Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

91 Days

Complete Series BD/DVD

Synopsis:
91 Days Complete Series BD/DVD
In 1921, Angelo Lagusa's father, mother, and younger brother are executed by the Vanetti crime family. Angelo escapes, but he vows one day to get his revenge on the killers. Now in 1928, Angelo has received a letter from someone claiming to know who the precise perpetrators of his family's murders are. Calling himself Avilio Bruno, Angelo returns to the Illinois city of Lawless to enact his revenge.
Review:

Rarely has 1928 America been so well captured in anime as it is in the gangster drama 91 Days. Given that history in fiction is so often romanticized, that's saying a lot – you only have to compare the basics of this show with Gosick (another series set in the 1920s) to see how much care was put into the details here. From the sounds of the car engines to the prices paid for a meal, the only place the show arguably really falters is in some anachronistic handguns and basically the entire design of mob enforcer Fango; otherwise, this is a history nerd's dream. That's important given that the entire series feels like an homage to the gangster film, from Portrait of a Mobster to Cotton Club to elements of the TV series The Sopranos, which is referenced in the ambiguous ending and logo design. While 91 Days lacks Cotton Club's killer soundtrack, it certainly does an excellent job of setting the scene, which lays the groundwork for what is essentially an Alexandre Dumas-style tale of revenge.

The story begins in 1921 on Angelo Lagusa's birthday. No sooner has his father come home than some men drive up to gun him down – members of the Vanetti crime family, they believe that Mr. Lagusa has wronged them and they're here to make sure he never does so again. In the interest of preventing retaliation, the Vanettis also kill Angelo's mother and younger brother Luce, the latter specifically because they don't want him to grow up and seek revenge. Perhaps because he heard that, Angelo not only escapes, but also grows up on the dream of that exact thing: revenge against the men who slaughter his family. Now calling himself Avilio Bruno, the scene shifts to 1928, when Avilio receives an anonymous letter telling him the names of the three men who executed his family. Armed with that information, Avilio returns to his hometown, the aptly named Lawless, in order to carry out his plans.

There's some definite symbolism at play with the name Avilio choses for himself, as well as those of some of the characters he interacts with. Angelo, his birth name, means “angel,” so obviously he has to get rid of that in order to make good on his deadly plan. His new last name, meanwhile, bears a distinct similarity to the Latin name Brutus (enough so that some people confuse the two), best known as the man who betrayed Julius Caesar. Since Avilio's first order of business is to ingratiate himself with the Vanetti family before turning on them, he's very much a Brutus figure to all of them, but most specifically to Nero, the eldest son and one of the people present that night seven years ago. Here again we have some interesting symbolism: Angelo's dead brother's name was “Luce,” meaning “light” in Italian; “Nero,” on the other hand, means “black” or “dark.” Therefore Avilio can be read as distancing himself from the light and willingly going over to the dark in his plans for revenge—and possibly implying that his desire for vengeance is the wrong path to tread.

The story follows the basic revenge narrative trajectory – the tragedy happens, vengeance is sworn, the plans are laid, and vengeance is eventually exacted, with a high moral and emotional toll. That that toll is divided between Avilio and Nero is one of the interesting features of the story. If we take Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo as the standard for the revenge drama (and while Shakespeare certainly has a few, Dumas' tale has become the version best known by pop culture), the original novel presents revenge as basically a jolly good adventure. Sure there are casualties, but ultimately the Count is depicted as pleased with his efforts. In 91 Days, there's a sense of dissatisfaction on the parts of all parties – Avilio because he has had to kill far more people than were originally killed, to say nothing of betraying the only people he has left who could reasonably be considered his family, and Nero because he is faced at the end of the series with the exact same trauma and dilemma that Angelo was all those years ago. It's not a perfect full circle, but it draws more parallels between the two than Avilio would be comfortable noticing, because they suggest that vengeance is less a means to an end and more a never-ending cycle of hatred and violence.

Because of that, the included series of shorts, 91 Daze, do make for a bit of a breather after the main action of the story, as does episode thirteen, which is three short stories about various times in the characters' pasts. They're both best saved for after you've had a bit of space to think about the ending of the main series, which does bear thinking on, but are worth watching nonetheless. Other extras include the usual trailers and promotional spots, along with commentary for episode four, which is interesting to listen to if only because it discusses the Chicago(ish) accents employed by the generally strong dub and the show's relation to the TV series Boardwalk Empire.

If there's a glaring issue with the series as a whole, that would most likely be the character of Fango, an enforcer for the Vanettis' rival family, the Orcas. In a series that even pays attention to the proper formatting of a Model-T's dashboard, Fango looks like he escaped from the 1970s, standing out like a disco ball at a funeral. While I can understand the creators wanting him to look as over-the-top as possible given his personality and unstable grasp on sanity, there surely were ways more in keeping with the 1928 setting of the show. Later on Fango does stabilize somewhat in both his role and his appearance, but he's jarring enough to make any time he shows up early on take you right out of the story.

91 Days is a dark, brooding story, the kind that takes itself seriously without overdoing it. It isn't easy to watch, but it is thoughtful, and almost all of its plot choices feel well-considered and in the goal of fulfilling its narrative directive. Vengeance, it suggests, may be an appealing dish. But rather than serving it at any temperature, perhaps it is better to simply leave it off the menu entirely. It has a nasty way of giving you heartburn.

Grade:
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B

+ Beautiful attention to period detail, thoughtful plot progression, strong thematic links to genre inspirations
Fango and some other anachronisms, music could have been more memorable or striking

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Production Info:
Director: Hiro Kaburaki
Series Composition: Taku Kishimoto
Script:
Hiro Kaburaki
Yuichiro Kido
Taku Kishimoto
Storyboard:
Kotomi Deai
Hiro Kaburaki
Yoriyasu Kogawa
Masayuki Kojima
Atsushi Matsumoto
Ikuo Morimoto
Kazuya Nomura
Kiyotaka Ohata
Tomihiko Ohkubo
Kotaro Tamura
Hiroyuki Yano
Episode Director:
Kotomi Deai
Tomoko Hiramuki
Masayuki Iimura
Hiro Kaburaki
Yoriyasu Kogawa
Ikuo Morimoto
Tomihiko Ohkubo
Kyohei Ohyabu
Takatoshi Suzuki
Yoshinari Suzuki
Satoshi Toba
Yoshihiro Yanagiya
Takeyuki Yanase
Music: Shōgo Kaida
Character Design: Tomohiro Kishi
Art Director: Hiromasa Ogura
Chief Animation Director: Tomohiro Kishi
Animation Director:
Kazuyuki Igai
Masakazu Kawazoe
Yi Sung Kim
Tomohiro Kishi
Shuichi Kitayama
Toshimitsu Kobayashi
Ju-Hyeon Lee
Toshihide Masudate
Minoru Murao
Miyako Nishida
Ena Nishikawa
Sadao Ōshima
Konomi Sakurai
Masahiro Sekiguchi
Shiori Shirazaki
Moriyasu Taniguchi
Yumenosuke Tokuda
Takuo Tominaga
Koji Yabuno
Producer:
Toshio Iizuka
Toshihiro Maeda

Full encyclopedia details about
91 Days (TV)

Release information about
91 Days - The Complete Series (BD+DVD)

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