Opinion: Daring, Hilarious and Hearty: ‘Gintama,’ a Master Class Deconstruction of Mainstream Anime

Heather Qin ‘24

Remember the time that you watched a show so absurd that it was refreshingly intriguing? Wrung out from schoolwork and obligations in the ever-foggy mirror of adolescence, I’d convinced myself that comedy was a worthless genre of copy-pastes because it never made me laugh— until I watched “Gintama.” Brimming with dizzying comedic peaks and anachronism topped with aliens, entrepreneurs, samurai cops, and long-overdue chuckles, “Gintama” delivers a phenomenon full of laughter and heart.

In a world overrun by oppressive aliens, Gintoki Sakata is a broke samurai without social awareness— the epitome of what my parents warned me not to become. Disarmingly candid, brash, and boasting a monstrous appetite, Kagura, the female lead, struggles to assimilate into society. With its diverse and irresistibly lovable cast, “Gintama” jabs at the pitfalls of its predecessors.

A popular genre demographic in Japan is shonen, stories aimed at teenage boys. Shonen usually depicts protagonists embarking on journeys accompanied by overused tropes, copious servings of nonsensical willpower, scream Olympics, and repetitive comedy: characteristics that, after watching hundreds of anime, frankly put me to sleep.

While franchises like “Naruto” and “My Hero Academia” revolve around ninjas and heroes, “Gintama” transforms its lack of a trademark persona into a deconstruction of genre. Don’t expect another zero-to-hero-tale oversaturated with cardboard characters and lofty ambitions— “Gintama” subverts expectations and derives fruition from its unpredictability, authenticity, and heart-wrenching emotion.

Unlike many female characters only relevant in select moments to milk the performative ideals of gender representation, Kagura relentlessly struggles through discrimination and endlessly amuses herself in the simplest wonders of life. Every time she was on screen, her straightforward excitement was the most delightful moment of my day. Ridiculing contrived comedic gags that are culturally inert and shameless, “Gintama” connects its viewers through dialogue so charmingly relatable to today’s teens. From Star Wars parodies to Donald Trump, the show forces grins from the most self-proclaimed apathetics— on humid August midnights, I stifled laughter as I looked back at my old self with pronounced incredulity. While its contemporaries are swallowed by variations of the hero’s journey that circumscribe themselves into linear boxes, “Gintama” unravels the complexities of its cast in a sprawling world of anachronistic samurai. It takes patience, but patience engrosses viewers to laugh through episodic arcs, unleashing the most emotional reveals when stakes are highest.

Despite being overshadowed in its genre, “Gintama” paints an unforgettable portrait of life, from the comical adventures of homeless scavengers to lively shopping districts and intergalactic war to beetle-hunting summers. While it stumbles in finding its way in the beginning, “Gintama” ultimately discovers what it wanted to be to its viewers and myself— a laughter-inducing, perception-altering, boundary-breaking journey of a single broke man and his reasons to live.