Pet Shop of Horrors Vol. 1

By Matsuri Akino
200 pages, black and white
Published by TokyoPop

The anthology is rarely a commercial success no matter what form it takes. Prose, television, movies, comics… the number that take off in their own right and really, really do well is awfully small. It’s easy for the audience to fail to find an ever-present hook to keep them around when the basic story changes from segment to segment. The solution? Find a central character or setting to structure these different stories around. Old EC Comics did it in the form of a narrator, with characters like the Crypt-Keeper or Old Witch. Junji Ito’s Tomie stories did so with the titular reoccurring antagonist. And in the case of Matsuri Akino’s comics to just get translated into English, it’s in the form of a certain mystical pet shop in Chinatown.

Count D’s pet shop is full of strange and fantastic creatures, but the terms to take them home are not always easy to understand. With each pet comes a set of special rules that one absolutely must not break, lest you pay the consequences. When Detective Leon Orcot looks into a mysterious death of a movie star, he finds a series of unsolved deaths that all have one element in common: a trip to Count D’s pet shop. Will Orcot be able to really figure out just who or what Count D is?

Akino’s setup for Pet Shop of Horrors walks a fine line between anthology and a traditional, singular story format perfectly. Each chapter of Pet Shop of Horrors stands perfectly on its own as a new person’s life is changed forever thanks to a visit to the pet shop. That aspect of the story follows a traditional format where the pet chosen for them has to do with their own personality, the pet bringing aspects of their owner’s personality to the foreground. At the same time, though, there’s a continuing story of the mystery behind Count D’s true motives that Detective Orcot is trying to discover. With multiple volumes of Pet Shop of Horrors already published in Japanese, I’m suspecting that their saga is going to take some interesting twists and turns along the way.

The art in Pet Shop of Horrors seems pretty ordinary at a glance… until you start seeing the pets. With a title like Pet Shop of Horrors, you’ve got to have a sufficiently creepy set of pets, and Akino delivers. The “pets” in this book remind me a lot of Hindu and East Asian gods, with ornate outfits and an otherworldly air about them. With their mixture of human and animal aspects, they instantly stand out from the “real world” nature of the rest of the book. Akino’s imagination is continually on display here, and it succeeds admirably.

Pet Shop of Horrors is a pretty traditional horror anthology in many ways, but it’s the little twists along the way that make it stand out. There’s some interesting psychological stuff going on in this title, like the owners all seeing their pets to be people instead of animals, that I’m hoping will pay off tenfold down the line. In the meantime, I’m just enjoying the immediate thrill of each new chapter to want to read more.

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