So, this sort of turned into a bit of an essay... SORRY. I JUST. REALLY LOVE GINTAMA. (It's also longer because I've added pictures to keep it interesting.) I just hope this is informative for folks! Things to look out for, stuff you'd probably really enjoy and some plot and background information!!
Reasons you shouldn’t: (mostly trigger warnings, here! SOME OF THIS STUFF probably won't even bother people, like, at all. BUT I WORRY A LOT, OK. I'M A BALL OF ANXIETY WHEN I INTRODUCE PPL TO SERIES.)
- A LOT OF POOP JOKES AND FART JOKES AND DICK JOKES. A WHOLE LOT. I’M NOT KIDDING. I didn’t really mind it too much, but some things are not for the squeamish. It could definitely bother some viewers. Probs avoid eating while watching Gintama.
- Sorta gory violence with a lot of decapitations and limb loss, so, do beware. And some very tragic character deaths. The deaths do push the plot forward, though, for the most part, and become major catalysts for various character's actions and/or major plot turning points. More male characters die and very few female characters do, fortunately. (Although there are some dead mother figures.)
- Could do a lot better by its LGBT characters. Pros: there are multiple reoccurring LGBT characters! Saigou, some trans hosts and bar employees, as well as Kyuubei (who later states they're neither male or female and has a female love interest.) and (kinda/maybe?) Katsura? They’re all fantastic and play important roles and are nobles and parents and war vets and have love interests! There are even some episodes and scenes which call out issues and address them being treated respectfully/allow them to figure things out for themselves and some good discussions are had! Cons: in spite of this, there are still a lot of other things that need work. It's all kind of a mixed mess of positive and negative messages. There are some other eps with very iffy jokes + stereotypical behavior and appearances, etc. that poke too much fun at them and there are some slurs used. It can be REALLY IFFY and not okay. I'd be fine with going over the stuff in detail via PM, if you'd like to know more. It doesn't occur too often, but it does take you by unpleasant surprise sometimes. :\ (And a few times, the scenes start out questionable but then taper out/get less bad???) (LIKE I SAID, IT'S COMPLICATED.)
- The series addresses prostitution and abuse a lot with Yoshiwara and it does handle some things pretty well. (Mostly later on in the series where some abuse is actually really called out by the actual request of, and by, some of the women affected.) But it’s a very heavy subject and can be tough to deal with.
- Dysfunctional families - Kagura's biological one in particular. (Parental illness and death, parental abandonment, familial abandonment, extremism? violent fights.)
- Multiple instances of physical and mental abuse, sometimes towards women, and child abuse and neglect. It can be kinda rough.
- Some suicides and seppuku.
- Some suicide and seppuku jokes and alcoholism and body image jokes.
- Some definite examples of veteran homelessness, PTSD and P.O.W. torture experiences and some alcoholism associated with that, too. (Gintoki drinks alone in excess on a pretty frequent basis – sometimes in self-destructive kinda ways.) (Hasegawa as well.) Gintoki's entire backstory, once it's revealed, is REALLY ROUGH, and there are definite hints at him having some PTSD, along with some of his other war comrades.
- Some rather squicky misogyny – which is often immediately called out and/or swiftly dealt with/gets dealt with later. I just. Wish it wasn’t there in the first place. (Seeing some characters getting what’s coming to them though is always satisfying. Kind of frighteningly delightfully satisfying.) (I actually still crack up so much at Hijikata (in the scene above) telling Okita, his subordinate captain, that he deserved getting his butt kicked after telling a gross joke.) It’s typically Okita Sougo and Kondou Isao being the grossbutts. (Thankfully, Hijikata is the polite, cranky nerdface of the Shinsengumi (military police) bless him.) There are occasions where I’ve been surprised by some things being handled better, too. (e.g. Gintoki respectfully telling a drunk friend that he’s going to refuse her advances because she’s drunk and it’s not okay.) (Although, tbh, I shouldn't be surprised by that being handled well. I've just, unfortunately, learned to expect the worst in most narratives.)
Reasons you should:
(Kyuubei, Sacchan, Tae and Tsukuyo)
A number of the male historical characters are now women or nb, just because. (The characters of Gintama are all based on actual Japanese history/legends, just fyi.)
- (some ladies storming a castle to topple the government)
There are a whole lot of lady characters!!! They get in-depth backstories, play important roles, have interesting motivations and are complex. They have some decent time in the spotlight and are considered equal or better fighters to the men. (And many do fight!!!) They also have some good, uninterrupted battle scenes without anyone stepping in!
Kagura is the main heroine and she goes through some exceptional character development and is canonically one of the physically strongest characters of the series - and is totally allowed to showcase it. (Lol, which I'll explain more about in the next section.)
A majority of the women (save for Tsukuyo and Matako, probably) are shown wearing fairly practical clothing that is never ruined or removed, even when injured. (In fact, the only underwear you're most likely to see are sarashi, worn pretty tastefully, and a LOT of the dude's boxers/briefs, which is something of an astonishing reversal.) Unfortunately, there are some swimsuit jokes and some boob jokes in a few episodes.
The ladies all have different personalities - some are assholes and some have huge flaws, and they are often just as (or more!) disgusting and goofy and ridiculous and loud as the guys, too. BUT. They are also caring and loyal and fiercely protective and generally pretty damn rad. AND PRETTY MUCH ALL OF THE LADIES IMMEDIATELY BECOME FRIENDS WITH EACH OTHER OR LATER BECOME FRIENDS. I LOVE IT. (A lot of the older women even acting like older sisters, aunts or mothers or grandmothers toward the younger ones. It's so cute.)
The women help each other through hardships and inspire one another and work together so well. There are too many examples to list off, lmao. They are all definitely treated as important to the story. (I have some mixed feels about Mitsuba, Matako and Kada, though? Kinda. Their characters could've been expanded on more and treated better.)
Out of all of the shounen manga I’ve read, (which have been… a lot……) this one and Fullmetal Alchemist are probably? among the best for ladies getting more development, interactions, meaningful, good friendships and screentime.
(Kagura, literally deflecting a fucking cannonball.)
- Kagura is genuinely one of my favorite shounen heroines ever. (And probably one of my favorite characters ever.)
She's based on Kaguya-hime, and, in the Gintama universe, she's from a super-strong race of aliens, called the Yato. (Many Yato are berserkers and have some mild regenerative abilities, so they were once a powerful warrior race, before dwindling to near-extinction.) Kagura leaves her home planet, after her family falls apart, to find a new life for herself on Earth. She never suffers from damsel in distress syndrome and some of her (many) fight scenes are the most badass and meaningful of the series! However, being a super-strong berserker, she can, and has, lost control before and she doesn’t ever want it to happen again and she doesn’t want to hurt the people close to her. (There's a lot more discussion and backstory on this later in the series, so I can't cover everything here, just that it gets more interesting!!) It’s a cycle of violence Kagura wants to end and strives to work against. (Some other interesting (lady!) Yato characters that share similar ideals play important roles later, too.)
Kagura uses her strength to protect the people around her!! But she’s not perfect, either. She’s still a kid and she’s allowed to be a kid! She has insecurities about her background, she's allowed to make mistakes and be selfish and petty sometimes, and she learns from the experiences! She can be gross and silly and cries when she wants to. She has a huge amount of heart. She befriends all of the other lady characters and encourages them and reassures them and they do the same for her! She really goes through so much growth and she’s so brave and kind and kickass and lovely and I JUST LOVE KAGURA SO MUCH. I TRULY DO and I’m so darn proud of her. MY SPACE DAUGHTER. Also! She’s voiced by the talented Kugimiya Rie (Alphonse Elric, Aisaka Taiga) who does a fucking stunning job. She can go from amazingly hilarious to utterly, deeply heartbreaking in a matter of seconds.
- Found family feelings and lots of cathartic feels and validation. <33333333333 The main trio find a lot of comfort in each other and gradually become a family. (They all literally refer to each other as their family/family members at various points.) They love each other so darn much and it’s so apparent and sweet. Characters also learn that it’s okay to be where they are, to manage to get through a day without having any goals in mind or things to strive toward. Gintama doesn't paint goals as a bad thing! Just that some people have them and some don't and THAT'S OKAY and you'll be fine, even if you don't know where you're going in life. (It's also a refreshing change from the many shounen protagonists who have an ULTIMATE DREAM.) (In fact, Gintoki's original goal, in his younger years, failed horrifically and that's where the main series begins. An older Gintoki trying to piece his life back together while learning there's nothing wrong with just simply living from day to day.) The changes in the characters are so gradual that you don’t even really notice it at all while you’re going through the series. But if you look back at the beginning and then look at where the series is near the end, it really hits you and you realize just how far everyone has come.
Gintoki slowly accepting that he has a family now and deserves to have one, Kagura becoming physically and emotionally stronger and wiser, Shinpachi finding more courage and compassion and encouraging others... <333
- Most of the series revolves around the characters’ comedic antics, so you get to know the funnier, mellower and wackier and more embarrassing sides of them to a much greater extent. But, when you get into the occasional serious arcs, you’re shown their weak and horrifying and desperate moments and strong and caring and brave moments. Suddenly, you don’t want to see these dweebs getting hurt or going through such terrible things and you realize that you really fucking care about them??? Like, a LOT??? It sneaks up on you like that. Seeing how they react under pressure and react to crisis - how they make sacrifices and reach out to others and work so hard... It feels so much more like normal life events – you’re so much more accustomed to seeing these characters going about their daily lives - and they are much more realistic and multifaceted and are given much more emotional depth because of this!!! It also shows that characters are capable of changes, good and bad, and it does it in such fantastic ways. That people can continue to choose to hope, even in the face of despair.
- The characters’ relationships with one another are incredibly meaningful and well-written. (Between the ladies, too!!!) They end cycles of abuse and violence and despair and they prevent others from falling or from having to go through the same experiences they went through. (e.g. see Gintoki with Hijikata, above) Gintoki is by no means an overpowered protag, lol. He’s a very good and clever swordfighter, and is willing to help where others might not, but he’s not ~the chosen one~ and he relies on others a lot, too. Kagura and Shinpachi and many other characters have even saved his life at various points! At times, there IS a bit too much protagonist talk-no-jutsu, unfortunately, but it's not a constant thing. (Thank goodness.) Other characters get some good speeches and make some great points, too.
The characters' friendships and caring behavior and genuine love for one another are SO thoughtful and important. They will reach out and pick up the slack where another character might be lacking. Different characters are allowed their different strengths and motivations and utilize them well!
- While the earlier arc antagonists don’t see as much retribution and are sometimes forgiven too easily (a reasonably valid complaint some fans have) some later arc antagonists are not forgiven so easily/at all and VERY MUCH HAVE TO DEAL with the repercussions of their actions. (It’ll take a while to get there, but it’s pretty damn satisfying.) And they deal with the repercussions in different ways! Some realize that they have to be held accountable and some don't! And't it's GREAT.
The longtime central antagonists (Takasugi Shinsuke and Kamui) are very complex and never coddled or overly-featured and their destructive actions are called out and addressed. (Unlike some other manga - lookin' at you, Naruto.) They can be both horribly pitiful and super terrifying. (Yikes @ Kamui, pictured above.)
UNFORTUNATELY, there is a different, obnoxious antagonist who appears near the end of the series and, tbh, he's kind of a snoozefest and he's fine to just skip through.
- There are a number of reoccurring physically disabled and scarred characters! (One in a wheelchair, another with an incapacitating injury that totally changed their life (as we find out much later in the series - so I won't spoil it) and a couple of others who lost their eyes, some who are missing limbs, and some characters with scars they’re very self-conscious about.) Their disabilities and injuries are almost always treated SUPER respectfully and kindly and the characters still accomplish a lot of stuff, actively participate in the story, have some fantastic roles and are all-around rad. (And I love a lot of them tons.)
- The humor is usually really damn funny and is an integral part of the series. A mix of surrealist humor and slapstick and parodies and biting sarcasm and fourth wall breaking. (And so much toilet humor, I'm sorry.) A number of running gags and in-jokes pop up over time, too. You will probably laugh until you cry. (I stg, I was, like, ugly laughing for over twenty minutes because of some moments in the Soul Swap Arc.) It can be so over the top and out there - like. Absurdist shitpost level and it's so fun. At times, though, it just gets RIDICULOUS and you'll find yourself wondering just what the fuck sort of anime you've gotten into and the characters would probably agree with you. Just. PLease. Watch at least a clip.
- The serious arcs are some of the best shounen arcs I’ve ever watched! They’re absolutely thrilling and nerve-wracking and thoughtful and FEELINGSY and will keep you at the edge of your seat!!! It doesn't cut corners with character development, interactions and backstories, it will dive right into the emotions and all you can do is hang on and probably cry a lot. (You will absolutely need some tissues, I'M NOT KIDDING OK.) When it comes to action scenes, they're very clever, to the point and not drawn out. The characters don’t have time for nobility and honor, they fight dirty and will resort to whatever tactics they can to survive. Not always entirely realistic, lmao, but very resourceful and pragmatic. Characters bringing guns to swordfights. A character toppling a building to defeat his opponent because he couldn’t defeat her in a swordfight. Kicking debris and dust into a much stronger enemy’s eyes, playing dead or injured and hiding among corpses, temporarily joining forces with antagonists to fight against more dangerous enemies… IT'S SO DAMN GOOD.
- As a shounen parody series, it makes fun of other shounen manga running alongside it in Jump, and ridic shounen tropes in general. It also mercilessly satirizes mecha anime (it's mostly been animated by Sunrise, who are also responsible for Gundam, so they get away with a lot lmao) old school shoujo, sentai series, horror, delinquent series, video games, Studio Ghibli, Disney, TONS of other anime and manga, cartoons and world events and politics... you name it and Gintama has probably joked about it. And it breaks the fourth wall constantly. (And makes jabs at some otaku and idol culture.) It has so much parody and satire, it’s a wonder the series hasn’t had any huge copyright issues and hasn’t been canceled. (They joke about that a lot, too.)
- It’s basically almost literally Rurouni Kenshin fused with Futurama fused with Gravity Falls and Fullmetal Alchemist’s intense feels. You’ve got your Bakumatsu-era samurai and wacky sci-fi and pop culture parodies and found family feels and dubious business ventures and supernatural weirdness and war and coup d’états and crumbling governments.
- ANYWAY, TO FINALLY GET DOWN TO IT - The main plot (and yes, there is a plot, lol) centers on an alternate universe Meiji Restoration IN SPACE and the people involved with it. As I mentioned before, almost literally every character in the series is based on historical or legendary/mythical figures. I’ve made a list of them HERE. It also focuses on gradually revealing Gintoki’s past as a Joui war samurai, his relationships with his former comrades (Gintoki, Katsura, Sakamoto and Takasugi were known as the Joui Four - kinda like the Four Musketeers) and their former goal and some mysteries surrounding certain things + how the group split up.
As well as Kagura’s family backstory and her character development and some of the backstory of her people, the Yato. Various other characters and groups get their own side arcs as well.
- The series does take some time to get into - it gradually gets better as it goes along. It's worth sticking around for!
Both the anime and manga are great, but I would probably rec reading the manga first, just due to the fact that some neat manga arcs were left out of the anime due to budget constraints, etc. And for the manga-specific jokes + seeing Sorachi's art evolution. (By the final few arcs, the action scenes are really well done!!)
- ALSO. IT’S A VERY LONG SERIES. IF YOU WEREN’T AWARE OF THAT BY NOW. (YOU PROBABLY WERE AWARE.) It can be hard to know where to start or whether you should dedicate that much time to so many episodes!
On my first Gintama watch, I went through just the important bits, bigger arcs and plot-heavy episodes. The second time, I watched every single ep. Lmao, I don't know if I’d entirely rec doing that, but there were some episodes I’m glad I caught. There are some guides by fans out there, but I don't fully share the opinions expressed in a lot of them - and most are in dire need of updates. I have my own episode guide HERE!
OR YOU CAN JUST HIT ME UP IF YOU WANNA WATCH BUT DON'T WANNA BE BOTHERED WITH THE SKEEVY OR MORE BORING STUFF AND I CAN POINT YOU IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION. (Or just invite me to watch it with you because I AM ALWAYS UP FOR THAT.)
- It’s available on most streaming sites (I’d recommend Kissanime or MasterAni) and Crunchyroll! And the manga can be read on Batoto with membership. (You'll have to sign up for the site. It's free of cost, though!)
Personally, the series has gotten me through a lot. When I started the series, I was at a very low point in my life, due to an illness. It made me laugh during a time when I was mostly just crying a lot every day, and it helped me to feel better about my situation. It's not perfect and I do know it's not going to interest everyone, but it means so much to me, it's changed some of my views about life, and it's one of my favorite narratives ever.
I hope at least some of this info was helpful. If you do choose to watch or read it, I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. It's a wild ride.