Peek once into the myanimelist rankings and you'll run into Gintama at least seven times in the Top 20.
Although universally loved and critically acclaimed, a lot of people report difficulty in getting into Gintama.
A few say it’s too basic, some don’t dig the humour and others wait perpetually for the series to get “serious”.
Gintama enthusiasts promise that good things wait for those who wait.
But with 367 episodes and a couple of movies, when does it really get good?
What’s Gintama About?
To someone who hasn’t watched the show, Gintama can be quite confusing. In fact, I have watched the entirety of it and I still don’t have a clue.
Here’s a quick rundown though – At heart, Gintama is centred on the life of a freelance samurai called Gintoki in a futuristic Edo, who hires an immigrant alien girl who’s not supposed to be on earth and a glasses-wearing samurai boy whose entire personality resides in his glasses.
Together they do all sorts of odd jobs to get paid. He doesn’t pay either of them, of course.
He’s also childhood friends with a bunch of terrorists and loves to pick his nose, gamble, drink strawberry milkshakes and make R-rated jokes.
Occasionally, he protects the city from, you know, stuff, and also makes fun of every other anime to exist.
That only scratches the surface of Gintama’s magnanimity, but let’s move on to why such an anime finds it difficult to hook in viewers.
You know those extensive anime filler lists that are meant to protect you from wasting your time by bingeing 50 episodes that in the end contribute nothing to the plot?
Well, the way Gintama is designed – a slice of life at heart – the anime doesn’t really have fillers at all. Except… the first two episodes!
That’s right. It doesn’t really help when your debut episodes do basically nothing, right?
I mean, think of every big anime where the protagonist’s mother gets eaten by a naked titan or his girlfriend gets murdered or some ultra-powerful spirit takes possession of you within the first episode.
Now look at Gintama that spends – not just the first two – but many more episodes to only just introduce characters (who will be the reason why you’ll roll on the floor dying much later in the show).
Viewers will understandably feel underwhelmed and wrongly mistake those episodes as representative of future episodes.
Why did it begin like that?
I believe part of the reason why the creators did this was because of the scale and diversity of things that Gintama is and could become.
When I look back at the show now, I can’t think of any other way to introduce the bizarre world of Gintama.
Parodies and References
Gintama is loaded with references to various anime and pop culture figures, some of them very obscure or accessible to only hardcore weebs and those who prefer old shows.
The anime also plays with various Japanese sayings.
The jokes might initially fly over the viewer’s heads if they aren’t acclimatised to these things, making the experience much less enjoyable.
This is also why I never suggest Gintama to someone who’s looking to get into anime.
The parodies are only enjoyable when you’ve a background in anime.
Benizakura Arc (Episode 58-62)
The serious arcs in Gintama are placed sporadically, which differentiates it from other shounen which usually has a build-up of 20-50 episodes before the bad guy gets killed. Gintama arcs never last that long.
Benizakura arc is the first serious arc in Gintama. Many fans say that they became fans of the show at this point.
This is probably because of how it shifted from a comedy devil-may-care storyline to having actual lives at stake.
If you’re watching Gintama only for the action arcs, then this is where the show will get good for you!
It really depends on what you want from the anime. Gintama can get good within 20 episodes or it may take a 100.
It could be a random episode like 67, or you might fall in love with it from the beginning.
Gintama is too many things at once to say for sure, but as the maxim goes – if you stick around, you’ll find out.