Original manga by Hideaki Sorachi. Released in Japan by Sunrise, Inc., shown weekly on TV Tokyo. Released in North America by Sentai Filmworks.
Sentai Filmworks has recently been licensing a lot of long-running TV series from Japan, which surprises but pleases me. Rising from the remains of ADV, they seem to be looking for popular shonen that can come out cheaply and efficiently 13 episodes at a time. Eyeshield 21 comes out starting in May, and this month we had the first 13 episodes of Gintama.
Those who read this blog know that I'm a huge lover of Gin Tama the manga (Viz has made the title two words, Sentai Filmworks has it as one), so I was always going to pick this up. I was especially pleased as this was one of the series that's legally available on Crunchyroll, so I had not expected DVDs. They're pretty much bare-bones, with subtitles only and the only 'extras' being clean opening and closing credits. However, the subtitles are well-done, and the series' foul language is not toned down. Best of all, although they are sparse, the series in-joke references and obscure Japanese media humor is also subtitled with brief explanations.
The anime itself does not begin with the first chapter of the manga, as one would expect, but instead has a 2-part double length episode opener that was written especially for the anime, introducing all the main characters (well, the early ones) as if we'd already been watching it. It works well. Gintama doesn't really have a huge backstory you have to know to get into every episode. Gintoki has a tragic, serious past. Kagura's an alien. Sacchan's a masochist. (And a ninja, I suppose, but really, masochist is what everyone will remember). The episode piles on the humor, then gets serious as the client's sad past and the villains' nasty manipulations are revealed. Our heroes go off to beat them down, and after an equal parts silly and straight, they do.
After this, we go back and tell the story from the start, with Episode 3 introducing us to the bespectacled 'straight man' Shinpachi, his pretty yet psychotic sister Otae, and our hero, the lazy and permed Gintoki, who is a badass samurai with a tragic past who now carries only a wooden sword and eats parfaits.
The best part of Gintama, of courser, is that not only can anyone be the comedy character at any time, but anyone can be the straight man. This works well for our comic trio of Gin's Odd Jobs, as any two can team up to scream at the other one and it seems reasonable. Likewise, Gintama's status of being a broad, gag comedy - except when it isn't - makes it pretty easy for the anime to insert filler comedy that fits within the confines of the plot of the day. In a series where anything can happen and the heroine is frequently seen picking her nose, coming up with stuff that doesn't seem out of place is much easier.
Of course, having the luxury of 25 minutes to tell a story as opposed to 18 pages, we also sometimes get some richer character detail. I noticed this particularly with Episode 12, which introduces Catherine, the homely cat-girl thief who works at Otose's. In the manga, this was a very early chapter and is clearly meant to focus more on Otose and her tendency to easily forgive and take in lost strays (i.e., Gin). The anime has the luxury of knowing that later on Sorachi decided to bring her back and start to redeem her, so makes Catherine far more reluctant in her actions, even crying by the end.
I can't really recommend this to those who like serious samurai battles, even though there are many in this series, as I suspect the low humor will turn them off. However, the series is perfect for those who like low humor but don't mind it turning serious whenever the author feels like it. In fact, many episodes of Gintama can get quite dark. The final episode of this set, 13, is the first example of such an episode, with Shinpachi and Kagura kidnapped by drug-smuggling aliens, and Gin and Zura busting to the rescue.
(It's not Zura, it's KATSURA!)
Whatever. A great anime, well-handled for its North American release, in an affordable 13-episode collection. Fans of shonen comedy will love this.