Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gin Tama (manga, vol. 6) by Hideaki Sorachi

This volume, like other Gin Tama volumes, is made of up several distinct and fairly unrelated stories.

First, Gin, Kagura, and Shinpachi go mushroom hunting and end up finding a nasty parasite that attaches itself to a person or animal's head and happens to look like a mushroom. The parasite that infects them is attached to the head of a bear that's been made crazy by its alien mushroom parasite - the man who originally raised the bear and was responsible for it being turned loose in the wild now feels responsible for it and is determined to kill it to stop its mushroom-fueled rampaging. In the next story, Gin is roped into investigating illegal death match fights by Okita and tries to help the star of the death matches, who, in his personal life, has lots of abandoned children who depend on him. In the third story, Kondo has to deal with the fallout resulting from the outcome of the previous story and tries his best to avoid being killed - unfortunately, a creepy TV horoscope predicted his death. In the fourth story, Gin, Shinpachi, and Hasegawa try to give a young nurse a chance to confess her love to Katsura, but things don't go quite as planned. In the fifth story, everybody's trying to survive giant killer alien cockroaches - if Gin were only watching the news, he'd find out how to beat the cockroaches, but he's too busy fighting for his life. In the final story, everyone tries to help out an idiot girl who's gotten herself roped into a cult that believes that if they give their money to the cult leader and wear a hairy mole on their face, all their dreams will come true. The cult leader does seem to have the mysterious ability to make small dreams (like not wanting to be bald) come true, but something still seems fishy about him.

When I first started reading this series, back in volume 1, I wasn't really sure how I felt about it. I'd heard about the series before, that it's a comedy, and that Sorachi put the Shinsengumi (Japanese historical figures) in some kind of future time. I fell in love with the Shinsengumi in Peacemaker, and was looking forward to seeing them again in another series. That was part of my mistake - personally, I feel that the Shinsengumi connection is mostly unimportant to the series, with a few exceptions here and there. In order to enjoy this series, you have to be able to enjoy the humor, and the humor is weird. I'm all for weird humor, but the jokes just weren't all that funny to me.

I still don't feel strongly enough about this series to want to buy future volumes of it (so, sorry Gin Tama fans, this is probably the one and only Gin Tama post I'm going to be writing). However, it's grown on me since that first volume. This particular volume actually starts off incredibly serious, for Gin Tama anyway. I was reminded a bit of Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop. Both of those series tend to be light, fun, and funny as a whole, but they take time for occasional serious moments, as well. I was also surprised/pleased by Gin's actions in the second story - for a guy who's often lazy, he was pretty sweet, helping a child who could only offer him a sticker as payment.

I enjoyed the cockroach story the most. Every time a news report said people shouldn't do something (like kill the cockroaches), Gin was off doing it, all because he didn't bother to watch the news and simply assumed the giant roaches were his fault. Sorachi did an excellent job drawing people's expressions of horror at seeing the roaches. While the humor in Gin Tama might not always be my cup of tea (although it's also quite possible that the jokes are losing a good deal in translation), this particular story had me laughing. In addition to the cockroach story, I also loved watching Kondo try to deal with the prediction of his death. "A lot of Virgos are going to die today... Especially the ones with goatees who are brushing their teeth right now. The color red will bring you a little luck. Plus the red will make the blood less obvious" - all this from a TV weather girl! Is it any wonder poor Kondo was a bit freaked out?

Sorachi does his best to pack humor/weirdness in every part of his series - even the chapter titles. If you've picked up a volume of Gin Tama and haven't stopped to read the chapter titles, you should. In this particular volume, my favorite chapter title was "People With Dark Pasts Can't Shut Up."

Another nice thing about this volume is that Sorachi includes a few of the original character designs for some of the characters. He doesn't say too much about them, but it's still really interesting to see what the characters might have looked like. I enjoyed recognizing certain aspects of some of the character designs in entirely different characters in the current incarnation of the series. Also - here's a surprise - Okita used to be a girl! As far as the current character designs go, Katsura is my favorite, so I'm glad he showed up in this volume, even if only briefly.

Unfortunately, since this is a Shonen Jump title, there isn't really anything else in the way of extras - nope, sorry, no translator notes at the end of the volume explaining how they had to change a Japanese pun so that it would make more sense in the English language. Overall, I liked this volume, and, like I've said, the series has grown on me. The humor can be a bit weird sometimes, and it's also sometimes a bit crude, but I've come to like it. Also, Gin has shown that he's more than just a slacker with low blood sugar - he has a heart, too.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Cowboy Bebop (anime TV series) - Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter with a laid-back attitude, amazing fighting skills, and a dark past. He's partners with Jet Black, a former cop, and, as the series progresses, his group grows to include Faye Valentine (a sexy, tricky gambler who can't really remember her past) and Ed (a weird and cheerful young hacker). There are a couple manga series based on this anime, but they're not nearly as good as the anime. In addition, there's a movie that takes place fairly late in the series timeline - I'd recommend watching the series before seeing the movie. Those who'd like something with lots of humor and a few serious moments might like this series. Like Gin Tama, this series is set in the future but isn't what I'd call sci-fi. The main characters also remind me of the characters in Gin Tama - they're often broke and, although the thought of earning money makes them drool, that doesn't stop them from occasionally helping people out who can't pay them back with much (or anything).
  • Samurai Champloo (anime TV series) - Fuu, a somewhat ditsy waitress, enlists the help of Mugen, a fierce and undisciplined fighter who incorporates break-dancing into his fighting style, and Jin, a samurai with a more traditional fighting style and a calmer and more controlled personality. Somehow the three of them have to get along while they try to find a samurai who "smells of sunflowers," someone from Fuu's past. Like Gin Tama, this is another series with a bunch of mismatched characters are stuck together, trying to survive their adventures and scrape enough money together to have a decent meal. Most of the series is humorous, but there are occasional serious moments.
  • School Rumble (manga) by Jin Kobayashi; School Rumble (anime TV series) - When Tenma learns that her secret crush is going to be transferring to a school in America, she writes a long (but anonymous) love letter to him. Karasuma, her crush, ends up postponing his transfer, and Tenma realizes that she's got to work up the courage to tell him how she feels before he finally does leave. Meanwhile, Tenma is entirely unaware that Harima Kenji, the school delinquent, has a huge crush on her, but he's too nervous to confess his feelings to her. Aside from the messy and bumbling love story, there's a whole cast of friends, classmates, and Tenma's younger (but more thoughtful and mature) sister. Those who'd like something else with bumbling, idiot characters, weirdness, and humor might like this series. I've read the manga but never seen the anime - however, from what I've heard, the two sound pretty similar. Check out Anime News Network for reviews of several volumes of the anime.

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