91 Days is the best anime I’d never heard of until two months ago.
Although it was released in 2016, I came across it almost two years later. The series summary in the preview amounted to “a guy wants revenge after the mob murders his family,” which didn’t seem like something I’d enjoy watching, but the cover caught my eye—two twenty-something-year-old men point guns at each other in front of a stained glass window in a display that radiated drama and betrayal.
My dad was a fan of movies like Scarface and The Godfather, but I could never get into these films that romanticized criminal violence and glorified patriarchal behavior. At a glance, 91 Days seemed like it could have been just another one of these stories, possibly with some wacky anime hijinks thrown in for good measure. Still, the beautiful cover art kept pulling me in each time I saw it and finally I decided to give the show a chance—a decision I’m glad I made.
91 Days is a revenge story that centers around Angelo Lagusa, a man in his early 20s. As a child, his family is murdered by Vincent Vanetti in the fictional Illinois town of Lawless to prevent his father—a prominent member of the mob family they both belong to—from revealing Vincent’s secret dealings with a rival family to the mob boss.
The show is set during the 1920s Prohibition era in the United States, with many Italian-American mob “families” struggling for control of Lawless by manufacturing and selling illegal moonshine. The story follows Angelo as he infiltrates the Vanetti family under the fake name of “Avilio,” intent on killing the man who murdered his family. The cast features characters from the three other mob families in the show, as well as Angelo’s last remaining childhood friend, a soft and gentle moonshine maker named Corteo.
Of course, things do not go quite as planned, and the show culminates in one of the most intense, inconclusive endings I’ve ever seen that still somehow left me satisfied.
But as captivating as the story and art direction are, what makes 91 Days shine is the way it explores the idea of how toxic patriarchal masculinity infects and destroys lives across generations.
Family Comes First
The depiction of the mob families in the show seems standard at first. The heads of the families are all gruff, masculine, God-fearing Catholic men, and their members are supposedly made to believe that loyalty to the “family” goes before anything else, even their blood relatives. This quickly proves untrue, and the show makes it clear that to these people, loyalty is something that can be bought and sold as easily as the booze they smuggle.
These men are willing to do whatever it takes to further their goals of making money and controlling territory. And they teach their sons the same values—that they must be willing to do what it takes for the “family” regardless of how ruthless they have to be. Bloodshed is glorified, with women and children treated as acceptable collateral.
To these men, women are docile figures who exist to either create alliances between families through marriage or stand in the background to support their husbands and boyfriends. The show makes it clear that this role has been forced upon them by the patriarchal nature of the mob.
However, Fio Vanetti, the sole sister within the Vanetti family, is not only better at diplomacy and planning than either of her brothers, but understands the meaning of “family” better than any of the men. To protect her family, she agrees to be married off to the violent son of another mob family, while her brothers have the honor of being next in line to take over the family business.
In spite of the role she is forced to play, she’s a capable young woman who is willing to do what it takes to protect her family, going as far as killing her new husband when he threatens the lives of her brothers. The narrative never punishes her for this action, and she’s allowed to live her life peacefully away from the bloodshed that unfolds over the course of the show. She defies the patriarchal expectations of her environment and frees herself, proving that she’s more than the subservient girl that her family has forced her to be.
Fathers and Sons
While Fio is a great example of the subjugation of women under patriarchy, Nero Vanetti, her brother, provides an example of the effects this structure has on sons.
Nero is present on the night that Angelo’s family is murdered, and is ordered by his father to kill Angelo as he escapes into the woods by his home. Still a teenager at the time, Nero is unable to live up to his father’s violent expectations, and in his hesitation fails to kill Angelo. Fast forward to the future, and Nero is a grown man poised to take over the family business. The show explores his development from a hesitant, merciful teenager into a calculating and cruel young man, pressured by his father and mob family to accept and conform to their patriarchal ideology.
At the start of Angelo’s false friendship with him, Nero is portrayed as a likable man, interested in enjoying life and capable of delighting those around him with his affability. As the show progresses, Nero’s nature reveals itself to be darker and more in line with the values of his family.
After he becomes the boss of the Vanettis, Nero attempts to murder the family of a cop to intimidate him into dropping his investigation. The attempt only fails because Angelo intervenes, saving the family at the last moment.
Then, in one of the most intense moments of the series, Nero declares that Angelo has to kill his childhood best friend, Corteo, to prove his loyalty to the Vanetti family. This action marks the moment that Angelo sets aside his doubts about the kind of person Nero has become and proceeds with his plan to destroy him and his family.
While Nero starts out as a teenager who is unable to kill an innocent child, by his own admission he becomes a man who wouldn’t hesitate to murder that same child as an adult to fulfill his father’s expectations.
The show further underlines this with a flashback episode that shows Nero as a child, soft and playful, and willing to defy his father’s orders to attend mass in order to go to the circus. The episode highlights the relationship Nero has as a child with both of his parents. He is distant from and defiant of his father, but soft and caring with his mother. This is a Nero who is more his mother’s son than his father’s, the Nero that hesitates to gun down an innocent child, as opposed to the Nero that seeks to live up to his father’s patriarchal standards of what a head of the family should be.
In the show’s final act, Nero has to make the choice of whether to kill Angelo—the false friend who betrayed him and destroyed his mob family—or to spare him. During the final moments when we see Nero with his finger on the trigger, the show forces us to consider a heavy question that calls back to the night Angelo’s family died: will Nero at that moment decide to be his mother’s or his father’s son?
The narrative makes it clear that the male antagonists and their warped, twisted ideas about power are the agents of their own downfalls. These men destroy innocent lives around them as their toxic ideology ripples down through their actions and the actions of their sons.
Although the show takes place in the 1920s, it holds up a mirror to our current society, in which strength is still measured by the size of the stick used to beat down those considered lesser, rather than by the kindness we show them. It forces us to think about the taken for granted patriarchal ideals of acquisition, power, and loyalty to bad groups that are still perpetuated through the family, and asks us to consider a difficult question—whether the family might ultimately be an institution built on not comfort and love, but pain and destruction.