There’s something about this series that makes you want to ask anime, “Is it really so difficult?”
You know, it sounds absurdly simple but there’s something to be said for just having a plan and executing it really well. One of the things that strikes me about 91 Days is just how purposeful it is (setting aside the recap ep, which was certainly unrelated to narrative matters). This is an original series, which – perhaps somewhat counterintuitively – seems to be an advantage in anime when it comes to telling a tight and pointedly-directed story. I think one can always tell when a series is completely buttoned-down in writing terms before it ever starts, where the author knows exactly what they want to do (Tsuritama is a good example). The fact that Kishimoto Taku wrote both 91 Days and Boku Dake ga Inai Machi is illustrative of this point – despite having a generational-level masterpiece as source material, he had to make compromises to fit that series into the time allowed. With this series no such compromises were required, and (as great as Boku Dake the anime is) it really shows.
The second thing that really stands out for me (this week) about 91 Days is that it may very well be one one of the most authentically western – and specifically American – anime I’ve seen. I’m hugely impressed with both Kishimoto-sensei and director Kaburaki Hiro (both of whom are among the best in the business). The influence of American popular culture on Japan is profound, as any fan of Japanese culture could tell you, but Japanese sensibility is itself so pervasive and singular that it almost always colors a Japanese creator’s take on American art. It’s like “Wasei-eigo”, the thousands of English loan words that are now part of the Japanese language – they were born from English, but they become Japanese too (like Baccano!). 91 Days is like an English word that survives intact in Japanese, right down to the pronunciation – and there are almost none of those in existence.
Truly, this is just an exquisitely put-together story in any language, in any culture – a Greek tragedy set as an American mob drama and seen through the lens of Japanese animation. 91 Days says a lot without the characters saying anything, and this was one of those episodes where the faces did most of the storytelling. Corteo is at the center of everything – he’s been nabbed before he can skip town on a rail. He’s brought in to face a reckoning – not by Fango’s men (who not surprisingly scatter like a pile like a stack of dry leaves in the wind once he’s dead) for killing him, but by Nero’s men for betraying him.
This is obviously a dicey situation for Angelo, who stands by watching as Corteo is beaten by Nero’s men to try and get him to reveal why he sold their boss out to Fango. Of course it casts Angelo in a difficult position with Nero’s confidantes (like Barbero), who naturally wonder about his loyalties. But more importantly, this provides Angelo with the last real test of whether any semblance of humanity remains in him, not yet consumed by bloodlust. If there’s anyone in the world Angelo would have any loyalty to it would be Corteo, who protected him, swore him brotherhood, and paved the way for his entrée into the mafia. But does he?
Based on what we saw here, I think the answer has to be yes. For the first time we see Angelo lose control of his emotions, and it’s Corteo’s situation that causes it – I think because Angelo does feel something, and wishes he didn’t. Loyalty to Corteo is inconvenient and illogical, and Corteo betrayed Angelo as well as Nero, but Angelo can’t deny it exists in him. Meanwhile Corteo has disappeared from custody under strange circumstances, a gunman having burst in on Ganzo while he was “questioning” Corteo and shot him in the arm, Corteo escaping in the commotion. That night Corteo calls Angelo, telling him that he’ll be killed if Angelo hasn’t killed Nero by this time the next day. He’s about to tell Angelo something else, too – the identity of the man who wrote the letter – but is cut off before he can.
Boy, this is tense stuff. What will Angelo do – and what can he do, even if he wants to? With Fango gone the Vanettis are poised to assert total control over Lawless, and Don Vincent chooses this moment to formally hand the reins over to his surviving son. In the drunken halo that follows, Nero reveals something unsurprising – that he didn’t have the steel to shoot that fleeing boy on the night of his first job. It’s not clear just what Angelo was about to do before Nero roused himself to make that statement, and it’s not clear whether or not knowing this will change Angelo’s feelings towards Nero. But they were already pretty complicated to begin with.
The answer to the question of the letter-writer finally comes at the close of the episode – it’s Ganzo, and Angelo has put the pieces together and figured that out. There are still quite a few details that need to be clarified here (including whether Ganzo was the fourth assassin that fateful night), especially as regards what Ganzo’s long game was – but ultimately, it seems that this is now all about taking out his nephew so he can gain control of the Vanetti family himself. Assuming Corteo is still alive, Angelo must face those inescapable questions about his loyalties – after all that’s happened, what does he feel towards Corteo and what does he feel towards Nero? Whatever the answers, one thing that’s certain is that Angelo won’t rest easy being anyone’s pawn, much less Ganzo’s. A reckoning is coming and it’s coming soon, one way or the other.