91 Days defies expectations one last time to bring us a finale that haunts and comforts in equal measures, and a conclusion as steeped in uncertainty as the series itself.  The more I think about it, the more I like it, and I can’t wait to talk about it with you.

First, though, let’s give any newcomers curious about this gangster drama a chance to decide if they wanna pick it up (hint: do it). We’ll start with a spoiler-free review and then move into the episode commentary. I’ll let you know when the shift happens, so scroll on for thoughts both overarching and focused.

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I can describe 91 Days in a sentence: Seven years after the murder of his family, Angelo receives a letter with the names of their killers and begins to hatch a plot for revenge. Which is true, but also misleading. 91 Days loves to be misleading. It’s never quite the story you think it’s going to be, and that’s almost always a good thing.

On the one hand, it’s a well-paced gangster action flick, full of competing players and schemes, pulpy shootouts, sometimes gleefully grim violence, and plenty of plot twists, as everyone plots against each other and we try to suss out who’s an enemy and who’s a friend. The story balances information with mysteries to steep itself in dramatic irony while also keeping the audience on their toes. A heavy use of canted angles and claustrophobic corridors help with the sense of paranoia that soaks large portions of the story. When 91 Days wants to be tense or surprising, it often is, and I delighted in trying (and often failing) to guess where its story would go next.

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That said, calling 91 Days a “gangster story” isn’t exactly right, because the deeper you get into it the more you realize it isn’t about gangsters so much as it’s about kids emulating their parents, pretending to be gangsters. And the more the story explores that–the cycle of violence, the weight of expectations, the price of vengeance–the more it shifts from “pulpy gangster intrigue” to “tense character study,” with a splash of Shakespearean tragedy (especially Macbeth and Hamlet) thrown in for good measure.

Despite a few weak links in the supporting cast, the central, younger characters are conflicted and nuanced, simultaneously callous criminals and sympathetic kids, often to the point where it’s difficult to know who we should be rooting for. Unlike a lot of anime, 91 Days doesn’t contain any inner monologues, so it instead defines individuals by their actions, expressions, snippets of conversation, and especially by the objects around them, whether that’s how they eat a meal, what they like to drink, or where their attention is focused. As with its twisting plot, it asks the audience to stay engaged and pay attention to detail, but if you can it leads to an engrossing character study.

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On that note, I’d argue that 91 Days is the best directed anime of the season (and maybe the second-best of the year), using camera framing, object focus, color schemes, timely music, and recurring images to both build character and foreshadow events. Some animation corner-cutting aside, Studio Shuka and Director Kaburagi have put together a visually complete package here, one that never talks down to its audience, assuming they’re sharp enough to pick up on clues and read between the lines.

As all of this might suggest, 91 Days deals in a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity, especially from the mid-point to the finale. It  lays out pieces but doesn’t provide a ton of answers, leaving much open to audience interpretation. If you prefer a more straightforward story, where you always know who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are and the conclusion ties everything into a neat bow, then 91 Days will likely leave you frustrated. It’s a show that asks a lot of its audience, but if you’re willing to give it your full attention, it rewards you with a complex, melancholy, sometimes devastating, sometimes hopeful, ultimately satisfying story of family, choice, and the cost of violence. I’m already looking forward to a rewatch.

Series Grade: A

Okay friends, finale spoilers below one last shot of our felonious scamps. Click away to avoid ’em, or read on for things that make ya go “hmm.”

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So here we are at the end of our twisting road trip, left with many answers and a fair number of questions. This finale utilizes a lot of 91 Days‘s favorite storytelling tactics: Competing perspectives; a narrative structure that mirrors and echoes what came before it; a focus on objects, especially food and drink, to convey character (liquor gets replaced by coffee and water, Nero’s resilience lets him to eat with gusto just days after losing everything, Nero and Angelo start sharing food after their campfire confrontation, etc.); running water as a purifying force (remember Corteo throwing his liquor in the river?); stark Blue Rooms; people seeking a (Lawless) Heaven or (Florida, a) Paradise…

Honestly, I’m a little overwhelmed by the density and sheer beauty of this episode, both in visual and narrative terms. This is a series that absolutely deserves a rewatch and may even deserve a second round of commentary at some point. For the moment, though, let’s focus on the events at hand and our two main characters, and talk about why I think this was exactly how 91 Days needed to end.

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The first half of the episode jumps around in time to follow Nero and Angelo during their escape, as well as fill in the gaps of how they got there. It’s jarringly done, which may be the point since it gives the audience a sense of how disoriented and chaotic both Angelo and Nero’s thoughts and feelings are right now (we don’t settle into a linear chronology until after the campfire scene, when they come to an understanding and begin to rebuild their relationship).

Strega Galassia, like the rest of the younger generation, goes after Nero with a vengeance because “he killed Ronaldo,” and I’m still not sure if this kind of passion is better or worse than the detached logic of the older generation. A furious Nero urges his men to escape (they don’t–RIP, Tigre) before going after Angelo. An apathetic Angelo shrugs at Strega’s offer of “freedom” and waits for Nero. Rome burns.

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And through it all, Angelo insists he hates Nero, that he left him alive so he’d suffer, and keeps goading him into killing him. I’ve spent these posts fluctuating between “Angelo actually likes Nero” and “Angelo really hates Nero,” so it was nice to see the finale allow Angelo to voice both those competing emotions. Like so much of 91 Days, I think there’s some truth to his claims of malice (orchestrating Frate’s death served little purpose beyond hurting the Vanettis), but it isn’t the whole truth, something that it takes Angelo the entire episode to admit. I think that’s partly because he can’t admit it yet, but it’s also because he’s exhausted, guilt-stricken, and wants to die. So he says what he thinks will get Nero to kill him, and Nero almost gives him what he wants.

He doesn’t, though, and like much of 91 Days and this finale especially, the “why” has many possible answers, and maybe all of them are a little true. Nero still cares about Angelo, obviously, but I also think on some level he acknowledges Angelo’s revenge as valid. As straightforward as Nero is, it makes sense that he’d be angrier about having his trust betrayed than about the vengeance itself. To that end, I think Nero’s also hoping for some kind of closure. He needs to know that it mattered–that the destruction of the Vanetti family, if nothing else, gave that orphaned boy in the woods some kind of peace.

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All of which culminates in their campfire confrontation. Free of the city and the expectant eyes of others, the two can at last be honest with each other. Angelo confesses that his revenge has left him empty, without the “reason to live” he’d been hoping for. “It was all for nothing,” he says, echoing Vincent’s last words. All this violence in the name of “the family” (living or dead) was futile. Neither Nero nor Angelo can find closure from this answer, and their rage and grief form the emotional climax of the episode, with breaking down as they struggle to understand why they’re alive at all.

It’s a powerful scene, but I want to pay special attention to Nero’s flashback to the night at the Lagusas. The visual work here is excellent, as Nero’s focus is constantly on the kids–Corteo riding past, the blood-splattered photo of Angelo’s little brother, the unopened birthday present–to highlight his own discomfort (if not outright horror) at the job. We also learn one vital piece of new information: When Nero missed shooting Angelo, it wasn’t on purpose. He just closed his eyes and left the bullet’s path up to fate. His choice wasn’t to “not kill,” but to “not look–to essentially make no choice at all.

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If, as the opening theme tells us, Angelo has been trapped in that closet for the last seven years, watching his family die, then Nero has been standing in that snowy yard, his eyes squeezed shut, letting others lead him around. I’ve said before that his greatest flaw is that he’s too easily influenced–by Vanno, Angelo, Ganzo, and especially his father–and this flashback provides a crucial explanation for that. Better to close his eyes and leave everything up to other forces than to live with the guilt of choice.

It isn’t until Angelo screams at him, finally letting himself cry, that Nero opens his eyes to the consequences of his actions and the lives who’ve been destroyed by them. That’s why the final scene on the beach is so important, and ultimately why it doesn’t matter whether Nero chose to kill Angelo (and free him from his pain) or let him go (and free him to a life beyond revenge). What matters is that Nero opens his eyes when he shoots. He takes responsibility and makes a choice, free of blind rage, the influence of others, or the expectations of “the family.” Whatever choice he made it, he made it for him and Angelo alone.

In the same way, it doesn’t matter what happens to Nero after he opens his eyes and fires that gun. Maybe the Galassias kill him, or maybe they don’t. Either way, like Angelo, he’s freed himself from that night–from the weight of his cowardice, from the expectations of his father. That’s been the central conflict of 91 Days from the start, and the great tragedy of both our protagonists. So when Angelo is able to walk quietly away from his hatred and vengeance, and when Nero is able to drive off with a soft smile and a memento, that’s the only conclusion that matters. What happens next is just details.

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This finale is melancholy, wrenching, sympathetic, hopeful–and, like much of 91 Days, intentionally ambiguous and open to interpretation. There are no neat answers, no tidy endings. As Nero tells Angelo: “You don’t need a reason to live. You just live.” The waves wash away their footprints, erasing the steps they took before. We and they can only guess at what’s next. But right now there’s the ocean, the beach, and the sky. There’s a freedom in that clear, rolling vastness. It’s not much, but after years of being trapped in a prison of their parents’ making, it’s exactly the kind of paradise they need.

This, That, and the Other

  • Cerotto’s been one of the more likable supporting characters and his grief for Corteo was refreshingly honest, so I’m glad he was left out of this mess and lives to bar tend another day.
  • I keep forgetting to applaud the soundtrack, so let’s give it some praise here. The past two episodes have had some fantastic orchestral pieces, granting the gunfights a kind of epic gravitas, and the use of the ending theme during the road trip was lovingly intimate and peaceful. 91 Days tells a lot its story without dialogue, and the soundtrack plays a major role in its successes there.
  • Trading the stark, claustrophobic rooms and empty bottles of Lawless Heaven for the soft, lush pastoral scenery and endless waves of Florida’s “paradise” is some top-notch cinematography. The world around our characters reflects their journey as they slowly move away from pointless violence towards a freeing peace. GAH, this episode was so good, I can’t even sometimes.
  • I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s personal headcanon about what happened at the end! I’ve chosen to believe they both survive and eventually meet up in NYC where they work at a trendy coffee shop and share a cramped apartment where many shenanigans ensue. But hey, that’s just me.

Phew! That was fun! Also tiring. I definitely didn’t expect this gangster drama to tickle my analyzin’ bone when I decided to cover it. Expectations thoroughly smashed, as per 91 Days‘s M.O. I may need to sleep a few days before I dive into the next season. Thanks as always for joining me on these long-winded deep-dives into character arcs and visual narration, and I look forward to chatting with you all again soon!

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About

Dee (@joseinextdoor) is a nerd of all trades and a master of one. She has bachelor's degrees in English and East Asian studies and a master's degree in Creative Writing. To pay the bills, she works as a technical writer. To not pay the bills, she devours novels and comics, watches far too much anime, and cheers very loudly for the Kansas Jayhawks. You can hang out with her at The Josei Next Door and support her work through PayPal.

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  • Sea John

    Such a perfect ending. I wasn’t expecting it, to be honest. Based off the promotional image- the image of them standing face to face, guns locked on each other, I was expecting some sort of epic fight between the both of them that would result in someone’s gruesome death. Suffice to say, I prefer this poignant ending more. The camp fire scene nearly broke me. Seeing Angelo break down to tears, seeing Nero marvel at what his actions have caused, I almost cried myself. It’s stuff like 91 Days that reminds me why I love anime.

    As for the ending… I’m torn! Did he kill him or did he let him live? Both are beautiful in their own right. When I think back to Nero’s smile as he’s driving away, as he steals a glance at the can of pineapples, I’d like to believe he let Angelo live. To find his own paradise. Excellent post, Dee! Your analysis always enhance the show’s quality. It’s been an honor to experience this with you!

    • Dee

      Thanks! It’s been a lot of fun having Feel’splosions on Twitter with you about it, too! Hope to hear from you this Fall season as well! (and hope I’ll be quicker to respond to any future comments, too…)

  • RimePendragon

    Great ending to great show! Personally I think Angelo is dead. Who was the guy Nero passed on the road at the end ?

    • Dee

      The guys at the end were (I’m 99% certain) the Galassias’ men. Nero’s not out of the woods yet.

  • TaraMayB

    This was honestly one of the best series I’ve watched in a while. It’s not quite on the level of Genroku Rakugo, but it has a wonderful soundtrack, beautiful cinematography, and excellent use of character expressions and vocal performances to sell it. They both stand out as recent jewels to me, very wonderfully done.

    Personally, I think Angelo is dead. As you say Nero was able to open his eyes and make his choice, free of being blinded by everything that came before. To make an honest choice for someone he, to an extent, cares for. Angelo was happy at the end, smiling even! He had reached “Paradise”, free from the restraint of his revenge and burdens. Fulfilling his words to Corteo, that he’d see him again soon. To me, Angelo was already dead, being killed by Nero achieved exactly what Angelo derided him for *not* doing when his family was killed. Everything came full circle for him. He was finally free.

    Nero on the other hand I think is alive. The Vanettis are gone so the “Family” is dead. The Galassias took over what was left of their enterprise. Nero is alive but he has no support so he’s not really a threat. Strega might want him watched in case he tries to get revenge, but I don’t think he will. I think with his last trip with Angelo, he finally realized the weight and meaning of what he said back during their last trip, contrasting with how he has been for the past few episodes after becoming the Don. Nothing is more important than family. Not the “Family” but the “kazoku”, as you put in an earlier piece. I’d like to think he tried to be forgiven by his sister, and look after what little family he has left, leaving the “Family” business behind.

    Just my thoughts on it. Loved reading these recaps! Looking forward to your next batch of write-ups!

    • Dee

      Sorry it took me so long to reply to these (my schedule has been a mess the past couple weeks), but I wanted to say thanks for sharing your thoughts! The openness of the ending means there’s no right or wrong answer, so it’s really interesting to see what ending each viewer thought made the most sense/was the most satisfying.

      My only concern for Nero is that those guys at the end who stopped and watched him pass were almost certainly Galassias’ men. So he might still have some fighting to do before he can rest easy.

      And thanks for your kind words as well! These write-ups wound up being a fun, unique challenge, so I’m glad you enjoyed reading them. Hope to see you in the comments again sometime soon! And with luck I’ll be able to reply in a timely fashion next time. ^^;

  • Hassan Youssef Ghandour

    I’ve started watching 91 days when it first started, however i stopped at episode 8 since university started and i didn’t have much time to spare, today however after all this time i thought of finishing it, after binge watching the last 4 episodes, i am stunned by the ending. The way i see it, Nero didn’t kill Angelo, and here’s why. Throughout their way to the ocean where the suspense is created, Nero doesn’t treat Angelo with hatred, rather with friendliness and sadness. He practically understood the reason of his acts, and felt a sort of pity and guilt for not having shot him back then, just as Angelo didn’t shoot him. At the very end with Nero telling Angelo that no reason is needed to live, you just do, we can see that he tries shooting with his eyes open yet he fails, only to re-open them again. Furthermore after Nero driving away and if you stayed to watch the post-end credits, you will notice that there is no blood anywhere, if there were any blood the ocean wouldn’t wash it up that easily since it’d have stuck on the sand and left an imprint, i believe that Angelo didn’t die. However the ending’s intention is for us to use our imagination, for our minds to choose weather i truly died, or just was left to live. Either way, the ending was amazing nonetheless of the result. I recommend those who haven’t watch it to do and those who did to re watch it again!

  • Jared Droesch

    It makes me really upset that with the cruncyroll anime awards coming up, I haven’t seen anyone talking about this show. In my opinion it was at least one of the top three anime this year and had one of the best endings I’ve ever seen (better than ERASED at least). I just really loved all the great elements of this show and I needed to rant.

    • Dee

      I was griping about that to a friend the other day too, so I know exactly how you feel! Feels like it slipped under the radar, which is a bummer given how well it developed its cast and story. Oh, well. It’ll always be a Top 2016 anime in our hearts, at least!

      • Jared Droesch

        Glad to know I’m not the only one out there! 🙂

  • Just finished watching this amazing anime and I cried. Mature animes are so rare these days, it’s great to see some like 91 days.

  • kfart

    One thing I knew after finishing 91 days is that it was a great experience. But I have to say that your review puts into words many of the things I appreciated, be it subconsciously or consciously. The nihilistic themes were refreshing, and now that you pointed it out, the cinematography in this is master-class. You didn’t say it explicitly but I think that applies to the opening and ending songs as well. The opening song and clip conveys such a strong sense of crying out for help (Angelo perhaps, to mirror him breaking down at the camp site) while the ending theme was a foreshadowing of how the characters will get closure.

    Overall, I really enjoyed the show like you did, and I also had fun reading your review. Excellent breakdown of the whole series, the characters and the setting. Thanks for the good read!

  • Killsqu4d

    What an amazing ending to a good anime. That ending had me in a hurricane of sh!t