Not going to bother putting my usual “an ‘anime’ post” subtitle here because if you don’t know what anime I’m going to talk about from the title alone…
So a while back, I ended up not enjoying the last Baccano rewatch I ever did before I sold those DVDs for a couple of reasons. First, my current self found the pacing to be a drag. I know you guys are tired of hearing this complaint given my last two posts brought it up, but it was nothing but showing off energy, numerous characters, plot points, and everything else that composed Durarara’s sequel (and the original Durarara for that matter) to mask the fact that the story wasn’t really progressing, and I’m too old to accept that sort of shit as acceptable substance anymore. Second, the many famous gangster films before the turn of the new millennium (and some afterwards) I have since watched have shaped the expectations of the genre in a way that can’t be ignored. I’m sure the people behind Baccano love those films even more than I do, but that doesn’t change the fact that their take on gangsters felt incredibly lackluster by comparison.
I bring all this up because 91 Days, the new mafia anime since Baccano (I think) has been making a bit of a splash in the community. And after seven episodes, I fear it’s gone the same route as the latter – as well as Western cartoons that try to ape anime like that new Voltron thing on Netflix – merely copying the aesthetics of the genre without understanding the meat. And if it’s purposefully avoiding replicating said meat, it’s not introducing anything substantial in its place. Well I guess you could argue it’s copying Guy Ritchie’s style fairly well, so if you’re a fan of that dude (obviously I’m not), then you can just dismiss anything this post has to say.
Let’s start with the complaint that every single Baccano hater (and some of the lovers as well) has said about that show and apply it to 91 Days: I think the characters are dull. They do nothing but act “cool” or “badass” except right up until they die, which is the lousiest way to form pathos I’ve ever seen short of killing a dog in front of a little girl, and the show refuses to delve into any of their heads or give me a reason to care about them. Some people have explained to me when I said the same thing about Subaru from Re:Zero that you should judge the character based on their actions. Well by those standards, I can safely say that these characters are unlikable douchebags who enjoy crime because it feels so good. Who serve their enemies as lasagna or trick people into killing their friends and family because that’s how they get their jollies in life. Or in the case of Avilio, it’s to avenge his family.
Out of all the characters in this show, Avilio is the only one to have any sense of motivation for what he’s doing: to destroy the Vanetti family for killing those he loved when he was a little kid. The problem is that the show has not developed that motivation into anything worth a damn, especially related to his characterization. Whenever the show does focus on him, it’s only to see him plan out his strategies, carry out executions, or stare at people with a “I will kill you” face. We know nothing about what his actual family was like, making it hard to sympathize with his loss (especially considering these are fictional characters, and thus we’re removed from the sense of human attachment that automatically makes us feel for someone’s death), and all the loss seems to have done for the dude is to make him a very boring person because he never really thinks about them. Actually, do we know anything about Avilio that’s not related to his revenge scheme? I can’t really think of anything.
Some people have claimed that Avilio is supposed to be a blank slate that takes on the identity of the people he interacts with (or more specifically, the people he kills) as part of the show’s ongoing metaphor that he’s an irredeemable douche who’s no better than the people he’s killing. A lot of revenge stories seem to have that as their theme to the point of weariness, but like how most military premises are stuck with “war is bad” as their ultimate message, that’s because the alternative is usually even worse. Plus, there are ways to inject freshness into those tales. What you do not do to make the story feel anew is to make the supporting cast so lackluster that even if Avilio had been interesting, he would ultimately be let down by the unchallenging issues he has to face. Yeah, taking on the identity of other people generally only works if the identities you’re stealing are actually worth a damn.
A character can be defined solely by his actions, but they have to be good actions. Actions that tell me something interesting. Something besides basic human emotion or whatever the hell Black Panther was displaying in Captain America: Civil War. At the very least, something akin to Guy Pierce’s goody two-shoes stance from LA Confidential or Leonardo DiCaprio’s slippery cop ideals from The Departed would suffice. Allow me to list out the reasons why the Vanetti family as well as the people they deal with do what they do from what I can recall:
- They want power.
- They want money.
- They want booze.
- They’ll do whatever it takes to get what they want.
- Family ties.
- Because that’s their role in life.
- Because it’s badass.
You’re probably wondering what’s wrong with these reasons, and you’re right in that most of them aren’t inherently bad. In fact, some of them have been used for particularly moving drama in the past. The problem with with 91 Days though is that the world-building is so poor that you can’t attach anything substantial to those one-word sentences above if you were to write a Wikipedia page for these characters. Not only is Avilio the only one of these guys who has a backstory, but the gangs themselves don’t have anything identifiable about them in regards to their place in the world. Unless someone can point me to a specific example, I don’t recall one moment in the show where the characters or gangs ever expressed they’re in this line of business because it’s the best way to live in a Prohibition-era America, or even bring up the circumstances surrounding why being a gangster is all the rage to begin with. Where’s the context for why the world is what it is?
Through the depiction of characters that operate outside the constraints of the law, the gangster film genre enables viewers to vicariously experience a morally loose lifestyle, condemned by society. However, more often than not, the gangster film genre simultaneously functions as a platform to voice concerns with skewed interpretations of the “American Dream,” as central characters in these films typically allow their excessive greed and consumerist tendencies to lead to their downfall. With that said, even in the midst of violence and illicit behavior, as viewers, we can still derive vital lessons and reflect on our personal nature when watching movies associated with the gangster film genre. — The Gangster Film Genre: A Critical Perspective on The American Dream
91 Days comes off like it assumes we already know all that defines the Prohibition era and thus we’re supposed to just assume that the story is going to be about the American Dream and what the characters strive for automatically, like in those other gangster films mentioned in the above quote. Even if everyone in existence knows that Batman is fueled by the murder of his parents, you still have to show it in every interpretation, because I go into every Batman story assuming that I don’t know him (unless it’s a sequel). A big reason The Killing Joke sucked is because it assumed we already knew everything about the relationship between Batman and The Joker due to how ubiquitous it is in pop culture, and thus are supposed to accept the complexities of their relationship straight off the bat without ever going into detail about it. There’s trusting the audience to figure out what’s going on, and then there’s just laziness. And 91 Days is definitely the latter given how I don’t see a hint of what made The Godfather a landmark film in it, despite the numerous visual references to that movie scattered throughout the show.
And assuming 91 Days is purposefully not following on the heels of its film predecessors to impart meaningful lessons underneath all the violence and whatnot, then what is it doing in exchange? The revenge plot? With a main character who’s too unlikable to be interesting and a supporting cast who have no identifiable views on life, the whole “I’m becoming a monster in order to destroy the monsters who ruined my life” angle falls incredibly flat. So why does this show exist? As an excuse to be cool? Fanservice for people who’re into the aesthetics of the era? As I said before, the only people who’re going to appreciate that sort of stuff are fans of Guy Ritchie. Guys like me who don’t care about his energetic approach to substance are just going to roll their eyes whenever we see someone fangasm over the accurate depiction of a 1928 magazine.
And for god’s sake, why is it taking so goddamn long for this revenge scheme to play out? Why do I have to sit through so many boring exposition scenes and “cool” fake-outs just to get to the ultimate goal of this anime? Well I know why. It’s because of those broadcast limitations I’ve complained about before. But the way the creators are trying to overcome that is the equivalent of a boy trying to impress a girl by telling stories of his accomplishments, getting incredibly nervous when she’s less than impressed, and improvising a whole lot of bullshit details based on young adult novels he looked up on SparkNotes.com, hoping it’ll all come together in the end. Sure, I do that with my own posts at times because you never know what your audience will like at the end of the day, but I make sure that everything I write at least has a point. And the point of Fio Vanetti’s existence other than to be another variable in Avilio’s revenge scheme is lost on me as far as I’m concerned.
You’ll be amazed at how far an underlying point or goal can carry your cliches. I mean look at Boardwalk Empire. Aside from its lavish production and acting, it doesn’t do anything different from any Prohibition gangster tale ever either. Its main character is kind of a dull enigma until the final season. It definitely did not need to be longer than Legend of the Galactic Heroes to tell its tale. There’s no way I’d consider it one of the TV greats. Nevertheless, I watched all of it and came out with a fairly warm feeling at the end because all of its unnecessary details at least had weight behind their actions. The only weight I’m feeling from 91 Days is the equivalent of what it feels like to get a piece of rice stuck on your shirt after eating Chinese food.
- At least Boardwalk Empire’s and Baccano’s opening themes are slick. 91 Days’ sounds like it’s being sung by a person trying not to burst into tears whilst looking at himself in a mirror.
- Ask someone else for specific Godfather scenes. I can’t remember much about how the movie was shot to do accurate comparisons.