The Lunar New Year is upon us. It is the Year of the Horse.
A Ki-Rin is a mythical creature with some slight resemblance to a horse, and there’s a Ki-Rin in Pet Shop of Horrors, so the Year of the Horse is a good time to discuss Pet Shop of Horrors.
It is obvious from the art that this show was made before moe became standard issue for all character designs. I like its retro visuals. The backgrounds don’t lend themselves to screenshots, but they are beautiful when one sees the show in motion. If you haven’t seen this show already, I strongly recommend it.
This show is very much in the line of ghost stories, cautionary fairy tales, or myths about moralizing gods. It isn’t about “good” versus “evil” so much as it’s about “what the gods like” versus “what the gods dislike.” Most of the episodes in Pet Shop of Horrors are centered around some kind of contract – the framing story warns the tragic heroes about what they must do to keep themselves safe from the horrors.
As one might guess, the tragic heroes mostly do not follow the contract, and mostly are not safe from the horrors. There is a surprising degree of redemption, though, so it’s not really an exercise in hope-destroying tragedy. It ends on a somewhat upbeat note, but if one reads between the lines, the “happy ending” contains hidden dangers, if not outright doom.
I like that fairy-tale touch. I also like the fact that the crucial truths often take a long time to be revealed. Sci-fi is far too often about a world where the author’s favorite gimmick is convenient. The modern world is a world of vending machines and instant gratification; horror stories and ghost stories are often about long delays for revelations.
In a technothriller or sci-fi adventure, we might get a five-second hint at the nature of the hero’s nifty gadget before we have to sit through a set-piece – usually a gunfight – that suggests that all of life’s conflicts can be solved by violence. Many sci-fi settings glorify the atomization of modern society, and thus we are supposed to be happy that the hero is fighting to defend a modern society devoid of meaningful traditions or social stability. Ghost in the Shell, for example, is a celebration of how modernity can destroy the traditions that had kept society stable. The original version of Bubblegum Crisis, by contrast, has a little bit more reverence for traditions, but at the cost of mawkishness. Bubblegum Crash, of course, was much more of a celebration of modernity.
In a horror story, we have to pick up several hints about the nature of the lurking supernatural threat – perhaps a legend about a haunted house, perhaps a bit of backstory about a deceased person who will show up later as a ghost. Horror stories encourage reverence – or at least fear – for the power of traditions.
The problem with badly-written horror is that it can make “gods” or “monsters” into explanations for any stupid idea that wanders into the writer’s head. Stephen King stories are egregious offenders. Stephen King can make himself believe that any stupid gimmick is worth writing down, and he will write it down and never feel a need to explain why physics, logic, and common sense have been violated. King’s works sometimes refer to Charles Fort, which is itself a kind of explanation. Empiricism always admits that it may encounter some phenomenon that cannot be judged in terms of past experience — e.g. a rain of frogs, or any other “damned fact” of the sort that Fort wrote about — and thus a hardcore empiricist is always ready to ignore physics, logic, and common sense.
I don’t trust physics or common sense, but I do trust logic. It’s hard for me to embrace a story that doesn’t have comprehensible logical consistency. If a show is willing to be consistent to its axioms, I will let it lead me into the depths of insanity – such as happened with Kemonozume, for example.