Summer 2016 Preview: 91 Days

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Something about the American Prohibition era has always captured my imagination. What with the Gatsbyesque glitz and glam of the Roaring ’20s, the backwoods bootleggers, and the rise of organized crime in the cities, the Prohibition era offers a rich historical backdrop that exudes a certain treacherous charm all its own.  So even though 91 Days has seen comparatively little hype to this season’s heavyweights, it easily made my personal shortlist of most anticipated anime this season. Honestly, given the rarity of anime set during Prohibition, I probably would have been satisfied with the usual rollicking tale of mafia mayhem and vigilante vengeance, but fortunately, judging from the first episode, 91 Days appears to be gearing up for something a bit darker and more grounded than that. And I couldn’t possibly be happier about it.

The story of 91 Days follows a young man named Angelo Lagusa, who as a young boy witnesses the slaughter of his family by the rival Vanetti clan at their home in the Lawless district, where the mafia is the law, violence is rampant, and crime is the only real way to get ahead.  Seven years later, prompted by a mysterious letter, Angelo returns to the Lawless district under a new name–Avilio Bruno–bent on infiltrating the Vanetti family and exacting revenge upon the don for his family’s murder.  Reconnecting with his old friend Corteo, Avilio begins to execute his plan to bring the Vanettis to justice.

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I’m fairly certain we can expect a few plot twists and turns along the way, but ultimately, it’s pretty obvious from the start where the story is going in 91 Days.  But that’s okay, since most of the show’s potential lies not in the complexity or originality of its plot but in its characters.  The show balances its reserved visuals and muted score with an engaging cast of characters, brought to life by some truly outstanding voice work.  Simple things like the boisterous way Fango accentuates certain words and the barely-concealed distaste audible in Corteo’s lines about the Orco family serve to highlight the attitudes and personalities of each of the characters without resorting to forced exposition or information dumps.  This “show don’t tell” approach also extends to the characters’ expressive facial designs, which are used to convey a wide range of emotions, to great effect.

Although the visuals in 91 Days are fairly understated, the show’s liberal use of dark colors and heavy shadows lends it a somber, almost oppressive atmosphere.  While this does have the effect of allowing the characters to stand out even more than they otherwise would, the show’s drab color palette underscores the bleakness of life in the Lawless district.  The only downside to this is the fact that the show’s tone isn’t quite so pessimistic (at least yet) as to warrant such a heavy ambience, but that’s ultimately a really minor gripe at what amounts to a fine job setting the stage for the story to come.

 

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Overall, I was quite pleased with the first episode of 91 Days.  If nothing else, it seems to be right in my wheelhouse, which means I’ll probably find a lot to love about it regardless of whether it ends up being good or not.  But that said, there’s no denying that the series has some real potential–we’ll just have to wait and see whether it lives up to it in the coming weeks.

Verdict: A definite keeper. Even if it turns mediocre, the setting and dark revenge theme pretty much guarantee I’ll enjoy the heck out of it.

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