Reviewby Lissa Pattillo,
Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo
The established trio of Count D, Taizuu and Chin travel to a small town where a picket-line battle is raging between officials and townspeople over the construction of a new dam. Of more interest to Count D is a pet left behind by his Grandfather yet instead the group finds a Sleeping Beauty who's deep sleep soon begins to spread. When Christmas comes, the young prince Femuto wishes to offer a special gift this year by bringing a dinosaur egg into Count D's magical dragon-hunting game. It doesn't take long for sightings of a dinosaur in the city to capture everyone's attention. Soon after, the eyes of the media falls to the story of an unlikely con artist driving single men to suicide.
It becomes almost painfully apparent reading volumes like this how much softer Pet Shop of Horrors has gotten since its sequel series, Tokyo, began. The stories are less chilling, the punishments less severe (if occurring at all) and it doesn't feel like there any real lessons being learned. The stories fans walk into with so much faith based on prior volumes are now offering little to earn it and it's a huge shame, even when it does manage to entertain in other ways.
The episode nature of the series continues as Count D runs his special pet shop in Tokyo's Neo China Town. His landlord Taizuu is still a fun returning addition to the story and after eight volumes it's safe to say he's grown accustomed to Count D's activities. This means the energy of their earlier head-butting is rarely seen in full-force but it's replaced by a fun family dynamic between Taizuu, his personal assistant, Chin, and Count D that proves one part charm and two parts convenience (such as a private jet now at D's disposal). The final chapter puts specific emphasis on the shift to cast importance by focusing on the often-neglected Chin who against his own passive personality, begins to resent Taizuu - until the power of friendship prevails that is. Sweet as it can all be, it lacks that spark that past relationships, such as with a certain absent American cop, used to bring to the table as the true threat of Count D's shop were always highlighted.
In this book's opening chapter, Count D hurries to a small town where protests have drawn his attention to an area his Grandfather once paid a visit. There with Taizuu, he's lead to a secret cavern that houses a Sleeping Beauty who has been hidden away for sixty-six years. In a lively single-page montage, she's reintroduced to a world she's missed out on for years while Count D and Taizuu work to unravel the mystery of why the towns' inhabitants have suddenly started falling into comas. The problem is fixed but the mystery hardly worth calling solved, the first of several disappointing endings within this eighth volume that simply walk readers to the ending instead of providing the often eagerly awaited twist finish.
While the next story's end left something to be desired as well, it's considerably more lighthearted execution makes it easily forgiven. It feels intended to be fun and for the most part achieves being just that. A museum visit brings a real dinosaur egg into Count D's home and the surrounding city is soon seeing a flying prehistoric creature cruising the skies of Shinjuku. From a character standpoint, this was the most entertaining story in the book. We get to see the young prince Femuto continue to play his favorite fantasy dragon hunting game and he even invites the uptight Taizuu to join him. It's cute seeing Taizuu indulge the whims of those around him on a more personal level, though it's too bad readers don't get to see more of him interacting with the dinosaur who ends up having a soft spot for him. The chapter itself sports a bit of a Christmas theme yet an overlapping story involving a suicidal man Count D approaches feels as forgotten by Matsuri Akino as by D himself and is haphazardly tacked onto the end.
'Dead Stock' is the volume's third story and the most perplexing of the batch. The story stars a beautiful single woman and her connection to a kind, overweight woman who gets involved with men before they presumably commit suicide. The two work together to con these salary men of their money and eventually instigate their deaths. It seems like a pretty clear-cut system throughout until you get to the end. Toss in a cop who figures things out, the resulting bloody confrontation and the disappearance of one of the women and you have something resembling an ending. Count D makes a canine-comparison to the two which sort of fits the story into the series' usual animal-theme mold while still not offering up the same plot-clincher coincidences.
Matsuri Akino's art style seems to be following a trend similar to the plots – the basics are still there, but are missing a certain something. There comes a point where even the nostalgic charms and uniqueness of a style can't overcome its flaws completely. This particular volume of Pet Shop of Horror is still an assortment of beautifully illustrated pages yet it seems to lack the polish of the previous. There's the well-structured architecture, intricate character designs and a variety of animal breeds, however there's notably less of it all. Even the evanescent Count D appears a bit more rounded and less distractingly attractive than before (a trait which is always a plus to the series). He's still pretty of course but no longer seems to cross that line into unnervingly gorgeous page after page. Behind the Scenes!!, background characters can draw the eye unnecessarily when they look like they've been drawn in a completely different art style. Pleasantly, the young Fumeto still lights up every page he's on. His delicate features, dark screen-toned skin and detailed clothing making him as charming on the eyes as any detailed denizen has been in the past, however brief the appearance.
Regrettably Tokyopop's work on this volume leaves something to be desired as well. The bulk of it is fine, the expected standard, but scattered throughout are a couple notable spelling errors and moments where words seem to be out of order which stiffens their delivery. Sometimes words are simply stretched out by multiple spaces between their letters for no discernible reason. While the errors don't hamper the story, they certainly act as unpleasant speed-bumps while reading.
Duped lovers, dragon hunts and dinosaurs make for some interesting content and there's a lot to see in regards to how much the lead cast of characters has evolved. Unfortunately while individual moments manage to be sweet or intriguing, they're only shadows of what really made this series worth recommending – dark, disturbing tales of revenge and just-deserts which this volume just doesn't supply. Despite this, fans of Pet Shop of Horrors will be no less thankful to finally have a new volume in hand when it could be a long while yet before another comes out. It's too bad that fans have waited so long only to be left realizing that the magic has been fading for a while.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B-
+ Many moments of cute character interaction that shows how the main characters have grown and connected; still has its share of surprising moments that make every story worth finishing
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