91 Days – 12 (End) and Series Review

Summer 2016 really was the season of good endings.

91-days-12-2And so, another place in the year-end Top 10 is all but assured. And Shuka is well and truly on the anime map.  Everyone will, I’m sure, want to talk about the ending – and we’ll get there, I promise.   But I don’t want to bury the lead, which is that 91 Days was an out and out triumph – a show that knew exactly what it wanted to do and what it wanted to be and never lost sight of that right up until its final frames.  As far as series television goes, this was Storytelling 101.

91-days-12-3It hasn’t been so much on display these last couple of years as their quality has declined (right along with their creative ambition) but 91 Days is a shining example of the possibility of original anime.  When you put a show in the hands of a very good writer – and Kishimoto Taku is superb, though his anime work to this point has been all adaptations – and give them the chance to craft a story custom-fitted to the time available, you can do wonderful things.  There’s no alterations necessary, no speeding up or slowing down or deciding what (or who) to cut.  To me, original anime is like a bespoke suit – of course you might get a great one off the rack once in a while, but it’s pretty rare for the fit to be just right.

91-days-12-4I’ve speculated about why such a smart and compelling series as 91 Days doesn’t seem to generate more discussion, and maybe it’s just that – it’s so well-fitted that there’s not much need to explain anything.  Maybe that changed with this ending, of course, but for the most part this was a series that eloquently spoke its piece and painted a very clear picture.  And of course, there’s the fact that it’s so authentically American as to have very little that’s distinctly anime about it.

91-days-12-5I find that true right up to the ending – and I think some of the consternation I’ve seen about that goes back to the fact that it no way feels like an anime ending.  I’ve yet to see an ambiguous ending go over well among anime fans – or at least not for a very long time.  But for the kind of story 91 Days is trying to tell – a morality tale, a Greek tragedy, a classic mafia drama – it fits like a bespoke jacket.  When I say 91 Days has a very Hollywood feel about it, that’s not the insult that some have taken it to be – and anyone with a good grounding in classic Hollywood films by the likes of Hawks and Scorsese (and even Spielberg) would tell you that.

91-days-12-6There are a number of interesting elements in the finale, starting with the fact that the excellent Kaburaki Hiro elected to go with a quite subdued and quiet feel overall.  That he’s able to achieve this in spite of the outbursts of brutality we see playing out is testament both to his skill and Kishimoto’s premise.  The fall of the Vanetti empire and the blooding of Lawless is a fait accompli at this point, and acts almost as an elegiac orchestral score to the personal drama between Angelo and Nero – which is really the point of the episode.  And really, of the entire series.

91-days-12-7The road trip Nero and Angelo shared early in the series under very different circumstances was one of my favorite parts of 91 Days.  This time, of course, things could hardly be more different.  Both of them are effectively dead men walking, and in Angelo’s case there’s very little resistance to that fact.  Whether it’s Strega or Nero who finishes him off is irrelevant, but either way Angelo feels no special desire to live on.  In point of fact, it’s always been obvious that he was feeling a strong sense of survivor’s guilt over being the only member of his family to escape death on that fateful night.

91-days-12-8For Nero, he’s experienced something of what Angelo did – he’s watched his family die (Frate by his own hand), and been the only one to walk away.  But Nero still seems to possess a desire to live on – the crown of a mafia prince never rested easily on his head, and the choice is simpler.  One can be alive or one can be dead, and since sooner or later (likely sooner) they’ll be the latter forever, they might as well slog through being alive for as long as fate allows.  There’s always another diner or another bottle of booze to look forward to.

91-days-12-9What’s interesting here is that Nero doesn’t hate Angelo, even after everything he’s done.  He feels rage towards him, certainly, but perhaps there’s just a bit of Nero that believes he and his family deserved what Angelo wrought upon them.  And Angelo reciprocates – and the end of everything (even the land) he admits to Nero that he didn’t kill him at the playhouse because he didn’t want to kill him.  There’s a part of each of these young men that genuinely likes the other in spite of all the evil they’ve done to each other.  And I’ll wager there’s a part of most of the audience that likes both of them in spite of all the deaths they’re responsible for, because in the end both of them come off as surprisingly relatable human beings.

91-days-12-10So what did happen at the end?  It was a lovely sequence, that reprise of the earlier road trip weighed down by heavy fatalism.  The key moment, I think, comes when Angelo tells Nero that in spite of seeing his revenge play out in textbook fashion, Angelo got no satisfaction out of it.  His family and Corteo were still dead, and he was still dead inside.  But rather than making Nero hate Angelo (and again, rage and hate are two very different things) I think it makes Nero pity him.  Eventually the ropes are cut, eventually Angelo is eating and drinking and taking his (terrifying) turns behind the wheel.  And eventually the pair reach the end of their aimless journey at the ocean.

91-days-12-11When I watched this play out in real-time, my feeling at the time was that Nero had shot Angelo, and was just about to be caught by Strega’s men.  Now, though, I’m not so sure.  Would Nero shoot Angelo just after telling him “You don’t need a reason to live.  You just live.”?  Would he have smiled that particularly affectionate smile just after doing so?  Maybe – it’s possible Nero was speaking those words to himself more than to Angelo.  But you know, there was no blood in the sand, and for the series to end as it started – with a gun in Nero’s hand pointed at Angelo, and an intentionally errant shot – would have a kind of grace note to it.  But Nero might have thought ending Angelo’s life there to be a kindness – I don’t think it’s a stretch.

91-days-12-12I get the frustration with an ending that leaves you guessing, but that kind of ambiguity seems a perfect fit for 91 Days to me.  One could imagine almost any possibility here, and that’s the point – there is no right or justice in this world. only life and death. What should have happened to Angelo and Nero is moot.  You leave your footsteps in the sand for a while, and eventually the waves wash them away and it’s as if you’ve never existed.  If there’s any moral lesson to 91 Days that’s probably it – and I think both Angelo and Nero learned it in the end, whatever happened after Nero fired that final shot.

 

 

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16 comments

  1. s

    The end to this series was a dick move…and i loved the choice it took. It’s like, how can you have nero mention how reason is not a prerequisite to living” and then make things play out in a way were we now have to wonder whether the one character who had nothing to live for lives or not…grrrrr 91 days you magnificent bastard. I mean sure now that nero’s life is pretty much on a tight rope, those are words can apply to him as well but still. It’s like the show drops one of its major themes on us and then leaves us to guess whether this theme is being viewed through a positive or negative lens…Again…grrrrr 91 days you magnificent bastard.

    2016 has been a weird year for anime in some ways. It’s gonna be fun trying to guess you’re top 10 this year that’s for sure. Some good news though: According to ANN, the anime industry has seen a 12% increase in revenue since 2015….it’s obviously too soon to say but could we possibly be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel for anime and it’s growth to being something that can appeal to a wider audience?

  2. ANN is not a trustworthy news source, IMHO (they’re too financially vested in the “news” they report) but FWIW, what I’ve been hearing is that income from the international market is up significantly, and that would be what’s driving any overall increase. If true that would be good news I think.

    I should do a poll on the 91 Days ending but… Spoilers?

  3. s

    Maybe you can say something like “91 days…..do you view the final scene more tragically or uplifting?” anyone who has seen the ep will perhaps understand that you are trying to ask whether nero shot angelo or not. Or maybe without mentioning any names you can simply ask “91 days final scene: shot or not shot” and again, any one who has seen the ep will instantly know what you’re asking

  4. I

    The close up on Nero’s face before he shot is what really should have given away what happened. Rage for his family, turned to fear of killing his last friend, turned to pity for the angry/scared boy in a man’s body and finally turned to a sense of loyalty both to his own family and to Angelo’s wish to die. Smiling at the can tells me that Nero didn’t so much kill Angelo as he took his life to end his misery and that Angelo will be remembered as a friend to Nero.

    Morality is an ambiguous subject matter. Its not about what the message is as much as what message we take away from it. Nothing is more irritating than a writer simplistically stuffing their ethical views down an audience’s throat, which is why ambiguous endings are perfect for stories like 91 Days where morality is so important but every character has shades of grey in them; like every person.

    Of course considering the immaturity of most of the anime community its no wonder 91 days purpose and beauty in execution would fly over most heads. Personal taste to see if someone is mature or not is how they react to American Beauty. My guess is 90% of the anime fandom would find it unpalatable.

  5. I don’t know, even now I still find myself unsure. That lack of blood in the sand may be a tell.

  6. To be honest, I can’t see Nero smiling after killing someone close like Angelo. He’s one of the most human of the cast, the guy who’s shown to have spared people more than once.

  7. N

    I usually hate open endings, but I really liked it here. Not only did it actually fit the series, but the whole episode set itself up for every possibility. This is not like one of those “open endings” where it’s clear what happened but the author tried to be deep or had no guts to show the actual ending. While some open endings feel like the author just cut off a part of the story, this ending really feels like a part of a jigsaw, so to say.

  8. I kinda agree on your assessment about the lack of discussion about 91 Days, aside from the ambiguity of the last scene, it was a pretty clear series in my opinion, well explained and objective, I myself never felt the need to muster thoughts about it’s machinations.

  9. Did they ever say why the series is called 91 days? What does the 91 mean?

  10. M

    The 90 days signify the days left until the opening of the Opera House. It’s mentioned in the wedding episode by Frate, who tells them that Don Gallasia decided to attend the premiere. I guess the 91st day is a reference to the aftermath of the revenge.

  11. Along the same lines of what you say, Enzo, I think that the ambiguous ending here is nicely done as the story the series sought out to tell was pretty much complete even before the final scene. 91 Days pretty much is about a boy trying to get revenge, and he got it, and we know what his conclusion is about what he did. Some other series try pull out an ambiguous ending to make up for lack of material and/or rushing the story (yes, I’m looking at you Battery). The ending scene here adds weight to an already used premise, i.e., Nero “shooting” Angelo in the past. And, as you say, whatever the outcome of the present situation is, I think we all know that either would make sense.

    The possibility of waves washing out the blood kind of undermines the idea that Angelo wasn’t shot. Could blood be not that easily washed out?

    Anyway, this is a great series, and I see this as a series that could get a person who isn’t really into anime to try and explore the good stuff.

  12. This might be the best ending of the season, I love how everything wrapped up. The down points for me were the lack of realism and over the top theatrics mostly pertaining to Fango, but I think they struck gold with how the main story beats played out.

  13. Watching this episode was an amazing experience, the second half was so well paced that I felt at ease despite how brutal a finale it was.
    I hope 91 days hits it big time so more authors/directors/studios start pushing boundaries. What a fantastic year dammit.

    Ps: Jab taken, Hollywood still has some gems underneath the piles of crap produced, just like anime. It was very short sighted on my part.

  14. e

    Well executed ending indeed. Similarly to Earthlingzing above my main beef was with Fango but once he was out of the picture I decided to tune back in.
    Just marathoned episodes 10 through 12 and these bestowed a pretty consistently immersive and effective – and emotional at last – experience. Regarding the ending they did left ambivalent clues. The ones that stood out for me were 1) those repeated sneaky shots of ‘Lawless Heaven’ vs ‘Florida Heaven’ (that magazine cover in the hotel room ) and the whole 2) giving him a reason to live —- I have no reason to live —- you don’t need a reason to live, you just live.

    1) Nero and Angelo do end up driving on route 41 to the ocean. To the benefits of other non-US citizen like me and by the power of wikipedia that’s the Michigan to Florida route connecting Chicago (and Lawless) to Miami (and the ocean of course). And you could probably say along this second (and last?) trip of theirs they’ve reached a heaven of sort. If anything by the end there was a certain understanding and some of their camaraderie coming back . It’d be tempting to see some paradise lost shades underlining the heaven theme.

    2) as it has already been mentioned… you have either the scenario of Nero performing a mercy kill or both of them living… for as long as the Galassias on their tracks will let them. Personally I’d love for these two to keep re-bonding, keep driving along the coast and start anew once crossing the Mexican border. Or sail to Cuba.
    The main clue(s) tilting the balance toward Nero killing Angelo imho is that this time unlike 7 years ago he shot while keeping both eyes open – and he’s also much closer to his [much slower]-moving target. Not many chances to miss him – . It’s true we don’t see any body or blood by the shore but that could have been carried away by the waves already – especially if his body fell forwards compared to their footprints. And said footprints are a bit odd btw. That’s virtual the same and only track and stops right at the point and distance we last see Angelo alive a couple of steps ahead of Nero. Unless they stepped backwards all the way to leave the beach there are no return footprints to see – . And the pineapple can in place of Agelo while the latter is nowhere to be seen in the car – unless he’s alive and carefully curled and napping in the backseat – felt a parallel of sort to Angelo ‘sharing’ the booze with Corteo’s ghost to me.

    That said by the time the end credits rolled with those footprints swept away by the waves – we’re just sand on the shore – there was one very specific song playing in my head.

    ‘ Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
    All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see
    Dust in the wind
    All we are is dust in the wind (…)’

    While I’ve always liked this good old Kansas song it seemed so fitting for this series and the ending we got. The lyrics can point to both at a fatalistic view and at an empowering one… to live because this life is all you get and all you know. You don’t need a reason to live. Just live.

  15. R

    To me, this finale has the feel of a novel’s ending, like one of those Murakami’s endings. I was holding my breath the same way as when I reach the last chapter of a book. From the moment Elisa’s song started playing until after the credits finished rolling, I was in a trance. Seriously, I cannot remember the last time an anime has made me feel like this with its ending. I suspect I will keep re-watching this show once every year for many years to come, and the beauty of this last episode has a lot to thank for that.

    91 days = 10/10! As always, thanks for the beautiful reviews, Enzo.

    P.S: Just rewatched the ocean scene, and Nero’s line is a voice-over – we didn’t actually see him speaking that line to Angelo, so I wonder if this is something that Nero thinks to himself after whatever happened on that beach. This episode has a lot of time skipping, jumping back and forth; it’s so open to interpretation. It’s truly amazing!

  16. B

    I take my hat off to the creators for daring to craft such a subdued yet fitting finale after last week’s bloodbath, and for coming up with an ambiguous ending that doesn’t feel contrived. As for whether or not Nero killed Angelo, it doesn’t matter much to me in the end. Whichever choice he made would have fit his character.

    91 Days will be the series I remember most from the 2016 summer season. As someone who has been an anime fan for well over a decade, I’m glad that this original anime got made. Thank you very much for blogging this series.

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