Reviewby James Beckett,
An insidious organization known only as "the Company" has taken the psychic arts developed by Chinese qigong masters and used them to create “crushers”, agents who have the ability to manipulate people's minds and actions. Crushers do this by using psychic “images” to traverse people's mental “peaks” and “valleys”, where their most treasured and most feared memories exist, which has given the company a shadowy edge in the world of crime, business, and politics. Before he disappeared from the Company's ranks, a skilled crusher named Hayashi used his abilities to recruit two boys, Satoru and Tsukasa, and Tsukasa would eventually do the same for a wayward boy named Hiroki. These recruits, whose emotions and wills are inextricably linked with the masters who gave them their peak, are known as “pets”. When Hayashi returns to Japan and causes a sea of turmoil within the Company, the pets he helped create will be forced to decide where their loyalties lie, and what they are willing to do when the time comes to fight for their future.
When the Winter 2020 anime season began, Pet was one of the series that I was the most eager to dive into. The basic concept is a winner, for one, as it basically takes the fundamental ideas presented in the movie Inception — Criminals manipulate people's memories and emotions by journeying through their personal dreamscapes and twisting things to suit their needs — though it allows its psychic sequences to indulge in much more stylized and surreal imagery, at least when it isn't focusing on its thriller plotline. The premiere did not hook me in the way I hoped it would though. The fractured story in that first episode failed to provide any characters to relate to, or even one to focus on as a protagonist, and I rarely like it when an anime gets caught up in explaining its over-complicated jargon.
Now that the series has wrapped its thirteen-episode run on Amazon Prime, though, I thought I might go back and see if Pet lived up to the potential I saw in its neat visuals and intriguing setup. One thing I will say is this: Pet is absolutely a series that benefits from the binge-watching model, so if the show didn't grab your attention in its opening chapters either, you might very well find yourself liking it a lot more when you can take in the larger story that much quicker. That said, Pet's pacing is easily the biggest hurdle to clear either way. There's just so much stuff to exposit that it takes three or four episodes to even get a grasp on who the main characters of the story are, what they want, and how any of it relates to their work messing with people's minds for the Company. It's another few episodes after that before the full direction of the story is clear enough to excuse its relative lack of emotional hooks, and I would argue it wasn't until the final pair of Pet's thirteen episodes that I truly began to care about the characters.
If I had been watching Pet from week to week, I likely would have given up on it before the story really got interesting, and even with the whole series available to stream, it can be tough to get through what feels like hours of the show setting up all of its plot's players and puzzle pieces. Provided you're a patient sort of viewer, though, I would actually suggest you stick with Pet for as long as you can, because beneath its needlessly complex crime-caper trappings lie some very interesting ideas, along with characters that you do end up giving a damn about. Eventually.
At its core, Pet is all about what it is like to be shaped and changed by traumatic abuse, and how even mystical powers that let you fundamentally alter people's perception of reality aren't always enough to escape that kind of emotional damage. The three main boys who all owe their lives as Company crushers to Hayashi were all victims of some sort or another as children, and even though Hayashi used the serenity of his “peak” to save them from being totally catatonic, it is impossible to deny that Satoru, Tsukasa, and Hiroko have never truly escaped their traumas. Even if you were to discount having to commit awful crimes for an incredibly shady enterprise, Pet's protagonists struggle with stunted emotional development, toxic codependent relationships, and a lack of self-actualization that a lot of people watching the show might be able to identify with, magic psychic powers or otherwise. A lot of anime attempt to deal with similar themes in over-the-top and gratuitous ways, and while Pet definitely gets a little too wacky with its themes and visuals sometimes, it still manages to strike a genuinely mature tone more often than many similar shows ever do.
It's a shame, then, that Pet takes so long to give these characters enough depth and backstory to be engaging. At least in my case, it was a real struggle to enjoy Pet on anything more than an intellectual level for most of its run. The cool dream imagery that pops up throughout might have been another reason to stick around, but director Takahiro Ōmori and the crew at Geno struggle to translate author Ranjō Miyake's manga art to the medium of animation. Like Geno's other recent projects, Kokkoku and Golden Kamuy, Pet is an anime that ought to be so much cooler to look at than it actually is. Composer Hiroaki Tsutsumi tries to pick up the slack with an eclectic and energetic soundtrack, but it can only do so much when Pet's characters often feel so flat, and its animation so frequently falls into mediocrity.
Then Pet's final episodes arrived, and while I won't say they made up for what was lacking in episodes 1-11, I was surprised at how well Pet's climax stuck the landing, as it left so many story threads open-ended and ambiguous. Admittedly, it's the kind of finale that takes modern viewing habits for granted, confident that its audience will be able to tolerate some wheel-spinning and cliff-hanging when they know they can just watch half of an entire season in one sitting. Yet I found myself caring about characters I had initially written of as sympathetic; decisions and betrayals I saw coming a mile away still struck a chord when they occurred; relationships that never fully clicked for me suddenly began to pay dividends.
There's no denying that Pet is kind of a mess, and it is hard to justify sitting through over a dozen-episodes of an anime that is so inconsistent when there are so many other titles out their with better reputations waiting to be caught up on. Still, when the show works, it works, and I ended up glad to have experienced the whole thing, warts and all. If you go into it with Pet with measured expectations, you might end up pleasantly surprised.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : B
+ The show makes and honest effort to marry its heavy subject matter and its fantasy-thriller premise, the casts eventually grows on you, final episodes do a lot to tie the whole story together
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