91 Days First Impressions
“Elena, listen to me. That child will never forget about us, for as long as he lives.”
91 Days isn’t quite like anything I’ve seen in anime before. Prohibition era America isn’t a particularly common setting for anime, though it isn’t an unprecedented time period either. Baccano! is probably the most notable series to employ that particular environment, but it feels strange to even compare 91 Days with that title. The world that 91 Days attempts to establish is far more grounded, it aims for a far more realistic tone, and the narrative is focused on a singular narrative as opposed to Baccano!‘s interconnected storylines. It’s a testament to its originality and how effectively it breathes life into its environment that the best comparisons that I can make in regards to the look and feel of this particular work are to western titles such as Boardwalk Empire and Road to Perdition. In fact, one of the early scenes in this show actually bears a strong resemblance to a scene from Road to Perdition, though, regardless of similarities, it stands on its own here. I won’t go so far as to say something like, “91 Days is going to be an instant classic,” but, given the quality of this first episode, it feels like it might be aiming for that, and I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if it could succeed in hitting that mark.
The narrative focuses on Avilio Bruno, a young man who is preparing to exact his revenge against the Vanetti mafia family. Seven years prior to the start of the series his mother, father, and brother were all murdered in a mafia power play, and afterwards he changed his name and has been planning his revenge ever since. He is aided in his mission by Corteo, his childhood friend who has since taken up bootlegging in order to try and gather funds for an education. Corteo has succeeded in distilling high grade alcohol, but his refusal to cut deals with the mafia has put him at odds with the local Orco family. However, he agrees to try and aid Avilio in making connections by attempting to sell to the Vanetti family. The idea of a prohibition era revenge plot isn’t the most groundbreaking idea out there, but 91 Days shakes it up a bit by throwing Count of Monte Cristo style machinations into the mix. Given that the first episode is named Day #1, we can conclude that the title refers to the period of time during which Avilio implements his revenge plan. Avilio himself is a more quiet and reserved character, so it is difficult to ascertain how well defined his plan is, but, at the moment, that only makes me more curious as to how the narrative is going to progress. It also allows him to mirror the antagonist, Nero Vanetti, who is more outgoing and jovial in his demeanor.
From a production standpoint, 91 Days has an interesting pedigree. The production company Shuka had previously produced the more recent Durarara!! seasons and little else. They’re currently attached to do season 5 of Natsume Yuujinchou this fall, which is certainly exciting, but, outside of that, they’ve only done a bit of in-between animation for a few series. However, any nervousness over having a largely untested production company should largely be pacified by the screenwriter, Taku Kishimoto, who had previously worked on Haikyu, Bunny Drop, Silver Spoon, and ERASED. Given that this is an original work, it will be interesting to see if he can thrive with the absence of restrictions imposed by a source work. The animation for the episode looks pretty good. On close inspection, there are moments where it doesn’t hold up to the standards established by A-list studios like Madhouse or Bones, but it never comes close to looking bad. The backgrounds are impressive, and the opening of the episode with its credits is wonderfully directed in a manner reminiscent of a feature film. I’ll admit, based on the staff, it is hard to predict whether or not 91 Days will be a winner overall, but they certainly put forth a very good first episode.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- I’ve sometimes alluded to the fact that I don’t care for it when anime plays to the tastes of western audiences, but I feel like I should clarify that sentiment. I came to anime as a medium because I found that it offered more complex and tightly constructed narratives than its western animated counterparts and even many of its live-action counterparts. That’s why series like this or Monster or Baccano! succeed in appealing to me despite their settings.
- I never finished watching Joker Game, though I’ll probably revisit it in the near future. I bring it up, because 91 Days appears to be attempting to capture a similar tone and levels of realism as that series. Admittedly, 91 Days’ premise comes with less historical baggage, though.
- It’s been a number of years since I last watched it, but I freaking love Natsume Yuujinchou. I cannot wait to see it return this fall.
With a clever narrative and atmosphere that effortlessly blends elements reminiscent of those in Road to Perdition and The Count of Monte Cristo, 91 Days is looking to be one of those titles that people tout as a symbol of anime's ability to be truly artistically significant. Whether or not it can live up to those expectations is another thing entirely, but, so far, this is one of the best episodes of the summer.