Series: Gintama, part I

Year: 2006
Original Creator: Sorachi Hideaki
Director: Fujita Yōichi [eps. 100-201, Gintama’, its relaunch, and the second film], Takamatsu Shinji [eps. 1-99]
Seiyū: Sugita Tomokazu (as Sakata Gintoki), Sakaguchi Daisuke (Shimura Shinpachi), Kugimiya Rie (Kagura), Nakai Kazuya (Hijikata Tōshirō), Ishida Akira (Katsura Kotarō)

If you’re a Westerner and you’ve seen any of One Piece, Naruto, or Bleach, chances are that you’ve dedicated your energy to completing only one of these. (This is my “you only get one” theory.) Gintama has so many episodes as to seem equally inscrutable, but I still don’t quite count it in this category. Mostly for the fact that if you’re a Westerner and casual anime fan, you probably haven’t seen this series at all, if you’ve even heard of it.

Well. I’m here to proselytize.

If you have any respect for the medium, you should be watching this series.

My first experiences with this show are actually chronicled on this very site; since then it has rocketed into first place among my favorite anything. It’s got everything: well-paced comedy, awesome action, heart-wrenching drama. 265 episodes in and each one of these aspects still manages to surprise me; I’m still laughing out loud, I’m still crying like a dumped girlfriend, I’m still cursing at how is this still so goddamn good.

Initially it was the “dumb world” that roped me in, but within a few episodes it had shifted to the characters; so strong is their draw that the world they inhabit doesn’t matter anymore. Anywhere else and they’d be just as clever, just as funny, rich with integrity and personality. They are certainly the primary reason I am in love with Ginto—. . . Gintama.

The protagonist is an adult. Gintoki drinks and suffers hangovers, he gets pestered about rent, doctors advise him to watch the sugar intake, bodily functions don’t embarrass him or make him burst into laughter. (Extended discussions of bowel movements are somehow more grown-up, and certainly more representative of real life, than sidestepping the issue.)


And perhaps most remarkable for a shounen series is that sex is not only acknowledged to exist—S&M fetishists, STIs, paternity scares, and all—but the protagonist himself is sexually active and unafraid of broaching the subject.

Shinpachi [upon catching a crazy alien fish]: What’s this!? Since the Amanto came, the Earth’s ecosystem has gotten so . . . weird.

Gin: Never mind that. Put it in the bucket.

Shinpachi: What?! You’re going to eat this?!

Gin: Of course I am. Anko’s tasty and natto’s tasty, right? The more grotesque it looks, the better it tastes when you eat it. . . .

ugly woman

Gintoki, you dirty bird. To the sufficiently innocent kid this would sound like a non sequitur. But come the fuck on, they’re fishing. He is also shown to be pretty responsible—while implying that he would otherwise be down, once when approached, he refuses sex because the woman is drunk. (. . .  though when he’s drunk it’s another story.)

Most of his friends (and enemies) are adults too. Some (several) smoke like chimneys. Some deal with the guilt of estranged families. Others feel hamstrung by the rules of their jobs, or struggle with gender identity.


Some openly complain of hemorrhoids.

Every character has flaws, which are for the most part totally common and normal flaws, with little melodrama to be found in that respect. Sixteen-year-old Shinpachi is the show’s everyman, so while quite average in most respects, he is overprotective of his older sister and still has growing up to do with regards to his attachment to her. Hasegawa is a nice guy but can’t keep steady work (perhaps due to his staunch unwillingness to remove his damn shades), and is struggling to win his wife back. Hijikata is one of the aforementioned chain-smokers and likes mayonnaise way too much, so that guy’ll definitely die of a heart attack at a young age. And Katsura is a terrorist likely also riddled with mental issues.


But we’ll get to that later.

The voice actors. We all know how I feel about Sugita Tomokazu, but he is by far not the only gem among the cast. Deadpan delivery is the bread and butter of their banter, with some of the best from Nakai, Ishida, and Koyasu Takahito (Takasugi)—but the award goes to Suzumura Ken’ichi (Okita), who dual-wields disdain and apathy with such skill that it must rank among the best perfomances across all media. Not to be hyperbolic.


Miki Shin’ichirō (Sakamoto) is Urahara again but somehow more aloof, with a trademark laugh that hits just the right level of “fucking annoying” to come off as charming. Koyasu similarly strikes a perfect balance between commanding, creepy, and crazy (as he is wont to do, cf. JoJo) that makes his character perhaps the most compelling villain in the series thus far. There’s a reason the Benizakura arc was converted to a movie.

Takasugi “Crazypants” Shinsuke

Special mention goes to Yusa Kouji (Tōjō) for absolutely stealing scenes, especially later in the series. There is one episode in particular where his voice acting is so believable that I have to wonder if Sugita is actually repeatedly slamming his face into a toilet bowl.


Then there are meta jokes in the form of casting, like Gintoki’s rival Kintoki being voiced by Sugita’s Real Life BFF Nakamura Yuuichi. (Not to mention the linguistic implications were Kintoki to be the star of the show.) His performances are usually rather lackluster, but he “does” an impressive Sugita in this role. And in a particularly aware gag episode, Gin himself dubs over a few of Matsudaira’s lines.


If only I had the $99 required to embed audio here.

This character’s seiyū (Wakamoto Norio) is a staple impression among Japanese actors (think Chris Walken levels of pervasiveness), but Sugita is known to have an especially good one (the Jay Mohr, let’s say—no really, fuck Kevin Pollak). (Cf. also Tokyo Encounter episode 7. Sakurai and Nakamura [yes, that Nakamura] aren’t too shabby either, but Sugita takes the cake.)

The depth behind the action. Yeah. It’s funny and all. But it has every capability of being badass. The comedy dilutes the action such that it doesn’t wear thin, as it often can in action-prone shounen series, so when things get serious it’s far more affecting. Funny or heartwarming “slice of life” episodes also serve as grounds for character development, free of pressure or melodrama; it’s almost as if you, the viewer, are making friends with the characters yourself. And the better you know a character, the more you understand what it is they’re about—then the more emotionally invested you feel in the outcome of their battles.


Let’s talk about Kagura for a moment. Kagura is cute. She talks like a precocious toddler, eats like a growing boy, and twirls her umbrella like a carefree little girl. But as one of the last of a mercenary alien race, she’s also one of the most conflicted characters in the series. Only her iron-willed suppression of bloodthirsty urges allows her to appear as innocuous as she does. But she’s also fourteen years old, and her concerns are becoming more grown-up. While her refusal to bow to her race’s instincts was a simple choice as a child, she now struggles against a fear of herself and her own power. Which is totally fair, because when she snaps. . . .


Nothing gives me chills like watching Yato fight. They’re like wrecking balls, animated with almost physical impact; the fact that most of them are balls-out don’t-give-a-eff insane makes them even more fearsome, like supernatural predators given human form. Good luck talking them down.

In keeping with the pseudo-Bakumatsu setting, as a young’un Gintoki took part in the war against the aliens, becoming revered among his allies and legendary among his enemies as the Shiroyasha (approximately, White Demon). Though most of the time in-series Gin comes across as a lazy bum, when pressed he will revert to his old ways. Things rarely escalate this far; he’ll avoid a fight if he can, but he’s a papa bear at heart and will jump in when he feels something needs protecting. And boy howdy, if you cross the line, look the fuck out. There are, generally, three things that will trigger the Shiroyasha.


1. You threaten his friends.


2. You threaten a kid.


3. You threaten his parental figures.

Gintoki doesn’t fight with the same oomph as some of his alien enemies, but what’s appealing about him as a combatant is his comparative weakness. By all rights, he shouldn’t win against many (most?) of his opponents. And yet, by sheer force of tenacity, he does. Not by leveling up, or learning a crazy new technique, or calling forth ancient magic (well, with like one exception)—but by just getting up again. By picking up the splintered remains of his bokken. By adrenaline and a deep-seated, driving need to keep others safe.

And gods help you if you threaten all three.

Well. That seems like as good a place as any to stop for now.

Quick note about the images: the first four seasons (Gintama proper) were in 4:3, and apparently not HDified. After a break in airing, they came back in 16:9 for a second series (written as Gintama’, though it isn’t pronounced any differently) and apparently HDified. That should explain why the widescreen images here look far better than the rest. (Sorry . . . even the Personamachine has its limits.) After another break in airing, the new series, styled Gintama° (probably for legal/network reasons that will undoubtedly be addressed in-show), will be rolling out any day now and if it wasn’t clear already I COULD NOT BE MORE HYPED. Look forward to more reasons why I love Gintama in the days leading up to the series premiere on April 8th.


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