It really does feel like we’re inching closer to something interesting here, with Gintama. There’s a rushed sense of pacing, a sense of urgency to the show this time, one that feels oddly out of place, and quite a bit different. This isn’t the Gintama that I remember, the one that just really did own whatever it was doing, whether it was funny comedy or intensely gripping emotional moments. This week’s episode, much like last week’s offering, feels like a show full of half measures.
See, despite the fact that there’s quite a bit that happened in this episode, it all felt a bit hollow, and a big part of that was pacing. This episode felt like it had enough content and story for three episodes, and it really felt like it should’ve taken the extra time to revel in each big moment.
The first thing, was of course, Kagura’s departure. Kagura has left forth for Rakuyo (which turns out is her birth planet), alongside the remnants of Takasugi’s fleet. Its a solemn moment, one that feels like its really leading to the big conclusion to Kagura’s big story. Kagura lost her family, and then she found another one in Gintoki and Shinpachi. Throughout the series, we’ve seen her struggle and deal with her past, and we’ve seen her clash with both her father and brother. Now that those two prominent men in her life are finally going at it, Kagura has to act, and she has to act alone.
Kagura knows that both Shinpachi and Gintoki are going to get involved, just because of who they are. She knows it, and so all she really cares about is getting to the action first, before they get dragged into all of it. And see that whole character moment? Its powerful. Its selfless, its self sacrificing, and its a little heart breaking. After all Kagura’s been through with Gintoki and Shinpachi, and Sadaharu, its sad that she still felt like she had to go alone and handle it all.
The whole Kagura thing is powerful, but its only powerful in concept, as far as I’m concerned. The show just doesn’t execute the emotion properly, because it just doesn’t take the time to let it all sink in. There’s a lot going on here, both with Kagura, and with Gintoki. Its unfortunate that the show doesn’t dedicate an entire episode to their feelings, because the show sorely needs to.
The Gintama that I remember, would’ve made a frigging emotional wreck out of me in this episode. It would’ve made me feel horribly sad to the point of tears, and by the end of it all, it would’ve had me roaring for Gintoki and the rest to get back together and kick some ass. But it doesn’t, and the reason it doesn’t is because there’s just too much ELSE that that the episode and the story need to accomplish.
I’m not entirely sure if this is because the anime series this time is going to be much shorter, or because the source manga just was like this, but it feels like the story and the show are off their game. The Kagura moment deserved some time, and it deserved the entire cast of characters interacting with her in some way, to really sell us on the stakes of the whole matter.
Gintama has a huge cast of characters, but its just so unfortunate that we haven’t seen a lot of them this time around. The world and story of Gintama feel so lifeless and so desolate, because all the primary characters that make this show so fun, are just not there. Its understandable that we don’t get to see the Shinsengumi, but characters like Otose, Otae, Tsukuyo, Tama, Gengai e.t.c, characters that matter to Kagura and have interacted with her so much, don’t even get a mention?
Its a misstep that leads to a loss that really is left here. Kagura’s leaving doesn’t feel all that special, because quite frankly, the whole thing isn’t explored. And before we even have time to process any of that, the show focuses on Gintoki and his whole issue with Takasugi and Utsuro. Which, again, is something that needs an entire episode in and of itself.
Gintoki coming to grips with what he needs to do, his feelings and emotions regarding both Takasugi and his old teacher Shoyo, and his decision to ultimately go forward and face them, is something needs time and care. Yet its kind of just thrown in as an ongoing thing, because the plot has to hurry and get things rolling.
Plus once Gintoki, Shinpachi and Sadaharu do depart with Katsura and Skamoto, things jump into overdrive and we get ANOTHER big moment. The whole confrontation with the new Shogun, Nobunobu, the guy who basically made Edo into a living hell following ShigeShige’s death and defeat, is unceremoniously taken out as a small little obstacle on the way to Rakuyo. The whole situation with Edo and Nobunobu is something that Gintama as a series has been focusing on for a long time. To have that whole plot kind of just get taken care of in a few sudden scenes, without a proper arc or battle to it, feels rather unsatisfying to say the least.
It feels like this whole scene would’ve benefited from an entire episode as well. And as a concept, I can see the appeal. The whole idea of Kagura leaving, Gintoki following and joining with his old comrades, and then taking out Nobunobu before moving onto to the main issue, is a compelling series of events. It feels like these are touch points, raising the stakes and making everything bigger and more massive, before jumping forward to Kagura’s story, and then eventually Utsuro himself.
The fact that we just get a few rushed scenes and a quick resolution to it all, dampens any impact that these moments could’ve had. Instead it all feels like nothing more than setup, and setup that’s almost like an annoyance. The show feels like its covering these things because it has to, because it needs to, and not because it wants to. Which is unfortunate, because good, careful setup is what makes for compelling and satisfying payoffs later. Its while anime series like One Piece can spend upwards of 13-14 episodes in just a flashback arc, so they can provide context and stakes to the present day. Heck, even Ao no Exorcist, which is airing this very season, is taking its setup very seriously.
It feels like a real tragedy that Gintama, is just not. And here’s the thing, this wasn’t a bad episode either. It may sound like it, it may sound like I hated it, but I was actually quite immersed as I saw each little tidbit roll out. And boy, was there a lot to see and process. Beyond the three major things listed above, there was setup for Umibozu and his eventual confrontation with Kamui and there was a decent amount of development for Utsuro and his threat too.
And all of that stuff was endearing, it was interesting, intriguing, but it never quite elevated itself to being emotionally resonant. The emotion, the heart, that Gintama wears on its sleeve so effortless and proudly, just felt absent. I expected to either laugh or be moved to tears, or maybe even both, because this series and franchise has done it so well, so many times. The fact that I didn’t feel that way, is what’s so shocking and so surprising.
It just seems like the show is juggling too many things, and moving too quickly toward wherever it wants to get to. I’m enjoying it, but I also want Gintama to move me, to impress me and blow me away like it has so many times in the past. I want it to slow down, take its time and just tell its story without skipping to whatever it feels are the good parts.
I hope that, after this week, now that we’ll be on Rakuyo, that things slow down a bit, and the show finds its footing again. Gintama can’t just be a B+ show, it can’t just be “decent or good”, Gintama is something that I want and expect to “Great!”. Here’s earnestly hoping that we see that again and soon.
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