by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 331 of
Gintama Season 4 (TV 6/2017) ?
This week, the Slip Arc shines a spotlight on widowed ramen shop proprietress Nishiki Ikumatsu. As last week's preview informed us, Ikumatsu hasn't appeared in animated form for over a decade (despite being the closest thing Katsura has to a love interest), so you'd be forgiven for not remembering her. Fortunately, the episode offers a conveniently condensed version of the character's history with Zura before proceeding to expand on her backstory. Episode 331 also gives fans a chance to become reacquainted with Hasegawa and Musashi, neither of whom have appeared since the show entered endgame mode.
The episode opens on Ikumatsu relaying a tale to Zura and the Odd Jobs crew. When her late husband Daigo was alive, the couple was visited by an elderly homeless man who would share a bowl of soba with them every New Year's Eve. However, the old man hasn't returned to the shop since the death of Ikumatsu's husband, leaving her curious as to his whereabouts. Wishing to give Ikumatsu closure, Zura enlists the Odd Jobs trio's help in locating the man. (Gintoki agrees to help because he thinks it will get Katsura laid, which is actually pretty nice, considering how mean Gin usually is to him.) While Gintoki and Katsura infiltrate a homeless encampment at a local park, Shinpachi and Kagura seek answers at the textile shop whose logo is found on the scarf the man left behind. At the Nishikiya textile showroom, the kids discover that the scarf belonged to the business's founder, who left his wife and daughter many years ago and is now presumed dead. Although the wife has since passed away, the daughter is still alive—and she's none other than Ikumatsu.
At the park, Gin and Katsura discover that Musashi is worshiped as a god by an adoring group of vagrants who hang on his every word. (Hasegawa serves as his right-hand man, because you can't have a story about homelessness that doesn't involve him in some way.) However, they soon discover that Mushashi's group is under constant attack by the Armed Cardboard Gang, a group of tramps who clothe themselves in cardboard box-based armor. The ACG is led by Ikumatsu's scheming brother-in-law, who claims to rule over most of Edo's homeless population and is none too pleased to see Katsura again. He informs Zura that the man he's looking for is Ikumatsu's father, and as an act of revenge, orders him to find the man and bring him his head. Noncompliance will result in Ikumatsu being dispatched by some ACG cronies. Instead of accepting this request, Gintoki, Katsura, and Hasegawa embark on a Musashi-led mission to ensure Ikumatsu's safety and bring down the ACG.
A comparatively lower-key affair than the previous arc, this latest installment provides a good mix of screwball comedy and light drama and illustrates Gintama's ability to tell a wide range of stories. In the span of one week, we've gone from a madcap battle for the planet to comically inflated human drama. The fact that such a shift doesn't come across as forced or jarring is a testament to the unique world that Hideaki Sorachi has crafted. Few shows can wear this many hats while staying true to their core.
As always, Gintoki and Katsura make for a great comedic pairing, though Zura is slightly more cognizant and less willing to roll with Gin's meanness than usual. (It's actually kind of a gratifying to see him stand up to Gintoki after years of mistreatment.) His vehement insistence that he doesn't harbor romantic feelings for Ikumatsu is a pretty solid indicator that he does, and it'll be interesting to see if their relationship evolves by the end of this story. Although it's been lightly hinted that Katsura has a crush on Ikumatsu, this is the first time someone else has confronted him about it, albeit in a jokingly vulgar manner. Still, romance in Gintama is almost nonexistent, so it's unlikely that Zura and Ikumatsu will walk away a couple.
Unsurprisingly, the portion of the episode that focuses on Gintoki and Katsura going “undercover” makes for some of this week's best jokes. Zura instinctively correcting the vagrant who calls him by his fake name and Gintoki effortlessly passing for a homeless person (much to the silver-haired samurai's disappointment) are particularly amusing moments. The Hasegawa fake-out is also nicely done, adeptly illustrating the show's commitment to never giving the character an inkling of good luck.
While it's hard to suddenly become reinvested in the Katsura/Ikumatsu relationship, this arc has proven entertaining enough to warrant the ramen-making widow's reappearance. As the series slowly winds to a close, it's nice to see loose ends tied up and seldom-seen supporting players get their final hurrahs.
Gintama is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is an author who has loved anime for over two decades.
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