It was probably cheating a little to put 91 Days on my sleeper list in the season preview, since the signs were all there that this would be an excellent series and a lot of folks were picking up on them. But sleeper or not, this show continues the trend of most of the new anime this season living up (or down, but mostly up) to expectations. It was certainly in the running for best of the season so far, though the two shows at the pinnacle of my expectations list haven’t premiered yet.
Simply put, it would hard for any new series to have a better first ten minutes than 91 Days. The rest of the episode was a half-notch below that (still excellent) but boy, talk about making a big first impression. It was about as cinematic as it comes, very much asking the logical question: why is it, exactly, that anime has to follow a pre-accepted form just because it’s anime? This was more Road to Perdition than anything else – a dark and violent prologue ending in tragedy which sets the stage for the story, followed by a stylish Hollywood-style opening credits sequence. All set, by the way, to Kaida Shogo’s clearly Morricone-influenced soundtrack. It was exquisite.
There are clearly a lot of influences at work in 91 Days, but certainly the most transparent of them is Baccano!. That show was produced by Brain’s Base, and Shuka is probably the closest living relative to the Brain’s Base of that era – some of the staff of this series worked on that one in lesser roles.I’m a big fan of Baccano!, which for me might just be the best anime ever adapted from a light novel (though the LN environment was vastly different when Baccano! was initially published), and a show whose charms I’ve never quite seen duplicated anywhere else (including Narita Ryohgo’s Durarara). In other words, I’ve been waiting for something like what 91 Days seems to be for a long time – let’s hope it ends up being what it seems to be.
This is a prohibition story, and it starts with a hit on a mob accountant named Bruno whose boss has been betrayed and taken out. Unfortunately that man’s wife and sons are home at the time, and while the older manages to stay hidden long enough to eventually escape, he’s unable to prevent his younger brother from coming to his mother’s aid after she’s struck with the barrel of one of the hit men’s pistol. The older brother, Angelo, manages to flee into the woods, and eventually ends up at the home of his poverty-stricken friend Colteo. But the boy knows enough to know that staying there would only bring Colteo and his mother into great danger, and sneaks off in the middle of the night to survive on his own.
The murder of his mother and brother is, understandably, the event that shapes Angelo’s fate – and we meet him seven years later, now going under the name of Avilo (Kondou Takeshi). Someone named Vanetti (presumably the man who had his family killed) has sent Avilo a photo – addressed to his real name – of his younger brother, presumably to lure him back to his hometown of Lawless. And so Avilo returns, re-making his acquaintance with Colteo (Saitou Souma), who’s now making superb moonshine that he’s trying to avoid selling to the Orco Family syndicate. Avilo saves Colteo from a couple of the bosses’ thugs, then sets about convincing Colteo to sell his hooch independently – which leads to a memorable shootout at a speakeasy with one of Orco’s goons, a nutjob named Fango (Tsuda Kenjirou). Eventually Colteo and Avilo team up with another pair who were there to sell – the affably goofy Vanno (Ono Daisuke) and the man Fango was after (for stealing the boss’ booze), Nero Vanetti (Eguchi Takuya), whose last name certainly isn’t a coincidence.
Mafia stories are generally pretty convoluted, and they’re always bloody, and 91 Days has both those bases covered. Without a question this episode was set up more like the first act of a movie than the premiere of an anime, but it wouldn’t shock me to see the show become something of a hybrid of the two (as indeed Baccano! was). This is really good stuff – smartly written (by the excellent Kishimoto Taku) and stylishly directed by Kaburaki Hiro (Hoozuki no Reitetsu, Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun). Cookie-cutter it’s not, and it’s not even really that much like Baccano! – I would say it’s less absurdist by an order of magnitude, but it’s just that anime anything at all like Baccano! are basically non-existent. I’m fully on-board the hype train with 91 Days, and ready to ride it wherever it takes me.