91 Days Review - Welcome to the Family
So Crunchyroll hosted their first annual Anime Awards this year, where they pretty much hosted their own version of the Golden Globes but with, well, anime. It was a pretty fun concept, at least theoretically, and I say that because the actual awards were nowhere close to being indicative of the 2016 year at all.
I should probably provide some context for this. See, the Anime Awards (the “Crunchies,” if you will) were taking place at the end of the year, right as Winter 2017 was getting ready to kick off, and while I do have to give props to Crunchy for including some shows that weren’t airing on their service (My Hero Academia and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress being the prominent ones), the nominees for some of the categories were…questionable at best. Voters were still allowed write-in submissions to be fair, but the featured anime that actually got Crunchy’s nominations I think were not picked all that well.
At this point, I can hear at least one person slamming away on their keyboard as they tell me exactly why Yuri!!!! on Ice deserved all five of its awards over other, in my opinion much more suitable shows (how it beat out Mob Psycho 100 on both OP and ED is a mystery I’ll never be able to solve). Trust me, I have quite a bit to say about that, but this isn’t really the time for it.
Because what got to me the most in the nominations, more so than Yuri, was that one of the nominees for Anime of the Year was Joker Game. If you haven’t seen it, you really didn’t miss much, because that show is about as engaging as a graduate civil engineering lecture, and is roughly just as enjoyable. I personally couldn’t stand more than two episodes of it, because at one point I realized I had been nitpicking it for twenty minutes nonstop with no end in sight, when I could’ve been saving my voice to yell at the pubbies in my Counter-Strike lobby.
I didn’t like it a ton. And when I said this to a similarly-minded friend of mine over lunch, he asked me what other historical drama I personally would’ve nominated, and I immediately shot back with 91 Days.
“Which one was that, SnYves?”
Really, reader? It was airing that summer? Its OP was kick-ass and was done by the same guy who did Tokyo Ghoul’s?
“I’m not getting anything.”
It was done by the Durarara!!x2 guys, Shuka?
“Sorry, still don’t follow.”
…Godfather the anime, you plebeian.
“Oh yeah, that one!”
Yeah, regrettably that’s the one-sentence summary for 91 Days, as degrading as it sounds out of context. The story takes place during the American Prohibition era in a city that is most definitely not Chicago, and we follow the story of Avilio Bruno (Takashi Kondo), the eldest son of the Lagusa crime family and sole survivor of the massacre of said family seven years prior to the show’s events. After receiving a letter revealing the identities of the hitmen as members of the rival Vanettis, he travels to not Chicago under his new alias and with his childhood friend Corteo (Soma Saito) to infiltrate the family and get his revenge. They’re taken under the wing of Nero Vanetti (Takuya Eguchi), and Avilio’s plans finally get put into motion.
Alright, first things first. The OP for this series (“Signal” by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure) is freaking amazing. Normally I don’t pay a ton of mind to series OPs unless they directly impact my experience watching a show, and holy black-market booze does this one leave a mark on you. It slams into you like an emotional freight train of anger and vengeance and sticks with you for the entire episode. It sets the show’s mood right off the bat as a tragic revenge story that is not going to end well for any of the parties involved. This was actually my write-in for Best OP during the Crunchies; even though I absolutely loved Mob Psycho, the pure energy and emotion present in 91 Days just can’t be rivaled.
Make no mistake here: 91 Days is not a happy show. At all. It’s brutal, it’s violent, it’s depressing as all hell, there’s death and blood and backstabbing everywhere to be seen, and the tragedy of the story unfolding in front of us is so magnanimous and massive I had to take breaks in between episodes just to recollect myself.
Let me do something different this time around and get my negatives out of the way first. I think the primary sticking point for most viewers is actually going to be the characters involved. Not to say that our main characters don’t stand out and aren’t memorable for the audience - they do and they are. But since they’re involved in a crime family, that means that we also need to keep track of underlings, relatives, guns-for-hire, FBI agents, who’s getting wed off to who, and the whole affair becomes gets really swampy as a result. Apart from one glorious nutjob of a character named Fango (Kenjiro Tsuda), if you’re not a main character or one of the Vanetti’s top dogs, then there’s a good chance nobody’s gonna remember you.
The story also suffers as a consequence to that, since there are some fairly major plot points involving assassinations, contracts, treaties, weddings and the like. Many a time arose when a main character would be talking about one of the somebodies from the last paragraph that made me say, “Who was that again?” moments before said nondescript character showed on screen and making me say, “Oh yeah, that guy,” followed shortly by either “Wait, that was his name?” or “What did he do again?” Also, in the spirit of The Godfather itself, there isn’t a ton of exposition provided for the events taking place. So if you missed a context clue or a critical line, then there’s a good chance you’ll need to rewind a few seconds back if you want to keep up with the things that are about to happen. It’s not the worst thing to happen in a story intensive anime (just ask any Bleach fan), but it does hurt the flow of the series a bit.
What really carried me from episode to episode, however, was the character development. This show succeeds in a way similar to how KonoSuba does its thing, only instead of following four plucky adventurers in a sort of animated sitcom, now we’re watching something more along the lines of a soap opera. Yeah, the story is still important here, but we’re more interested in the characters and what they do among one another.
The show’s strongest point is definitely, hands down, watching Avilio and Nero’s relationship develop under the conceit that (light-moderate spoilers) Nero was one of the men involved in the Lagusa job, and is therefore on Avilio’s to-do list. Issue is, Nero is arguably the friendliest character in the show and earnestly thinks Avilio is a good guy. Hell, he’s the primary reason Avilio even gets close to the Vanettis anyways, so he unwittingly catalyzes the rest of the series in a way. And, yeah, it’s kinda coincidental that Avilio happens to get really close to the one guy who can get him even closer to the head of the family (Nero happens to be the don’s son, how about that), but the fabrication of it all is so moot next to the well-structured and steadily-paced development between a man who earnestly wants to help a new friend, and a guy who, on the surface, is only accepting that help so he can have an easier time offing everyone.
And when they’re not in the spotlight, it often likes to shine on Fango, who is really a one-man show. As far as his role in the story is concerned, he’s pretty much to Avilio what Wolf O’Donnell is to Star Fox: an anti-hero that isn’t necessarily on the “protagonist’s” side, but is a third party with his own set of interests that frequently conflict with our lead’s. In Fango’s case, he’s effectively a soldier for the rival Orco family, so of course that would put him at odds with the Vanettis and, by extension, Avilio.
But watching Fango tussle with him and his plans, for better or worse, is a secondary attraction at best. You’ll want to watch him because Fango owns every single scene he’s in. He’s unhinged, he’s devoted, and damn if he doesn’t try to have some fun in doing it.
At one point, he actually gets some help from Nero and company to help overthrow a don and make Fango the new head. That’s all the setup I’m going to give you for one of the most memorable scenes in the entire show.
The only thing I’ll say about it is that it involves a lasagna, because 91 Days just wouldn’t be a proper Italian-mob show without one.
If it sounds like I really liked this show, it’s mostly because I did. The characters and writing are all top-notch, even if the story can get confusing at times, and watching all of these forces collide with each other on screen is a spectacle to say the least. In the middle of a vibrant and colorful Summer 2016 season, a spot of gritty, down-to-earth, violent drama was exactly what we needed, and 91 Days did not disappoint.
That said, as much as I loved watching this, it’d be hard for me to say it’s going to leave much of impact or legacy, especially as 2016 gradually becomes more widely known as the year of shows like Mob Psycho and Yuri. 91 Days was a show that picked one hell of a time to air - during the midst of all of the fantastical adventures going on at the time (Re:Zero, KonoSuba, JBA and the aforementioned Mob Psycho), it definitely stood out from the crowd - but ultimately that’s all it really did. And sure, there’s some nice commentary in there on vengeance, wrath and unchecked ambition, but these are all themes that have already been explored in more well-known shows like Death Note and FMA, and those stories tend to stick more with the viewer thanks to their creative premises and settings. In a couple of years, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if this show just devolved into what’s essentially a cult classic - a series that has been forgotten over time but still kicks some major ass.
91 Days wasn’t the best show to come out of Summer 2016, and was probably not destined to be all that memorable either, but I will say it was by far the most necessary show to have come out last year. Even if it sounds like just another Italian-mob revenge story, and in many respects it plays out like one, there is so much passion present in this series I’m going to keep recommending it until I’m blue in the face. The characters are memorable, even if the story is not, and that OP will never stop being good no matter how many times I listen to it. It’s a real product of the time, literally and figuratively, and hey, if bloody, nasty tales of subversion and deception happen to be your thing, then you really have no reason not to check this out.
It’s an offer you can’t refuse.
THE VERDICT: B+
Next time: A remake that did not need to happen.