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Saturday, October 17, 2009

review: Gintama by Sorachi Hideaki

aka "Silver Soul"
by Sorachi, Hideaki

20 years ago, the Amanto (aka "aliens") invaded feudal Japan and took control of the Shogun's rule, banishing the loyal samurai protectors and confiscating their swords. Now, machines have taken over the peoples' traditional way of life and men with the heart of true samurai dwindle.
Gintoki, a diabetic ex-samurai working as a freelance Anything, encounters Shinpachi, the son of one of the last samurai dojos, and Kagura, a human-like Amanto girl of the violent race known as the Night Hares. Together, they help people with Whatever in order to pay the rent: becoming drag queens, saving the world, and locating missing pets, just to list a few.
(my summary)

graphic novel ; historical ; humour { genre
PG for mild violence { rating
weekly serialization { status
Shonen Jump (Japan) December 8, 2003 issue { first released

Why I Read This
Truth be told I was getting a bit bored with the formulaic goings-on of Naruto and Bleach. Once they were out of my life, I thought I needed another shonen manga to fill in the spot. At the time, I was sort of following Reborn! and some people suggested Gintama as similar in terms of hilarity, so I bit and got hooked right away. The anime for this series is pretty amazing in my opinion, but maybe that's just due to SugiTomo's excellent Gintoki voice ♥

Overall Rating

One can say Gintama repackages the social issues of today (AI ethics, capitalist imperialism, terrorism, government vs. police corruption, stereotyping the Other, etc.) into 20 pages of metaphors and parodies involving pudgy aliens, virtual worlds, obsessive fans, and altogether WTF-ness that explodes onto the page.
Thus, one needs not really think too much to enjoy this series, though it can make you think if you let it. I do suggest cultivating a patience to go through mountians of text in every 20-page chapter since this is a very dialogue-heavy manga.
The punchlines are worth it though ;D

review posted to, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari

This review was featured on a Japanese news site, Searchina, thank you very much!


Gintama is a parody of every shounen (or young men's) manga value ever established (including friendship, passion, and courage), but in good humor, usually leaving the audience with the message that the values are truly important, only in not so exaggerated doses.
It relies heavily on Japanese cultural references, such as Monster Hunter (online RPG), Bleach (another manga who's author is a friend of Sorachi's), and japanese tv shows, that it parodies and criticizes. There are also chapters dedicated to American media content, such as "Saw", "Prison Break", and various classic movies.
The series is also very meta, it talks about Shounen Jump (the magazine it's published in) and the magazine's editors, and tears through the fourth wall with a sledgehammer more often than not. The author/manga-ka loves Dragonball by the way, so there's a gazillion DB references all over the place.
A "hidden war" plotline pops up every now and then for a serious arc between the ex-samurai and the aliens that invaded and took over their country, which in my opinion is a parallel to the capitalist seizure of japanese culture that is tearing away at its old traditions.


The main character, Gintoki, is the anti-shounen hero in every way except his strength/power. He's lazy, unambitious, poor, has diabetes, and hates his own puffy white hair. But he cares for the patched up "family" that gathers around him, willing to sacrifice himself for them, even if it means literally losing an arm or a leg. He has a "dark past" from the time when he was the "White Demon" during the Samurai vs. Alien wars, but he has learned the lesson of useless bloodshed and has since vowed to never kill unless he has to. Most of the time though, he's just a nose-picking, semi-employed, middle-aged man struggling to pay his overdue bills.
Shinpachi is the plainest of the plain. He has a "bland face", and is generally the only "normal" (read: sane) person around. It is up to him to point out the stupidity of the situations they wind up in, earning sympathy from most of the readers as the long-suffering "mother hen".
Kagura is all of about 12 years old, but she can punch a crater into the wall with little effort and carries around an umbrella that can shoot bullets. She's impulsive and excitable, and misleadingly innocent at times while hilariously world-weary in others (she watches soap operas on TV and learns about stuff like adultery, office drama, etc.) Her "Night Hare" heritage defines her explosive personality, but she makes it clear that she will not give in to her bloodthirsty impulses, defying destiny so that she can remain by her human friends' sides.
The Shinesengumi are the "dogs of the government", humans working for the Amanto in order to retain their privilege to keep their swords, lead by a "gorilla", a mayonnaise-freak, and a sadist with an angel's face. They struggle constantly with their duty to protect their country (even under alien rule) and the corruption the Amanto have brought with them.
The Joei are what's left of the samurai resistance against the Amanto, now labeled as "terrorists" by the victorious alien government. Gintoki and their leader, Katsura, are old friends from the war, and there is much exposition on the ethics of "terrorist acts" to convey political messages.
Many of the new characters that appear with their own storyline later become a member of Gintoki's inner circle, all drawn to his passive charisma and the traditional values of the samurai honour that they long to hold on to.
While many of the Amanto in the series are "enemies", many others are portrayed as similar to humans in all the ways that matter. They have love and feel loss, some value honour and others are gentle and kind. This may be one way Sorachi tries to say that there is no "single evil" here at play - the vicious Amanto armies that took over Japan do not represent all alien species.


There's an abundance hilarious slap-stick toilet humor in Gintama that handles emotional themes of love, betrayal, and death just as expertly as sombre poetry.
The art is not aesthetically-centered, but fluid and active to show off the vibrant comedy. The characters are not portrayed as "gorgeous" or "perfect", but rather "everyday" and "familiar". I took to the style right away for this very reason: you see what the characters are doing rather than whether they look pretty doing it.
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