91 Days: In defense of vengeance

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Violence begets violence. On a cold, winter night, Angelo’s family was murdered in cold blood right before his own eyes. Seven years later, Angelo is now Avilio Bruno, and he’s out for revenge. The young, brash Nero Vanetti is our hero’s target. But you can already see the web of violence slowly being woven. In order to get his quest for vengeance off the ground, Avilio enlists the help of his childhood friend Corteo. Corteo’s a bootlegger, and his moonshine can fetch a high price. This is the perfect ticket to get Avilio’s foot in the door. It’s unlikely, however, that Corteo will escaped from this unscathed, and Avilio’s thirst for justice may have unintended consequences. Not only that, their run-in with the unhinged Fango has not only earned our hero a new enemy, but the incident will no doubt draw the attention of the Orco family. For seven years, Avilio has perhaps meticulously planned out his revenge. But as we can easily see from just the first episode alone, things can and will quickly spiral out of control. Had it not been for Corteo’s quick thinking and knowledge of chemistry, Avilio might have died in that bar today. And yet, it’s probably too late for him to turn back. After seven years of harboring and nurturing his hate for the Vanetti family, he’s not going to just abandon his quest now. Still, it’s hard to see Avilio emerging from this story a happier, more fulfilled man.

People always say, “Revenge won’t solve anything. It won’t make you feel better.” Avilio’s family was murdered, and the perpetrators are still unpunished. He feels the need to restore balance to the universe. He desires justice. But again, revenge escalates violence, and in the end, what will a bloodbath solve? This is why we are often told to turn the other cheek. It is said that in revenge you’ll only draw even with your fellow man. If you can forgive, however, you will be superior. Studies have even shown that restorative justice — not retributive justice — is better at helping victims achieve lasting peace. I will suggest, however, that this all assumes an ideal society. Now, an ideal society isn’t a society without crimes. After all, humans are far from perfect, so how can an ideal society of flawed individuals be without crimes? Humans will err. Humans will hurt others. It stands to reason that in an ideal society, injustices will still occur. What it means to be an ideal society, however, is that those injustices will be rectified. An ideal society has laws in place to protect its people, and when those laws are broken, the state is empowered to mete out punishment. And in an ideal society, the punished will presumably learn from their mistakes, accept responsibilities, make amends, so on and so forth. The victims learn to forgive, and we can thus break the cycle of violence. But what if you don’t have an ideal society?

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At the end of the day, someone still has to be punished. Restorative justice does not entirely preclude punishment. The idea there is that the perpetrator learns the full weight of his or her crimes, and the guilt alone is its own punishment. So any notion that punishment can be avoided completely is pure naivete. We just hope to avoid violence, because again, violence supposedly begets violence. But what if you live in a non-ideal society? What if you live in a lawless one? It isn’t an accident that Avilio finds himself returning to a district that is literally named Lawless. There’s little to no hope of restorative justice in a pocket of the world dominated by organized crime, so what other choices does our hero have? What can he do but turn to retributive justice? Therein lies the moral appeal of vigilantes and superheroes. Superheroes would not exist if the state could adequately maintain peace and order. We wouldn’t need Batman if Commissioner Gordon could catch the Joker by himself. Every superhuman story presumes a state that is no longer capable of enforcing its laws and meting out punishment. So yes, it is very, very unlikely that Avilio will find any satisfaction by the end of this story. But the punishment must fit the crime.

Even organized crime syndicates like the mafia feel the all-too-important need to maintain order amongst themselves. This is why you have hoodlums like Fango. Their job is to strike fear into their enemies, and send a message: “This is retaliation. Don’t cross us again if you don’t want trouble.” In a way, this is a form of revenge, and it doesn’t merely seek to make things right, i.e. restore justice for the alleged victims. Rather, this act of revenge also serves as a warning; it tries to prevent future wrongdoings from occurring in the future. In doing so, these organized crime syndicates strike a precarious balance. They exist to break society’s laws and thus profit from their crimes, but as long as these families stick to their own territories, peace and cooperation exist between them in a bastardized way: “If you don’t mess with us, we won’t mess with you.” In a twisted sense, revenge can have beneficial effect on various groups. Can we extend this line of thinking to extreme acts such as murder? 91 Days has tragedy written all over it. Avilio looks as though he’ll stop at nothing to get his revenge, and this quest may very well break him. He may have doomed his childhood friend as well. The personal cost of revenge is likely far greater than its rewards. But what about the greater good?

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It’s hard to imagine that there’s a greater good in vengeance, but again, this is not an ideal society. This is a lawless one where the strong preys on the weak. Avilio’s quest for revenge is thus a way to tip the scales in the other direction. After all, the ideal society seeks to protect the weak among us. Our hero may not exist in an ideal society, but that is why he’s a vigilante. Otherwise, he could just turn to the authorities. But with nobody to turn to, he’ll have to impose order on a lawless society in his own way. Even though order may exist between the various families, within each family’s respective territories, they rule with an iron fist. And as rulers, justice doesn’t apply to them. The strong can prey on the weak because they don’t fear retaliation. Avilio’s family was murdered in cold blood, because the killers could get away with it. It wasn’t a crime of passion. The men who shot his family won’t feel guilt or make amends. 91 Days doesn’t exist in that sort of world. The killers made a calculated risk. Even if Avilio’s father Testa had turned over the ledger, they were likely going to kill his family anyway. Our hero’s only option in a lawless society is to send an invaluable message of revenge. It is a warning to these families that even if you prey on the weak, there will be retaliation.

A few quick and minor comments to wrap up this post… so far, 91 Days has a pretty compelling story. After all, who doesn’t like a good revenge? If I have to nitpick, the animation is pretty average. The muted colors make sense considering the story’s overall tone, but the art direction itself doesn’t really stand out. The bar, in particular, was a bland and featureless room. On the outside, the architecture feels small and rather unremarkable. There’s not much character to the setting, which is something the anime could really take advantage of. Perhaps the buildings exudes a sense of oppressiveness, for instance. I just want more from the visuals. On the audio side of things, the musical tracks that played during the OP and ED sounded nice (and Godfather-esque, I suppose), but the rest of the episode was forgettable. The soundtrack didn’t really do as much as it could to heighten the tension in either the murder in Avilio’s home nor the chaotic shootout in the bar. Finally, the voice acting for the tough guys have the problem of blending together. They all have that same deep, raspy voice and that same gangster inflection. I don’t have trouble distinguishing the various speakers, but it just ends up sounding homogeneous. But yeah, technical issues aside, 91 Days is off to a solid start. Let’s hope it can maintain this momentum.

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8 thoughts on “91 Days: In defense of vengeance

  1. sonicsenryaku

    easily my favorite summer anime premiere. I just hope it can keep the quality up. I really dig the presentation of the narrative; it looks like it’s going to be structured like a long movie rather than a seasonal series

  2. ioncarryon

    “Studies have even shown that restorative justice — not retributive justice — is better at helping victims achieve lasting peace.”
    I would caution against leaning on studies of most any kind when considering subjects as beyond the calculator as “justice” and “peace”. All too often those behind the study have a very splintered perspective on what justice truly is; these people rarely segregate “revenge” and “vengeance” aka “retribution”. More often they see the two as the same subject while segregating instead the matters of “vengeance” and “justice”, which when properly applied are one in the same.

    Obviously I have a bit of bias, which most all of us do, but the proper definition of retributive justice, or the retributive theory of punishment, as properly applied to society, always has incorporated the one thing I noticed your article lacking, E Minor:

    Capital Punishment

    As you said yourself: “But the punishment must fit the crime.” But the punishment cannot be meted out by and according to the victim’s reaction to their victimization. This is where the phrase “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” is true, yet where it falters is when this phrase is attributed to capital punishment, that is, justice/vengeance itself. Vengeance must be meted out, punishment must be exacted, but by whom? If by the victim’s hands then surely they, in their state, are unable to clearly discern what is just since they are acting upon their reaction and not based on sound understanding of what is proper retribution, proper justice.

    Also we must understand that punishment is not merely there for the victim/victim’s family but also for the whole of society. The moment we divide justice from vengeance is the moment we redefine justice, and when we do this we inevitably seek two things:
    1. a new moral system
    2. a new reference source for checking this new moral system
    This is where we today have the gross misunderstanding that every punishment can only be understood as “DETERRENT” and/or “CURE”, rather than foremost if the punishment is rightly “DESERVED”.
    In this way we seek a new definitional system of morality, of right and wrong, of good and evil, and in our pursuit for redefinition we lean entirely not on our first principals, the knowledge of good and evil, but on the “expert’s” knowledge. We, who are just as knowledgeable as the criminal due to us also being natural men with those first principals (an example of which is “do as you would be done by”, etc.) are now removed from judgement on right and wrong, divorced from the discernment once required to see what is DESERVED, because we do not bear the same knowledge as the “experts”, who fast become the sole heralds and guardians of the redefinition of justice.

    I could go on, but I encourage you to view a far wiser and more eloquently spoken explanation of the dangers of the “humane” approach to punishment, and thereby justice as a whole.
    The best explanation you may find (definitely the best one I have found) comes from C.S.Lewis in his writings “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”

    On an adjacent note, it does not take an ideal society to harbor justice; an ideal society harbors *only* justice.
    It merely takes a functional society to harbor justice, with those who have authority using that authority given to them for the sake of those over whom they have authority. Or to put it simpler, a functional society has a functional system of governance, with the majority of governors governing fairly and the majority of judges judging on sound understanding of morality.
    In this way there will be corruption and injustice (because we are merely men being governed by and thereby governing other men), but so long as the injustices remain lesser than the justices, and so long as the corruption remains inferior to the retribution, society can function without upheaval.

    P.S. “Turn the other cheek” was hyperbole utilized by Jesus when teaching against the notion of exacting revenge on one’s own accord. In Christian theology, we are absolutely prohibited from exacting vengeance by our own hand, because as God, the God who instituted the law “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life”, very clearly states numerous times:
    “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay.”
    This factors into the judgment of the judges of the ruling authority over the peoples, judges who were given their authority to rule by God, and to rule justly in accordance to the justice of God, who again gave them the authority to rule.
    This is why God makes terrible statements of judgment against the corrupt leaders, rulers and the like (and especially the religious priests of ancient Israel); they are held to a higher standard and given the measurement that was given to them to measure by–that is, they were to be the ones to, on behalf of the victimized and on behalf of the One who gave them their authority, mete out the just vengeance of God. For these men to become corrupt is to essentially in-action proclaim God unjust. Let’s also not forget that, in Christian theology, God adores the weak and frail dearly and loves all His creation, so for those in authority to abuse the frail and weak, the victimized and orphaned and widowed, etc., is to directly incite the ire of God.

    TL;DR for THIS P.S.: “Turn the other cheek” is on an individual level, on the personal level (and collective through the personal [that is, the victimized one and the family of the victimized one]), and it does not mean “give yourself happily to your rapist/hand your spleen to your stabber” but rather “be empty of personal malice and the carnal hunger for revenge, and to not retaliate with violence, so that you are utterly innocent of wrong”.
    Since vengeance is a forgone conclusion to the Christian worldview, since God is perfectly righteous and WILL mete out the punishment deserving of the crime, we are to focus on innocence, purity and godliness rather than personal wrath, violence, or the like.

    “Turn the other cheek” does NOT refer to the governance of justice over the peoples nor does it at all imply that one should avoid taking their rapist or murderer to court/helping the police apprehend them. We are beholden to justice and righteousness, but not personal revenge. That’s the point of that teaching.

    1. E Minor Post author

      You need to be clearer with your points. This comment is just ambling on and on about anything you perceive as a slight. For instance:

      nor does it at all imply that one should avoid taking their rapist or murderer to court/helping the police apprehend them.

      Nowhere do I imply this. If you’re not attributing that argument to me, then what is your point?

      All too often those behind the study have a very splintered perspective on what justice truly is

      As I stated in my post, restorative justice helps victims find lasting peace better than retributive justice. That’s what the data shows. Nowhere do I suggest that we should govern only on this factor. You’re bringing your own personal baggage into this since you obviously have an axe to grind about a lot of left-leaning ideas.

      1. ioncarryon

        Hey now, wait a minute, I’m sorry if I came off as though I was offended or something. I genuinely wasn’t and that was not my intention at all. I just wanted to cover every point to be made as fully as possible on the subjects brought up which stood out to me. Maybe my capitalizations led you to think I was angry, but I really was only using them for emphasis not as a means of outburst. I don’t know how to italicize or bold on this site in the comments (though I think I figured out how to strike-out by accident).
        Please don’t take my post to mean I was outraged by you, mate; I just wanted to add to and clarify things, which is possibly why you thought I was rambling. I just went from one point to another in the same post instead of making three posts. haha

        “If you’re not attributing that argument to me, then what is your point?”
        I wasn’t. Again, I was making clear for you and anyone else who happened along my comment the actual intention of that teaching, that it’s not a matter of negating justice or denying retribution and that it’s on a personal level rather than a governmental one–which is something a lot of people get wrong when they abuse it and stretch it to encompass a denial of Capital Punishment.

        “That’s what the data shows.”
        “As I stated in my post, restorative justice helps victims find lasting peace better than retributive justice.”
        Mate, whether you realize it or not, these two statements are exactly the advocacy that we SHOULD govern primarily to this factor since it would seem that “restorative” is “better” than “retributive”.
        And I didn’t mention this before, but I hope you understand that both the “remedial theory of justice” and the “retributive theory of justice” are equally “restorative”, so I don’t understand what you mean by “restorative” as both aim and claim to restore things back from the crime which was committed.

        Also note that the issue of punishment and justice does not only factor in when looking to the effects this has on the victim’s peace. First and foremost is the issue that law was violated.

        My point is that justice is the focal point, the main issue, above either criminal or victim in any scenario. The fact that justice, the law, has been violated is what matters most. In a way you could say that justice/law is the ever-present third party in all crimes and the issue of how best to restore HER is our main goal (after all, that’s why the law is held to such a standard that even clear criminals can go free if the process of investigation and trial becomes corrupted and vice versa).

        Both the vengeance of the victim and the just desert of the criminal are found united in this primary focus on restoring justice/law, properly meting out the retribution (or remedy) for the sake of the law’s violation. We are each beholden to law greater than ourselves, greater than our desires and even our justifiable outrage, and when we violate that law we are *deserving* of punishment. The only question is–what methodology will bring about the soundest foundation of justice while making it hardest to pervert justice with that same method.

        Remedial or Retributive… Both proclaim to be restorative, but which one is best?
        Best for the victim? For the law? Best even for the criminal?
        This is the reason I suggested watching the C.S.Lewis presentation on the nature of justice and why the apologetic actually argued in favor of retributive justice for the CRIMINAL’S SAKE.

        Again, I don’t know how to italicize or bold so please don’t think I’m yelling or angry, and I’ve said before that I use “” quotation marks not to mock but to identify or make those terms stand out.

        “You’re bringing your own personal baggage into this since you obviously have an axe to grind about a lot of left-leaning ideas.”
        E Minor, I’m sure this is a result of you understandably misinterpreting my CAPS and “quotes” as offense and outrage, since I’m not at all doing this and I have no axe to grind whatsoever.

        I’m actually excited to talk about this subject! Especially with someone who actually thinks on these things instead of just regurgitating what’s been fed to them over the years. I have wanted to at least even brush against this subject for so long with people who actually care or aren’t uppity about an opposing view, but because I hold this view and, even more frequently, because I’m “Christian” (again, making it stand out, not mocking it) people even my age either bad mouth me, accuse me of some wrong or false view, attack my faith or just ignore me since “Oh, that’s just a Christian who believes in sky daddy so nothing he has to say is relevant”. (that was a paraphrase, obviously haha).

        So honestly, please, I hope you understand that if I was offended I certainly would say so, and if I meant to cause offense I also would say so–but I’m not a jerk, I genuinely like you and this site, and I’m excited to have spoken about this.

        Please watch the video with this consideration in mind, E Minor. I’m not at all out to ravage or mock or swing axes.

  3. Karandi

    91 Days definitely got my attention in the first episode. I really hope they manage to build a compelling story. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this anime and its themes.


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