by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 321 of
Gintama. (TV 5/2017) ?
Elusive space merchant Sakamoto Tatsuma faces off against his first serious foe outside of the Joi War in the Battle on Rakuyo's exciting fifth chapter. Until very recently, Sakamoto's bit primarily consisted of almost never appearing and begging Gintoki for more screen time on the rare occasion he'd show up. Since he was never a student of Shoka Sonjuku and never actually met Shoyo/Utsuro, he's arguably the least important of the Four Heavenly Kings. However, he's also the kindest and most levelheaded despite his generally doofy demeanor. After being ignored for the majority of the series, the Dragon of Katsurahama is finally given his due.
While on the run from their nanomachine-infected crewmembers , Sakamoto and Mutsu happen upon a cornered Nobunobu and save his life. When pressed for an answer on why he made this call, Sakamoto informs Nobunobu that as the new shogun, Nobunobu has a duty to see what becomes of the country he sought to control. After determining that Hankai's aim is to take control of the Kairinmaru's core, the trio heads for the central control room and are met with several trials along the way. While observing the harebrained manner in which Sakamoto deals with adversity, Nobunobu is frequently driven to question whether Tatsuma is “a big man or a big idiot.” Shortly after reaching their destination, everyone is shocked to discover that the body-less Hankai has taken control of Nobunobu. Following a fast-paced skirmish involving several clever fake-outs and a powerful character moment for Nobunobu, the group is able to take down Hankai, thus freeing the crew from his nanomachines. We also learn that Sakamoto's preference for pistols stems from a crippling injury to his dominant hand acquired during the Joi War. While attempting to carry an injured comrade to safety, young Tatsuma was dealt a serious stab wound by Pluto Bato, who was presumably fighting on the side of the bakufu and Tendoshu.
Nobunobu, who had been a fairly generic villain figure until this point, was one of the most fascinating players in this week's adventure. As we learn through flashbacks, he's been used by people his entire life—the Hitotsubashi family, his retainers, and most recently, the Tendoshu. As a result, he resolved to use other people and came to regard humans as tools, much like the robotic Hankai. Learning that he's a product of his upbringing and starved for genuine affection doesn't necessarily excuse his actions, but it does add some depth to a character who seemingly possessed no redeeming qualities. Of all the characters to make inroads with Nobunobu, Sakamoto is an excellent choice. He's not as abrasive as Gintoki or as oblivious as Katsura, and he's one of the few genuinely good-natured people in a cast comprised of comically devious scoundrels. Nobunobu seeing the error of his ways through witnessing the way Sakamoto and his crew support one another is a little generic, but it works here, and it's refreshing to see Nobunobu think about someone other than himself for a change.
The last third of this week's episode chronicles the beginning of Gintoki's faceoff with Bato, the Harusame's best swordsman and strongest individual combatant. Using Star Sword King, his super-powered lightsaber-esque weapon, the three-eyed pirate is able to level entire buildings with a single swing. Much like the previous two battles, this one begins on a fairly humorous note. Although both men are convinced that they've crossed swords in the past, they appear to have one another confused for different people. In Gintoki's case, he believes Bato is either someone to whom he owes money or someone who owes him money. Bato, on the other hand, believes that Gintoki is the “Pakuyasa” (a play on Gintoki's nickname “Shiro Yaksha”), a noticeably obese version of wartime Gin.
After two episodes that both chronicled the entirety of one battle and the beginning of another, there's no question that this arc is rolling by at a rapid pace. While it doesn't feel like anything's missing, it's a shame that fans don't really have time to savor each confrontation, and I get the impression that the staff is trying to cover a large chunk of source material per episode. Seeing as Gintoki's the main character, I wouldn't be opposed to his fight against Bato taking up all of next week's episode, but I won't be surprised or particularly let down if this isn't the case.
Also this week, Crunchyroll unveiled thirteen English-dubbed episodes of Gintama, marking the series' first English-language outing since the first feature film. Beginning with episode 266, last season's premiere, seems like a strange choice that may potentially drive away fans who are unfamiliar with the show. While there are some definite roadblocks to new viewers, the wacky two-parter that the 2015 season opened on offers a decent intro to the series' world and unique sense of humor. The dub takes an almost literal approach to the adaptation, leaving Japanese pop culture references largely intact, for better and for worse. For the most part, the English voice actors do a decent job of capturing each character's cadence and personality, with Shinpachi's V.A. absolutely nailing it. Gintoki, Katsura, and Hijikata sound a little too similar, but not to the point of being difficult to tell apart. Also missing is Kagura's stereotypical Chinese accent, although that may have been removed due to its potential to offend. Drawbacks aside, the dub is largely able to recapture the spirit of the show, so if the lack of an English language version has prevented you from checking out Gintama, you can finally laugh along with the Odd Jobs crew and their friends.
Gintama is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is an author who has loved anime for over two decades.
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