by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 308 of
Gintama (TV 4/2015) ?
Community score: 4.8
We've never really seen the Gintama cast deal with the aftermath of a serious story arc. Once all the battles have wrapped up and an arc is officially over, Gintoki and company have always fallen back into their established roles and resumed their wacky misadventures without missing a beat. However, now that the series has experienced its first major character death, the established rules have gone out the window. While serious arcs occasionally build off each other, this is the first time one story has instantly segued into another. In light of Shigeshige's death and the series' newfound knack for plot advancement, Gintama creator Hideaki Sorachi's announcement that the parent manga will enter its final arc (and likely end) in 2016 hardly comes as a surprise. The Shogun Assassination Arc truly was a point of no return.
The Farewell Shinsengumi Arc opens with Kagura and Shinpachi watching Shigeshige's funeral procession make its way through the streets of Edo. Understandably shaken up, Shinpachi leaves immediately after the late shogun's casket comes into view. Similarly, Zenzo is unable to summon the strength to attend his friend's funeral. Despite sacrificing the life of a comrade, not to mention scores of Iga ninja and royal retainers, the hemorrhoid-stricken shinobi was ultimately unable to complete his mission and protect Shigeshige. Meanwhile, a heavily-bandaged and crutch-carrying Gintoki makes his way to the Shinsengumi's seemingly deserted headquarters, where he finds Kondo practicing his swings. While Hijikata, Sogo, and the rest of the organization's ranks work security detail at Shigeshige's funeral, their commander decided to stay behind. As Gintoki and Kondo share a drink and reflect on recent events, these longtime frenemies almost seem like honest-to-goodness friends—and by this point, they basically are.
In some respects, it's strange to see Gintoki so broken up over the loss of Shigeshige. Although the two of them occasionally crossed paths (with hilarious results), they weren't exactly close friends. Also, on several occasions, Gintoki actually believed himself to be responsible for his ruler's untimely demise. In these instances, covering his tracks was always job one for the dead-eyed Odd Jobs proprietor. (In last summer's Confessional Arc, he even tasked Sadaharu with disposing of Shigeshige's seemingly lifeless body.) This really drives home the difference between business-as-usual and “Dark” Gintama. Being saddened by Shigeshige's passing illustrates that, deep down, Gintoki is a good person and a loyal friend. However, if these traits were displayed more often, the comedic stories would lose a lot of their punch, since so much of the series' humor revolves around the characters being self-interested cretins. It often feels like the more serious stories occupy a different reality than their comedy-laden counterparts.
Wishing to purge Edo's police force of any undesirable elements, Nobunobu deposes Matsudaira, disbands the Shinsengumi, and names Mimawarigumi commander Sasaki Isaburo the new commander-general of law enforcement. When Matsudaira chides Sasaki for his betrayal, the monocle-wearing email addict claims that his loyalties have always lain with Nobunobu. Furthermore, the new shogun sentences both Kondo and Matsudaira to death for their failure to keep Shigeshige in line. As it turns out, Kondo fully expected this to happen, so when Imai Nobume and a squad of Mimawarigumi officers arrive to apprehend him, the defeated gorilla stalker agrees to go quietly. Sending his men to work funeral detail was Kondo's way of avoiding unnecessary bloodshed, as there's no way the Shinsengumi would have allowed their commander to be arrested. Predictably, after coming home to find Kondo gone and their headquarters occupied by the Mimawarigumi, the Shinsengumi officers incite a brawl with their “elite” rivals. Amidst the chaos, a haggard Gintoki approaches Hijikata, looks his old adversary directly in the eye, and says, “I'm sorry.” Sogo and the rest of the men insist on rescuing Kondo before the execution takes place, but Hijikata, not wanting to waste his best friend's sacrifice, advises against it. Now jobless and homeless, the Shinsengumi officers go their separate ways, with Hijikata accepting a job offer from self-proclaimed hard-boiled detective Kozenigata Heiji, who makes his first appearance in nearly 100 episodes.
It's apparent right off the bat that this episode, like the lengthy arc that preceded it, is somber. Whereas most of the show's opening sequences find the Odd Jobs crew tearing around Kabuki-cho and encountering various friends, the latest one is chock full of overcast skies, ominous imagery, and bloody battles. Also, like other recent installments, episode 308 doesn't feature much in the way of comedy. The appearance of Kozenigata gives rise to a few funny moments, but when a long-absent supporting character becomes the only source of humor in an established comedy, it's clear that the atmosphere has shifted. At one point, a guilt-riddled Hijikata has a nightmare about rushing to stop Kondo's execution and arriving just in time to see his severed head on display. Despite being a fevered dream sequence, the vivid imagery and raw emotion featured in this scene is chilling.
A minor gripe I have about this otherwise solid episode is the timeline. With a good portion of the story told through recent flashbacks, this episode's timeline jumps around too much. Showing what a character is up to and then flashing back to explain how they got to that point is a narrative trick that sometimes works but often proves confusing.
Although there isn't much action to speak of, and almost no comedy, episode 308 effectively sets the stage for what's sure to be another epic conflict. After the fake-out that was Shigeshige's initial assassination, I'm going to hold off on worrying about Kondo's continued existence. Still, with the Mimawarigumi now Edo's sole police force, the Shinsegumi scattered, and Kondo and Matsudaira awaiting execution, a myriad of high-stakes possibilities await the Odd Jobs crew and their friends.
Gintama is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for two decades.
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