The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
91 Days ?
What is this?
In the early 20th century, it is snowing on a boy's birthday in April. Young Angelo never forgets that day, when his whole family – mother, father, and younger brother Luce – was killed by a member of his father's mafia family. Angelo runs away into the snowy night to his friend Corteo's house, but he leaves again the next morning to disappear for seven years. When he returns, Prohibition is in full swing, and Corteo has become a bootlegger to earn money for school. Angelo has been living elsewhere under the name Avilio Bruno, but after receiving a letter with his brother's photo in it, he comes back to his hometown for unknown reasons. Enlisting Corteo's help, Angelo goes to a speakeasy on a small island run by the mob to sell Corteo's wares when they are attacked by a new thug belonging to the Orco family. The thug is looking for Nero Vanetti, the son of the man who murdered Angelo's family. It seems that Angelo is also hoping to find Nero – and when he does, the look in his eye says that his revenge is long overdue. 91 Days is an original anime work and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 2:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
I really, really, really hope 91 Days is ready to run a marathon, because it had one hell of a takeoff from the starting line.
Watching this original story from Studio Shuka immediately calls to mind both Baccano! and Gangsta., as compelling stories with distinctive casts and a similar aesthetic, but also both plagued by production problems as their artistic ambitions struggled against increasingly limited resources. Baccano! managed to press through its problems and open the door for a far more financially successful Durarara!! series by the same author, while Gangsta. completely self-destructed and bankrupted a floundering Studio Manglobe. Of course, both of those shows had something in common that 91 Days doesn't: source material.
91 Days isn't based on a novel or comic book, and its origins as a TV-original script become immediately apparent in its stunningly cinematic first half. The inciting incident that forces Angelo into his life of revenge is the most engrossing sequence of the season by far, with pitch-perfect pacing, thoughtful shot composition, and arrestingly powerful dramatic action. The camera puts us firmly in Angelo's head as his regrets pile up over the course of one terrible night. After blaming himself for the loss of his brother and being seen escaping the villa, his apology to his friend just for hiding out at his house feels all the more raw and painful. The desire for revenge that will consume Angelo's adolescent years to come is obviously rooted in self-loathing, so I'm eager to see where the story takes his character in the emotionally complicated world of Depression-era America. (The metaphor of turning paraffin candles from an innocent childhood fascination to a deadly weapon is also potent, giving the story a subtle layer of depth to better support its loads of style.)
Unfortunately, the episode's second half has already started displaying potential production weaknesses like a too-dark color palette and off-model animation. These hiccups are all smartly positioned in places that don't weaken the story's impact, but that may not always be the case going forward. I'm excited for 91 Days and pleased as punch by its strong premiere, but I'm also wary of this talented director's reach exceeding his grasp for a television production. If you're looking for an artistically challenging adventure for all audiences this summer though, 91 Days has got you covered for now.
Standing in as stark a contrast to all of the other fare debuting today as you can get, 91 Days is a dark, gritty tale in every respect, whether it be artistry, subject matter, or even the way it handles its violence. It has a look and feel somewhat reminiscent of Baccano!, another anime set in roughly the same time period and also dealing with all manner of gangsters and nasty types, although the high spirits and tricky timeline-bouncing characteristic of that show are nowhere to be found here. Instead this looks like a Prohibition-era revenge tale, one steeped in the activities of moonshiners, speakeasy operators, and thugs.
The visuals are one of the most distinctive aspects of the first episode. Everything – whether the backgrounds or the character designs – is a bit rough-edged, and the color palette used doesn't even acknowledge that bright colors actually exist. There's nothing glamourous about any of the character designs, either. For as rough as this all looks, though, the animation is actually very good, which along with the careful choices in scene selections and writing conveys an usually intense sense of violence. Sure, there are plenty of other series out there which get just as bloody as this one does, but there's a hard, brutal edge to the violence here that few other shows ever achieve. The punches and knife slashes strike suddenly and with appreciable impact, and the worst of it being pushed off-camera doesn't mute that one bit.
The setting also fully conveys an ambiance reminiscent of The Godfather movies, an effect which I would bet is fully intended. While it isn't technically using a real American setting from the 1920s, it might as well be, and the terminology and naming conventions that are being thrown around are accurate to that era of American history. The storytelling and characterizations are solid, too; these aren't your typical anime archetypes, but more real-feeling characters which suitably convey senses of menace without going over-the-top. The story is taking an interesting direction as well, with the main leads seeming to hook up with the more businesslike bootleggers at the end.
While this title definitely isn't for everyone, it should help put to rest claims that nothing good is out this season.
Wow, 91 Days really knows how to set the mood. By the time those cinematic opening credits wrap up, it's obvious that this is going to be the kind of dark, serious period piece that we don't often see in the anime world. The soundtrack is put to good use, the establishing shots show off some wonderfully artistic backgrounds, and there's a quiet subtlety to the early scenes that lets the brooding atmosphere really soak in. No need for a lengthy piece of expository narration here; it's easy to see exactly what kind of world this series is building.
It helps that the main characters’ motivations don't requite much in the way of explanation. Angelo is consumed by his quest for revenge to the point where he doesn't seem to take any actions that aren't directly related to his goal. Corteo is the more complex (and perhaps more interesting) of the pair, but his state of mind is still easy enough to infer. His desire to survive by staying out of trouble is pitted against his loyalty to Angelo, and it's easy to like him for accepting the risk that comes with standing by his friend. The rest of the cast ranges from potentially interesting to easily forgettable, but the two leads are naturally compelling enough to carry the first episode on their own.
91 Days also looks the part. Character designs and costumes are distinct enough to easily tell who's who, but the vast majority of them also fit in perfectly with the time and place. It's also possible to infer a lot about the characters’ personalities through their body language, thanks in large part to some very nice animation. The whole thing just looks and sounds like it's been put together by people who know what they're doing.
If I have a complaint here, it's that this series is perhaps a little too moody for its own good. It could do with just a bit of hope and a genuine smile or two, which I imagine will arrive in due course now that Angelo's motive for revenge has been established. 91 Days looks like a fairly simple revenge story at the moment, but the way in which it's presented makes all the difference in the world. Definitely worth a look, especially if you're looking for a break from the more well represented genres this season.
91 Days is devoted to its 1920s mob story theme. It's evident not just in the characters or the setting, but in the sepia tones of the artwork, the largely faithful 1920s men's clothing and vehicles, and perhaps most of all the soundtrack, which has a moody, jazzy sound that brings to mind the seedy social underbelly of the Prohibition. This isn't Jay Gatsby's world – it's for Big Al and his ilk. The atmosphere is honestly half of this show, and it really works at getting you into that noir mood. This is an episode I could show my father and he'd eat it up.
As might be expected, this episode is getting us ready for the big revenge plot that looks like it's to come. The opening scene of a rainy street where old ladies gossip before Angelo saunters in, head down and coat turned up against the rain, really sets a dark mood that is enhanced by the truly scary face he makes when he opens the envelope. It takes a minute when the scene shifts to his childhood to realize that the little boy smiling at the table is also Angelo – if you look closely, he does look the same (which in anime means he has the same haircut), but there's an openness to his face that isn't there in the future. We soon find out why, as he witnesses the murder of his parents and brother before running off into the snowy April night: he almost prevented younger brother Luce from being killed, but couldn't quite grab him to pull him back into the closet where they were hiding. Before shooting Luce, the mobster says that he can't afford to spare the little boy because he will never forget this day. Turns out that he was right, because Angelo has clearly never forgotten.
Much as I enjoyed this show – particularly the way the opening theme was used; it felt like watching a film rather than a TV episode – it does feel overdramatic at times. When Angelo showed back up at Corteo's place I caught myself thinking, “Make a pilgrimage to the past with me,” and this episode does feel very Noir-ish in its use of Evil Organizations and family slaughter. Fango, the new enforcer for the Orco family, is far too clownish to really work with the mood here, plus he looks like he escaped from the 1970s and somehow ended up in the 1920s. Having a little more information or reaction from Corteo upon what appears to be Angelo's sudden return after being gone for seven years would have been useful as well, because as it stands it doesn't make quite as much narrative sense as it needs to for Corteo to just jump up and go with Angelo. Since Corteo doesn't know about Angelo's false name, he clearly wasn't the one who sent the letter, so shouldn't he react a little more?
Despite these issues, this is an atmospheric, fascinating episode. Maybe that's just because I really like the 1920s as a setting and I enjoy mysteries, but this grabbed me and pulled me in. Hopefully it can maintain this level of stylishness, because it's got me my waist-length rope of pearls in anticipation of what comes next.
91 Days essentially fills the same slot for this season that Joker Game did during spring - bloody period piece with a muted aesthetic, somewhat more western drama-style narrative, and lots of attractive male characters. While Joker Game focused on the Japanese lead-up to WWII and 91 Days is a prohibition revenge story, when it comes to style and storytelling (the shows actually share a series composer), the two have much in common. If you were a fan of that show for those overt qualities, 91 Days will likely be right up your alley. But I actually wasn't much of a fan of Joker Game, and yet I really enjoyed this show's first episode.
The first, absolutely critical defining difference between the two is that 91 Days’ characters pretty much immediately express a variety of engaging personalities. Revenge-hungry protagonist Avilio is likely the least interesting character so far, as his personality is essentially “revenge plus being strong.” But pairing him with his childhood friend Corteo makes for a solid core dynamic, and I'm already interested in seeing how mafia near-royalty Nero bounces off the two of them. Mafia wildcard Fango is a lot less interesting, as he's basically just a typhoon of wild violence, but that style of character is basically part and parcel with this kind of story.
Beyond that, 91 Days’ execution is just impressive across the board. I was particularly impressed with this show's sound design - beyond the many appropriately jazzy music tracks, many scenes here were elevated through the focus on subdued, natural sounds. You could really feel the chill of the snowy evening when Avilio's family was murdered, and the aftermath of that sequence was carried by Avilo's muted sobbing as his friend brewed cocoa. The direction is also dynamic, and animation consistent, if not ostentatious. But part of 91 Days’ strength is that almost nothing about it is ostentatious - it is rigorously polished and generally understated, with only occasional flourishes like the thunder accompanying Avilio's revenge smile breaking the mood.
Overall, I'm very impressed with 91 Days’ premiere, and eager to see where its story goes from here. From its gripping composition to its uniformly strong execution, there's a whole lot to like in this one.
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