91 Days
Episode 13

by Gabriella Ekens,

It's been 348 days since the last 91 Days episode, but it looks like the show has come back for more. It kinda ruins the naming scheme a bit (originally 12 episodes + a recap x 7 days in a week = 91 oh my god), but we're running on OVA releases now. This extra episode was put out back in July on the Blu-ray compilation release and showed up on Crunchyroll a couple months later. It's broken down into three stories across three different time periods and different sets of characters.

To recap, 91 Days is all about Prohibition-era America, the futility of revenge, and ripping off classic gangster movies as hard as possible. It stars Avilio, a dude whose entire family was murdered in a mafia double-cross when he was a kid. Having escaped assassination himself, Avilio grows up into an infernal vengeance gremlin and plots to destroy those who did him wrong. He ends up infiltrating the family that did all this to him, the Vanettis, only to find himself disturbingly suited to the mafia lifestyle. He also strikes up an intimate friendship with the Vanetti's heir, Nero. All of this makes Avilio question his commitment to getting even, as well as his remaining moral scruples, making the conflict more of a battle for Avilio's soul. In the end, the death of his last true friend pushes Avilio to wreck Nero's life as well as the regional mafia hierarchy. In one final ambiguous scene, Avilio seems to let Nero kill him, thus freeing them both from the toxic cycle of revenge.

The first third of the OVA concerns the Vanetti siblings when they were still kids. They go on an adventure that serves as a microcosm of their personalities, and how they will act in the Avilio drama some 15 years later. Basically, papa Vanetti is too strict to take his kids to have fun while their mom is sick, so they decide to steal some money from his office and head to the circus by themselves. Fio doesn't participate, but she also refuses to rat her brothers out. Frate chickens out at the family doorstep. In the end, it's up to Nero to pull off the heist by himself. He almost makes it out undetected, but then he stops to help out his sick mom. We only ever hear him doing this, since it's shot with the door to her room closed. This indicates Nero's main weakness – his lack of ruthlessness – which must occur “behind closed doors” during his life as a gangster. Nero's unwillingness to abandon people is what destroys his life as a mafioso, since it makes him overly trusting of Avilio. It also means that he can't leave people (like Fio and Frate, for example) to their "fate” even when it benefits him personally. It's a subtle, well-written summation of the interpersonal dynamics that will lead to the Vanetti family's downfall.

The next part tells the story of how Avilio and Nero's dads met, and how Vanetti Sr. got involved with gangsterism in the first place. So Vanetti Sr. – then a penniless immigrant – hit up Ganzo (his future business partner and the guy who was scheming to take over the Vanettis throughout the show) for a crime gig. When Vanetti Sr. reveals his grand ambitions, Ganzo decides that he likes the cut of his jib and agrees to give him a shot. Ganzo takes him to the current gangster HQ, where he, Avilio's dad, and Don Orco (aka future lasagna man) are currently working as right-hand men. They disrespectfully take control of the place while the boss is away and decide to test Vanetti Sr. with a game of poker. Papa Avilio is a lot like his future son – brutally intelligent and coldly calculating. Vanetti Sr. ends up betting everything (including his wife) against Avilio Sr. and wins, proving his mettle. However, Papa Avilio remains unconvinced – the family doesn't need reckless (albeit lucky) idiots. Papa Vanetti then reveals that he was never betting. He'd adjusted a side mirror to be able to see his opponent's cards, playing with total certainty of victory all along. With this, Avilio Sr. comes to agree that Vanetti Sr.'s jib is indeed well-cut. Having come to an understanding, they share an important business handshake and even take a commemorative photo together. This photo will eventually appear in Vanetti Sr.'s desk drawer, indicating that he may have once cared about these people.

As a backstory to the entire drama, this is the most interesting of the three vignettes on premise alone. And while I do think it's as technically excellent as the first one, I left it somewhat disappointed. I was under the impression that Nero and Avilio's dads were close friends, and while I can somewhat see their chemistry from this initial encounter, it's not indicative of a level of intimacy that would make what went on between their children more meaningful. More than anything else, 91 Days was lacking in emotional intensity, so this would have been a great place to work some in retroactively. Instead, it's just as weirdly sterile as the rest of the show. That's not to say that there wasn't anything of value here – it was neat to see how much Avilio resembles his father, as well as how much more Nero and Avilio's dads had in common than their two sons. While Nero's attachment to the cold, poorly socialized Avilio seemed primarily borne out of desperation and loss, I can see how the men who sired them (both brutal, ruthless, and calculating) would find kindred spirits in one another. Now if only they'd shown that in the series...

The third story is the most disposable of the three by far. Nero gets sick during his banishment and Avilio makes some eggnog for him. Avilio does a bad job because he's lived under a bridge for the past ten years and struggles with human affection. Really, this is a Nero counterpart to that Corteo episode where he and Avilio got to hang out as bros for the last time. Mostly I found this bit boring, but I guess the remaining shippers for 91 Days will like it.

Coming back to 91 Days after a full year away, this OVA episode mostly reminded me of how this good show could have been great, as well as why it ultimately missed that mark. All three vignettes were technically excellent as representations of a specific genre of live action film. The writing was subtle, and the scenarios were well-crafted. However, they were still lacking in the emotional intensity necessary to keep me thinking about the show after it was over. 91 Days made Avilio too much of a cipher, hampering the audience's investment in the final conflict. The whole thing was meant to be a war over the dude's soul, but by the end it just didn't give us enough opportunities to understand and empathize with the depth of his torment. Aesthetically, the show's restraint was often its biggest strength, but it didn't let loose often enough to capitalize on all of its pent up energy either. (It's no surprise that the one exception to this rule – murderous Tarantino-film-escapee Fango – is the most memorable part, as well as the only character whose name I remembered after a year.) To me, this OVA was an opportunity to help the show out in retrospect. They could have made that sort of emotional conflict clear through the parents, so that it could pass over to their offspring via transference. But instead, it was just more of the same.

But maybe these expectations were unfair of me. For what the show does have to offer, I'd say this OVA stands out as above average. The vignettes remind me of good 20th-century short stories – like the lesser entries in a Raymond Chandler collection or something. You get what they're going for about the dark side of the American dream and paternal distance and yadda yadda, but you're not quite invested enough to have it stick with you afterwards. There are worse problems to have though. This may also sound crude but as an anime, I also think this whole thing could have benefited from being a little "gayer". It doesn't have to be overt fujoshi appeal or anything, but even some Gen Urobuchi-style intense longing fixation between the guys would have gone a long way towards making people care harder. Don't tell me that that's not what the fans wanted either, because I've seen this show's Tumblr tag.

In the end, 91 Days stands as a distinct and enjoyable – if centrally flawed – series. I enjoyed returning to it for this OVA, which exemplified both its strengths and its weaknesses. Remember, kids: elaborate murderous vengeance plots are bad, no matter how talented you are at pulling them off. It sucks, but them's the breaks.

Grade: B+

91 Days is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.

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