Episode 344

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 344 of
Gintama Season 4 (TV 6/2017) ?

In its third installment, Silver Soul dials back the comedy and ratchets up the stakes as Utsuro reemerges to undo all the diplomatic progress made last week. Whereas Utsuro bided his time in the previous two endgame arcs, his appearance this early in the game indicates that the time-hardened immortal truly means business. With the number of threats facing the planet increasing by the second, Odd Jobs Gin-chan will have to pull out all the stops in order to keep Earth intact.

Clearly displeased by Shijaku and Nobunobu's ceasefire, Utsuro tasks a battalion of Naraku assassins (who have been imbued with his immortal blood) with massacring the ALA troops stationed in Edo. He also sets his men loose on the Odd Jobs crew, but with some timely help from Nobume, the gang is able to fend them off. However, when Utsuro finally appears before the heroes, they make a shocking discovery: their enemy's mutated blood has essentially turned the Naraku into undead zombies. Utsuro then offers Gin and company the choice of retreating and dying with the Earth or fighting him and dying right now.

Even though Utsuro's bloodbath is clearly a stunt to kick the war back into high gear, this doesn't appear to bother Ensho, the warrior prince of Planet Burei and a prominent figure in the Altana Liberation Army. As he reveals to Shijaku, partaking of Utsuro's blood has reduced the Tendoshu to horrifically mutated husks, effectively punishing them for their actions and rendering them a non-threat. However, Ensho reasons that the soldiers who lost loved ones during the terminal explosions need a target upon which to focus their hatred. (Ensho himself lost his pregnant wife to the incident.) Since the vast majority of the ALA's forces still believe the Tendoshu are alive and well on Earth, the prince believes that conquering and possibly destroying the planet will sufficiently quell the aforementioned hatred. To ensure their silence, Ensho imprisons Shijaku, Nobunobu, Sakamoto, and Mutsu.

With more pieces falling into place and new key players making themselves known, episode 344 resembles an intergalactic war strategy game. Although the focus continually shifts throughout the episode, it's fairly easy to keep everything straight despite how complicated the central conflict is becoming. So far, Ensho comes across as a fairly by-the-books antagonist (complete with a “fridged” pregnant wife backstory), but since the same can be said for nearly all of the show's villains in their earliest appearances, it's a safe bet that he'll become more interesting as the story progresses. Although it didn't seem possible, Utsuro manages to become even more menacing this week, thanks to the revelation that he now commands a zombie army. Coupled with the mutilated husks of what used to be the Tendoshu, the zombified Naraku assassins imbue the final third of the episode with a gruesome horror movie vibe.

There's very little in the way of humor this week, but if you've made it through the previous three endgame arcs, you know this is par for the course. The episode's sole extended comic interlude comes in the form of a riff on the upcoming sequel to last summer's live-action movie. Toward the halfway point, Kagura and Shinpachi assume Gin is off collecting info on the Tendoshu, but they instead find him reading Shonen Jump at a local bookstore and expressing amazement that a sequel was greenlit. Unsatisfied with being CGI in the first film, Sadaharu insists on being played by Jean-Claude Van (Wan!) Damme this around. Even after things begin to take a turn for the serious, Nobume weighs in on who she'd like to portray her. Virtually no other series could casually slip such a blatant fourth wall break into the main story without causing tonal whiplash, but Gintama is nothing if not unique.

Although things appeared to be on the upswing for our heroes last week, the Earth is now on the verge of destruction. Through the combined efforts of old foes and new adversaries, an unprecedented intergalactic conflict is unfolding at a troubling pace. Between Utsuro's desire for suicide-by-planet, the ALA's advancing military presence, and an army of undead assassins, Gintoki and the gang have a lot to manage before they can return to their lazy, crazy days in the Kabuki District.

Rating: B+

Gintama is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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

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