How To Satisfy Your Curiosity About Gintama

by Amy McNulty,

When given the choice between the typical 12- to 13-episode anime, one that runs an additional cour or two, and a massive Shonen Jump series approaching 300 episodes, few people are likely to go with the final option. With over 280 episodes under its belt, Gintama may seem intimidating to new fans. Even the most ardent otaku is liable to have trouble finding the time to knock out such an extensive backlog of material. That being the case, if you haven't followed the series from the beginning, thinking it's too late to jump into Hideaki Sorachi's revisionist history comedy is perfectly understandable. However, if you decide to pass on Gintama, you'll miss out on one of the funniest anime of all time—and a series with occasional engaging action and heartfelt character-driven drama.

Luckily for first-time viewers, Gintama isn't a continuity-heavy affair. There's an overarching plotline and a few recurring antagonists, but these elements only take center stage once in blue moon. Getting to know the characters one by one as they're introduced lends extra enjoyment to the various relationships and interactions, but it's not as essential as you might think. (Here's a shortcut: Almost all of the key players are self-centered, prone to fits of anger and involved in one-sided romances.) In fact, rather than starting from the beginning and slowly getting to know them one by one, I'd go so far as to suggest that first-timers dive right in to some of the best stand-alones the series has to offer. These episodes perfectly exemplify the unique brand of humor that shapes the series and don't require an advanced understanding of the bigger picture to enjoy.

Episode 25

If you've watched enough anime, chances are you're familiar with nabemono: a Japanese dish consisting of various meats, veggies and tofu boiled in a hotpot full of broth at the dining table. This iconic dish is meant to provide friends, family members and business acquaintances with an opportunity to sit around a shared table and bond over a meal. However, in the world of Gintama, things like “friendship” and “bonding” often take a backseat to wanton self-interest. “A Shared Soup Pot is a Microcosm of Life” features very limited animation and takes place entirely around a hotpot, as Sakata Gintoki, Shimura Shinpachi and Kagura plot to claim the most coveted part of the dish—the meat—for themselves.

Don't be fooled by the misleading discussion about a clip show at the beginning of the episode. (Gintoki's perpetual concern with keeping his show on the air results in frequent breaches of the fourth wall.) Each member of Odd Jobs Gin-chan wants the others to get caught up in reminiscing about previous episodes, enabling him or her to snatch the meat unnoticed. However, they're all too hungry and devious to take the bait. As the wheels turn in each character's head, the meat in the hotpot becomes as valuable as the Holy Grail. As the episode wears on, various supporting characters arrive to further complicate the proceedings. Because Gintama is so good at injecting tension into situations that don't warrant it, the low-stakes battle this episode chronicles is every bit as engaging as a fast-paced shonen anime smackdown. Fans of this episode are also urged to check out episode 215, “The Claws of a Crab Can Snip through Friendship,” which serves as its spiritual successor.

Episodes 98-99

Even in the Gintama world, videogame console launches are synonymous with impossibly long midnight release lines. With the arrival of the Bentendo OwEe in “Play Video Games for Only One Hour a Day,” many of the series’ key players line up outside of an Akihabara-based electronics store to get their hands on one. From the die-hard gamer, to the parent getting one for his daughter, to the shrew opportunist who wants to sell the console for an inflated price online—every type of line-dweller is represented by the show's familiar faces. There are also the inconsiderate schemers who will do anything to cut in line—in this case, the Odd Jobs Trio, and they're not above acting out scenes from the anime version of Heidi and assaulting their acquaintances to move up a few spots.

Throwing caution to the wind, wanted Joi rebel Katsura “Zura” Kotarou and his pet/confidante/life partner Elizabeth line up to get their hands on the new system. However, much to Katsura's chagrin, the key members of the Shinsengumi are also in line, and their duty to uphold the law goes out the window after learning that the store only has 100 available units. The instant the clock strikes midnight, Gintoki and his longtime frenemy Hijikata Toshiro ignite a Black Friday-esque stampede. After Gintoki and company throw the launch into total disarray, the store's manager promises a free OwEe to the team that wins an impromptu gaming competition, leading to the events of “Life and Video Games are Full of Bugs.”

Dating sim and RPG fans will revel in the parodies of Tokimeki Memorial and Dragon Quest that are prominently featured in this episode. The inherent flaw in VR gaming revealed at the end of this two-episode arc is both hilarious and thought-provoking. (Maybe it's a good thing those clunky machines vanished from arcades after the late ‘90s.)

Episodes 239-240

Gintoki has a drinking problem. In “You know those year-end parties where you keep drinking until you've forgotten everything that happened the past year? There are a few things you're not supposed to forget” and “People Can Only Live by Forgetting the Bad,” it's the reason for the dilemma in which the series’ protagonist finds himself. Despite his friends’ warnings to drink in moderation, Gintoki insists that he can handle his liquor. This leads to him getting blackout drunk at a New Year's party and spending a night of amorous passion with not one, not two, but six supporting characters, including four bishojo, one old lady and one hapless, homeless middle-aged man.

Each believes herself (or himself) to be the only one Gintoki slept with that night, and since a number of them were virgins beforehand, Gintoki's afraid they're not going to let him off the hook without a commitment. Meanwhile, the silver-haired samurai has another problem on his hands: the potential cancellation of his show. Realizing that drunkenness and casual sex don't suit a Shonen Jump protagonist, our hero worries about the PTA having Gintama pulled from the airwaves. As Gintoki scrambles to put it all behind him, he follows some bad advice from hemorrhoid-stricken shinobi Hattori Zenzo and winds up promising to live with each of his one-night partners. To make keeping up the charade easier, Zenzo puts his extensive knowledge of Ichigo 100% and ToLove-Ru to good use and rents out an entire apartment complex for his friend, allotting him one unit for each woman. To maintain the illusion he's loyally and committed to each one, Gintoki must feverishly hop from one unit to the next. (Hasegawa Taizou, the middle-aged man, is relegated to a literal doghouse outside the complex.)

It's pure sitcom absurdity as Gintoki attempts to make a home with each person without letting the others find out. When he promises to take them all on a date—on the same night and to the same location—the results are equal parts hilarious and cringe-inducing. Just when you think the situation can't get any more outrageous, Gintama is happy to prove you wrong. Regardless of your take on harem anime and manga, this astute send-up of the genre is riotously funny.

Episode 217

Any episode featuring socially-awkward Shogun Tokugawa Shigeshige is guaranteed to amuse devoted Gintama fans and first-time viewers alike. The leader of Edo is painfully shy and longs for friendship, causing him to stand out among the show's self-absorbed cast. With the exception of Gintoki, few characters are able to recognize their ruler, even when he's right in front of them. Gintoki also realizes the grave consequences of not keeping Shigeshige safe and happy while in his company. Unfortunately, the people around him make it all but impossible to keep the shogun out of harm's way.

“What Happens Twice Can Happen Thrice” finds the Odd Jobs Trio working as lifeguards at a public pool alongside Hasegawa, the perpetually down-on-his-luck MADAO (a nickname derived from “Marude Dame na Ossan,” or “good for nothing old man”). A bevy of Gintama regulars show up to enjoy the pool, quickly driving off all the other patrons with their usual antics. Initially elated by this development, Gintoki quickly changes his tune when the shogun arrives. Matsudaira Katakuriko—Edo's director of police and Shigeshige's longtime father figure—informs Gintoki in no uncertain terms that heads will roll if any harm comes to the shogun. Wanting to keep Shigeshige entertained, Hasegawa and Gintoki encourage their friends to include him in their fun. However, the ladies are thoroughly disgusted by the soft-spoken man who showed up to swim in his tighty-whities instead of traditional trunks. An unsettling stain found in the center of Shigeshige's briefs draws even more ire from the group. Before the day is done, Gintoki will have to soothe the shogun's wounded feelings and help him make new friends without revealing the leader's identity. It isn't easy, but when Shigeshige is involved, things never are.

Episode 231

When the owner of a restaurant frequented by the Odd Jobs Trio passes away, they decide to pay their respects in “When You Go to a Funeral for the First Time, You're Surprised By How Happy People Are.” Having briefly appeared in several early episodes, the good-natured restaurateur was known for his Uji-Gintoki-don (white rice topped with sweet red beans) and Hijikata Special (white rice topped with gobs of mayonnaise). The funeral starts off normally enough, with the constantly-bickering Gintoki and Shinsengumi Vice-Captain Hijikata setting aside their differences to commiserate their friend's passing. Naturally, in true Gintama fashion, even a funeral for a sweet old man quickly devolves into a crass, comically-overblown disaster.

When Gintoki sees the ghost of the restaurant owner rise from his coffin, he can't keep quiet. No one believes him—besides Hijikata, the only other person able to see the specter. The ghost isn't taking any disrespect at his funeral lightly, as evidenced by a mouthy teen listening to his MP3 player being thrown head-first into a wall. When Gintoki and Hijikata begin acting out, it seems like they're needlessly making a ruckus and embarrassing their friends in the process. In actuality, they're trying to protect them from incurring the old man's wrath. In spectral form, the unassuming senior sprouts a six-pack, dons a pair of bad-ass shades and adopts and a hard-hitting attitude. As terrified as they are, Gintoki and Hijikata take it upon themselves to make sure the deceased is treated with the utmost esteem and that the funeral goes off without a hitch. However, this is Gintama. Not only are complications bound to occur, these mishaps go far beyond anything the viewer imagined possible.

Almost every episode of Gintama serves up a heaping helping of madcap comedy. It can sometimes be a little too grotesque for certain tastes, although thanks to pixelation, graphic bodily function-based jokes are mercifully left to your imagination. The juxtaposition between the attractive, bishonen- and bishojo-laden art style and the thoroughly twisted humor is part of the appeal. Even if comedic anime usually isn't your bag, you won't regret spending a few hours with the staff of Odd Jobs Gin-chan. Give any of these episodes a try and you'll finally see what all the fuss is about.

Are you a fan of Gintama? Which episodes would you recommend curious fans check out if they're interested in sampling this comedy behemoth? Let us know in the forums!

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