Banana Fish – 03 – Survive, But Never Repent

When Ash is thrown in the slammer indefinitely, without a trial, Eiji, Ibe and Charlie reach out to Max Lobo, a rough-and-tumble guerrilla journalist who happens to be in the same prison for punching a cop. Max isn’t confident he can actually protect Ash, and when he meets the kid, that confidence withers even more, though he’s impressed that he’s read his column in the Bulletin.

Ash doesn’t particularly help his own case while in prison, lashing out at the first guy who lays hands on him and earning a night in solitary. When he’s out, that same guy finds Ash and rapes him, with Max finding him naked and bruised.

It’s very likely Max had an impossible job; he can never be in the same place as Ash at all times, and even if he is, he’s just one man; easily outnumbered and out-muscled. As for Ash, he takes the assault he’d been dealt out as just doing what had to be done to survive; he’s not dyin

While in medical eating a banana, Ash mutters “Banana Fish”, a term Max knows about and has been researching for the last decade. He’s been able to learn is that it’s the name of a person or organization related to a drug route, but unfortunately the man he was going to meet with after release was the man Ash watched die muttering the words “Banana Fish.”

Max also learns that Griffin—whom he knew while in Iraq and who wigged out from the drug and attacked him, forcing him to shoot back—is Ash’s big brother. Ash is not pleased with how Max handled things with Griffin, and vows to kill him when he gets out. Max seems halfway willing to let him.

During a visit, Ash makes a big show of French kissing Eiji to conceal the fact he used the kiss to get Eiji a message written and rolled into a medicine capsule. That message leads Eiji on a fruitless search for Ash’s at-large ally Shorter Wong…and eventually, right into the clutches of Ash’s betrayer and new boss of the gang, Arthur. D’oh!

I wonder what Ash was thinking, having Eiji go on such a dangerous mission alone (if that was his intention). The kid’s greener than Ed Begley Jr.! Now Ash’s enemies have someone in whose well-being he is invested.

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Banana Fish – 02 – Nothing But Trouble

Ash seems like a do-things-for/by-himself kinda guy, so he goes after Skip and Eiji’s kidnappers all on his own…which is not smart. He’s captured immediately, unable to make a move lest the captors (Arthur and Marvin) kill either of their hostages.

While Ash may not possess the strongest strategic mind, he is able to outsmart Marvin, whom he convinces he’ll roll in the hay with but takes the guy down and steps over him. When he, Skip, and Eiji hit a dead end, Eiji reveals his hidden talent: he’s a pole-vaulter. LOL WUT.

He gets over what looks like a 14′-15′ wall, which is pretty good (the all-time record is 20′) but with no padding, Eiji is injured and eventually passes out in the street from blood loss. When he comes to, he gets word to the cops of Ash and Skip’s location, but Ash’s buddy Shorter and his friends make it there first.

In the ensuing fray between Dino’s guys and Ash’s, Marvin puts two bullets in lil’ Skip, and just like that, the kid I thought would be a mildy-annoying recurring sidekick is gone. A couple minutes later, at the end of a chase, so is Marvin—but not by Ash’s hands. He’s framed for murder by Dino’s many minions.

He’s wrapped in a neat-little murder package, what with the overwhelming motive of wanting to kill Marvin. A dirty cop owned by Dino happens to preside over the jurisdiction where Ash was arrested, and sees fit to play videos of porn involving Ash as a child (definitely not NYPD protocol), filling in the blanks of his past quite devastatingly concisely.

Ash knows he can plead innocence all he likes, but the bottom line is Dino has too many people in his pocket. Ash is refreshingly self-aware in his ineptness at staying on top of the game (even if he spent time there due to sheer will and charisma). Also, he fully admits even if he was framed and someone else killed Marvin, that person merely kept him from doing something he’d planned to do one day anyway.

Eiji is deployed by the cops in an attempt to get Ash to blab about Dino & Co., but Ash isn’t having it. He may hate his “dad’s” guts, but he still has his personal integrity to consider. Yet he doesn’t blame Eiji for being the transparent pawn he is; instead, he’s still goddamned impressed Eiji was able to vault himself over that huge wall!

Things continue to not go particularly swell at all for young Ash, as Dino gets a judge he’s friendly with to make Ash’s process as undue as possible, transferring him to a state prison where plenty of Dino’s men are waiting to kill him. (On the subject of men- unless I’m being grossly unobservant, I have yet to a single female character in these two episodes. I’m wondering if we’ll ever see one…)

The cops prepare to reach out to Max Lobo, the convict Eiji’s boss was planning to interview, who’s in the same slammer. I’m sure Ash would like to think he can take care of himself, but particularly in prison I hope he avails himself of any and all assistance offered him. In any case, dude’s an elite-level trouble magnet.

Banana Fish – 01 (First Impressions) – Look Young, Live Fast

Banana Fish is a manga dating back to 1985, which makes it, well, old. Yet it looks to be a story about one young man getting suddenly, violently mixed up in the very complicated life of an even younger man. We spend much of the first half following the first young man around, one Ash Lynx, who has a lot going on.

Leader of a powerful multi-ethnic street gang in NYC, the 17-year-old Ash is also apparently the heir (and former lover) of the mafia boss Dino. Ash takes care of his big brother Griffin, who has been helpless and only mutters “Banana Fish” ever since he fought in the war and suddenly…snapped.

Ash ends up encountering another man muttering the same thing, ends up with a vial of some kind of drug, and starts digging, suspecting Dino is up to something and also eager to cure his brother’s condition, if he can.

In the midst of all this comes the mild-mannered, babyfaced 19-year-old Okumura Eiji, who is immediately both impressed and terrified of the wild young rogue Ash. Eiji is merely an assistant for a photojournalist looking to do a story on the street gangs, and young Eiji may be the key to getting Ash to open up.

The two meet and barely spend an hour at one of the gang’s hideouts until a plan is put into place which had been simmering beneath the surface of events the entire episode, involving a member of Ash’s gang and one of Dino’s bodyguards betraying Ash. They use Eiji and Ash’s young friend Skip as bait to lure him to a seedy warehouse where they have awful things in store for him.

When we leave Eiji, he’s freaking out a bit, just trying to remind himself that he’s currently dealing with a reality about as different from his peaceful life back home as is possible, while Ash commandeers his friend Shorter’s red motorcycle to give chase, playing right into his betrayers’ hands.

One wonders why it took 33 years for this manga, apparently a classic example of BL with wide appeal, to become an anime. This first episode doesn’t answer that, but the source’s age does inform the retro character design, while the soundtrack is more contemporary. It also achieves what any good first episode does: leaves me wanting to find out what happens next.

91 Days – 12 (Fin)

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With Avilio’s grand revenge plan all but complete (but for Nero), this final episode is not a lot more than an extended epilogue in which the remainder of the Vanettis are wiped out, Avilio is captured by Nero, and the two kind of dance around each other until Nero finally does what he needs to do.

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I’ll be honest: I’ve never been fully emotionally invested in any of the characters, even Avilio, and was never all that big a fan of Nero, so watching all of the underlings, whom I often couldn’t tell apart from each other, was a bit of a bore. Not to mention the tommy guns in this show were way too reliable (not a serious criticism, just sayin’).

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I’ve also expected for a while now that Avilio would eventually end up succeeding but feeling utterly unfulfilled, in the same way Vincent was when he killed the Lagusas seven years ago, so the campfire confrontation isn’t all that impactful. These are two people who have been set up from the start to be unhappy and alone, and they’ve done too much to each other for there to be any outcome but one or both of them ending up dead.

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The bottom line: any and all hope this show had was wiped out back when Avilio killed Corteo, believing that last shedding of his humanity would be worth it, but it wasn’t. Avilio and Nero have a pleasant final road trip to the seaside, but only Nero gets back in the car and drives away, and we have no reason to believe he’ll be alive long with the new Don Strega and the long arm of the Galassias after him.

As their two pairs of footsteps are washed away by the waves, the lesson of 91 Days is clear: if you’re going to kill a family in a mafia coup, make sure you get all that family’s members. Nero can blame Avilio all he likes, but it was his nervousness/mercy that kept Angelo alive, leading to a life spent—wasted—planning only revenge.

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91 Days – 11

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Avilio’s time in Chicago was productive; he was able to strike a deal with the Galassias – just not the one Nero thought. Don Galassia takes a shine to Avilio, as the capable inside man who could help him get rid of the Vanettis.

But it’s also painfully evident that killing Corteo took a bigger chunk of Avilio’s soul than most of the killings. He’s barely keeping it together, catching glimpses of Corteo’s ghost off in the distance.

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The stage for the final act of Avilio’s revenge couldn’t be more appropriate: the grand opening of Vincent’s opera house in Lawless. One gets the feeling like Vincent is willing himself to stay alive just to get to this evening. Little does he know Avilio has been looking forward to the evening just as much, if not more.

Avilio, Ganzo, Don Galassia and his nephew Strega all know the game plan, but things don’t go according to that plan, as Del Toro takes longer to bring down and Barbero gets wise to Avilio’s treachery.

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It matters not, as Ganzo is able to free Avilio, killing Barbero in the process, and give Avilio a free path to Vincent and Don Galassia’s royal box, even as Nero is running off to stop a potential sniper all the way on the other side of the theater.

Avilio manages to do worse than simply kill Vincent: he kills Don Galassia, which is a death sentence to the entire Vanetti family. Strega takes out Ganzo, leaving Strega, Avilio, Nero…and not many others still alive.

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Avilio is pretty happy with how things worked out, as he sits in an alley as sirens blare. The Vanettis have lost everything, just as he did the night his family was taken. But the cost is high, and his decision to kill Don Galassia made him an enemy of Strega, who finds him in the alley. Is he there to thank Avilio for getting his uncle out of the way for him, or to kill him for it?

While the animation continues to be a serious liability, the overall experience this week was some thrilling and heart-wrenching mob drama. Avilio did most of what he set out to do, but he’s even more of a wreck than when he first got that letter. All of this, like Vincent’s murder of his family, might end up being for nothing.

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91 Days – 10

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Ever since his reunion with Avilio, Corteo has been marked for death, and this week that finally comes to pass. Such is the fate of someone who can’t help but feel a brotherly responsibility to someone who does not truly intend to survive his quest for vengeance.

While having one last day of fun together outside Chicago, leaving Corteo behind represents a lasting shred of hope they’ll meet again when this is all over, but they meet much sooner than that, with fatal results.

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As Nero plans the future of the family with his Dad Vincent, whose debilitating illness seems to be hampering motor function. But as we know, it wouldn’t be enough for Avilio if nature killed Vincent for him; he has to do the deed, and once he’s finished, he can finally be with his family.

Maybe it’s that drive to be reunited with them that leads to him and Corteo being so extremely careless at the pier, not even trying to conceal the fact that they’re there from eyes that Barbaro later bribes. Barbaro thinks he finally has the evidence he needs to get rid of Avilio, but he underestimated Corteo’s loyalty not just to his brother, but to his quest for revenge as well. After all, he’s come this far.

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Nero will no longer suspect Avilio now that he’s shot Corteo (The ‘kill your friend and we’ll trust you’ is an old trope, but it works well enough in this case). But with Corteo gone, there is nothing left for Avilio but his revenge. His expression of barely-contained fire becomes that much more unhinged, as Avilio vows to join Corteo before long.

Just as Corteo has been marked for death all this time, so too has Avilio. But as he told Corteo, before he got the letter, he was an “empty shell”, merely surviving of picked pockets. The truth is, Angelo died when his family was killed. His body survived, but he’s nothing more than a ghost roaming the earth, seeking release to the hereafter. And that release is coming soon. I wonder, after all this, if he curses his younger self for running.

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91 Days – 09

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Corteo almost, almost gets the hell away, but at the last second, he’s picked up by Nero’s men; from there, he’s in for a spot of roughing-up and, well, torture (albeit of the off-camera kind) in order to get information out of him.

Having polished his mask for years, Avilio doesn’t outwardly betray how he feels about having his friend in such a situation, but Barbero seems to sense the conflict within him seething just below the surface.

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So when Corteo suddenly vanished, Barbero asks Nero if Avilio, who was nearby when it happened, can really be trusted where his childhood friend is concerned. Nero, however, has complete confidence in Avilio.

I wondered myself if Avilio had something to do with Corteo’s release, but then he gets a mysterious call from his friend, warning him that if Nero isn’t dead by the same time tomorrow, he (Corteo) will be killed by his captor—who is the one who wrote him the letter in the first place.

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After Nero is named the new don in a very dramatic transfer of power that owes much to The Godfather (as does this show’s logo) what with all the hand-smoochin’ going on, Nero gets piss-drunk with Corteo, who keeps watching the clocks, and for the hour when he’ll have to choose: Nero, here and now, or Corteo. For a moment, the knife stuck in the ham looks mighty enticing.

But not yet. The question of who wrote the letter, and who the fourth person was who was there the day his family was killed, continues to fester…until he puts various pieces together to conclude that the man who wrote him the letter is…Uncle Ganzo. Wait, who?

Don’t get me wrong: it was chilling to hear someone who isn’t Corteo call Avilio Angelo, and I’m deeply intrigued by what this means moving forward. But the truth is I really didn’t notice the guy that much until this week, when he seemed to be mentioned and featured more prominently. The twist would have had more impact if I’d knew Ganzo better.

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91 Days – 08

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91 Days’ eighth episode continues the brisk pre-recap pace of the seventh, with sufficient bodies dropping to make a final showdown in three to four weeks’ time seem…not all that far away. Whatever peace Nero got from killing his brother, it doesn’t last due to three men: Delphy, the new, incorruptible sheriff in town; Fango, who thinks it’s time to wipe out the Vanettis…and Corteo.

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Coreto is sick of hanging around the mafia. He wants “Avilio” to get on with it already. But Avilio is playing such a long game, he has no qualms about following Nero’s orders to kill Delphy—or his wife and young daughter—to eliminate the threat.

It’s a cursed loyalty; Avilio does these things because he won’t let Delphy or Fango have his prey. He’s going to keep Nero standing until he’s good and ready to bring him down himself. But it’s an approach that’s isolated him from his friend, who is tired of being a doormat.

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91 Days decides not to go down the very dark road of offing Delphy’s family, but it sure do manage to make me believe it was going to, right up until we see the empty seat in the flaming car.

Delphy’s wife and daughter didn’t have to die for him to halt the investigation; he only needed to experience a scant moment of fear that they were dead. In this, Avilio demonstrates he’s not totally lost.

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As for Corteo, he somehow gets mixed up with Fango, perhaps out of a need to rebel against a situation and a lifestyle that had grown intolerable. He must be desperate to the edge of reason, however, to think he’d have a more tolerable experience hanging out with Fango than the Vanettis.

When Fango tries to take out Nero, it doesn’t take long for Avilio to suspect him, but he doesn’t immediately take action, despite Corteo all but presenting himself as the latest obstacle to Avilio’s ultimate revenge: another party who could potentially steal Nero away from him (by prematurely getting him killed).

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When Corteo is escorted to a room in Fango’s fortress—too his almost certain death—Fango toys with him the way a cat plays with a mouse. Then Corteo bears his fangs in a blaze of violence, beating Fango to death because he threatened to tell Nero about his betrayal.

Corteo may have been trying to simply end the ordeal with Nero’s untimely death, so that he and Avilio could move on with their lives. Instead, the opposite occured: Avilio dug in his heels, and Corteo came to discover that once his friend dragged him into this, there was never any possibility of getting out. Avilio’s vendetta is a black hole; no light escapes.

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91 Days – 07

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Clearly, Angelo’s anger over what happened to his family is so great and unyielding, he’s committed to enacting his revenge through an obscenely intricate long game. It’s not enough to kill everyone involved in his family’s murder; he wants to cause them the maximum amount of pain before he kills them. Such a considerate young man!

By assisting Fango’s coup over Don Orco, Avilio has kept Nero alive. Now he must turn to Nero’s next threat: his own brother Frate, being used as a puppet by Rolando Galassia. He also wrangles Fio into the negotiations, and eventually she plays a significant role in Avilio’s plan. Rather than Galassia’s puppets, the Vanettis have become Avilio’s  (Vincent excluded; who knows where he is this week).

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Avilio seems pretty sure there’s no chance for reconciliation between Nero and Frate, especially with Galassia breathing down Frate’s neck (and giving him all the booze and drugs he needs to become an increasingly unstable puppet). He lets Nero give it a try anyway, and lets the brothers become more frustrated by their diametrically opposed goals.

At the same time, Avilio convinces Volpe to help him attack Frate and Fernando while the former is travelling to mass, making it sound like Volpe will be doing Nero a favor. Hmm…maybe don’t have such a regular Sunday schedule if you’re planning to be the boss of a crime family?

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Volpe only manages to wound Fernando and scare Frate, but Avilio kills him and makes it look like he acted alone. Galassia tries to use his wife Fio to get Nero in a room with him, but Nero stays away.

Avilio comes instead as a messenger, but the messege is for Fio, not Fernando, and she puts two bullets in her husband, apparently sick and tired of his role in tearing her family apart. She doesn’t know that both she and Fernando were only pawns of the Great Avilio.

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In another bit of Venetti manipulation, Avilio leads Nero to Frate, reveals the gun Frate was hiding under a magazine, then leaves the two to hash it out—but only after he takes all the bullets out of Frate’s gun, apparently unbeknownst to either brother.

We end with two more of the biggest obstacles to keeping Nero alive dead, by Nero and Fio’s own hands. Through his machinations, Avilio saw to it the Vanetti family suffered its first blood casualty, but likely not the last. Then he tells Nero he’ll be his brother from now on. Honestly Avilio’s master plan continues to baffle, and the effortlessness with which he gets his way this week makes everyone else in the episode feel like helpless pawns.

It’s pretty ridiculous, but I still enjoyed this gritty, unrelenting episode. As characters drop left and right, 91 Days is starting to feel more and more like a Shakespearean tragedy set in the days of prohibition.

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91 Days – 06

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As Oigakkosan commented last week, 91 Days isn’t necessarily a bad show, but it can be a slow show, and Avilio’s revenge plot is undermined and robbed of immediacy by the show’s focus on Nero as co-protagonist. Neither of these problems is solved this week, as Avilio gets Fango in a room with Nero to plot the downfall of Don Orco.

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This isn’t that great a feat considering Orco possibly the dumbest mafia don in the world. I don’t care how tasty Lawless Heaven is. The fact that Nero (and Avilio!) are allowed to meet Orco in person is bad enough. But for Orco to let himself get cornered in a goddamn coal mine where his men are split up is even more negligent. Seriously, did this guy have a death wish?

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One thing I’ll allow is that after Avilio gives up the ghost about his true intentions, and then “kills” Nero, it’s well within reason for Orco to trust the guy, and even have a celebratory drink. But it wasn’t particularly bright of Orco to chug down the brown without making sure Avilio was doing the same. Just lots of stupidity on the big don’s part that kinda dulls the victory.

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What also dulls the victory? Fango is now the don, and he’s a lunatic. If anything, he’s worse than Orco, only now the deal with the Vanettis and Galassias is likely off. Unless I’m mistaken, he fed a lasagna made of Orco meat to all of his captains (either that, or he just poisoned them all).

In a very strange cut, Nero, Avilio and his crew are safe and sound, but also eating lasagna, hopefully not containing bits of Orco. Grossness aside, the show kinda screwed with us by having Avilio reveal his true goal before killing Nero, only for it to be part of a plan to help Nero. His revenge plan is slowly turning into a Rube Goldberg device.

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91 Days – 05

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After a rough, uneven road trip last week, 91 Days smooths out a bit as Nero is lured back home by the promise of a truce with Orco. Unfortunately for Nero, that truce is dependent on him dying, something his brother is willing to make happen for the good of the family, with Ronaldo’s blessing.

Nero smells something rotten in Denmark and bugs out of the meet-up, leaving him, Avilio, Volpe, Valbero, Colteo, and a wounded Tigre out in the wind. If Avilio isn’t careful, fate will take care of Nero before he can!

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Naturally, he’s not going to let that happen. He’s gotten this far in gaining Nero’s trust, and he needs to get closer to Don Vanetti before he’s satisfied. So he sneaks to the Island with Colteo and his fine, fine hooch, in order to parlay with Fango.

Nero wants nothing to do with Fango (since he believes he killed Vanno), but Avilio forces the issue, confident Nero’s loyalty to his friend Tigre overshadows his hatred of Fango.

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Fango doesn’t so much receive Avilio and Colteo so much as they’re delivered into his clutches by his lover. Fango claims to not want to do business with Avilio after what happened to Serpente, but unlike Nero, he’s only joking. Avilio offers Fango something he wants—Don Orco on a silver platter—in exchange for protection.

Never mind that Nero has no plan to nab Orco; as long as Fango thinks he has a plan, he won’t kill them all, which is the whole point. I for one am glad we’re seeing a more reasonable, less chaotic Fango who is willing to hear the enemies of his enemies out. Returning the Island is the best thing 91 Days could have done.

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91 Days – 04

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This week documents the adventures of Nero and Avilio on their road trip, with dwindling funds and a hitman on their tail. After the action, intrigue, and tragedy of the first three episodes, this…was a bit of a drag.

A road trip is an opportunity to spice things up, but the manner in which 91Days does this is scattershot and disjointed in nature. The guys have a little fun doing tricks for kids, but it’s too obviously a means to show Avilio the innocence he’s lost.

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Meanwhile, the lumbering Mexican hitman is about as one-dimensional as you can get; more a walking plot device to be defeated than a character. Fango, while evil, was a lot more interesting than this guy.

After managing a smile while around the kids, later in the night Avilio continues practicing his murder face while Nero remenices on his first job with the family, which was the night Avilio’s family was killed. Nero was the one who shot at Avilio as he ran. He realizes there were “three”, but I thought he already knew this.

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The episode kinda goes off the rails when the hitman making his move is played for laughs for some reason, complete with a slapsticky kick in the nuts, and failing to kill him by hitting him with the car (which is totaled by the impact).

Sure, the hitman is good at tracking, but never seems to apply his superhuman strength when he needs to. That, and the goofy comic tone to his pursuit near the end, really kills the tension.

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He tracks them to a barn late in the night, but once more, “Big Mexico” can’t get the job done. Nero empties a clip into him to no avail, but his well-thrown knife to the back gets the job done…only he gets right back up a few seconds later (only to be blown away by a shotgun-wielding Alex Trebek).

This wasn’t a total loss; Nero had some more adventures with Avilio, making their bond that much closer for when Avilio decides to make his move…but other than that, this was a pretty uneven episode.

There was a bad omen in the beginning, when a waitress’ eyes were pale blue one second and deep green the next. Unlike Nero with his juggling skills, a ball or two was dropped here.

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91 Days – 03

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Things went down much faster than expecting in last week’s outing, with Avilio taking out Vanno, only to have a gun pulled on him by Nero. Turns out Nero is willing to hear him out – if they can locate Serpente’s body.

We also meet Don Orco (or should I say Orca?), who is reeeeally particular about the butter content of his lasagna, as is Fango. Where they disagree is on the nature of the response to the apparent death of Serpente. Fango wants a war; Orco wants to make the Galassias happy.

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With an assist from Colteo, Avilio locates Cerotto, the guy who sold Serpente’s body to the prohibition official, and locates the place where the body is being stashed. Unfortunately, Fango spots Nero by pure chance (I know tinted windows weren’t around back then, but what about curtains?) and is led to the same place.

Avilio wears Serpente’s suit and a burlap sack on his head to fool Fango into giving up his Vanetti hostage, but like the hit on Fango, it goes sour. Fortunately, Avilio and Nero make it out unscathed; unfortunately, a war between the families is all but inevitable…which is just fine with Fango.

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After this latest ordeal, perhaps still stung by grief over losing his friend Vanno, Nero softens towards Avilio once more, even turning his back on him. When Nero’s brother insists he get the hell out of dodge until things blow over, Avilio volunteers to be his driver.

You can kinda tell Nero still isn’t anywhere near 100% sold on Avilio, but if he still suspects him of some kind of treachery, better to keep him close than let him operate out of sight. Avilio, meanwhile, has had nearly everything fall into his lap so far. Is the universe compensating for his past suffering?

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We indeed see the grief Nero feels for his fallen friend when he falls to his knees at the funeral. Avilio is sent back to the car, but he still turns back to get a good look at what he has wrought. At this point, he must be content not to give the game away until he’s wiped out the Vanettis entirely. Long game stuff.

Of course, with a call coming in to a hitman ordering him to go after Nero and Avilio, we can expect things to get even tougher for our antihero after his initial small victories.

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