Type, select all, delete. Rinse and repeat. That has been my experience of trying to write this review as I try to make sure full justice is bequeathed upon the epic series that is Gintama. Some may take offence to my mild fangirlism, others may nod their heads in agreement to virtually every word that spreads across the page; either way, this is merely one persons view of the show and will certainly not agree with every single AP’er out there. Sorry!
With so many completely unrelated and varied tales, it is difficult to pin down a single underlying story for Gintama. At first, it seems that the humans struggle against the alien amanto invading Earth would be the main focus, especially as the star is a wooden boken wielding ex-samurai. However, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to the black sheep of the shounen universes than just a hack and slash adventure. Take for example the madcap antics of the local law enforcement agency, the Shinsengumi; sadistically delicious Sougo is more distracted by trying to usurp the vice-commander than actually doing his job, whilst comically deformed Kondo (aka Gorilla) spends as much time running round in his birthday suit as he does admonishing the bad guys. The comedy may frequently outweigh the action, but this only goes to highlight the stupendous sword duels and furious fist fights.
Dividing the series into eight individual seasons, each final quarter holds a mini-arc that shows a glimmer of Gintama’s Jump origins. Although the battles don’t last for 3 episodes each, there is enough excitement and onscreen antics to keep even the biggest shounen fans hooked. With a character developing and butt-kicking Yoshiwara arc, there is a stark contrast with the Otsu Tournament that parodies numerous shows and frequently makes no sense whatsoever. To fully understand exactly what Hideaki Sorachi created in his manga, the viewer needs to have a good appreciation of Japanese culture and have seen a reasonable amount of anime across many decades. That said, there are enough references to modern culture to give every viewer a sense of belonging to the “in” crowd as they pick up on a Death Note parody, or spot a tongue in cheek mockery of Jackie Chan.
Two hundred and one episodes later and nothing has changed from the premiere, but that is what is so lovable about the Gintama universe; you come to feel as if you have friends in the alternate Edo, and get to know each personality inside out. The humour used throughout the show is relatively simplistic and puerile, but occasional regression is good for the soul and helps to keep you feeling young. It is this comedy that lulls the viewer into a false sense of security, and the writers take advantage by throwing in an episode that will truly stir feelings. Playing with emotions like a genius with a flugelhorn, a tear jerking short about a little girl and her loyal dog had me sobbing like loon before smashing me back to Earth with cause for damp-eyed laughter. All part of the job for Gintoki and the gang.
Probably one of the weakest points of the show, Gintama's animation remains consistently okay. The bold character designs and backdrops that fuse traditional Edo dress with modern technologies compliment the somewhat chaotic storytelling of the show. Unfortunately, this standard fare doesn’t attempt to push any boundaries, that is until the appearance of new enemy Kamui during the Yoshiwara arc. Suddenly, computer graphics are seamlessly used to emphasise the backgrounds during the fast pacing of frenetic battles and this gives the feeling of sprinting along rooftops with a ninja or being caught in the thick of the fight. It is unfortunate that these techniques were not used more often throughout the earlier years of the show, and as such the overall score suffers.
Featuring the sexy and dominant tones of Tomokazu Sugita, Gintoki may be a slacker but as a female, I can understand why the lusty Sarutobi finds him so attractive. Rie Kugimiya turns her usually shrill and annoying tones to the parody of a Chinese immigrant, Kagura; expertly conveying her feelings despite a somewhat emotionless personality, the alien and seiyuu make the perfect pairing! Scrolling through the rest of the cast gives a star studded “who’s who” of Japanese voice acting, and the quality afforded to even the minor characters ensures a high standard throughout.
Whereas the list of opening and ending tracks for Gintama are as fun and diverse as the numerous genres featured throughout the show, easily outstanding to my uneducated ears is the spunky rock track Donten by DOES. Summing up the wild shounen segments of the series, the catchy beat is full of energy that somehow invokes the spirit of dance. Well, in my household at least.
Somehow bringing the dregs of society to animated form, Gintama will easily make the stars of trashy reality shows, such as The Real World, look like 2-bit actors. Yes, Gintoki may be unemployed and unmotivated in finding himself work, but that is one of many reasons he is so lovable. As somewhat of a responsible figurehead, he proves that maturity is merely a state of mind and not something earned after an 18th birthday. Poor Shinpachi is left to play the straight man to the overenthusiastic big kid, managing it so well with his exasperated catchphrase of “Dondaka!” or simply regressing to his otaku form as he worships at the temple of the mouthy songstress, Otsu-chan. They may not always make complete sense, but you can’t deny that having them as real life friends would be awesome.
Of most worthy mention are the various members of the Shinsengumi. Souga’s twisted determination to dispatch of Hijikata in numerous indiscrete ways coupled with his indifferent nature is one of the many highlights of the show. Kondo, aka Gorilla, is ridiculed by both his peers and subordinates usually for his preference to show off his junk, however he does demonstrate a softer side as he tries every line in the book to pick up the tempestuous Otae. His constant failure to woo the object of his affections whilst striding around with a pixelated penis is frankly unsurprising, but humourous non-the-less.
Although the final headcount of characters featured within Gintama is quite impressive, what is even more amazing is that the careful interweaving of what seem like insignificant stories features the same faces again and again with surprising development for even the supporting cast members. Take Hasegawa: introduced initially as an unrivalled sniper, his numerous meetings throughout the series with the silver haired samurai see his life fall to pieces until Gintoki takes pity and tries (unsuccessfully) to find a job for the newest layabout.
About three years ago, I started watching Gintama, and in that time, the show kept its amazingly witty and blind-side swiping humour alive. For a series based on a Jump manga, I found it offers a lot more to a mature anime fan than its neighbouring Bleach or Naruto, even though some of the later arcs feature pure, unadulterated shounen. For me, it is this dynamic and unafraid approach to incorporate virtually every genre in anime that gives Gintama such a highly deserved score. In that time, I have laughed, cried, gasped in excitement and then laughed a lot more: the Benizakura movie just cannot come quickly enough.
In Gintoki's Japan, the arrival of the various space races known collectively as the Amanto ended the era of the samurai. The Amanto's highly advanced technology resulted in total conquest and a severe economic shift. Now, former samurai such as Gintoki scrape together whatever livelihood they can. Gintoki's profession of choice is that of a yorozuya: he'll complete any job for money. However, he’s unmotivated; and spending most of the day on the couch with the latest issue of Jump and a carton of Strawberry Milk is his preferred pastime. It turns out that his new unpaid employees, Shinpachi and Kagura, are going to interfere with his pastime even more than with his "work"! Of course, none of this means he has really given up on his samurai ideologies!
As a not-so-closet perv, I love watching anything involving panty-shots, handfuls of cleavage and an innuendo fuelled plot. Although most of my reviews will err on the risque, I also love the obscure, the twisted and things that make you think - drop me a line if you want to discuss any of them!