Welcome back, Otaku! This month we dig in a little deeper. At the Hyde Park Anime Club, we’ve been watching many different series, both new and old. Along the way, we found the classic, Gintama. Starting as a successful manga, it has also won rave reviews as an anime and sits near the top of many lists. I figured we needed to look more into it, so this month I will review both the manga and the anime so we can compare them.
Gintama takes place in future, where earth has been occupied by aliens known as the Amanto. The setting is a mix of present day technology and life with the ancient ideals of Feudal Japan and science fiction alien technology. All swords have been banned and samurai are now disrespected as obsolete and unnecessary. A peace treaty was struck when the aliens “friends” arrived but life is not great under the occupation.
The story starts with our main character Shinpachi Shimura, a boy who wears glasses. He is trying to keep a job at a restaurant while Amanto aliens (with animal hybrid bodies) play games and harass the native Japanese and the old samurai class. Shinpachi is the son of a samurai dojo owner who died when he and his sister were young. They trained well, but were on hard times when their father died and have been struggling to survive without him. Enter Gintoki Sakata, a man who does odd jobs but still burns with the fire of Bushido and carries an illegal sword with great skill. Volume one, chapter one starts with the chapter, “Nobody with Naturally Wavy Hair Can Be That Bad” referring to the dynamic Gintoki. Comedy and action fill this manga from the very beginning. After a touching introduction around Shinpachi’s father’s sickbed, the second scene is a classic slapstick comedy where Shinpachi’s boss is furious with his performance and smacks him around a little. The excitement takes off from there. About half way through the first volume we meet Kagura, a girl who carries an umbrella and seems to be hungry all the time. Gintoki and Shinpachi literally run into her as they flee the scene of an epic “illegal” battle with a gigantic alien monster. Several side stories continue involving two-bit loan sharks and wanna-be gangsters with crazy outfits and hairstyles. Lots of nose-picking and potty humor occur throughout but the blend is really quite funny and should keep most teen readers entertained. Parody is also used a lot and lends to the lighthearted air of the series. The artwork seems to fit between Dragon Ball Z vintage and more modern styles which is consistent with the manga’s original release. There isn’t much landscape art at all in the first volume but some architectural details and more intricate alien technology does appear in the city scapes and battle scenes. You can request the manga using your Boston Public Library card here.
Gintama the anime is available online from many streaming sites. Our current favorite is Kissanime.com. The first two episodes are combined on this site as well as Animefrost.com. The anime differs here in that it basically adds an episode up front, to provide more back story and foundation. The first part of the episode follows Gintoki and a bunch of feudal style citizens on a chase around town. This serves to establish a better sense of the old culture that has been suppressed by the arrival of the Amanto. Great comedy ensues and eventually gets integrated into the current futuristic landscape. The animation is pretty good, showing the style and performance of its era in the mid 2000’s. You could say it fits in “post-Dragonball” but “pre-Fullmetal Alchemist.” The anime makes great use of the action inherent in the story. It’s a great combination of Shonen action and Slice of Life Comedy. This is probably why it’s been so successful. Gintama is a long running series and I hope to be able to get through like I did Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Fairy Tail. There’s a lot to look forward to.
Did you know that in addition to physical books and DVDs, your library card gives you access to anime and graphic novels online? The BPL subscribes to Hoopla, a streaming service that allows you to check out and enjoy the media you love on your computer, tablet or smartphone. You can learn more about the BPL’s digital media collections here.
Want company while you’re watching anime? The Hyde Park Teen Anime Club meets on Thursdays at 2:30 p.m.
*”Reading Backwards, Watching in Japanese” features reviews of anime and manga by John, the Teen Librarian at the Hyde Park Branch, on the second Tuesday of every month.