The Weekly Geekout: Gintama

By Marie-Pierre Renaud

In this science-fiction anime, Edo was recently forced to open its borders to the Amanto, alien races which defeated the samurai in battle. As a result, the samurai have been forbidden to wear and use their swords, their class is in decline and Edo’s society is undergoing deep changes. The anime provides a futuristic analogy of the mid 19th century, during which Japan was forced by the USA to re-open its borders to the Western World. The story follows the samurai Gintoki Sakata who runs a freelance odd jobs business with his friends Kagura, an alien from the Yato clan, and a local boy, Shinpachi Shimura.

This anime is epic. It is compelling. It is hilarious. It is a bit meta. It is completely gross.

You normally would not expect these different qualities in the same show. Yet Gintama has it all.

Several episodes and arcs are beautifully written, bittersweet, epic and compelling. In these, the characters demonstrate their surprising strength and resilience, defeating enemies much stronger than they at the cost of supernatural efforts and pain. Despite having to face incredible odds and obstacles, they remain hopeful and display the qualities of true heroes.

And then the following week, the characters may decide they are too lazy and bored to act the episode out. Or their body parts may have been transformed into screwdrivers. Or they may spend the episode devising evil mind games to fight for the crab meat in the hot-pot. The show goes from being intensely epic to being purely hilarious.

Gintama (Yorozuya ) by oblax17 on Deviantart

Gintama (Yorozuya )
by oblax17 on Deviantart

It also breaks the fourth wall on several occasions and the characters are being aware that they are staring in an anime. They make fun of strategies and narratives used in other animes, of the author of the Gintama manga and of the people working at the studio where the anime is created. They also often mention the apologies the head of the studio has to make in public after an episode of the show proved too distasteful. 

The show does get distasteful of course, and one who knows a little about Japanese culture will find it even more daring of the writers to create such content. Several episodes are simply gross, but always funny. Yet no matter how much characters are ridiculed, they always bounce back to their heroic selves. This makes the show even more interesting: the characters have complex personalities, they have flaws and imperfections, they grow and evolve.

Gintama by Chinchikurin on Deviantart

by Chinchikurin on Deviantart

The music is good, the animation is beautiful, and with each passing episode, you never know what to expect. And, I must say I enjoy the fact that all the strongest characters, apart from Gintoki himself, are female. Kagura, for instance, is a young girl who seems sweet and harmless, but she can beat almost anyone else in combat.

Don’t be scared by the high number of episodes (200+) and stick with the show. The quality only keeps increasing from one season to the other. And even if you are not normally a big fan of anime, this one may surprise you. It’s far from being typical.

Let me know what you think of this show!

About Marie-Pierre Renaud

I am an anthropologist living in Quebec city, Canada. I specialize in native studies and anthropology of health. I am a geek. I founded and now co-manage The Geek Anthropologist blog. I am working on transforming my memoir into a book and journal articles. I like to knit while watching Star Trek. Reach out to me for collaborations!

There are 2 comments

  1. dragonballgo

    Despite nifty re-packaging of the animated-feature formula–seemingly daring premise; casually multicultural, international story that’s seldom pandering; memorable hero–Home, for all its snappy colours and crackles of joy, never quite pops.


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