Samurai, Aliens, and Jokes Oh My! : Why You Should Watch Gintama

Gintama is a hard series to describe to someone. It does have the typical shonen base. There’s a protagonist that fights for what he believes in, overcomes his enemies through pure, fighting spirit, and is always there for his friends. 

Except, that’s not always the case. This, in my opinion, is what makes Gintama a must watch for any anime fan.

Our dashing hero

Sakata Gintoki, the main protagonist, is an ex-samurai living in Edo, Tokyo circa the 1600’s. He runs a freelance business named “Yorozuya Gin-chan”, translated literally as “Odd-Jobs Gin-chan.” He takes any job, Gintoki’s only goal is to survive in the land of the samurai. But unlike the typical shonen hero, Gintoki is a lazy drunk, often late on rent after gambling away his money. The series is definitely not afraid to show off the “lame” sides of this main character.

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Gintoki (left) often loses everything but his boxers at the Pachinko parlor.

He has two employees under his tutelage. Shimura Shinpachi is a young man looking to help rebuild his father’s dojo. Often Shinpachi plays the “straight man” in jokes. The running gag is that his character is so forgettable, that his only character trait is his glasses. Kagura, from the alien race, the Yato, has superhuman strength and eats enough to support this power. Although they both complain about missing paychecks, Kagura and Shinpachi do look up to Gintoki, almost as a big brother.


Aliens you ask? Yes, that’s another quirky aspect of the show. This is not just Japan in the 1600’s, but a Japan that was invaded by aliens. Although there are still Japanese traditions and styles there is also the modern. Otakus obsessing over pop idols are common and episodes focusing on standing in line for the newest gaming console. 

Gintama JRPG reference
Gintoki’s character in a JRPG riding on top of Hijikata’s character.

But this mix of modern and old is not something that is new. Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, and Lupin the Third are a few of the many series that encompass these old themes. Another thing that pulled me into Gintama was their over the top parodying of Japanese culture, other anime, and themselves. As a 300+ episodic anime there are so many gags and silly, character quirks. I won’t be able to go into all of them but I will list a few notable ones.

Famous Namesakes, Not So Serious Characters

The first are the characters themselves. A majority of the characters are very loosely based on historical figures. For example, the main leaders of the Shinsengumi, the Edo police force, are Kondou Isao, Hijikata Toushirou, and Okita Sougo. Their real life counterparts are Kondo Isami, Hijikata Toshizo, and Okita Soji.

Isami Kondo

But unlike the real people that they are based on, these three have their own unique characteristics. Their personalities, though serious at times, often play into many gags in the show. Kondou, leader of the Shinsengumi, is often nicknamed “Gorilla” for his appearance. In fact, in one episode he is married off to Princess Bubbles, the future queen of Planet Gorilla. He does have positive traits, like leading the Shinsengumi and being inspirational to his followers. But most of the time he is portrayed as the perverted stalker of Otae, Shinpachi’s sister.

Kondou Issao x Gorilla princess

His other two coworkers don’t fare any better. Hijikata, once possessed by an otaku spirit, is obsessed with eating everything covered in a disgusting amount of mayonnaise. Okita is a hardcore sadism enthusiast and is one bad decision away from being a serial killer rather than a policeman. 

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Hijikata sneaking to the kitchen at night to drink mayonnaise.

Okita Sougo poisoning Hijikata's mayo
Also Okita who previously poisoned the mayo. 

No Series Is Safe From Gintama

Gintama also is not afraid to parody other shows that are famous in Japanese media. One such episode was where Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagura meet the spirit of Gintoki’s bokuto, a wooden sword. The spirit, named “Toyako” looks very similar to Bleach’s, Ichigo Kurosaki’s sword spirit, Zangetsu. But unlike Ichigo, Gintoki is not interested at all to learn Toyako’s ultimate move. In fact, Gintoki only further continues to humiliate the spirit by finding his dirty p*rno magazines under his bed. Gintoki only concedes to learning the technique when Toyako’s mom appears and begs Gintoki to just give Toyako a chance.

Gintama's bleach reference

My “Quarantine” Anime Top Recommendation

Although this anime is packed full of silliness, there still is an underlying story that evokes emotion. Not only do I recommend it as something entertaining but also as something for people interested in Japanese culture. Some jokes and parodies that I may not have understood, inspired me to go research the original reference. I learned about many different kinds of foods, holidays, and other Japanese cultural habits that were unfamiliar to me before. Gintama is definitely a must watch, and especially a well needed laugh and break during this quarantine.

Gintama anime review

Already a fan of Gintama? What do you think about the show? What’s your favorite episode? Leave a comment, but let’s try to keep it spoiler free for all of the first timers. 

Author’s corner:

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“Mathilda Lam is an aspiring writer and long time otaku. If you’d like to get in touch or enjoyed what you read, check out her blog at peachslug.wordpress.com.”

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