By Hideaki Sorachi. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.
I've mentioned before how Gin Tama likes to snap back and forth between goofy comedy and gripping drama. But what makes it even more interesting is when it manages to do both at the same time. The big story in this volume is a good case in point.
If you recall, at the end of last week the majority of the cast (basically the non-Shinsengumi) were transported to the Dragon Palace island, only to instead find a machine that made Gin and Katsura into old men. This is milked for as many 'old people gags as you can think of, with creaking joints, forgetfulness, grumpiness in general. It gets even better when, over the course of the plot, the others get 'aged' as well - Kagura and Kyuubei being my particular favorites. "Have you seen my eyepatch?" "You're wearing it!" And yet it *also* manages to show off that old people can be totally awesome as well, and should not be belittled.
The villainess in this is, as you might have expecrted given the story Gin Tama is mocking this time around, Princess Otohime, whose insecurity and jealousy have led to her deciding to make everyone old and ugly so that she can be the most beautiful. Her confrontation with Otae is epic, and allows Otae (once she's gotten over being insulted) to show off her fierce and proud side, something we haven't seen as much of recently given Sorachi found she's far more fun to write as a psycho. But Otohime is not Ito, and does not need to die for her sins - this time around, we get everyone saving her and showing her that sacrifice is not the way to go in order to redeem oneself.
After this, we get a chapter devoted to re-introducing Tama, the robot girl last seen as a severed head back in Volume 17. She now has a body, and is employed being Otose's maid and rent collector. Unfortunately, she's still a robot, and so has trouble figuring things out when people tell her to take a day off and relax. Gin, who is not comfortable with treating her as a real person, reluctantly goes around town with her and tries to define "cutting loose". It's sometimes easy to forget that Gin is a survivor of horrible combat, and we occasionally see his reluctance to let new people (or robots, in this case) into his heart. Luckily, by the end Tama seems to have figured out what she wants to do with her free time, and Gin seems a little happier as well. (If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands! BOOM! BOOM!)
The last chapter is simple a starter for the next big arc, as we see Gin, Shinpachi and Kagura brought in to try to get a yakuza warlord's son out of the room where he's shut himself for the past several years. It looks like it's going to be an amusing look at NEETs in Gin Tama's society, but ends up proving to be more sinister.
So, another great volume of Gin Tama, combining crude comedy ("Zura, our target is the howitzer's anus.") with heartwarming drama, and still finding time to hammer repeatedly on Shonen Jump's three big mottos, Friendship, Perseverance, Victory. And yes, Otsu is on the cover but doesn't actually appear - the covers are clearly just random characters by now. (But not Yamazaki.) Can't wait for the next volume.