by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 299 of
Gintama (TV 4/2015) ?
Community score: 4.4
Episode 299 continues the series' efforts to cram in as much comedy as possible before the Shogun Assassination Arc kicks off. Like many of this season's dual-segment episodes, last week's Shachi-centric stories shared a common theme. However, the two segments that make up episode 299 are like night and day.
In this week's first segment, seldom-seen swordsmith Murata Tetsuko sets off in search of a rare metal and (in a shocking lapse of judgment) leaves the Odd Jobs crew in charge of her shop. While perusing Tetsuko's wares, the gang comes across a sword that's straight out of an old-school RPG. In addition to looking truly out-of-this-world, the sword also has the armored skeleton of its previous owner firmly attached to it. The other members of this unfortunate hero's party—an adventurer, a cleric, and an elderly Dumbledore-esque wizard—soon arrive to check on Tetsuko's progress, insisting that time is of the essence in repairing their late friend's sword. Immediately following their departure, the demon lord that the party is out to destroy shows up to drop off a mystical sword of his own for repairs. (Turns out he damaged this planet-conquering weapon while using it to open a can of peaches.) Predictably, Gintoki and Kagura half-ass these jobs, ultimately rendering both clients' swords useless. In the end, the forces of good and evil are able to put aside their differences and unite against a common enemy: the staff of Odd Jobs Gin-chan.
While I admire the show's dedication to telling as many stories as possible before the Shogun Assassination Arc begins, the first segment would have benefited from receiving the full 24-minute runtime. The gags, while funny, are sometimes so rapid-fire that you might need to pause and rewind to catch them all. Although it's far from the show's first attempt at lampooning classic RPGs, it's arguably the most memorable, thanks to a deluge of hilarious (albeit obscure) references. For example, when the heroes are accidentally given the villain's sword—and vice versa—both sides change the way they walk. (In a number of old games, the villains always appeared in a horizontal line facing forward, whereas the heroes walked single-file and in profile.)
While still solidly humor-focused, the second segment dials the wackiness down a few notches to showcase an effective tragi-comic tale. When the elderly proprietress of Otose, Hijikata, and Hasegawa's favorite tobacco stand falls ill and decides to close shop, robo-maid Tama develops a rapport with the shop's rundown cigarette vending machine. Not only is this machine on its last legs, it's also kind of a jerk. In addition to imbibing excessively with alcohol vending machines, it enjoys smoking customers' cigarettes right in front of them. With Tama's help, the ornery machine soon turns over a new leaf. However, like its former owner, the machine is terminally ill, and now that Tama has shown it how great life can be, it's not particularly keen on dying. Strangely, not even Gengai can repair it—and this guy has built fully-functional time machines. Despite its truly Gintama-ish premise, this segment manages to tell a strangely heartwarming story about friendship, mortality, and the intermittent beauty of life.
I enjoyed the sentimentality of the second segment, as well as its clever gags. Sure, the basic premise has been done across a variety of mediums, but true to form, Gintama adds its own personal flourishes. Only in this series would the soon-to-be-dead (obsolete?) friend role be played by a tobacco vending machine that's barely able to express itself. (Incidentally, watching a vending machine cry cigarette pack tears is strangely moving.) It's also nice to see the perpetually expressionless Tama exhibit some humanity (machinity?), as she's usually removed from such things. (Granted, that lack of humanity is her whole shtick.)
If I were in charge of airing order, I wouldn't have chosen episode 299 as this season's comedic endcap. It's another great entry in a consistently awesome season, but nothing about it suggests a forthcoming tonal shift. If anything, Kagura's feigned illness story might have made a better sendoff, as it focused more on the central players and gave nearly the entire supporting cast a chance to shine. While by no means required viewing, this episode and the latest special (see below) are a nice treat for those of us who can never get enough Gintama.
A Gintama Jump Festa short also appeared on Crunchyroll late last week. Even though this special encompasses roughly half the runtime of the typical Gintama outing, it's still bookended by the TV series' current opening and ending sequences, creating the impression that this is (sort of) an episode. (Episode 298.5?)
We open on a brief montage of clips from past seasons, the franchise's two feature films, and finally, the current season. The montage ends with the promise that "the Gintama anime will face its biggest incident this winter." However, all the momentum this intro built up quickly dissipates when the screen goes black, leading Shinpachi (who is heard but not seen) to wonder what's going on. In an effort to restore proper lighting, Gintoki and Kagura light the candle on a "special cake" they received from Satoshi Isshiki of Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma fame.
Now that the audience can actually see what's happening, it's revealed that the episode is being presented in the form of an animatic. As Gintoki points out, expecting the staff to produce polished new material while they're hard at work on the current season is unrealistic. Then, in a devilishly funny send-up of Food Wars!' trademark "foodgasms," Gintoki takes a bite of Satoshi's cake to instantly add color, proper outlines, and actual animation to this bare-bones episode. Also, in true Food Wars fashion, Gintoki immediately sheds his clothing after one bite, leading Kagura and Shinpachi to want in on the action. Kagura's foodgasm turns her into a mature-looking, well-proportioned shadow of her tween self, while Shinpachi's causes his glasses to throb (and eventually crack) in a disturbingly suggestive manner. (Remember: Shinpachi = his glasses.) Hasegawa and the founding members of the Shinsengumi soon arrive unannounced, and Kondo has a foodgasm of his own. Of course, since he was naked to begin with, the magical cake has no real effect on the Shinsengumi's exhibitionist commander.
Even if its primary goal is promoting the Shogun Assassination Arc, this quirky little one-off is a short but sweet visit to the Sakata household. Within its brief runtime, we see nearly all the staples of a solid Gintama episode, albeit one with a very limited narrative scope. It was also fun to revisit some running gags that haven't gotten much attention as of late, like Shinpachi's disdain for breaking the fourth wall. When Gintoki gripes about the tribulations of producing a special alongside a highly-anticipated story arc, his bespectacled protégé admonishes him for discussing production issues in front of the audience. Despite being the series' breakout star, executive producer, and money-manager, Gintoki once again shows that he's not above publicly bashing his own production. Additionally, Gintoki "erotically" exclaiming "SUGAR CONTENT!" after taking his first bite of cake is a humorous nod to his love of sweets and consistently low blood sugar levels. Although these elements factored heavily into his character early on, they've been all but forgotten in recent years.
Gintama is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for two decades.
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