Special Thanks to BlueTotoro for Inspiring me to finally write this!
After 58 episodes and a movie, can’t I safely say Gintama’s gotten as good as people say it will? My friends…after what I’ve seen, I must conclude that Gintama hasn’t even begun to peak!
I can’t help but compare the series to the Benizakura, an artificially intelligent sword from the first movie that’s combat ability improves over time. Just as the sword learns with every battle, it seems that the writers of Gintama learned with every episode. Although I’m not close to finished, I’m confident that Gintama will continue to refine its comedic and dramatic edges with the whetstone of originality, just as it has done so far.
I used to have trouble finding episodes that captured Gintama’s varied strengths, but now, I mourn that I won’t be able to do justice to every amazing episode. Alas, I must try.
To me, Episode 43, “Make Characters so Anybody Can Tell Who They Are Just By Their Silhouettes” is the best episode so far. The premise alone is degenerate enough to get a laugh out of me. That is, that Kagura spies on her friends in the hopes of relishing their sadness at her disappearance. However, it’s the episode’s many departures into the ridiculous that make it stand out.
The episode is just filled with excellent writing. Each line serves as setup or punchline and rides the mood so perfectly in every moment, while knowing when to deviate from logic for comedic effect. Gintoki complains about the swelling of his “private place” due to his peeing on a worm instead of reflecting on Kagura’s absence. Yet, when Catherine reveals that her friend who also peed on a worm died, the absurdity of the statement is welcome for the fear we get to see Gintoki’s eyes. Who doesn’t love Gintoki’s quivering voice as he tries to rationalize the horror of his situation?
What is supposed to be a heartfelt moment when Otae-san apologizes reminding Gintoki about Kagura is immediately followed up by Otae-san unwrapping a large bottle of Sake and exclaiming “Let’s drink and forget!”. The rapid tone shift here makes the scene, but is logically consistent with Otae-san’s intentions.
That said, the episode also knows when to disregard logic entirely for the sake of comedy, and it’s entirely welcome. Hasegawa recommends going to an attractive Urologist for Gintoki’s “private” swelling, and Gintoki thinks it over while while sipping his soup, meaning it’s a private thought, but yet we still hear the frustrated Kagura respond to his thought with “Go wherever!”. There’s no reason that Kagura should be able to hear Gintoki’s thoughts, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s funny anyway.
Another setup is established when Otae-san says she thinks of Kagura as a little sister. Kagura chokes back tears off screen while Otae-san elaborates that she used to dress up Shinpachi as a little girl because she always wanted a sister. A brief pause and pan over to the oblivious Shinpachi reveals him singing “Chome! Chome!” with the accompaniment of the loud TV. Meanwhile, his beloved sister cries at the bar and Kagura screams internally that he’s not paying attention to his sister (of course, Kagura only cares about herself, because everyone’s selfish). To top this ridiculous scene off, Otae-san cries out to her late father, asking why he had to leave. “This whole thing was all about her father?”, asks the disillusioned Kagura, hoping someone actually cared about her for once.
The episode climaxes with Otae-san, Sa-Chan and Catherine fighting over the role of new heroine for the anime. Otae-san pretends to condemn Sa-Chan and Catherine for their frivolous behavior, but simultaneously sneaks in an “-aru” at the end of her sentence, which is a hamfisted attempt to endear the audience with a faux chinese accent so that she can become the heroine. Picking up on this strategy, Sa-Chan and Catherine also begin adding nonsense words to the end of their sentences. The hypocrisy of Otae-san goes just as well with her innocent smile as her usual violence, and seeing the Sa-Chan and Catherine follow suit makes it all the more reprehensible, absurd, and hilarious.
The contest for heroine then devolves into a depraved “best girl contest” in which Catherine is immediately eliminated due to her lackluster looks, and Sa-Chan and Otae-San duke it out for the rest of the episode. Here we see drunk Gintoki, Shinpachi and Hasegawa all give their criteria for what makes a good “heroine”. Most funny, we see Hasegawa strike a gendo-pose as he explains the importance of “elasticity” while visuals of gelatin-like cakes are shown on screen. I thought this was a kids show? Not only is this funny because we get to see what each male character values in a girl (for Shinpachi, it’s all of Otsu-chan’s qualities), but it seems like a deviation from comedy that airs on the side of “kid-friendly”.
Like I said, to me, this mess of absurdity is the gold standard for Gintama so far. There really isn’t that much in the way of plot, drama, or action, but the comedy is unrestrained and great. I really just can’t get enough. However, I know that the serious (and half-serious) arcs are what give these characters the personalities that allow them to go off on wonderful tangents like this, so I hope as they get more established the show can take even more freedom with them.
Although this twisted version of “it’s a wonderful life” is the comedic highlight of episodes 41-60, there are plenty of other great moments in there as well. In Episode 46, in which Otae San and her rival attempt to out earn each other as hostesses, watching Kondou being helplessly drained of his money by Otae San when he should be in the position of power is hilarious. The demonic florist in episode 47, who really means no harm but frightens the Yorozuya with his appearance, is also hilarious; his offerings of friendship appear as certain death in the eyes of Yorozuya.
However, Episodes such as 53, in which we meet the female firefighter Tatsumi remind us how touching the show can be. We learn of a serial arsonist who turns out to be Tatsumi’s superior, a fellow firefighter. He lights buildings aflame because he wants to push her out of their dangerous line of work. He saved her from a fire at a young age, but couldn’t save her parents, and he wants her to avoid the pain that comes from that not being able to save everyone. All this drama in the same episode that Gintoki tells of putting out his jump fires by peeing on them, which he refers to as his “holy water”. This episode serves as an incredibly touching introduction to Tatsumi and serves as another example of Gintama’s ability to add humor to the more serious moments of the show.
Then there’s the arc with the mother character, who desperately wants to find her son. He changed his face and became a host, a line of work that although he does honestly, he finds shameful. The mother pretends that she doesn’t know who her son is, but as she departs Edo, the son recieves a letter and some homemade food from her. The frivolous women around him mock the food for its simplicity, but later, we see him eating the food alone and crying over the letter, which confirms that his mother loves him and accepts him for who he has become, all while the classic Gintama tear-jerking music plays in the background.
Episodes like these two highlight Gintama’s skill in genre variety, but what really shows off this skill is the Gintama movie. It immediately shows that it will pull no punches with the brutality of its violence. Katsura is (seemingly) murdered in a classic Samurai crossup, where blood spurts from him like water out of a fire hydrant. Later, we see Gintoki stabbed through the midsection with similar bloody showmanship. Further, it is implied that Kagura is shot in the head. There is a moment when it seems plausible that all three characters could be dead, even though it’s quite obvious this isn’t the case. Despite this dark tone, however, there are plenty of jokes and quips made by the characters; specifically the creepy old guy who claims several times “I’m not a lolicon, I’m a feminist” and also remarking that it would be a shame to see Kagura die, for she would “peak” in just two years.
Of course, delivering on the variety that Gintama so often brings isn’t the only thing that makes the movie special. Also noticeable is the quality increase in animation and sound design that really bring the fight scenes to a new level. Also, the AI sword that learns from every battle is a cool sci-fi concept of the kind that I hope Gintama will toy more with as the series continues.
Even though I don’t watch Gintama for the fight scenes, the movie made me reflect that the show areas it could improve on… and that got me thinking about its bigger flaws.
THE LESS GOOD
For every 5 episodes I’m laughing throughout, there’s about 1 in which my eyes are glazing over. These episodes typically share the problem of being too cookie-cutter.
In Episode 44, the Yorozuya and Sa-Chan face various ninjas and traps that stand in their way. The fight choreography and animation quality is good, but I don’t care that much for the intermediary battles such as this. In my mind, the ideal Gintama is just ridiculous comedy all the way through with the occasional epic arc or combat moment to remind me of the shows variety. Entire episodes dedicated to this kind of thing aren’t my preference, but because the jokes in this episode are quite funny, it doesn’t bother me all too much.
What’s troublesome is when the jokes are missing and I’m not engaged in the conflict. Luckily, I can only think of a couple of examples of this from these last 20 episodes, one of which is the gambling showdown episode in which Gintoki and Hasegawa face off against a gambling queen. I remember having a hard time following the rules of the game they were playing, so I didn’t really care about the stakes as they seemed made up, and I was utterly bored due to a lack of good jokes. The funniest part of this episode was the title card: “A Life Without Gambling is like Sushi Without Wasabi”. I also recall a particularly boring episode in which the Yorozuya fight a man on the top of a robot or something, which I was so bored during that I don’t remember the name.
However, even these lackluster episodes are more “meh” than “bad” and have redeeming qualities, like character chemistry, that carry through every episode
Overdone Soundtrack and Overreaction From Characters
Dramatically, the soundtrack is stellar, but during comedic moments, it really starts to wear on me. I don’t need a blaring trombone going “Wahh wahh wahh” to know that the tone of the scene has shifted. It doesn’t happen every time, but occasionally the soundtrack kills a joke for me. As far as the overreaction from characters, anytime a character is doing something ridiculous, such as when they make an absurdist comment, there has to be someone else to yell at them for how ridiculous they’re acting. Similar to the overly dramatic music, I think its purpose is to telegraph a joke, but it’s really not necessary for most people to get the joke. I admit, sometimes it’s funny, but I hope these elements are relied on less in the future.
I sometimes wonder if these issues occur because Gintama really is meant to appeal to all ages. Gintoki points out many times that they have to “keep it safe for the kids” and “make sure the kids understand” and that may be what’s getting in the way of delivering a joke in an understated way. Of course, this is someone who is a fan of the dry style of humor present in something like The Office, so it could just be a matter of taste.
Overall, Gintama has struck gold with its use of comedy and dashes of drama, action, and everything in between to create a show that feels incredibly well rounded. Whatever mood I am in, I feel that Gintama will be satisfying in some way. However, this isn’t to say that it did so on accident, but that there is some sort of synergy or craftmanship within its writers that has allowed it to achieve such a feeling. Further reinforcing that this can’t be an accident is that the show just keeps getting better and better, and smoother and smoother. I feel like the current OP really captures just how all of the characters, specifically the Yorozuya, are falling into their main roles incredibly well and each have a distinctive personality. Furthermore, the show is becoming more and more comfortable with its identity of being carefree and having the willingness to abandon complex plot for ridiculous premises that are just bursting with great jokes. There is an element of lifelikeness born from Gintama’s exploration of multiple genres that’s reminiscent of authors like Dostoyevsky, Nabokov and Tolstoy. That an anime is able to capture the seriousness and triviality of life and express it not only consistently but with increasing skill speaks volumes to the craft of the anime, and I can only expect it to get better from here.
P.S Yah this is long and winding… but I had a lot of thoughts about Gintama. What can I say. 😛