I’ve tried many comedy series in the past few years ranging from Seto No Hanayome (Got 2 episodes in and hadn’t chuckled once) Hayate No Gotoku (Decent opening episodes but wears thin pretty fast as it’s comedy focuses a bit to much on moe) Lucky Star (One of the few I’ve actually finished and sort of regret doing so) Ninomiya-Kun (Just not funny) and many I just haven’t even bothered with because of general disinterest in what they have to offer. It was with a dose of skepticism that I approached Gintama after having heard about it elsewhere and having seen so many comedy’s that just didn’t work for me I didn’t know if I was wasting my time. Now I’m glad I did.
Gintama has a plot in that a race of aliens called the Amanto have come to Earth in the time of the Samurai (when Edo was still the capital of Japan) and taken over Japan, bringing with them the modernization that the Meiji restoration was supposed to bring much earlier and at a much more rapid pace. Forget what you learned in your Japanese history class, in this series the sword ban takes place much like it should, but the Shinsengumi now walk the street with Bazookas and the Amanto’s airships cover the skies, casting a shadow of oppression over the population of Edo.
And yet through all of this the series is absolutely hilarious, be it main character Gintoki’s obssesion with Shonen Jump that guides much of his actions, to Kagura’s completely uncharacteristic (for an anime female) brazen behaviour, or even the Shinsengumi’s tendency to scream their own name out constantly as they are kicking down doors and causing enough collateral damage to make the cast of Lethal Weapon shake their heads. Normally this probably wouldn’t work for me, but their is also the juxtaposition of modern technology such as cars and television over a clearly Feudal Era time period that clicks with my knowledge of Japanese history and makes me laugh and say “What?! That can’t happen”. So the comedy unlike a lot of series is often multi-layered, appealing to different facets of my brains recognition of comedy all at the same time and thus earning the laughs.
The cast I should also mention deserves a lot of credit for working in concert to illicit the laughs as well. Gintoki as done by Sugita Tomokazu (who I normally hate, but for once seems cast properly in all his tendency to scream his lungs out at the most unexpected of moments) is a skilled Ronin Samurai who has a tendency to get himself into fixes and his personality, whose first inkling is to run away at the first sign of trouble, often clashes to hysterical results with Shinpachi’s more serious and noble style. Shinpachi, voiced by Daisuke Sakaguchi (Usso Ebbing in Victory Gundam) is supposed to be Gintoki’s student in their little group of mercenaries, but often seems to have to take charge due to Gintoki’s general laziness and disregard for taking anything serious no matter how urgent the matter. This often results in him losing his normally cool exterior and getting into shouting matches with Gintoki that I swear are ad-libbed by the two of them as you can never predict what either is going to say regardless of the context. In between both of them is Kagura, voiced by Rie Kugimiya in all her usual craziness, (believe me she’s perfect for this kind of role) who is a young (early teens) member of the Yato Clan, feared for their overwhelming physical strength and general viciousness. However, Kagura is anything but (except for the strength part in which case she is all but unstoppable) and doesn’t want to kill anybody. Instead she prefers to spend much of her time eating, picking her nose, mumbling to herself while a scene is going on and just plain being weird.
And through all of this the cast (There are many more quirky characters like the S&M ninja Ayame Sarutobi) comes together along with the “historical setting” to deliver an excellent bit of hilarity in my life each week. Their is intelligence, wit, toilet humour and bizzarness all wrapped into one package, but unlike many series that have tried this type of thing before, it feels balanced and there is never too much or to little of any element at any time. It to me flows in a similar vein as one of Sunrise’s other classic series called City Hunter (adapted from a manga as well), where cheeky comedy and action is balanced with a dose of seriousness and chemistry between the characters. Also some of the staff from Gintama also worked on Code Geass, which might help to explain at least a little the Cat Chase and Pizza Making Contest episodes of that series.
I would definitely recommend giving Gintama a try if one hasn’t already as it’s a really clever show that is currently airing or has aired it’s 100th episode today. You can also find it in your local North America comic book store as it’s been licensed by Viz for it’s Shonen Jump line of manga here. Though I would honestly recommend the anime over it just because you get to hear the cast (which is honestly at least 25% of where the fun comes from) doing their thing.