- Genre: Crime drama
- Episodes: 12
- Studio: Shuka
A classic tale of murder and revenge set in the grim world of organized crime in America at the beginning of the 20th century. On a soft winter evening just like many others, 11-year-old Angelo Lagusa bids good night to his best friend Corteo and goes back in with his younger brother and mother to wait for his dad to come home. A few hours later, he is running alone through the woods, the sole survivor of the massacre that took place earlier. As far as Angelo is concerned, he died that night with the rest of his family and exists now solely to avenge them until he can be reunited with his loved ones. 7 years later, he finally gets the chance.
I am generally a fan of Mafia stories but haven’t really seen any in anime form, unless you count Katekyō Hitman Reborn!, but you really really shouldn’t. I’m not sure if this is indicative of the underrepresentation of this particular genre in the medium or of my personal lack of knowledge, but aside from Boccano! (which I have only vaguely heard of because of Durarara), I can’t really name any other series of this type and I wonder how familiar the general anime audience is with this particular style.
91 days is a traditional American, Prohibition Era, Mafia, story. Notice how many qualifiers there are there, that’s because this means something extremely specific, we are talking vintage Coppola here. If you are looking for the witty quips, pitch dark humor and spastic yet controlled pacing of a Reservoir Dogs, you will be disappointed. Nor is this the intricate web of deceit and carefully layers turnabouts of a Departed or even the blood soaked frantic violence of Scarface. This is an authentic homage of the old 1970s movies with a straightforward narrative, a deliberate purposeful pace and an unwavering tone. The point is not to surprise the audience. This is a simple and logical tale that proceeds down the only available path with elegance and determination.
To some people, this can seem a little slow or anticlimactic I suppose. If you don’t know what you’re in for, I wouldn’t exactly call it an easy watch. The mood is fairly unrelenting and no merciful breaks have been thrown in for the sake of the audience’s morale. Lighter moments are fleeting and often simply serve to accentuate the impending turmoil. Look, a life of organized crime simply isn’t that fun and you don’t sign up for the retirement plan. Moreover, by virtue of the timeframe, there is a required slowdown of events. Cars weren’t that fast in the 1920s, most handguns could still fire at a limited speed and had a limited number of bullets. The simple fact that cell phones and email, don’t exist and therefore information takes a long time to make it from point A to point B completely changes the flow of the narrative compared to a more contemporary story. As such, there is as much sitting around waiting and talking, slowly building alliances and setting up betrayals, as there is actual gunplay. Not that this story is bloodless by any means. Very far from it.
Let me say the art design was beautiful. Every single character was visually unique and highly detailed while remaining perfectly realistic and on theme. For me it was a treat to see some actual attractive men instead of the usual pretty boys all with different physiognomies and body types. As with most crime dramas, especially those set a freakin 100 years ago, the female cast is by necessity very limited – in this case to exactly two minor characters. But their designs were also lovingly crafted and very different from each other. Lacrima especially was a fascinating departure from the usual as she was hardly what we consider conventionally attractive but neither was she motherly or repulsive. Well-proportioned buxom frame with a homely but friendly face. It was a delicately balanced design that is really rare to see in any form of media. The settings were a bit less impressive but very effective and the use of light and shadows really added to the mood. The voice acting was simply spectacular throughout. My hat goes off to the casting director because they got every single part right. Even the intros were pitch perfect. The first one especially, used only in episode one, was a pure work of art with every single element meticulously chosen for a very specific look. The old-fashioned title cards with serif font and credits in English, were just that extra icing on the cake that made me swoon. Clearly this series was the product of a very skilled team all working with a clear singular vision and the fruits of their labor are more than obvious.
This said, some very glaring compromises had to be made with the production values. Characters lose all their sumptuous detailing as soon as there is any distance between them and the camera, and often look distorted and off when shown at angles. Even more annoying is that the backgrounds are perfectly still. No movement whatsoever in the grass, no rustling of the trees, no apparent wind, ever. One funeral scene pans out to show an overhead view of the cemetery on the banks of a river and the water is completely, well…frozen…You hear the rustling of it but no movement at all is visible. In another scene, groups of children are playing, the groups in the fore and mid grounds are pretty normal but a clear group in the background is immobile, like mannequins. This was not only jarring but completely took me out of the moment every time I noticed since everything else relies on such high realism.
Also of note is that there isn’t that much movement overall. A few scenes have people running around chasing each other but generally there is a marked economy of movement. This is much less bothersome than the uneven quality of the art and the absolute stillness of the backgrounds though and I found that I mostly noticed only by contrast with the few high-octane moments which were that much more compelling for it. In a perfect world neither would have been an issue but if I had to fix one thing, the minimal animation would not have been it.
Then there is also the polarizing mixed bag that is Fango. Fango looks like a 1970s pronstar and acts like a complete nutjob (at least at first). He will strike a lot of people as completely anachronous despite the fact that eccentric mobsters have been known to exist. He could be called a sort of comedic relief for the beginning of the series but I can see him wearing on people’s nerves. I quite liked him but that was more a matter of personal taste. It should be noted that once he gains a bit more power he becomes appropriately more subdued and more menacing in both appearance and demeanor. His voice actor is possibly the best in an already stellar cast. Aside from Fango, the characters are all on point. The quintessential old school mobsters. The series is careful to insist on the fact that these are men, not monsters, but also very bad men. There is no moral high ground here. Even fairly innocent sweet Corteo eventually gets dragged down into a very dark world.
Avilio may be the protagonist but he is no hero and in fact, antagonist Nero is considerably more affable. One episode clearly spells this out for us by having a reporter point out that Nero is more popular with the citizenry than the cops. But Nero is the son of a mafia don, with all that implies. Maybe he would have been a decent man otherwise, he is clearly charming, loyal to his friends, caring and not fond of violence. He is also a man that gets the job done by any means necessary and has long ago stopped losing any sleep over it. His very last line in the show is: you don’t need a reason to live, you just live and that pretty much sums him up. The heart and tragedy of 91 days is that Avilio and Nero are in fact really good friends but life gets in the way. Towards the end of the series, several characters, at different times, repeat the phrase “in the end, it was all for nothing”, cruelly twisting the proverbial knife in the wound.
A lot happens in the span of those 91 days and 12 episodes. By the time Avilio’s revenge takes a final unexpected (and simply fantastic) twist, I was starting to worry that they might have written themselves into a corner. I just couldn’t see how they could end it without coping out or fizzling. This is why I don’t write anime my friends. That ending was breathtaking. It was simply perfect in every way and left me both shattered and awestruck. I thought it was a great series up until the last few minutes when I realized it was a goddamn tour de force…
Look this isn’t an easy show and it isn’t a light show. It most certainly isn’t for everyone. A beautiful homage, but the clever adaptations and allusions will be lost on those unfamiliar with the source inspiration. A certain amount of patience and a willingness to overlook the more apparent flaws is required. It’s heavy and ruthless and according to my own final note as I was watching the last credits, it’s ah-fuckin-mazing.
Random thought – This is entirely my own neurosis but the dark warm colour palette kept throwing me off. There are a lot of browns, ochres and brick red used. Most scenes have warm burnt sienna undertones and to me that meant that I instantly associated it with Spanish or Italian movies which had that warmer quality to their old film stock. In my head, an American city should have been much cooler, using greys and blacks with blue undertones. Cool white electric light instead of that soft candlelight stuff. Yeah – I know…I have certain..issues…
Second random thought – I love when you can really see the changes simple design adjustments make to a character’s appearance. Nero looks completely different with a beard and his hair down and Fango is a new man with a haircut. I remember being impressed by how different Yuri looked with his own hair back and glasses off in Yuri on ice. And the use of dark circles under the eyes of characters to show their mental breakdowns was cool if a bit on the nose.
What this anime taught me: I wouldn’t make a good mafia don. My social anxiety would make the whole hand kissing thing super awkward for everyone….
They say so many people die because of alcohol. Perhaps they never realized how many of them are born because of it
Suggested drink: Sweet Revenge on the rocks
- Every time we see or hear about “the letter” – take a drink
- Every time Avilio reveals his identity – take a drink
- Every time Avilio lights a cigarette – take a deep breath
- Every time someone is waiting in a parked car – take a drink
- Every time we see a tombstone – take a drink
- Every time Fango shows up – take a drink, you’ll want it
- Every time Corteo is worried – take a drink
- Every time we see Avilio’s fancy lighter – take a drink
- Every time someone brings a knife to a gunfight – take a drink
- Every time Avilio smiles – have a stiff drink