By Hideaki Sorachi. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.
Poor Gin Tama. Not only does it not do well in the North American sales charts compared to its other Jump brethren, but it doesn't even get respect among those who illegally scanlate the latest chapters from Japan! Determined to put out such titles as SWOT or Medaka Box as soon as the raws become available, uncaring scanlators leave Gin Tama alone for months at a time, only coming back when there's a big battle.
Luckily, there is an answer! You can buy the manga from Viz, thus supporting the artist and publisher! And as your reward, Kyoko Shapiro and Lance Caselman will translate all the difficult puns that give you headaches whenever you look at them! It's win-win! (I also note that Kyoko Shapiro, late of Aurora Press and now translating for Viz, has one of my favorite names ever.)
Meanwhile, back in Gin Tama, this volume starts out by quickly resolving the cursed sword arc that took up the majority of Volume 19. The traitor has been ferreted out, and the hired gun sent by Takasugi turns out to be no match for Gin's pure stubborn awesomeness. Gin is almost the perfect shonen hero, bellowing out that he's never fought any battles for a country or its people, but only to protect his friends, so nothing has changed.
Speaking of shonen awesomeness, I've noted the tendency Gin Tama has to sometimes kill people off, something usually avoided by other Jump titles. And here we have a traitor to the Shinsengumi, one who tried to have their captain killed. He can't be allowed to live, even if he has seen the error of his ways and realized how foolish he was. So they give him a sword, and let him die honorably in battle, cut down by Hijitaka. It's a beautiful thing.
The rest of this volume is, naturally, far more comedic and lighthearted, as Gin Tama returns to its gag manga roots. Whether it be mocking Jump artists' tendency to imitate Dragon Ball Z, having Yamazaki (who, surprise, isn't dead - see my review of Vol. 19) take an exam to see if he is fit to infiltrate the exclusionist rebels, or have everyone get shipwrecked while on a journey to the Dragon Palace, it's loud, brash, and very, very funny. Again, if you can't tolerate a manga whipsawing between low comedy and epic shonen drama, be wary of Gin Tama. Even a 2-part 'serious' story starring Kagura's father turns out to have been a setup for one giant punch line.
My favorite chapter was one focusing on Kagura, who is generally cast as the role of comedic bruiser so often that we forget she's also a teenage girl. She's noticing the females around town have very girly umbrellas, and decides to trade in her superpowered one for a frilly model. Of course, these frilly umbrellas are not much use in typhoons. What follows is a quiet but heartfelt chapter that emphasizes Kagura's good heart and tendency towards loneliness and self-doubt, something she's usually very good at covering up.
Gin Tama is the most diverse manga currently running in Shonen Jump, offering something for almost everyone. Not as full of itself as Bleach, nor as completely loopy as Bobobobo-Bobobo, Gin Tama strikes a nice balance that I admire, and continually makes me wonder what will happen next. This volumes ends on another cliffhanger, with Gin and Katsura transformed into old, decrepit men! What can possibly happen next? The preview seems to suggest it will involve a lot of dressing up as giant turtles...