91 Days, you magnificent bastard – don’t ever change.
I’ve been thinking for a while that maybe the relatively lukewarm reaction to 91 Days is a reflection of the fact that it’s simply targeted the wrong audience. There was a time, certainly, when series like this – independent of formula and anime tropism – were more common in anime. But the medium and its audience have both changed, and there’s a reason why most anime is so much more, you know, like anime. Familiarity is very important these days if you want to succeed commercially – the shows that sell discs, over and over, are the ones that deliver exactly that their audience is expecting.
The funny thing is, 91 days is a very traditional series in its way. It comes from a long filmmaking and literary tradition and it’s extraordinarily faithful to it. It just happens that the traditions aren’t those of anime (or even manga, for the most part), and I’m not sure that anime audiences know what to make of this show. I don’t know that they realize how cinematic it is, and how expertly it captures the mood and feel, the style and substance of the genre it’s a loving homage to. And if they don’t, they probably just see it as something odd and awkward – a square peg in a medium full of round holes waiting to be filled.
In any event, this is generally about the time when I feel abjectly puzzled about how shows like 91 Days ever get made, and grateful that they do. This has been such a beautifully crafted ride from the beginning, a story of many moods and colors, confidently and patiently allowed to play itself out. The tragedy is nearing its end now, certainly, and it’s only fitting that its most dramatic moments yet should come to the strains of opera (at Vincent Vanetti’s new prize playhouse, modeled on the world’s most famous opera venue). The symbolism is exquisite, because this is an awfully operatic story. But hell, even absent all that it’s just terrifically atmospheric to have this human drama play out to this soundtrack, in this setting.
The arrival of the Galassias in town is really the last piece of the puzzle to slide into place, the last domino to fall before the final act of Angelo’s revenge drama can be staged. Don Galassia (Ootsuka Houchou) plays the role of confident patriarch, courteous but slightly condescending towards the Vanettis. What he doesn’t realize is that a member of his inner circle, Strega, is plotting against him – in league with Ganzo and by extension Angelo. For Angelo this is personal, but for Ganzo and Strega it seems to be about power, plain and simple. Perhaps there’s some truth to Ganzo’s professed displeasure at Vincent having killed his best friend Testa Lagusa for discovering that he was “conspiring with the Vanettis”, perhaps not – he was indeed the fourth man, but apparently didn’t fire a shot himself. But for now, he seems to be mostly interested in carving a place out for himself as a figurehead in the Galassias’ good graces.
It’s personal for the ill-fated Barbero, too. He’s right to be suspicious of Angelo of course, though his suspicion springs from his jealousy over Angelo horning in on his position at Nero’s right hand rather than any particular gift of insight. Still, his instincts about Angelo are right – in part, I think, because his emotional state allows him to sense the animus driving Angelo forward. It’s Barbero who foils Angelo and Ganzo’s plan (though Angelo has ideas of his own) to take out Vincent at the opening of the playhouse – though Del Toro almost does so himself, heroically fighting off two assassins after they’ve stabbed him. And Barbero is right to tell Tigre not to call Nero – because, to be blunt, Nero is soft (and not just on Angelo) and Barbero knows it.
The whole drama during the opera is just great filmmaking plan and simple – some of the best stagecraft I’ve seen in anime since Zetsuen no Tempest (it actually put me in mind of Inglorious Bastards a bit). Ultimately, of course, Ganzo and Angelo want something very different from all this – Angelo doesn’t care a whit about power, or even his own future. His debt is to ghosts, and he aims to pay it with his life. And to pay it, it isn’t simply a matter of putting a bullet in Vincent and Nero – no, for Angelo the true revenge is for him to destroy their family, and have them both be alive to see it. And the Galassias’ presence in Lawless was the last piece he needed to execute that gambit.
With that, we truly have reached the endgame. There’s not much mystery to the fate of the Vanettis – Vincent seems to have expired, but he was dying anyway. He goes out knowing that everything he did came to nothing, including the killing of Testa that so torments him. His end could hardly be more satisfying for Angelo, and as for Nero, it’s hard to imagine he walks away from all this as he’ll surely be the scapegoat for the death of Don Galassia. It all comes apart spectacularly – the Vanettis glorious moment as benevolent rulers of Lawless shattered by shocking violence at their showcase moment. The only real question is Angelo’s fate, as I could imagine Strega seeing him as someone of potential value – but I can’t imagine Angelo seeing value in becoming a servant of the Galassias. He’s had his bang, so perhaps Angelo will simply go out with a whimper in the finale – but somehow, I imagine there will be considerably more poetry to the final bow than that.