No doubt about it, 91 Days is as distinct on the anime schedule as can be. What strikes me most after two episodes is just how little this series is trying to be an anime version of a prohibition-era mob story – it’s just a prohibition-era mob story, period. There are hints of the Japanese sensibility that slip through, of course, but as compared to something like Baccano! – which while set in an America of roughly the same vintage was thoroughly a Japanese pop culture riff on that setting – 91 Days is playing it pretty straight. And so far, that’s totally working for me.
As I said last week, any good mafia epic is going to be very bloody and very violent, and 91 Days is wasting no time in checking those boxes. In the present, the story is framed around a brewing conflict between three crime families – the Vanettis, the Orcos and the Galassias. Clearly the Orcos and Vanettis are in a state of near-warfare over control of Lawless – with the Orcos on the ascendancy – but the Galassias seem to trump both. They run Chicago – a much bigger empire – and their growing involvement in the local underworld imposes a kind of forced truce between the two local families. In fact, Nero Vanetti’s sister is marrying a Galassia (but why does the wedding band only know “Pop Goes the Weasel”?) . But as with the Soviet Union suppressing long-standing hatreds in Eastern Europe, those hatreds don’t disappear – they just go underground, waiting for their chance to explode to the surface.
How does Avilo fit into all this? Easy – revenge. But what I really want to know is who is it that sent that letter to him – the one conveniently laying out exactly who his family’s killers were. Was it really from his father’s best friend, or is that just too easy (hint: almost surely yes)? Avilo is wading into a whole swamp of trouble here, and while he’s clearly very smart and very bold (the latter no doubt being largely due to his feeling he has little to lose), he’s still swimming with sharks a lot bigger than he is. And does he really feel all right with dragging Colteo – who helped him in his hour of greatest need and clearly wants no part of all this – into that swamp with him?
91 Days is very clean, concise and solid as a rock. The visuals aren’t breathtaking but they do capture the essence of the world the show is trying to create, and while the plot is complex it progresses in logical and easy to follow fashion. It helps that the characters are all distinctive enough to be memorable, and the dialogue is often fabulous. I don’t know if the line spoken by bossman Vincent Vanetti (Yamaji Kazuhiro) – “With a cigar, you don’t inhale smoke – you inhale time” – was original, but it’s one of the nicest one-liners I’ve heard in ages (and as an occasional cigar smoker, I totally get what he meant).
Vanetti is important, and not just because he’s the head of one of the three families. He’s also one of the three killers named in the letter to Avilo, the other two being the pair we met last week – Vincent’s son Nero and Vanno Clemente. Vanno’s role in this episode is especially interesting – he’s the most charismatic and sympathetic character on-screen in many ways, but when he signals that Avilo’s family was his first kill, the die is cast for what’s going to happen. Avilo talks his way (greasing the gears with Colteo’s hooch) into taking on a job for the Vanettis – taking out Fango. Vanno has a special grudge against the Orcos after they’ve just taken out his young partner Tronco, and he goes along as support (technically, a member of the Vanetti Family taking out a member of the Orco woud violate Galassia orders – but Avilo is not yet in the family). But Avilo’s real goal lies elsewhere.
The hit scene itself is gloriously brought off – it takes place while Fango is in the midst of a bondage session (receiving) with his girlfriend. I don’t know if Avilo botched the hit intentionally as part of his plan, but botch it he does – though it does net them Serpente, the man who killed Tronco. Eventually they end up at the boy’s grave, where Vanno allows Serpente to pray (rather than that, he begs) before killing him. But Avilo is waiting, and he turns his gun on Vanno, killing him too. But something is clearly amiss when Nero has Avilo take him to the scene of the crime and Serpente’s body is missing. A setup?
An awful lot has certainly happened in two short episodes, but it doesn’t feel like too much – just an action-packed crime saga that’s hit the ground running. If 91 Days continues to be as faithful to the film genre it’s paying tribute to as it has been so far, I expect this to be a blood-soaked ride from start to finish. And most likely ending in tragedy too, for Avilo’s chosen road – justifiable as it may be in his own mind – is not one that leads to redemption, but perdition.