Episode 322

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 322 of
Gintama. (TV 5/2017) ?

The Battle on Rakuyo continues to heat up as Gintoki goes head-to-head with Pluto Bato's enlightened eye and the Four Heavenly Kings reunite. Of all the Three Mad Stars battles, Gintoki's eats up the least screen time and is arguably the most comedic in tone. This may have been meant to illustrate the White Yasha's immense strength, but this super-powered skirmish could have easily taken an entire episode. I've never been a huge fan of needlessly drawn-out Jump battles, but I can't help but feel that the Gintoki/Bato face-off concluded too quickly.

To Bato's surprise, the self-proclaimed Star Sword King never actually crossed swords with the White Yasha. Despite his fairly strong resemblance to Gintoki, the Pakuyasa wasn't actually a plumped-up Gin—but rather a young man who longed to be his disciple during the Joi War. While returning from a yakisoba bread run, the Pakuyasa encountered Bato on the battlefield, and Bato's enlightened eye led him to believe that the murderous intent being projected by Gintoki, who was fighting nearby, was coming from his tubby doppelganger. As Gintoki explains, Bato's third eye actually works too well, as it enables him to see everything except what's directly in front of him. Using this to his advantage, Gin is able to defeat his opponent in short order. Much to Bato's bewilderment, Gintoki lacks the same emptiness and acceptance of death that he senses from other seasoned samurai, leading him to wonder how Gin has stayed alive for so long.

Like the battles fought by Zura and Sakamoto, this one begins on a humorous note. Gintoki and Bato confusing each other for other people is funny enough by itself, and learning about the Pakuyasa's post-war exploits is the icing on the cake. This is also the shortest of the Three Mad Stars battles, taking up only half the episode. On one hand, it's disappointing that the main character's fight didn't receive more attention. On the other, Gintoki has had plenty of character development over the last couple arcs, and I can appreciate the attempts at giving Katsura and the very seldom-seen Sakamoto some time in the limelight. The Pakuyasa also reappears after the end credits to stand in for Gintoki in several Joi War flashbacks from previous episodes. This infuriates Gin, who shouts at the producers for killing the serious tone established in the second half. The bit gets repetitive, but the payoff—i.e. Gintoki's meltdown—is definitely worth it. As amazing as the action has been this season, this brand of fourth-wall-breaking wackiness is sorely missed.

The second half of the episode finds Utsuro adopting a scorched-Rakuyo approach to his enemies. With the Three Mad Stars defeated and Umibozu making short work of the remaining Harusame fleets, the immortal villain dispatches his personal gunship and tasks Oboro and a battalion of Naraku assassins with preventing his former disciples from meeting up. After his limp body is sent tumbling down a cliff, Shinsuke is rescued by Kamui and awoken by the tears of a worried Matako. Shortly after regaining consciousness, Takasugi orders the Kiheitai to obliterate the Naraku before joining his former comrades on the battlefield, marking the first time the Four Heavenly Kings have fought together outside of Joi War flashbacks. Longtime enemies Gintoki and Takasugi even work together to save Shinpachi and Bansai, in addition to saving each other's lives.

Like many Shonen Jump series, Gintama likes to redeem its villains, and it looks like Takasugi has officially become one of the good guys—although the seeds for this were already planted in the Shogun Assassination Arc. This season's opening and ending also suggest that we'll be getting some insight into Kamui's past, which may indicate that he'll soon make the jump from villain to antihero. (The Shogun Assassination Arc hinted that he was heading in this direction, too.) Having finally been privy to Takasugi's past, his turn is satisfying to witness and doesn't feel like it comes out of left field. With the Four Heavenly Kings now fighting on the same side, seeing how Shinsuke will adjust to this new dynamic makes for a promising storyline.

For better and for worse, The Battle on Rakuyo refuses to slow down. The action is livelier than ever, and the relentless battles certainly help illustrate just how high the stakes have gotten. However, the audience has no time to catch its collective breath, and it really feels like the staff is in a mad dash to reach the end of this arc in as few installments as possible. Depending on how many episodes the studio, sponsors, and TV Tokyo have committed to, this may well be the case.

Rating: A

Gintama is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Amy is an author who has loved anime for over two decades.

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