Thursday, 11 February 2010

A to Z: G is for Gintama

And my attempts to write at a faster pace continue with the next A to Z entry. Yes, it's another manga, but unlike last time this one actually has volumes out. Though on the note of that last manga, it appears likely that the series will be surfacing in september. Keep an eye out, or else!

(note: all pictures read RIGHT TO LEFT)

It is a pretty widely known fact that I'm a sucker for comedy manga. Mostly the short, punchy 'gag' style manga, but generally if it's a comedy I'll jump onto it, check it out... And usually deride it as crap and not matching up to my standards set by series about such things as an orange-haired recorder-playing psychotic or a sword-wielding heroic knight who teaches homeroom at a school.

Of course there are series that match up to that high level of expectation whilst not being straight-up comedy manga, else I wouldn't be talking about one of them shortly. These tend to mix in what genre-heads like to call slice of life, a concept that is pretty self-explanatory really. The two series that pull this off to perfection are Sket Dance, a series about a support group of students who get up to crazy antics, and Gintama, the series I'm on about today.

A series about Samurai and Aliens.

... Yes. THIS is gonna take a while.

To explain Gintama is one of the most ridiculously hard things ever, which is in itself especially weird as once you've got past the initial premise it's an incredibly easy series to become immersed within. So let's have a crack at it and see how it sounds:

In a world where aliens invaded Edo (Tokyo) back in the Meiji era of Japan, resulting in a world where Samurais are outlawed and aliens rule over us all, a former samurai known as Gintoki Sakata tries to make a living as a freelancer who will literally do any odd-job given to him in an attempt to make his rent. He's joined by a former samurai-in-training Shinpachi Shimura, the incredibly violent teenage alien girl Kagura and the giant adorably vicious space-dog thing Sadaharu. The plots can range anywhere from terrorist plots, to giant cockroach infestations and all the way to heroic panty thieves and doesn't shy away from any possible craziness along the way.

That do for starters? Okay.

To be fair, I'm barely covering the bases here, especially when considering the sheer size of the regular cast throughout the series current 6 year, 32 volume history. It's daunting in scale, but thankfully has the sort of loose long-term plots that mean that a jumping off point is never more than a few volumes away once your wallet starts to weep.

Diving more into the comedy to promote this gem I feel the need to talk about a brilliant early story from the second volume of the series that introduces one of the manga regular cast members in a way you'd probably NEVER see anywhere else. Kondo, the flippin' head of the policing force known as the Shinsengumi, is introduced as a crazy stalker obsessed with Shinpachi's sister because she said she loves hairy arses (or 'butt-afros' in the english release, which is INFINITELY funnier) to him. At her job, which is essentially whoring herself out as a dinner date at a snack bar.

Let it be known: Buddha loved hairy arses too.

Stalking. Because she lied to him and said she loved BUTT. AFROS.

I'm not sure there's anything I can say to really emphasise how funny this chapter of the series is, other than to point out that it escalates to Shinpachi's sister coercing Gintoki (our silver haired main character) into pretending to be her fiancée, all escalating into a duel between Gintoki and Kondo where Gintoki cheats to win by giving Kondo a rigged wooden sword. It's all deliciously insane and it only gets crazier with each volume.
A Bandit of Love! A Gift From Above!... or something? am I funny yet?

If only all sword duels could be this slapstick and unsual. It'd make The Last Samurai nigh-on WATCHABLE!

I could talk up the ongoing serious plot elements of the samurai rebellion against the aliens and the continuing attempts to overthrow the alien empire by former members of said rebellion, but I'd much rather focus on one of the silliest things about the series, and indeed something that requires more explanation than you'd want to hear.

You see the creator, Hideaki Sorachi (who seems to draw himself as a filthy and lazy monkey), went out of his way to give this series a name that would disgust and confuse the Japanese reading public. You see, whilst Gintama is a perfectly innocent name that translates as 'Silver Soul' (in reference to our naturally permed silver-haired protagonist), it sounds an awful lot like the word 'Kintama'.

Which means TESTICLES.

Which is... ya know, a BALLSY move at best, to try and get young teenaged girls to talk about testicles on the trains, just to freak out uptight old people.

This is pretty much like every argument I'VE ever had with and old lady about rent. In that it's fictional.

I feel like I'm selling this series short. Writing about manga as long-running as this provokes the sort of confusion that no amount of bogged-down writing can solve. Which is more my fault than anything, as this series really is a charming, immersive, easy-to-get-into gem, with only a first volume of mild translation issues between it and a perfect English release. Hideaki Sorachi has crafted the sort of manga that will stand the test of time with ease, with peerless writing and an art style that's strangely serious looking for something that's about 70% straight up hilarity. You honestly lose nothing checking this out if you have any interest in manga, and gain so much if you enjoy comedy stylings that are a step more mature than gag-series like Yotsuba& or Pyuu to Fuku! Jaguar (not that you know of the latter but shut up).

If I've managed to provoke even the tiniest amount of interest then I direct you to either search out the series on amazon or to go straight to the Viz Media store to pick up a few volumes. And if you're not sure either way then I implore you to head over to OneManga to check out the online scanlations, which whilst different to the official product, are a nice way to tease the real product (a view that more people should probably take on scanlations).

And that's G. What's H going to be? H...orrible to even ATTEMPT to read? Well you have a tad longer to wait on that, as another post is gonna appear over the next day or two that'll hopefully promote something that deserves your attention.

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