist at the very end coming at all.

Mmm. Then a story about a romance writer that has everything that she could possibly want, and now wants the most rare and expensive pet that D can provide. This is less about animals and more about a convoluted personal history. I didn’t like this one as much, though I did appreciate that it provided a reason for Leon to get suspicious once again. That never lasts, but I do enjoy watching him switch so quickly between lounging at teatime with D and suspecting him of illegal activities.

There are actually lots of weird goings-on with D and Leon. At one point in a past volume, it’s implied that Chris may just live with D, since D references putting him to bed in the pet shop. Also, Chris is always over there. I thought he stayed with Leon? I know Leon still has his apartment and doesn’t just live with D, inexplicably. The vacation here is strange, and kind of funny since it’s mostly taken in stride. There is no subtext whatsoever for a romantic relationship between the two, and its absence is rather conspicuous. Perhaps I’m just biased, though, and have turned into two much of a fangirl over the years. But… come on.

Crammed in at the end is an extra “Flowers, The Detective, and the Detective’s Little Brother” where D and Leon follow Chris, teamed with T-chan and a badger, as he gets ingredients for a moon viewing celebration. T-chan is pretty funny as a side character, and I’m sad we don’t see a little more of him. And on the subject I was just discussing, D wears a real dress and masquerades as a lady with Leon as they tail Chris. For no real reason. Although perhaps the real reason was that we never see him in Western male attire, and the easiest way around that when he needed to be inconspicuous would be to dress him like a lady.

I love it dearly. On to volume 9!

Pet Shop of Horrors 7

October 24, 2010

Matsuri Akino – Tokyopop – 2004 – 10 volumes

I am ridiculously addicted to this series. I’m only writing this up so that I can read the next volume.

This one was particularly good because it revealed more of the background details about D. I had given up on learning any of that, or having any sort of plot to this series, so I was pleasantly surprised when D’s sister showed up and started talking about his father. I was a little creeped out by… what happened to her in the end, and who she really was. I’m glad that Akino included the assurance in the back, otherwise I would have been very, very worried.

Meeting D’s sister also inspired some choice comments from Leon. I’m still a little foggy on the relationship between he and D, whether he considers D a friend or not. I think it’s supposed to be ambiguous, but I love that the chance to meet his sister forces an admission of friendship out of him.

The first story in the volume focuses on Leon, and it was also another wonderful peek into how D and Leon size each other up. I loved the dream/reality takes, where you weren’t quite sure what was going on, and I loved the twist at the end that turned everything around. This story was probably my favorite of the whole series so far.

There were two other stories in this volume, both of them wonderful. One was about a group of Cambodian assassin children, and the other was… a “customer” story, except this time it was a medley of people that all shared the same theme. I did hate that the younger girl wound up acting the way she did, since she was the most successful of all. I also liked the additional notes from Akino in the back where she mentioned she didn’t know what animal appeared in anthromorphic form at the end. It was just something creepy.

I do love girls’ horror comics, and although this one has a lot of other flavors, it’s probably… well, it probably has some of the best writing of all the ones available in English. I like Bride of Deimos better, but admittedly, Pet Shop of Horrors is the better series. Well worth tracking down if you are so inclined.

Pet Shop of Horrors 6

October 22, 2010

Matsuri Akino – Tokyopop – 2004 – 10 volumes

Oh, D. The first story in this volume is the best, where D and Leo are kidnapped by Peruvian terrorists who are set on finding El Dorado. They’re looking for the money, of course, but they also believe that cutting off western influence to the country of Peru and resurrecting the ancient beliefs of the Incas (the leader of the organization is a descendant of one of the original kings) will help instill feelings of nationalism and help Peru become a stronger country. D leads them to El Dorado with the help of the guardian jaguar that the lead terrorist has. Lots of history and politics are discussed along the way, and the way to find El Dorado, along with its true nature, are not what they seem. It’s a very good story.

The other stories in the volume are much shorter. One is about Leon’s younger brother Chris, how long he can live among D’s animals in the pet shop, and whether living with D and Leon is the best thing for him from the perspective of his aunt and uncle. Another story is about a little girl, her lhasa apso puppy, and the pressures her mother puts on her to be a musician. There’s another short “Flowers and the Detective” story that is both magical and very pretty.

One thing that does bother me is that D has not really been defined yet. He is simply “magic,” and thus anything that he does falls under that explanation. It works, because it makes him a mystery and gives a more ethereal feeling to the series. On the other hand, sometimes his feats of magic are quite ridiculous, such as his rescue of Tina in this volume.

Otherwise, I am still enjoying this immensely. The animal/human hybrid designs are still gorgeous, the stories are still varied enough to be interesting, and I love the love-hate thing going on between Leon and D. It’s funny, has just enough horror elements, very pretty, and always interesting. I’m so happy I picked this up when I did, so that I have all the volumes now. It’s well worth the read, and a real classic.

Pet Shop of Horrors 5

October 2, 2010

Matsuri Akino – Tokyopop – 2004 – 10 volumes

I love this series a little more with every volume. It’s not an overwhelming kind of appreciation, but everything about the short stories is really enjoyable and just spot-on with its set of characters. I’m waiting for a big dose of story about D, but I think its strength is that it never delivers. Just little tidbits, enough to keep me interested and coming back wanting more. The cast of characters expands by one in this volume, to include Chris, Leon’s kid brother and a new frequent visitor to D’s shop. Chris can see the animals for who they are, but also doesn’t speak a word aloud to any human. The interaction between him and the crazy population of the shop is very amusing.

The Chris chapters are bookended by typical Pet Shop of Horrors fare, where the customers get what they wish for, Monkey’s Paw style. One is about a politician who plans on running for President of the United States seeking out the mythical Kirin at D’s shop. The other is about a pleasant enough dancer who takes losing her place well enough, but finds her way to D’s shop where it’s revealed her bitter jealousy is twisting her from the inside, and we see a caged fight that is a very subtle suggestion of a cockfight. The latter story was my favorite in the volume. The theme that the woman was ugly inside was a bit puzzling given the fact that it wasn’t a face she showed to the world (with all the terrible things happening, she actually treated everyone well), and I wasn’t entirely sure if D’s point was that the ugliness was part of nature or something you shouldn’t bottle up… or what. It was interesting, though, and I loved how the ugliness theme played out in the end.

Plus, it was a ballet story. Bonus!

I’m looking forward to more Chris stories. He gets along well with the animals, and I think it’ll be fun to see a perspective that is not D’s. D obviously dotes on the animals, and his thoughts concerning them are mostly made known only in what he chooses to share. But Chris, a child, can have all the fun he wants exploring the animals/people. D hints that his gift of seeing them for what they are won’t last forever, that the innocence of youth is what allows him to speak to the animals, but I doubt the story will ever get to the point where Chris is grown up. Maybe in Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo.

Lovely stuff, though. Still looking forward to more, even though I tend to like plotted stories more than episodic ones like this.

Pet Shop of Horrors 4

September 18, 2010

Matsuri Akino – Tokyopop – 2004 – 10 volumes

Oh, D. I still think the relationship between D and Leon is strange and intentionally slash-y, because we still have Leon randomly showing up for tea, angsting about not protecting D (though that could be construed as panic about leaving him completely vulnerable to a killer), and in a state of both shock and disbelief when D’s expertise and slight supernatural touch help him solve cases. The strange balance between the two definitely helps tie the stories together, though its the stories themselves, and the mystery behind who D really is, that keep me coming back.

The mysteries are wonderful. There’s two short stories in this volume about Leon specifically, both about plants, the second featuring hilariously anthropomorphic versions of the plants that fool Leon into thinking they are women. Score one for D on that story, the ending was strangely intelligent and very clever.

The main stories covered a fish companion, a racehorse, and… er, a vampire. The last seems like something that falls outside the realm of Pet Shop of Horrors, and the only real connection is that the vampire turns into a bat, but I did like the supernatural connection, and the story does tangle D up in things that’s fun to see, even if it only teases us at finding out his true identity. My favorite story… hm. Actually, although they were all good, I liked some of the older stories better. The racehorse one was especially interesting, since it discussed thoroughbred breeding and the origins of the modern racehorse line. That’s one of the other things I like about the series, is that there’s always a lot of research and good information behind the strange animal mysteries.

All three of the main stories also involved Leon in some way or other. It seems that the D customer stories have been phased out, but that’s okay, since the crime-themed mysteries keep what I liked about those (the customer personalities and how they interacted with their pets), and add in the fun police elements, fanciful though they may be.

And the art is good. Have I mentioned Matsuri Akino’s art? It’s wonderful. She puts a lot of thought into her character designs, and the hybrid human/animal ones that periodically show up are always beautiful. The costume designs for D and the animals are also always top notch, and she still puts a lot of work into backgrounds and scenery. I love seeing so much work put into shoujo art.

Onward to volume 5, then.