by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 342 of
Gintama Season 4 (TV 6/2017) ?
After a season-long humor-heavy breather, Hideaki Sorachi's revisionist history comedy heads right back into endgame mode, picking up exactly where The Battle on Rakuyo left off. In response to Utsuro destroying their Altana terminals, seven planets have allied to form the Altana Liberation Army. With the Tendoshu as their target, the ALA descends on Earth with the intent of ending the Altana Preservation Society's monopoly on planetary energy. Immortal Altana mutant Utsuro is hoping this triggers an interplanetary conflict that reduces the Earth to space dust, allowing him to finally end his centuries-long existence. With the fate of the planet hanging in the balance, the Odd Jobs crew and their Kabuki District cohorts must now mobilize for their toughest job yet.
Things are looking grim for the denizens of the Kabuki District. As ALA soldiers throw their weight around by bullying civilians and pillaging local businesses, citizens can't help but be reminded of the early days of the Tendoshu's invasion. Wishing to bring an end to this mess, Hasegawa, Tae, and the rest of gang's friends visit the now-abandoned Odd Jobs Gin-chan office and put in formal requests to hire the trio to save the world. Fortunately, they don't have to wait long. When a group of ALA flunkies attack Snack Otose, Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagura arrive on the scene and fight their hearts out, inspiring various allies throughout the city to follow suit. (Even the perpetually down-and-out Hasegawa dons his old Immigration Bureau uniform and tries to help the cause.) Meanwhile in space, the ALA's HQ ship receives a special government envoy: Katsura, Sakamoto, and acting shogun Hitotsubashi Nobunobu.
Going into this arc, I was unsure of exactly how much time would be spent recapping the events of the previous three endgame arcs. A lengthy recap might have been called for in light of how much time has passed since the quadrilogy of serious arcs began, but opting for brevity turned out to be the right choice, as the minute-long info dump at the beginning did a nice job of succinctly reviewing pertinent story details. This being Gintama, it's strange that the usual self-deprecatory, tongue-in-cheek approach wasn't taken here. For example, the gang could have tossed in some riffs about how complicated the plot is becoming while giving the audience a rundown of the story. It's also weird to see aliens so prolific in this show after so many episodes where they faded into the background, a mere excuse for advanced technology in historical times, but they are meant to be serious adversaries, even if they're somewhat generic antagonists thus far.
The central conflict being set up this week helps give the proceedings a full-circle feel—which is fitting, since this is the final arc. Although the Amanto were portrayed as oppressive and threatening in earlier episodes, their menace—and general presence—diminished fairly quickly. In fact, Kagura once dryly quipped that the audience no longer sees many “Amanto-looking Amanto” walking the streets. Because this series is predominantly an anything-goes comedy, it's easy to forget that the main characters are living under a puppet government controlled by aliens. The extraterrestrial invaders' return to a more antagonistic role represents an interesting blend of how Gintama began vs. what it's since become.
Seeing how much faith the rest of the Kabuki District places in Odd Jobs Gin-chan helps imbue the episode with some emotional weight and reminds us how much heart this show is capable of having despite its abundance of mean-spirited humor. Even though the plot conceit of Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagura doing odd jobs for various clients was largely abandoned in later seasons, it's clear that allies and frenemies alike regard them as highly capable. Depending on the story, these characters won't hesitate to screw one another over in order to get ahead, but at the end of the day, the Gintama cast is one enormous dysfunctional family. It's great to check in with lower-tier supporting players like Saigo, Katsuo, and Tatsumi, and seeing Hasegawa scrimp and save and show some backbone for a change (even if his efforts ultimately fall flat) is a fun reversal of expectations. His return to form as a confident (former) Immigrations Bureau chief—something that seemed all but impossible by this point—is a particularly captivating turn for the character, although it's still funny to see his newfound bravado blow up in his face.
While this may technically qualify as a “serious” arc, there are plenty of laughs scattered throughout the litany of emotional moments and fun character interactions. There's also a touch of tonal whiplash from the previous cour, but if that's the price that must be paid for the Slip Arc's existence, so be it. As sad as it is to see Gintama winding down, Silver Soul's first installment is a great beginning to what's purported to be the end.
Gintama is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is an author who has loved anime for over two decades.
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