Gintama was created by Hideaki Sorachi and is being serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump, famous for producing One Piece, Naruto, and Rurouni Kenshin. It entered its final arc in March 2017. In the manga, the protagonist, Gintoki Sakata, runs the Yorozuya, an odd-job agency, in a fictional version of Kabukicho. It’s a humorous story, and its comedic elements are one of the reasons that led to its popularity. Gintoki, however, has a serious side as a samurai warrior who has experienced numerous battles in his past. It’s a story of battles and cohabitation between samurai warriors and aliens.
Reason 1: Excellent Dialogue
In the beginning, the manga of Gintama wasn’t exciting. In fact, the creator, himself made jokes about it. Before its serialization, the mega-hit manga series Death Note had just started a week earlier. With its suspenseful plot and overwhelmingly good art, Death Note gained instant popularity. Gintama, on the other hand, was a human-interest story with jokes and random action scenes that had decent drawings.
Gintama attracts a lot of female fans nowadays. However, it was assumed that the title appealed to males over 30 years old during its early serialization, because of the many dirty jokes.
Gintama had one thing going for it, and that was its excellent dialogues. Sorachi debuted as a manga artist with the one-shot manga Dandelion. It was evaluated highly by accomplished manga artist Masanori Morita, known as the creator of Rookies. Morita had amazing drawing and plotting skills and praised the manga for its unique and exciting lines. Sorachi’s ability in creating dialogue was apparent from the starting point of his career as a manga artist.
I have only read Gintama in Japanese, so I have no idea what it is like in other languages. Regardless, I’m sure it must be difficult to translate, and a lot of the jokes are probably ‘lost in translation.’ Most of them rely on a lot of puns, are rarely used, or even use old-fashioned Japanese vocabulary. Sorachi once said that he read a lot of books when he was a student. This seems quite obvious to me. When I read Gintama, I saw that his lines and plots are unique and interesting because of his accumulated knowledge from reading.
Reason 2: The Jokes
Gintama became popular as soon as it was adapted into an anime. The first anime adaptation was the hanami story which was aired at Jump Festa. As it was well-received, they then created the TV anime series. The series was first directed by Shinji Takamatsu, an experienced director in comedy anime (Kochikame and School Rumble). Together with his staff and voice actors, he tried to understand the manga so he could capture its stronger points.
It was rumored that Gintama would be broadcast in a late-night slot because it contained a lot of dirty jokes. Despite this, it was aired at 7 o’clock in the evening, a primetime slot. It was a brave move to air that kind of anime at such an early time. However, people liked its challenging spirit, and it became a favorite topic of discussion. Its broadcasting schedule has changed several times after the initial broadcasting, but that first slot was one of the reasons the anime got more fans.
There is an episode that starts with a still image of the exterior of the Yorozuya with the voices of the Yorozuya’s trio chatting away for three minutes. No animation; just a funny conversation between Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagura. Although there are numerous anime in Japan, only Gintama could make such a bold move. Because of its distinctive characters, it’s possible for the anime to test the waters a little.
Gintama contains a lot of dialogues. Even some Japanese fans complain that it’s tiring to read due to the sheer amount of words. It’s easier to watch the anime of Gintama than reading the manga because the voice actors speak the lines for the viewers.
Reason 3: Intensified Action Scenes
The action scenes in Gintama were intensified when the title was adapted into anime series. In my opinion, the original manga wasn’t particularly great at depicting them, but it has gotten better and better at creating powerful action scenes as the series continued. The anime series, on the other hand, has excellent action scenes thanks to the work of the long-established studio of the anime, Sunrise. It’s lucky for Gintama that Sunrise has such rich experience in producing sci-fi action anime, such as huge hits Mobile Suit Gundam and Code Geass, to intensify its action scenes. Although from Episode 266 onwards the production studio changed to Bandai Namco Pictures, a spinoff from Sunrise, the advantages of Gintama continue to excel.
Reason 4: An Unexpected Storyline
The original creator, Hideaki Sorachi, is excellent at creating storylines. Take Gintama The Movie, The Final Chapter: Be Forever Yorozuya as an example. It’s a story that only Sorachi could create. The movie starts with a scene of Gintoki lecturing a character who has a camcorder for a head. Most Japanese people would recognize this character as he appears in a short film for piracy prevention before the screening of movies in Japanese cinemas. Gintoki finds him recording and scolds him for recording without permission. It looks like just a joke. However, it’s revealed as foreshadowing later on. Sorachi is exceedingly good at connecting jokes to serious story developments.
Reason 5: The Unique Worldview
One of the unique characteristics of Gintama is its setting, a fusion of a period drama and sci-fi. I don’t know any other successful manga that uses this kind of environment. The characters in Gintama are modeled after actual historical figures, such as the Shinsengumi members Kondo, Hijikata, and Okita, and Jouishishi members Katsura, Takasugi, and Sakamoto. They played an active part during the end of the samurai era and the period of early modernization in Japan. Many Japanese novels pick great figures in this time as a subject matter. It might trigger interest in Japanese history as the story is based on fact, but keep in mind that many liberties were taken in presenting the material.
As a sci-fi fan, Sorachi embedded an essence of sci-fi movies here and there throughout the anime series. For instance, Dark Vader, a character who appears in the Renho Arc, refers to Darth Vader from Star Wars. There are many other examples of funny parodies in Gintama.