by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 306 of
Gintama (TV 4/2015) ?
After giving viewers a week to recover from all the bombs dropped in episode 305, the Shogun Assassination Arc enters its largely expository endgame. Now that the details surrounding Gintoki's war-torn past have been brought to light and he's more or less made peace with the series' main antagonist, where will Gintama go from here? This week's complex, action-light installment doesn't offer up a definitive answer, but we're left with the impression that things are going to get worse before they get better.
The previous two episodes have added more depth and insight into Takasugi's character than the rest of his appearances combined. Despite having a cool design and being expertly voiced by Koyasu Takehito, Gintoki's archenemy/adoptive brother has never struck me as anything more than a generic villain figure with stereotypical motivations and eye-roll-inducing aspirations of “destroying this rotten world.” Since Gintama is an episodic comedy 95% of the time, and Takasugi rarely appears outside of the opening credits, I never really held his lack of development against the show. However, now I've come to view the character in a more sympathetic light.
As Oboro continues to lecture the bloody and battered disciples of Shoyo, Kagura and Kamui take their fight into the surrounding woods. Although Kagura appears to be pulling out all the stops, her big brother seems strangely subdued. Just when it seems like Kamui is going to administer the finishing blow to his super-powered sibling, he chooses to take out a group of Naraku assassins who were trying to get the jump on her. Kamui's appearances are even rarer than Takasugi's, but it's always interesting to see him act outside of his sociopathic personality. Helping Seita reunite with Hinowa, sparing Abuto's life despite his failure, and now refusing to kill Kagura? There may be hope for him yet. While regrettably brief, Kagura and Kamui's fight is a sight to behold. We're often told how powerful the Yato are, but we almost never see Kagura fight—and we almost never see Kamui period.
As Shinpachi and Shigeshige make it out of the Iga village with Zenzo and Sa-chan in tow, fire rains down from the sky as an enormous airship makes its descent into the area. After the ship lands, a battalion of Naraku file out, followed by a Tendoshu representative and a heavily-bandaged and wheelchair-bound Hitotsubashi Nobunobu. According to the representative, the letter of resignation Shigeshige submitted at the end of the Courtesan of a Nation Arc has retroactively been accepted by the emperor, and the Tendoshu (the ones who really run the country) have chosen Nobunobu as the new shogun. Not wanting to waste the countless lives that have been lost in order to protect him, Shigeshige refuses to board the airship as commanded, and as shogun, he orders the Naraku, the Tendoshu, and Nobunobu to leave immediately. Amused by this development, Nobunobu commands the Naraku to dispatch Shigeshige and his cohorts. However, before they can commence their attack, Matsudaira arrives on the scene with an air fleet of his own. Similarly, Sogo, Yamazaki, and Saito (WOLFRO!) show up with a squadron of Shinsengumi officers to aid Kondo, Hijikata, and Rappa in their battle.
Meanwhile, Oboro reveals that once the Tendoshu offered to make Nobunobu shogun, the bandaged villain didn't hesitate to throw his retainers and the Kiheitai under the bus. The Tendoshu apparently reasoned that killing off the remnants of both the Hitotsubashi and Tokugawa factions and starting from scratch with a brand new puppet ruler would be the most practical course of action—hence the Naraku's sudden appearance. Fortunately, Oboro's posturing gives the nigh-indestructible Gintoki enough time to gain his second (or fifth) wind, and the silver-haired samurai makes short work of several assassins. When Oboro steps in, he's taken by surprise by Takasugi, who cuts out his left eye. (Shinsuke gets points for not saying, “An eye for an eye.”) Shortly thereafter, Kagura and Kamui show up to lend a hand. Since Kamui has claims on both men's lives, he's not about to let Oboro—or anyone else—do them in. Secret alliances and double-crosses have been a staple of this arc, so it was only a matter of time before the Odd Jobs crew joined forces with Takasugi's group to fight a common enemy. Even so, it's great to finally see everyone on the same side.
The only actual jokes this week are found after the credits in this current season's first installment of “Teach us, Ginpachi-sensei!” Dressed in his Ginpachi-sensei garb, Gintoki addresses a continuity error from the feature film version of the Benizakura Arc. The theatrical adaptation of this popular arc featured a new scene that suggested that Takasugi and Katsura joined Shoka Sonjuku before Gintoki, which runs counter to information presented in the current arc. However, as longtime viewers know, Gintoki would sooner die than admit a mistake. In a slapdash attempt to cover his tracks, Gintoki presents hitherto unreleased audio that canonizes the scene in question—and gives us our first poop joke in weeks. After the last few episodes, Gintama was in need of some levity, and this brief segment came through in spades.
Episode 306 throws a lot of information at the audience, and the proceedings can become weighed down by confusing political intrigue at times. Still, there's enough fluidly-animated action and intriguing character development to satisfy everyone tuning in. Even at this late stage, I'm amazed by how seamlessly this nutty series is able to slip into serious mode. Sure, sitcoms often feature small doses of drama—laughter punctuated by an “awww” moment when someone learns a lesson—but Gintama is more akin to shows like Family Guy with its ruefully selfish characters, sophomoric sensibilities, and loose sense of continuity. With that said, why do these tonal shifts always seem to work so well? Is it because some of these arcs are very loosely based on historical events? Maybe it's the fact that we've grown to love these characters, warts and all? This show's sporadic forays into drama will always seem out of place, but as long as the quality remains consistent, I don't have any complaints.
Gintama is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for two decades.
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