by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 358 of
Gintama (TV 7/2018) ?
The Earth's destruction continues to loom as Utsuro potentially meets his match in two unlikely opponents. Moved by the words of Takasugi and Nobunobu, the defeated Ensho resolves to stop the Heavenly Bird from colliding with the Earth. Unfortunately, no sooner does the Gunsmoke Prince get back on his feet than both he and Nobunobu are mortally wounded by an ALA solider who believes that surrendering now would diminish the sacrifices made by his fallen comrades. Nobunobu urges his men not to retaliate and tells his friends that as a “shogun in name alone,” he's fine with dying if it means bringing an end to the war with the Liberation Army. While being led into the hereafter by Shigeshige and other previous shoguns, Nobunobu wishes his comrades luck as Japan bids farewell to an era that brought about so much sorrow. With Gengai's nanomachine virus dispelled by the out-of-control ley lines, this conflict couldn't have ended at a better time.
Back on Earth, Ane and Mone, the long-absent Priestesses of the Golden Dragon, are attempting to quell the surge in the ley lines alongside Dog Deity Komako, Sadaharu's miniature female counterpart. Sensing that Komako required assistance in keeping the Altana under control, Sadaharu left Soyo's side and rushed to her aid. After being briefed on the situation by Hijikata, the Odd Jobs crew and Kamui hightail it to the dogs' location but are quickly intercepted by a battalion of undead Naraku. However, with the timely arrival of Umibozu, who shows up with Nobume in tow, the immortal assassins don't stand a chance.
With the Altana Liberation Army finally rendered a non-threat, half of this epic final battle has officially come to a close. However, with three notable characters killed throughout the skirmish, this easily ranks as one of the hardest-fought conflicts in the show's history. Since Gintama has a long history of redeeming felled antagonists, Ensho reflecting on his actions and having a change of heart doesn't come as much of a surprise, but the show throws a wrench in the works by killing him mid-revelation. The glimpses into his past from last week were certainly death flags, but that fact that he went down this quickly after his change of heart is an interesting subversion of expectations.
Even more shocking, of course, is Nobunobu being taken out with him. Since Nobunobu's redemption has served as the basis for a satisfying (and occasionally hilarious) long-term character arc, his death carries a lot of weight, much more than Ensho's, and the sequence in which he exits the mortal plane alongside his predecessors is among the most emotional moments in an arc that's packed with them. Although his rise to power was predicated by bloodshed and personal vendettas, he was able to become the Shogun the country (and by extension, the planet) needed in his final days. Having spent the most time with him, Sakamoto is the most openly devastated by his death, and his grief is palpable.
Despite two important deaths occurring in the episode's first half, the mood in the latter portion is considerably lighter as the focus shifts back to Gintoki and the other heroes on Earth. This isn't to say there aren't tense moments scattered throughout, but it's a relief to finally have some levity after two and a half humor-free installments. The playful banter between certain characters sometimes goes on for a little too long, but with so much of the show's enormous cast in one place, it would be a waste if they didn't trade a few barbs.
The return of Ane, Mone, and Komako, all of whom have been absent for hundreds of episodes, helps give the proceedings a full-circle feel. Since Gintama's overarching plot didn't really kick into full-gear until its 300th episode, it's easy to forget that a number of important clues were presented in one of its earliest arcs—and that Sadaharu has been an Altana mutant this entire time. As Gintoki puts it, “That stupid mutt! Why'd he have to remember an ancient premise that even our viewers have forgotten?!” Now that Sadaharu, the most frequently overlooked member of the Odd Jobs team, has assumed such a game-changing role in the fight for Earth's survival, it's hard to predict where things will go from here—and even harder to wait for the next episode.
Gintama is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is an author who has loved anime for over two decades.
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