Gintama, like life, has no clear path at the beginning. And that’s why I love it. There is an art to aimlessness, but you have to know how to frame it. Knowing how to do nothing is a skill that has been lost to time. In another show I adore, this one a cute Korean reality show, Hyori’s Bed and Breakfast, the amazing k-pop artiste, Hyori, says that one of the things she wants the people visiting her home to learn, is how to be bored. Presently, in this world, social media and technology have a grip on many people’s attention spans. So much so, that it can become difficult to concentrate on one thing for a set period of time. Smartphones demand that we know how to multitask. This is a slight digression, but it’s still somewhat relevant to what I’m trying to express 🙂 So, getting back on track. Gintama.
Life is a journey. Sometimes we get lost. Sometimes we feel broken. But there are moments that don’t shine in a golden way, but rather in a more subdued silver. Moments where we find hope, laughter, strength, meaning, and connection. Not everyone has a clear aim in life. Not everyone’s journey is pretty or exciting. Many of us ramble down our path. And in this way, Gintama mirrors that journey we go through in life. It’s such a multi-faceted story, that it can sometimes be a bit difficult to conceptualise what exactly it’s about.
Gintoki (aka Odd Jobs Gin-chan), our protagonist, is not a conventional main character. He is a guy that comes across as aimless. He lives his life as the days come at him, taking on whatever job people will pay him for. In a rare explanation, he says that he didn’t know what he wanted to do in life, so he decided he would do anything. That is, until he finds something he truly wants to accomplish, which I won’t explain here, because, spoilers, yeah? And once he sets his heart on that task, he sets off to achieve it. This is just another reason to adore Gin-san. How many main characters lack a clear goal which is used to usher the story along? Whether it be becoming a king of pirates or the head of a ninja village, there’s always something motivating the lead. In real life, there’s a pressure to conform in a similar way, and to have a clear idea of what you want for the future. But, it just isn’t that black and white for everyone.
For instance, there is Madao. Madao, real name Hasegawa Taizo, is a man that followed his bliss only to find himself rewarded with what he views as misfortune. But there’s an amazing moment where Madao turns his unemployment into a source of strength and even in a way, a superpower. He turns a label that has haunted and depressed him into something great. Because at the end of the day, we’re more than just our careers or our situation in life. As Gintoki’s beloved teacher, Shoyo Yoshida says, you have more freedom than you think.
Perhaps, meandering isn’t for everyone, but I love that Gintama isn’t constant action, with one fight after the next. It has stretches of just feel good nothingness. I have to say though, that these parts are never pointless. They build the characters and their relationships, and add nuance to the story so that when things do turn serious, you can’t help but be invested. You’ve spent time with these characters the same way you would friends and family. Those happy, carefree days, those sad inevitable days, have become your memories as well.
I can’t write about Gintama without mentioning how outrageously funny it is. It’s a gag anime with slice of life and action/adventure elements, and it melds all these things together wonderfully. Gintama is emotional and beautiful as often as it is silly and crass. I find it incredibly relatable even as it is soars to dizzying heights of ridiculousness. And honestly, laughter is an incredible healer. The world can always use more hope and more humour and so, dear world, I give you, Gintama!