In an anonymous U.S. city, there is a neighborhood called Chinatown, and in Chinatown, there is an exotic pet shop. The proprietor is Count D, a beautifully androgynous young Asian man with mismatched eyes - who might well be Yuuko of xxxHolic's long-lost cousin. Because, of course, this is one of those unusual establishments that include not only Yuuko's store, but also the Department Store of Heart's Desire in the science fiction classic Norstrilia. According to its proprietor, it actually sells love and dreams - to a clientele of the mentally disturbed and the emotionally wounded. Like Yuuko, Count D does his best to make sure each customer gets exactly what he or she needs - or, sometimes, deserves.
The series is categorized as horror, but only one out of every half a dozen stories is especially horrifying. Mostly, the tales are odd or whimsical, and as in the first several volumes of xxxHolic, there's no real continuity from story to story except for a few principal characters. There's the Count, of course, and also his would-be nemesis, a young blond police detective named Leon Orcot. Later on, Leon's sweet but disturbed baby brother Chris shows up to live with him - giving the Count a continuing additional role as the world's most unlikely babysitter - and there are also several continuing animal characters.
Did I mention that none of these "animals" is quite what he or she seems? I imagine you've guessed as much ... .
Anyway, the series is quite a lot of fun - creepy fun, in most cases. Much amusement is derived from the apparent cat-and-mouse game between Leon and the Count, whom Leon suspects of drug smuggling, white slavery, and every other crime stereotypically associated with Chinatown ... because the Count is also playing cat-and-mouse, but he has a different idea of who is in which role.
I feel rather silly, blogging this with only one volume (apparently) to go, but I'm not sure when I'm going to get hold of volume 10, so ... Certainly I've read enough at this point to appreciate the several Springkink fics involving Count D, who really is a character to warm the heart of any slightly kinky fantasy fan, what with his appetite for sweets and Officer Orcot - of whom he says quite plainly, early on, "I do enjoy your company. One of these days, I may not let you leave." (Not to mention the Count's willingness to sacrifice body parts, if necessary, if it means obtaining the rarest creatures ... .)
A lot of the stories cover roughly the same ground, with a greedy or rapacious character getting his or her comeuppance, or a shy or defenseless character coming into his or her own. The fun is in seeing how the different animals - many of them mythological - are worked into the modern-day scenarios. The mangaka is much better at constructing a plausible U.S. city than is the author of Fake - and coincidentally, the drawing style is very similar to that series. Leon, in particular, would looks right at home in the squad room with Ryo and Dee.
I think my favorite story is the one about the bossy younger sister who gets tired of her doggie. This story also later gives rise to one of my favorite Count D lines: remembering this child, the Count remarks that she was "a little hellion who deserved to eat her own feces." I'm also fond of Ten-Chan, the young male nine-tailed fox spirit who manages, very diplomatically, to be all things to all people when he's with the various members of the very argumentative family who buy him, but who's always very sassy with the Count. (And yes, I like the little monster Tetsu ... but so does everyone, right?)
I've now got an urge to fic something involving all these strange shop owners ... perhaps Kisuke Urahara (Bleach) and Dr. Kou (Wild Adapter) should come along as well!