I hadn’t realized ’til earlier this week that I’d never put up my Episode 260 post. But really… it’s probably for the best. Watching the 260 and 261 near back to back helped put a cap on my feelings on the short yet exceedingly large Courtesan of a Nation arc.
Starting off with 260, Pinky Swear, wherein Gintoki has suffered his most emotionally crushing defeat in the face of those responsible for the death of his teacher. And with the odds stacked up against them, who else would come to save them than the entire Edo police force. Both the Shinsengumi and revived Mimawarigumi make their glorious return! Kondo and co. (Kondo surprisingly the only one who ISN’T making an ass of himself, who’da thunk it) give a helping hand to Kagura and Shinpachi in their esceape, while Isaburo returns with a scolding for Gintoki. Now, I’m already a fan of Isaburo, but it’s neat that with every successive scene with Nobume, she becomes that much more likable. The two fit in surprisingly well, despite being a dubious sort of duo quite separated from the rest of the cast.
It speaks to the power of this mass of established characters who all manage to work their way into this conflict, and so seamlessly. The stalker gorilla is no less himself as the leader of an impressive faction of the police, no less than the email obsessive freak is as the ever composed boss of the competing sect. The strength lies in the simple, constant display of personality. Compare and contrast. While they act vastly different from place to place, they have clear underlying selves which shine through equally in both the comedy and the drama. The character’s are internally consistent to the point where we could practically predict on a general level how’ll they act in certain situations. That’s creating a bond between you and the show right there. Good execution and details will make the moment memorable and surprising. But at the end of the day Matsudaira will always be number 1 in both his love for his daughter and in his deeds as the executive officer. And at the pool or stranded in the mountains, at the barbershop or stepping onto the battlefield, the Shogun will be beautiful, always.
It’s probably for a related reason why Oboro doesn’t really do it for me, but we’ll get to that.
Isaburo having administered a dosage or two an antidote, Gintoki, along with Tsukuyo and Nobume, run off for a final confrontation with the former shogun. Meanwhile, the big man himself begins to realize that right under his nose, his puppet had become the new big man in town. And with Shigeshige’s kind yet lordly demeanor, it’s no surprise he’s who the guards eventually align themselves with. Sadasada finds himself stranded on a two player team with a cultist. Strategically at this point, there’s nothing else left to do but count your losses and retreat into the warm embrace of the Tendoshu. You know, those guys. Sitting on the pillars in that one episode from 6 years ago? If not, just a reminder that these are the guys behind the scenes, the amanto who hold all of the real power in Edo. With Sadasada’s rule came the Tendoshu, who naturally use the Shogun to keep Edo on leash. It’s gonna be a hard knock life for Shigeshige once all of this blows over.
Of course, that would imply Sadasada was done making us hate him. Finding himself lost and enraged off of his pedestal, he intends to take vengeance on the source of his problems. Suzuran and Yoshiwara. Underneath all of the power, what we have here is a very shallow man. He can barely even bring himself to trust Oboro, the only person aiding him at his time of need. The guy gets more and more freaked out with every close-up, every time he is THIS much closer to having a critical heart failure. It’d almost kinda worrying, if it weren’t so satisfying.
And that’s perhaps the major problem I have with Oboro. Despite his past meeting with Gintoki which highlights the main character’s struggles, despite his connections as Yatagarasu which put him high up in the hidden infrastructure of power, he’s a really boring sort of guy. He can preach with the best of them at the samurais’ inability to protect jack shit, but all of his intrigue comes from external factors which really leave the character himself stuck in a long streak of booooooring. He’s lucky to have Sadasada working in tandem with him to provide the more emotional side of the villains, and Gintoki’s history providing the emotional heartbreak we feel watching this.
Thank god is the guy expressive in his fighting though.
What comes next is nothing short of really freakin’ cool. Action scenes tend to be really short in Gintama, but boy do they take advantage of what they’ve got. Best of all being the surroundings, as the two fight from the cloud cover of the explosions to tumbling down the palace’s rooftop, exchanging blows all the while. Best of all comes as Gintoki falls off only to take Oboro down with him, leading to the final blows as they plunge down to the ground. And when you think it won’t get any cooler, they slap you silly by showing us Shouyo’s pretty boy face for the first time along with Gintoki reaffirming his promise to him to protect what he holds dear. Cliche or not, done well this sort of stuff is gooooooooood gravy they are fighting with the remains of their blades. Not just Gintoki this time ’round with the stunt he pulled during the Four Devas, but the both of them.
Generally, good stuff. My major gripe was largely just Oboro stuck in the midst of whole batch of more interesting characters, but the next episode does a lot of good tiding that sentiment over.
When it begins when the ending theme, you know you’re in for a classic “end of arc” montage.
The Tendoshu doesn’t waste any time recovering Sadasada’s abused self, their superiority over him emanating all the while. And were they to have their way, Sadasada’s crimes would be gone with the wind, only to reinstate the puppet back in his place. Worse yet, our rebels here face extreme punishment from the otherworldly overseers for their, well, rebelling. But fear not viewers, as our gorgeous Shogun-sama saves the day once more! Sadly the Tendoshu don’t see him for what he is, considering him all but a mere decoration. If only they knew. After all the abuse, the shocking amount of nudity, and immense ridicule, the Shogun is now purposely putting himself in the line of fire to prove his point. To save the rebels who only fought against a corrupt leader. Taking the blame on his own neck, offering in his resignation as the Shogun. What a man. WHAT A HUNK.
It comes off a little nationalistic, sure, which is always a touchy subject with Japan involved, especially with a lot of this series revolving around little ol’ Edo-town. I heard some people talk about it in such regards, but my take? Considering how little our main characters, particularly former patriot himself Gintoki, dabble in nationalistic idealism? Heck, the guy has an extreme lack of interest in the country itself. The very reason he took up the sword had nothing to do with the country, it was all very personal. Katsura took up some anti-amanto attitude from it, but over the hundreds of eps, he’s largely come to understand that they aren’t what’s at fault here. (Takasugi on the other hand is just generally a major dick) Regardless, the difference is here that while the Amanto are fine folk in general, the Tendoshu are conquerors and it’s best not to let them have their way too often, lest they become even more deep rooted into the government. “This is Samurai Country” comes off a little strong, but considering the time period and once again the Tendoshu being also major dicks, is fairly appropriate.
Also the Shogun is an honest, conscientious young man who, we can all probably agree on, is wonderful.
We move on to Isaburo emailing his life away as some representative of the Hitosubashi faction prattles on about their rise to power. No doubt only to lead into some more charming faces from the Shinsengumi fairies. What’s kinda interesting here, besides the increasing hints on Isaburo’s ulterior motives, is once again the focus on our country samurais’ reason to keep their swords. It came up earlier this arc as well, and considering how much of this arc appears to be set-up for the possible finale (really odd to say that about this show), I’m curious on if this will ever be addressed properly. It’s one of those underlying questions you can never really be sure on if Sorachi will ever answer, BEING A GAG SERIES AFTER ALL, but it’s starting to tilt in favor of yes. And I’m okay with that.
More oddly, another aspect got focus here that I didn’t particularly remember from the manga. And it’s the significance of Shouyo’s students, larger than what I remember it was. Naturally, these were the guys who prolonged the war for as long as it went on, but besides Takasugi, it’s hard to consider either Gintoki or Katsura in a… role of importance??? Wide-scale importance. It’s true these guys are all powerful individuals, and also massively their own individuals. They’re liable to do nearly anything. Takasugi of course is on his path of destruction, while Katsura continues to be, even underneath his extreme adorkable idiocy, a Joui patriot… kinda? And Gintoki at this point has been involved in a number of incidents, this being by far the most notable, perhaps alongside the first Yoshiwara incident. But as it is, it’s what the “still totally alive and kickin’ it Oboro” tells the high horses of the Tendoshu; Shouyo’s remaining students may be even larger of a threat to their power than anything the Hitotsubashi can throw at them.
And then there’s Takasugi, in the flesh. As his appearance during the Thorny arc, it’s short and sweet, swinging by to let the former Shogun know that sometimes in life, there are horrible consequences to your own actions. And here’s where the parallels between Gintoki and Takasugi come back in full force, mirroring each other in their final line, “Say hello to Sensei for me”, to the arc antagonists. And if Takasugi’s appearance wasn’t enough, were given a last shocking reveal in the form of Nobume. Who, apparently, is also known as Mukuro and was one of the three Naraku. If I’ve got my math right, basically means besides Oboro and Nobume, we’ve got one more somewhere out there. But more importantly, wow is Nobume way more interesting that Oboro, is that something we can agree on? Not only has she been on a role this arc being overall hilarious and kickass, she’s got the entire connection to both Takasugi and now Yatagarasu working for her. She is basically really really cool, we can all agree on that, right?
She even gives us goldmine in Gintoki and Takasugi parallels, paraphrasing a little here, but basically: “One wished to preserve what Shouyo left behind, the other destroy, but they both had eyes full of sadness”. Their eventual meeting will be nothing short of tragic. Phew. That’s. A lot of set-up for the future here. In a sad sort of way, it’s beginning to feel like our first steps towards the end. But this ain’t over yet either, since despite the significance of all this mumbo-jumbo above, this mess started for an entirely different reason.
Okita, being buddy-buddy with Gintoki, gives us a guarantee that the Shogun, at least for now, will keep his position. As an “interim Shogun” while the Tendoshu and Hitotsubashi make their moves, if nothing else. With the aftermath of the incident, security around the palace is greater than ever, leaving the armless Maizou stranded from the nearing death Suzuran. But as her life is about to extinguish, her desire to keep their promise is strong, even in it’s futility. Tsukuyo, in her understanding of Yoshiwara and the importance of her closest relations, takes the tragedy of the situation hard. And even in the impossibility of it all, Maizou attempts to make the trip regardless, although immediately stopped by Isaburo, who will have none of that. And in a moment that GinTsu shippers will wear with pride, Suzuran in her ghastly state notes her the strands of promise wrapped around Tsukuyo’s fingers. A good man will always keep his promise.
Then the magic happens. (⊙‿⊙✿)
Gintama has the most magical way of bringing back a silly moment from earlier on, and turning it into a heartfelt message at the end. Kick the Can, join Spicy Chips. Oh man, this is adorable, even the Shogun and Saya are trying to join in. And to top it off, Nobume kicks the can all the way to Yoshiwara. This is the silliest and best possible send-off the old man could ask for.
The rest. Well. The rest is perhaps the only part I could confidently say improved on the manga. Something simple and even cliche can be done such justice with the right amount of care. The voice acting hits the notes known only as bittersweet, as the lovers meet for the first time since their promise. The beauty of the moment as Maizou only sees the woman he fell in love with, and in their personal world, tenderly feels her hands against his own, her warmth soon fading however. And having exerted the last of his life on his run to Yoshiwara, he lifts her up and joins her to greet the moon and their eternal slumber together.
This scene. They hit it out of the park.
Final thoughts though? The source material here shines through, and the studio does what it’s known to and delivers a solid product. A sixth episode would have done wonders to properly allow certain scenes to breath, and add in good content that got cut. The manga had a certain impact to it that the anime didn’t get just right this time, but with the general quality of what we did get, it’s small pittance. As it stands personally, I love the heck out of this arc, for all it manages to bring together in it’s comedy and drama. Even the action Sorachi choreographs has some of its best showings here; the fights aren’t a draw to the series, but they’re well entwined with the emotion of the story, and add a nice spice to the goings-on.
The arc does carry a certain feel to it though, that’s a little foreign to the series. It feels as if with this, we’ve taken our first step towards the end, and it’s odd coming from Gintama. It’ll take time ’til we get that far, but now the finale is peeking over the horizon, if only a tiny bit. Hopefully it manages to screw itself to a later date like the Gintama movie. With a serious arc like this, we’ve deserved our gag anime back. Maybe we could like, get some new material from that stash ‘fore we move on to the next big thing. Or… we could always get reruns too. That sounds like something that might happen.
In which case if it does, expect something else Gintama related next week, since I’ve just watched the Benizakura-hen movie. Review on that? Could be!