Gintama- ‘Silver Soul’- is an ongoing manga written by Hideaki Sorachi. An anime series based on it aired in 2005 and continued until last year. Gintama initially began as a parody of the many samurai/ historical anime out there, set around the same premise as famous manga such as Rurouni Kenshin and Peace maker Kurogane. Gintama, however, gives its own- and undoubtedly unique- twist to this setting, adding a sci-fi angle complete with spaceships and alien invasions and what not.
However, the setting is not the defining feature of the series. The whole alien invasion back story merely serves to shunt the whole Gintama world into a 21st century setting. The Japan seen in Gintama is thus neither here nor there, mixing elements of classic chanbara with those more at home in modern Japan. This grants the series an immense flexibility of themes, switching between historical drama to supernatural and horror as well as modern and science fiction settings.
Gintama is at heart a character-driven affair, and no description of the series is complete without doing justice to its colourful cast. Anyone familiar with Japanese history and mythology will undoubtedly recognise most of the people that show up in the series, though most likely the recognition will immediately be followed by considerable shock at what the mangaka makes these well-known figures get up to. This might also be why all the historical figures that appear in Gintama have had their names changed slightly.
The reason why this manga has survived for a decade solely on the basis of its comedic nature interspersed with serious arcs is not easily explained. However, let’s take a look at a few things Gintama touches upon – the texture of its universe and how it is used to the advantage of the manga:
#1 The Shinsengumi – Probably one of the most recognisable elements from the Bakumatsu era and portrayed extensively in TV, anime and literature, the much feared police force of the Shogunate have been given a complete makeover here. While they have made it into Gintama with some of their original legacy intact, the versions that appear in the series have, like the rest of the Gintama world, been modernized to a large degree. Commander Kondou is thus a part-time stalker who slacks off from his shinsengumi work to chase after his one true love, first squad captain Okita is a die-hard sadist who puts friends and enemies through endless trauma just for his own amusement, while special inspector Yamazaki is a childlike character who enjoys playing badminton and has an unhealthy liking for anpan, the closest thing the Japanese have to jam doughnuts. Vice-commander Hijikata is the only major Shinsengumi character to maintain a semblance of sanity, though this is hampered by a crippling mayonnaise addiction as well as demonic possession by a cursed sword that turns him at times into a dweeby Otaku (yes, you read both of those right).