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Gintama Primer 
21st-Feb-2013 03:43 am
cherry blossoms blooming
I first wrote this a few months ago in an email to a friend, because she wanted a primer for Gintama, which is a wildly funny and brilliant series, but extremely difficult to describe. I've emailed it to enough people now that I figured I should just make it into a post.

Note: This is not a complete guide to all of Gintama. This is basically something I think would be helpful if you're trying to figure out if you'll like this series. I think if you watch through all the episodes I suggested and still aren't too fond of it, then it might not be for you. (I'm less confident of saying this about the corresponding manga chapters, because I feel like it takes more reading to get a good sense of the series. ... If that makes sense.) But if you DO like it, you can scroll down to the very bottom for more comprehensive guides.

So if you're interested in trying out this series...

Gintama doesn't really have a plot. Its main character has no goals. He doesn't aspire to be the strongest ninja in the village or the king of the pirates. (I think his greatest wish was to have been born with straight hair.) Once you start watching, you really watch this series for the characters, who are all amazingly wacky and likeable. (Seriously, I love all the characters, and that almost never happens.) The show is organized into arcs and standalone episodes. The one shot episodes are usually just comedic, while the arcs, which can be 2 to 5 episodes long, can be any combination of crack and srs business. For this primer, I'm just going to list enough episodes to give you a good idea of what this show is like. If you want to watch more, this page has all the arcs so far: here. Crunchyroll has all the episodes available for streaming: here.

Gintama is basically set in an universe where, instead of the United States barging into Japan in the 1800s and forcing them to open their ports, aliens come down to earth and do the same thing. Edo thus becomes this mix of Tokugawa-era and modern-era, and that just means the mangaka can do whatever the hell he wants.

So much anachronism!


Sakata Gintoki: 20-something, lazy bum samurai. He runs a freelance business called 万事屋銀ちゃん (Yorozuya Gin-chan), where he does random jobs for customers. Years ago he fought in the war for resisting the entry of aliens (Amanto) into Japan, but he disappeared from the battlefield close to the end of the war and doesn't care about that anymore. He just wants to get by in this new crazy world while remaining true to his principles. Everyone sort of ends up falling a bit in love with him.
Hobbies: eating sweet things, reading Shonen Jump, not paying the rent.

Kagura (aka MY QUEEN): 14-year-old alien from the Yato clan, a warrior tribe with superhuman strength, healing abilities, and fighting instincts. Kagura is blunt, unladylike, doesn't take crap from anyone, has no common sense in the most hilarious ways, and is the most kickass 14-year-old you'll ever meet. She and Gintoki have this fantastic father/daughter, brother/sister kind of relationship. She's a mini-Gintoki in training, and she's going to grow up to be the biggest badass this side of the galaxy.
Hobbies: eating pickled seaweed, eating an entire rice cooker full of rice, walking her giant dog, kicking Okita Sougo's ass.

Shimura Shinpachi: 16-year-old from a samurai family. He's the straight man of the trio and the most "normal." He's the most responsible and motherly, and his comedic role is usually involves yelling at Gintoki/Kagura/the world for being idiotic/weird/nonsensical. He idolizes a pop idol called Otsu and is a rabid otaku fan of hers. He's the captain of Otsu's Imperial Guard, a fanclub he started, which he rules with an iron fist and lots of really embarrassing dancing. His older sister is terrifying and violent. Other characters mock him by saying his only defining characteristic is that he wears glasses. Poor boy puts up with a lot.
Hobbies: listening to Otsu's songs, going to Otsu's concerts, practicing group cheers for Otsu's performances.

And together they are...

The Yorozuya!: These three and the bonds between them form the heart of this series. It's not enough to say that they're friends: they are absolutely a family. (Gintoki sometimes even refers to them as the "Sakata household.") As wacky, absurd, and unconventional as they are, they ultimately elevate Gintama as a show, because during the most touching moments, you get a palpable sense of how much they love each other. Gintama is about a lot of things, but at its core it's about the love that makes people family.

Comedy, drama, action, adventure, family, friendship, crack, penis jokes, toilet humor, no overarching plot whatsoever, kickass female characters, fourth wall breaking all over the place, parodies of other Shonen Jump series, mockery of mangaka's editor, complete batshit insanity, lots and lots of heart.

Have I mentioned humor? So much humor. Every time you read/watch, you'll have epileptic fits of laughter. Did I talk about drama? When things get serious, the feelings will wreck you. You will laugh, scream, and cry in various alternating patterns and then repeat the process all over again and enjoy every single second of it.

Additionally, I would add that this series really rewards you for putting in the time to get to know the characters. It's not like some other series where, in a dramatic flashback, you learn that character A suffered a tragic loss in his past and suddenly this explains everything about his characterization. It's harder to sum up Gintama's characters, especially Gintoki and Kagura, who are the most fleshed out. What happens is that you pick up certain things about them by going through each of the episodes/chapters, almost like how you get to know someone in real life, until you have a good idea of how they would react in all sorts of situations.

There are none, are you crazy? This show is genius. Jk, I'm sure there are valid reasons. I just can't think of any, maybe other than the fact that it doesn't have an overarching plot?

EPISODES (with handy references to corresponding manga chapters!)

Ep. 3 and 4

In which our three main idiots meet. (Ch. 1 and 3) (Note: Skip ep. 1 and 2 because they were complete filler.)

Ep. 5

Katsura, Gintoki's friend from his war days, is now an anti-Amanto terrorist and wants Gintoki to join him, just like the old days. Too bad he has a few screws loose. [important for character interactions + introduction to Shinsengumi] (Ch. 5-6)

Ep. 8

Tae, Shinpachi's sister, has a really persistent stalker, and the Shinsengumi will never recover from this stain on their image. [so funny I hurt my spleen] (Ch. 8)

Ep. 9

The Shinsengumi attempt to protect their honor, and Gintoki meets his rival, mayo. [important for character interactions] (Ch. 9)

Ep. 10

Kagura finds a dog in a box outside the Yorozuya office. Problem: the dog is taller than Gintoki. Other problem: an alien prince wants to add him to his animal collection. [lots of warm, fuzzy feelings] (Ch. 10)

Ep. 13

The Yorozuya bust a drug gang! Intro to the Harusame, space pirates and the largest criminal syndicate in the universe. [important for warm, fuzzy feelings and plot points] (Ch. 12-14)

Ep. 14

Part A - The Shinsengumi have to protect a jerkass Amanto official who's rumored to have been involved in the drug trafficking gang and whose life is now threatened. Part B - Kagura makes a new friend who's tired of her royal life. [important for warm and fuzzy character interactions] (Part A: Ch. 15, Part B: Ch. 23)

Ep. 20

In which Gintoki and Hijikata are wusses in the same exact way. Ghost stories with the Yorozuya and Shinsengumi. [so funny I hurt my spleen] (Ch. 33-34)

Ep. 31-32

Gintoki loses his memories arc. [50% crack, 50% nakama tears] (Ch. 50-52)

Ep. 40-42

Kagura's dad comes to earth and wants to take Kagura away. Meanwhile, there's a giant, energy-eating tentacle monster that's going to destroy Edo? [25% crack, 75% THIS PLACE MEANS SO MUCH TO HER AND YOU'RE MAKING HER LEAVE?] (Ch. 57-63)

Ep. 125

Most fourth-wall-breaking recap filler episode you will ever watch in your life. Once you've seen a few minutes of the beginning and appreciated the anime team's brilliant tactics at dragging out an episode, you can skip to minute 14:38. The Yorozuya go for the annual cherry blossom viewing with Tae, but the Shinsengumi show up, and things just go downhill from there, and I mean that in the best way possible. [so funny I hurt my spleen] (Ch. 17)


Go. Just do it. Sit down and watch. It will bring so much happiness into your life.


1. Yorozuya Soul
The main English Gintama fansite. They have episode and chapter guides, anime/manga news updates, etc. If you want to know something about this series, they probably have the answer.

2. Two-part primer by nemicon over at Dreamwidth. Part 1 | Part 2
I found this guide incredibly helpful when I first started the anime, and you should all take a look. She covers more episodes and arcs than I do. If you've been duly convinced of Gintama's brilliance and are prepared to watch through it, her guide will be more useful than mine.

3. Episode Guide with Supporting Characters Appearances by marypoopins
Incredible document detailing which characters (in addition to the Yorozuya) show up in each episode all the way up to episode 252. REAL LABOR OF LOVE RIGHT THERE. Mad respect.

21st-Feb-2013 02:37 pm (UTC)
Gin-channnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!!! I love him!!!"o((>ω< ))o" the voice of Sugita Tomokazu is extremely attractive as well "o(* ̄▽ ̄*)ゞ "
I think Gintama is a very special manga that I have ever seen, especially in Shonen Jump XDD
Sometimes I really do not know what Hideaki Sorachi thought and it just like everything is possible in his world. There is no limit in Gintama’s world and he can make fun of anyone for any unimaginative reasons. Amazing╮( ̄▽ ̄”)╭
The recent story (一國傾城篇) also is great and very impressive, the oiran(傾城鈴蘭) really is beautiful, at the end of the story it touched me a lot *cry* Gin-san and Takasugi have the same sad eyes...Q^Q after heard this sentence I burst into tears。・゚゚・(>д<;)・゚゚・。 ヒィ
Because of Gintama I started to use nicovideo then found so many interesting videos and the people playing the koemare(声真似Sound imitation) is awesome, then recently I listen to their namahousou(生放送 Live broadcast) every night XDDDDD It really improved my Japanese listening ability! o(*≧▽≦)ツ
Oh, also, I was enchanted by Gin-san’s voice particularly when he said:糖分王に俺はなるand 先生によろしくな SO SEXY!”o((>ω< ))o” after I fall in love with his voice I searched a lot of radio drama Sugita Tomokazu dubbing. (。→∀←。)キャハ♡
22nd-Feb-2013 01:49 am (UTC)
Chanced upon your post on Tumblr and coincidentally, I did a post about Gintama as well!! It just brings so much joy into anyone's life, I'm actually surprised there are people who cannot appreciate Gintama. When my friends ask what Gintama is about, I just burst out laughing cause all the funnies pop into my mind.
22nd-Feb-2013 08:58 am (UTC)
You are a boon to every fandom you occupy.
22nd-Feb-2013 01:23 pm (UTC)
this is BRILLIANT /cries/ thank you so much. ♥
23rd-Feb-2013 04:33 am (UTC)
I agree with everything, BUT, I think you've misrepresented Shinpachi. If I were reading this for the first time I would think that he was an important character, and I might even make the mistake of thinking he was interesting, which just...isn't true. I don't think he fills any particularly important role in the series. I mean, do you really need a straight man? Even if you cut out all of Shinpachi's dialogue, the story would not change. All the funny things would happen, and they would still be funny; we just wouldn't have a guy explaining every single thing that happens in all caps afterwards.

Some semi-randomly selected examples:
c420. Kagura's dad builds an altar. Shinpachi: Heeey!! What are you doing, building creepy altars in other people's houses?!!
c383. A black hole is born in a kotatsu. Shinpachi: What is this?! How was a black hole born inside a kotatsu?!
c187: Gintoki makes some weirdly shaped kappa-maki. Shinpachi: The shape is all wrong!

GEE, THANKS SHINPACHI. That was soooo helpful.

The only time Shinpachi is funny in his own right was the very first time the glasses joke was made (but not the billion times it was repeated afterwards) and all the scenes with Pandemonium.

Besides not being funny or helpful, Shinpachi is also not important to the story. Gintoki has basically the same type of brother/sister relationship with Shinpachi and Kagura, except it's more visibly fleshed out with Kagura. All the emotional benefits of their camaraderie would still be there if it was just Kagura. Neither is Shinpachi necessary for the plot, which obviously centers around Gintoki. Kagura has a backstory with her brother, who shows up as an antagonist and is set up for a confrontation with her. Each character brings their own backstory and relationships to the table. There is the arc about Shinpachi and Otae's older brother figure, which could have been accomplished with Otae alone. Literally the only thing that Shinpachi has brought us is a billion repetitive glasses jokes and the Otsu arc, which was neither very funny nor very dramatic..

Okay. I know this turned into a screed about how much I hate Shinpachi, but you asked me to write it *_* I think in the next version, you should include the true members of the Yoruzuya: Gintoki, Kagura, glasses, and Sadaharu.
23rd-Feb-2013 04:35 am (UTC)
ilu lucy. ♥♥♥♥♥
23rd-Feb-2013 04:38 am (UTC)
One day there's going to be another arc focusing on Shinpachi, and you're going to flip out so hard, and I want to be there when it happens hahahahaha.

Edited at 2013-02-23 04:38 am (UTC)
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