by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 354 of
Gintama (TV 7/2018) ?
Silver Soul kicks off its second cour with a long-overdue glimpse into the Kiheitai's past. Now that Takasugi and company have made the jump from seldom-seen Big Bads to semi-regular pseudo-heroes, it's only fitting that the audience be shown how they came to meet in the first place. Early in Takasugi's quest, the bakufu used the arrest and staged execution of Matako (revealed to be the orphaned daughter of a former rebel) as a means to draw out and capture Shinsuke and Bansai. However, unbeknownst to the new government, Takasugi had a man on the inside: Takechi, who helped engineer the escape of the two men, as well as many other imprisoned Joi rebels, resulting in the formation of the post-war Kiheitai.
Back in the present, things remain as chaotic as ever. With the Kiheitai's assistance, Katsura, Sakamoto, and Nobunobu continue to fight their way across the Heavenly Bird in a mad dash to stop Ensho from firing the Flame of Kagutsuchi. On Earth, the Altana Liberation Army's Yato fleet has managed to procure a supposed fix for Gengai's nanomachine shield—although it's possible the old tinkerer isn't giving his captors the full story. As Takechi states, if that shield comes down, everything is finished.
This season is notable for being the first one to open in the middle of a story arc. Among other things, this is a testament to how continuity-focused the series has become in recent years. After allowing its overarching plot to simmer in the background for the better of a decade, Gintama is now intent on tying up every conceivable loose end. Episode 354 is arguably the show's least humorous season opener to date, with virtually all of the episode's comedy being relegated to the brief prologue at the beginning and a few gaming references toward the mid-point. This isn't so much a complaint as an observation, though—and in light of how much comedy was present in Silver Soul's first half, it's understandable that things would get more serious as the stakes become progressively higher.
Encompassing roughly half of the episode, the Kiheitai's backstory is given just the right amount of attention. Matako, Takechi, and Bansai have all been important at various points in the story, but none of them have appeared often enough to warrant in-depth explorations of their personal histories. This week's episode gives viewers all the pertinent information about their motivations without delving too deeply into their respective pasts—and at no point does it feel like we're being presented with the Cliff's Notes version of events.
Both halves of episode 354 are tied together by the theme of rebellion. The second half opens with a well-timed Joi War flashback that finds the Four Heavenly Kings discussing the prospect of becoming the national army if their side emerges victorious. Although the others are somewhat amicable to the possibility, Takasugi reminds his comrades that none of them are fit to be anything but rebels. Nobunobu nearly turning the Joi rebels into the new national army and subsequently declaring himself a rebel is a particularly poignant moment. (Even the Shinsengumi can be considered rebels at this point.) Having been viewed as a scourge by the bakufu, rebels are now the only thing standing between the planet and complete annihilation.
Extremely light on the comedy but compelling nonetheless, this week's episode wastes no time in pivoting the audience back into Gintama's long-awaited climax. Like Silver Soul's first half, the proceedings are easy to follow despite the frenetic pacing. With nearly every character, supporting or otherwise, now fighting for Earth's survival, next week is sure to be another wild ride.
Gintama is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is an author who has loved anime for over two decades.
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