Gintama is an ongoing manga by Sorachi Hideaki. From 2006 to 2010, Sunrise, the same studio behind the Gundam franchise, did an anime adaptation which lasted for just over 200 episodes. So, does the anime manage to stay entertaining for that long, or even be entertaining at all? Let’s take a peek and find out.
There isn’t a single cohesive narrative to Gintama. There are some loosely connected arcs, and a whole lot of episodes that have nothing to do with those arcs, but there is no single narrative. The basic setup is that the world has been conquered by aliens, referred to in Gintama as “Amanto” and the government is still subservient to them. Samurai are no longer allowed to carry swords except for a few who work for the government or who have wealth and connections. In this world a samurai named Gintoki works by, in theory, doing odd jobs. Although that largely consists of him doing nothing. His crew consists of a youngster named Shinpachi, an Amanto girl named Kagura who possesses super strength and is highly vulnerable to sunlight, and a giant dog named Sadaharu, our cute character who requires ear scritches and belly rubs. Hijinks ensue as this group and the people around them get into shenanigans.
Let’s begin by looking at the problems with the series, shall we? By far the biggest issue is that the writing aesthetic is horribly inconsistent. Most of the episodes are highly random and intended for humour but when they get to the more story heavy arcs things take a huge shift into serious territory, sometimes including really heavy topics like sex trafficking, and it creates a huge tonal clash between episodes. You can’t segue from jokes about testicles and bloody rectums into a story about an underground city where children are sold to be raised as sex slaves. There is quite literally no way to make that transition so that it isn’t painfully awkward and completely disrespectful to the serious issue. It’s worse than that Captain Planet episode that dealt with AIDS. Sure, that was way over the series’ head too, but there wasn’t such a radical tonal problem. The tone isn’t the only thing that has problems with consistency, there’s also the continuity. There are three basic ways to do continuity. The first is having a strict, coherent continuity where everything matters. The second is to have a basic progression from one episode to the next but the details aren’t that important. The third is to toss continuity out the window completely, like Galaxy Angel. The problem with Gintama is that it does all three. Some episodes deal very much with continuity as being super important, others follow the more fast and loose route where there’s a progression but the details aren’t important and there are other episodes that don’t fit into any kind of continuity and will never be mentioned again after they’re over.
Now that we’ve been over that, let’s talk a bit about the comedy in this series that is, mostly, comedic. A lot of it is pretty puerile humour where someone defecates in their pants, or someone’s anus bleeds or where the punchline is something involving testicles. There are also a lot of bits where the characters will make loud references to some other piece of media and there are some other random bits of humour. The trouble is, a lot of it really isn’t funny. For example, there’s a running gag about one of the characters eating too much mayonnaise which is funny because… if he ate that much mayo in reality he’d weigh two hundred kilos and have to get around with a motorised scooter? There are two characters who pretty much exist for stalker jokes and there’s another running joke about Katsura getting annoyed by people calling him the wrong thing. There are times when the randomness can work and there are some points where they parody something competently instead of just making reference to it but they’re few and far between. I will give the series full credit for having some surprisingly clever deconstructions here and there, particularly when it comes to its treatment of trans-gendered characters.
Gintama has a large cast of reoccurring characters, but very little in terms of complex ones. Most of them are used for one or two jokes and that’s pretty much it. I will say that there’s nothing wrong with that for a comedic work. You can have a bunch of fairly one-note characters as long as they have dynamics that provide good comedic possibilities and you can take advantage of that. The problem is the more serious episodes. This cast would be perfectly passable if the series didn’t have those largely serious story arcs but when you take a bunch of relatively shallow comedic characters and try to do something fairly serious with them it just quickly loses any sense of tension and the characters come across as heavily under-developed, if not as completely out of place.
The artwork and animation are pretty decent. There are some cases where they recycle footage or show a background with nothing happening, which they will almost always lampshade, but it’s competently done. The action sequences can be pretty strong, both when they’re doing something largely serious and when they’re doing a jokey action scene.
The actors are pretty capable and no one does badly. However, the level of over-exaggeration in the series is really high and you might very well find yourself growing weary of listening to people shouting. The music varies. Sometimes it’s pretty good, sometimes it’s kind of annoying. Mostly, it’s just kind of bland.
There’s some in the series. There’s an openly lesbian character who shows up on a semi-regular basis and there’s a guy who is heavily implied to have romantic feelings for Sougo who shows up for a couple of episodes late in the series. There’s no reciprocation for their feelings, but they also aren’t used for jokes based on their sexuality. Some of the other characters act like asses about it at points, but the series itself doesn’t treat it as an issue. So, I’ll give Gintama some credit for treating its gay characters no differently than it does its straight characters. It is pretty refreshing, especially when you have “comedies” like Baka to Test that have to be as mean-spirited as possible about things like that.
Gintama has a real problem with consistency. Its tone is wildly inconsistent which can lead to some really awkward and stilted moments. It’s inconsistent with what it wants to do with its continuity. If you like humour that’s more than a little puerile and pretty random then you might still enjoy the series in spite of that and there are some things it does pretty decently but it’s honestly not my cup of tea in that regard. I just don’t find ninety percent of the attempts at humour to be amusing. As such, I have to give the series a 4/10. Next week we’ll have this year’s film festival. Starting with Kara no Kyoukai 6 on Sunday. Because I’ve looked at that franchise first during the last two years and I might as well do it this time as well.