Up Close With Angelo Lagusa

Someone probably should have given Angelo Lagusa from 91 Days a quote book from Confucius: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Only, even then that advice probably wasn’t enough because there were a lot more dead than just two by the time the dust settled in Lawless.

There will be some spoilers for the anime, 91 Days, below.

Now don’t get me wrong, it isn’t as though Angelo didn’t have grounds for revenge. The Vanetti family orchestrated the death of his family and they were never brought to justice. Angelo himself only survived by chance and whim and was forced to adopt a new name, Avilio.

91 Days

However, Angelo’s quest for revenge wasn’t just an eye for an eye. His plans involved plenty of those who were either bystanders or totally unrelated to the initial incident and even when he knew the precise identity of those responsible he didn’t just carry out a hit and call it a day. There was an almost cruel pleasure in Angelo’s actions as he seemed to relish raining down disaster upon those he’d wormed his way amongst.

And it wasn’t without heavy cost to him. The person he was before the death of his family had already been killed and lost his innocence. However the person he became continued to carve off pieces of himself until there was very little left. The shell that remains of Angelo by the end of the series is almost unrecognisable.

Part of the final descent is triggered by the death of Corteo, the closest thing Angelo might have to a friend. Yet, Corteo is used mercilessly by Angelo as a chess piece early on and thrust into a very dangerous world with a dangerous set of companions. While it is ultimately Corteo’s choices that lead to his death, Angelo’s responsibility for putting Corteo in a position to make those choices cannot be denied.

There’s barely any mourning time either after the death of what might have been a friend. Angelo can’t be weak and does not believe he can turn back from his path of revenge.

However, it isn’t the death of a loyal and close friend that breaks Angelo. It might have triggered the final leg of the journey, but it was certainly not the final blow. No, we save that for Nero Vanetti, the son of Angelo’s enemy, who he uses and then shatters by destroying his trust and his family.

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The ambiguous ending with the two characters is important because it leaves it open for interpretation what their relationship really was. Did they become friends despite the blood lying between them or were they just the weapons their families and circumstances had made them who for a time travelled together?

Angelo Lagusa gave everything for his revenge and ultimately he achieved what he set out to do. But, in the end, the question remains whether it was worth it or not given the high cost that was paid.

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91 Days Series Review

Overview:

Set in the fictional city of Lawless during the prohibition era, the story follows Avilio (Angelo) as he seeks revenge against those who killed his family.

Some spoilers below.

Review:

Revenge stories are always a bit of a problem because right from the start you have a fairly narrow range of options from a plot point of view. Either they will succeed or they won’t. You can throw in as many loops and twists as you like about who they need to extract revenge on and the manner in which they will get their revenge, but the story itself is pretty much set. That means you are dependent upon your characters and setting to carry your story and to make people care.

And this is where 91 Days failed for me. Initially I was very interested in Avilio and his quest for revenge. He’s an interesting character and a fairly tragic one right from the word go and he draws you into the fairly generic world of Lawless (generic in terms of giving all the look of prohibition era America without ever really capturing the feeling that other movies set in this era have – not so generic from an anime point of view). However, by the time we hit the mid-point of the series Avilio feels like he has lost his way and while they attempt to justify the drawn out nature of his revenge on a number of occasions it really comes down to the fact that they needed 12 episodes when they had about 6 episodes of actual plot driven story.

While Avilio’s story (once you trim it down to what is needed) is still interesting and his character progression (admittedly not positive progression) is enjoyable to watch, there are too many characters in this show who exist just to exist. We have a mafia setting so we’ll be introduced to all the usual stereotypical gang members and sycophants. We’ll even have a minor sub-plot of dealing with a new police guy who after a minor bombing incident will quietly slip away and the law enforcement will effectively disappear from the remainder of the story. But none of these characters matter in any meaningful way and they don’t make you care about what is happening. By the time we get to the inevitable tragic ending where the vast majority of characters (who are still alive) start dying, I really was indifferent. And mass murder should never leave you feeling indifferent even if they are trying to create a point about the futility of revenge and murder.

Nero and Avilio are a great duo to watch on screen together. The double meanings behind Avilio’s statements, Nero’s genuine humanity under the mafia don’s son mask that he has worn for far too long, and the real friendship that develops despite the situation Avilio is in makes this one of the more compelling parts of the series. Yet for the vast majority of the series these characters are given nothing to do. Nero in action is reactive to the world around him and is given few moments where he can actually make a choice. The few choices he makes are almost always deferred to Avilio. Avilio on the other hand has some sort of plan that he amends on the go but as we are not really privy to the plan his actions remain fairly inexplicible for the vast majority of the episodes. Neither character seems in any rush or driven to get somewhere and that really affects the overall feel of the show.

Before I move on from characters I just want to touch on Corteo. Outside of Avilio he was possibly the only other character I was really interested in seeing progress. While I’m not going to go into detail, I am still not convinced about the choices Corteo made as a character. They fit with the plot and drove Avilio nicely into the final corner that triggered the ending, but based on Corteo’s personality and actions earlier in the series it all just seemed too much like a plot contrivance rather than the real actions of a real character. Coreto’s death at least gave an emotional impact but left me at least with more questions about whether we were supposed to be taking these characters seriously as people or whether they were all just stand ins for various ideals.

It is really hard to review 91 Days. It is one of those anime that I look at and know from almost every point of view is a good anime. The plot makes sense and is resolved. While I didn’t feel connected to the characters, there are some well written characters here. The dialogue, while a little generic at times, never falls into the completely bad. There is forward thinking and ideas that are foregrounded early return with significance later (even when we preferred they didn’t). While the mid-season episodes suffer from poorer animation than the early and later episodes, they aren’t poor compared to the vast majority of the other anime I watched during the summer season.

That said, I still don’t much like 91 Days. While I may watch this with a particular friend (because I actually think they’ll really enjoy watching it and it is hard to talk them into anime usually), I probably won’t ever rewatch this by myself because I’m just not that interested in it.

A final recommendation: If you want a serious story about revenge, then 91 Days will deliver. For anything else, you may need to look elsewhere.

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91 Days Episode 11

Review:

Turns out we have one more episode but this was a highly entertaining episode. The first half was all semi-ironic statements about planning for a future (that we should all know by now was never going to exist) and the second half was metaphorically about burning everything down (though less flames and more knives and bullets involved). I do question how incredibly lame you have to be to have two guys stabbing someone else multiple times and still not actually succeed at killing him, and worse, allowing yourself to be killed by the wounded beast. Anyway, this episode brought us to the conclusion that everything (right from the killing of Avilio’s family) has been for nothing because nothing is going to survive the war that has now been ignited. I’d ask if Avilio is happy with this outcome but the answer to that is obvious.

I still think this whole story would have been more affective with less episodes as the middle really felt stretched out, but I am very satisfied with where we are going for the conclusion.

91 Days is available on Crunchyroll.

91 Days Episode 10

Review:

If I wasn’t sure before this episode more or less confirmed that Avilio has no intention of surviving his revenge quest. With that piece of information in mind, his actions throughout the whole series make a lot more sense because at no point could I see what his exit plan was going to be. This isn’t to say that his death is guaranteed, but it does make it clear that beyond his revenge he has no plans, and the number of death flags raised this episode make it very doubtful the anime has any plans to save him last minute. Who else will end up dead? Or more importantly, will there be anyone or anything left when the flames from this revenge burn out?

Corteo’s death this episode is not tragic as it is definitely the result of his own choices and has been inevitable for awhile now, but the execution of this death was perfect for the tone of this story. While this episode is slow moving it hits all the right notes to draw us back into the story after a middle that seemed to lose its way.

91 Days is available on Crunchyroll.

91 Days Episode 9

Review:

Corteo is captured but not yet killed. Kind of surprising really. This week felt like the story was done diverting us from the central narrative by watching gang in-fighting and seemed to get right back to Avilio and his revenge. Who is the elusive letter sender? Who is the fourth killer? With that focus back front and centre the story was far more compelling than I’ve found it in recent weeks and by the end, when Avilio figured out who was behind recent events at least I was actually really engaged with this story. While at times the characters seemed a little off visually this week, this is probably the best episode 91 Days has delivered for awhile.

91 Days is available on Crunchyroll.

91 Days Episode 8

Review:

Corteo is going to be a problem. Okay, he is a problem. He’s a problem for the other characters and he’s a problem as a character. I won’t spoil the developments in this episode but I do want to address the problem of Corteo as a character. He is Avilio’s friend. He wants to help him but has no desire to be involved in the shady world of the gangs. Which all makes perfect sense as does his hesitancy at certain times. What doesn’t make sense are his actions this episode (no specifics to be mentioned). It’s just impossible to figure out what he is attempting to accomplish so when it goes wrong you just roll your eyes at the inevitability of it all and you still don’t know what Corteo wants. Does he still want to help Avilio? Are his actions somehow supposed to help him? Or has he just slipped off the deep end?

On a mostly unrelated note, I’ve decided 91 Days has the prettiest title of any anime this season.

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Anyway, 91 Days is available on Crunchyroll.

91 Days Episode 7.5

Review:

You know, Cheer Boys did the whole recap thing awhile back and I expressed my dislike of recap episodes that add nothing new then. At least when it did it, they added some narration and they were following a high point in the series. 91 Days follows the killing of Frate (which might have been emotionally interesting but is hardly a major plot progression) with a recap episode that literally gives us nothing new. It did however make me wonder why Avilio hasn’t changed his haircut throughout his entire life. That is the level of engagement I had with this episode. Now, 91 Days has put itself on the back foot because if the next episode doesn’t do something good, I am going to go from finding it interesting enough to being frustrated with it.

91 Days is available on Crunchyroll.