New Heights – Gintama° (Season 4) Anime Review

“Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagura return as the fun-loving but broke members of the Yorozuya team! Living in an alternate-reality Edo, where swords are prohibited and alien overlords have conquered Japan, they try to thrive on doing whatever work they can get their hands on. However, Shinpachi and Kagura still haven’t been paid… Does Gin-chan really spend all that cash playing pachinko?

Meanwhile, when Gintoki drunkenly staggers home one night, an alien spaceship crashes nearby. A fatally injured crew member emerges from the ship and gives Gintoki a strange, clock-shaped device, warning him that it is incredibly powerful and must be safeguarded. Mistaking it for his alarm clock, Gintoki proceeds to smash the device the next morning and suddenly discovers that the world outside his apartment has come to a standstill. With Kagura and Shinpachi at his side, he sets off to get the device fixed; though, as usual, nothing is ever that simple for the Yorozuya team.

Filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and moments of heartfelt emotion, Gintama‘s fourth season finds Gintoki and his friends facing both their most hilarious misadventures and most dangerous crises yet.” – MAL Synopsis

Episodes: 51 – Studio: Bandai Namco Pictures – Dub/Sub – Aired: Spring 2015 – Finished – MAL Rating: 9.09 – Genres: ActionComedyHistoricalParodySamuraiSci-FiShounen

As I’ve gotten older I’ve sort of found it hard to watch more than maybe 3-5 episodes of anime in one sitting. I usually just get tired or just feel like I want to do something else regardless of how good it is. Which is the complete opposite of when I was a Freshman in High-School coming home and watching HxH until the next school day. It got to the point where my friends were worried about where I’d been after school lol. But I have other aspects of my life that I’m interested in doing throughout the day that takes time away from me watching anime. It took me like a month to watch the remaining 150ish episodes of Gintama s1. It took me I think a little over two weeks to watch s2. I just finished s4 in barely 8 days. And on top of that In less than two days I watched the last 20ish episodes. I couldn’t keep myself away from watching this. In the last part of this season, Gintama reaches a new high that I knew was possible for this show but I was still enamored and awestruck by it. Just like my previous Gintama reviews, this will be heavy on the spoilers also I’ll try to keep this as short as possible but uh there’s so much to talk about with just the last 16 episodes alone that this review will belong.

When I wanted to pick Gintama back up a few months ago I found this episode guide on Quora that lays out a good portion of the series and what arcs are where and what you can skip if you want to, etc. It’s very spoiler-free and I refer to it every once in a while just to see how far along I am. As someone who writes a lot, I’m kind of ashamed to say I read it wrong. Going into this season the way I read the guide I was expecting all comedy and a mini serious arc. So it goes without saying that I was shocked when they showed a preview for the Shogun Assassination arc and then the arc started a few episodes later. But I wanna take this section to talk about all the non-serious stuff altogether. Slightly dive into the more comedic arcs, then later in this review really dive into the last two arcs.

I think it’s hard to top the original season’s comedy as a whole because it’s 4x the length of the longer seasons. But this season is definitely overall consistently as funny as the first season. My gripe with season 2 is that I think it has a good handful of the funniest moments in the series to date. But it also had a good few episodes where they were just eh. This season doesn’t quite reach those highs but the lows aren’t nearly as bad. The consistency is there this season. This season has a handful of comedy episodes that I really enjoyed. The first two are hilarious and are a great start to the show. I thoroughly enjoyed whenever we got an episode that involved Seita and the Yoshiwara crew. We got some hilarious Shogun episodes. Soyo continues to be one of the funniest characters in the show. The feign illness arc was another funny attempt by Kagura to get her appreciation that backfires massively. Tama had some great moments. We get some Kondo backstory from even before he met Toshi and Sogo. A whole lot of great funny moments.

The GenderBender arc was a nice look into Kyubei as a character. We’ve seen a lot of her internal struggles ever since she was introduced. Being raised as a man, biologically being a girl, having tendencies of both, being in love with her best friend, and just the overall confusion that she feels. I think this arc was a solid resolution to a lot of those feelings that she has. With her more or less coming to terms with her gender identity. It wasn’t the perfect resolution but it was solid. This arc was also hilarious with everyone being gender-swapped. The Toshi pig jokes had me dying.

The confessional arc is a top-tier comedic arc in this show. The first episode was gold with just a host of characters coming to confess their sins to Tama and Gin and the plot unfolding about the Shogun accidentally being killed/kidnapped. The confessions from the cast kept getting progressively stupider and funnier. This leads to the second episode with Katsura and ShigeShige teaming up as Joi. It’s played as a joke because ShigeShige basically takes over the Joi due to his immaculate leadership but on a serious note, it’s been shown before that and after this arc that he is a seriously great leader. By the end of the arc, Katsura and ShigeShige have a newfound appreciation for each other. Gintama’s strong point will always be laying a foundation and building characters chemistry within these funny arcs and moments. It’s something that’s welcome at the moment but super appreciated when we get to the serious stuff.

Mutsu and Sakamoto getting their backstory fleshed out was very welcome. They don’t appear a lot in the actual show but they’re some of my favorite characters. Starting with Sakamoto. For the longest time, I thought he grew up with Gin, Shinsuke & Katsura. Up until maybe around ep 100ish. When the picture of just those 3 was shown then I was like oh maybe he just joined later. I was correct. He was a merchant sailing the seas who began to aid in the Joi war. It’s always a treat to see Joi war scenes and Sakamoto’s introduction to them was great. It’s weird to see Shinsuke and Gin so relatively cordial. But the biggest thing I took away from that scene was that Shinsuke came from a rich family but was disowned. I can’t wait to talk about that later. Back to these two. Sakamoto and Mutsu’s relationship is sweet. He saved her and opened her eyes in a lot of ways. His personality is definitely the most radiant out of the Joi 4. His philosophy of trade says a lot about him as a person. He finds value in even the smallest or dirtiest thing. His whole crew being made up of former slaves was the icing on the cake. I don’t know if I’m crazy or not but it came as a shock to me that Gin was just finding out Mutsu was a Yato. I immediately thought she was the very first time she appeared in the show. Maybe I just put my assumptions on the cast though. This arc was great. More Joi scenes plus backstory for two characters I like. Major plus.

Katsura’s infiltration of the Shinsengumi was once again another hilarious arc. Sorachi has this thing of just introducing never-before-seen members of the Shinsengumi and I just go with it every time. At least with Itou and his group, they were inserted as newcomers who recently joined. Shimaru is introduced as someone who was with the crew before they left for Edo and became the Shinsengumi. They even add him to the flashbacks. Hell maybe he was there all along and I just didn’t notice. Either way, once again another great arc. The shenanigans with Shimura and Katsura are great. Katsura being the personality he is and Shimura being as introverted as he is. The jokes and gags were on point. The smiling scene was hilarious, Shimura taming Elizabeth when it looked like he was torturing her, the whole trial scene. These couple of episodes had some highlights. The fight between Katsura and Shimura caught me off guard with how well animated it was. It’s really one of the best animated fights in this series I didn’t think the studio would go all out like that for a comedy arc. Overall great Katsura moments here. Shimura is a very welcome new character who has some great moments later on and whose character design is fantastic.

Okay so now for the serious stuff. In between all the comedy in the first 34 episodes we got a nice 3 episode serious arc with some new characters. This is like the final little piece of the rocket that is the major conflict being added so it can take off. Now that I’ve finished the season it also has a lot of parallels to events that we find out about later. The conflict between the executioners is great. Asaemon is a cool character with a tragic backstory. The previous executioner doing what he believed was right and releasing prisoners of the Joi war only for his two disciples to have to bear the burden of not only killing him but also eventually hunting down the captives he let loose. One of those prisoners being Gin. And the scene which is sort of paralleled later is when he’s in the cell and a young Asaemon talks him about being a samurai and how when she becomes an executioner she’ll give him a proper death. That was my first main takeaway from this arc. My other two are. We finally get to meet the head of the strongest faction opposing ShigeShige in Nobunobu. And also something that should’ve dawned on me a lot earlier but ShigeShige’s allies are/were being heavily purged from him. The Kiheitai have been teaming up with everyone. The Tendoshu are above everything but are being super mysterious. Shigeshige’s allies are seemingly far and few between while his enemies lie in the shadows waiting to pounce.

When I saw the preview for this arc I got the same feeling of excitement that I got when I saw the preview for AoT S3 part 2. I couldn’t wait to get to this point. This is the point of no return for this series. By far the biggest arc in terms of stakes and parties involved. This is the beginning of Gintamas Climax. The animation is outstanding. The music is great. The hype is on levels never seen before. So I want to talk about a handful of characters, their involvement in this arc, and the events that shape around them. One thing of note that was sort of minor in the grand scheme of things but still notable was Kamui and Kagura’s fight and how after he finally acknowledges her.

Zenzo is a funny character to me. He has such a cool character design to go along with his cool demeanor and a cool theme song. But it’s just something about him having hemroids that destroys all his cool factors. The only other serious arc he has a role in is the Red Spider arc. Where there we learn (or relearn) that he’s the son of the former leader of the Oniwabanshu. Early in this arc, we get a history lesson as to how the Oniwaban came to serve the Shogun. Within that, we learn about the ninja village and the other ninja clans who didn’t join the Shogun. Zenzo tries to make it clear during all his featured episodes that he’s a ninja and ninja sell out to the highest buyer no matter what the job is. But he always ends up contradicting himself in the end. By his actions and his tone in the early parts of this arc, I was fully convinced that he sold out for whatever reason and killed the shogun. That scene where he decapitates the Shogun was shocking as hell. The talk they had before made it seem like they had some familiarity with each other. What would come to light about that moment makes it all the more tragic. Zenzo really impressed me as a character this season. For the first few episodes, he was the main draw of this arc for me.

ShigeShige man Shigeshige. The shogun is a staple character in this show. He holds the funniest moments and episodes in this series bar none. When stuff got serious in Courtesan of a Nation arc, he showed how noble he was and how much of a leader he is. But like I said his enemies only grew while his allies shrunk as the series went on. The backstory between him and the Oniwanbanshu was sweet. It’s a dynamic that we hadn’t seen or had mentioned before. They share a strong bond from childhood. And his time with them at that young age helped him realize what his bushido is. It’s sadly ironic that he met the Oniwaban because of him learning that his body doubles where being hurt in attempted assassinations. Then in this arc for his protection, Zenzo kills the body double who was also their childhood friend. To protect the title of Shogun but more importantly to protect the person who is ShigeShige.

There were a lot of sacrifices made for him in this arc. All of which were happily made because the man that is Shigeshige means a lot to a lot of people personally. Unfortunately, the Tendoshu are very powerful, and when it all seemed to be in vain. Shigeshige the Shogun staked his claim for a new nation. One that doesn’t need a shogun. One that’s governed by each person’s bushido. While it is hyper idealistic. From his position, it’s better than the rotting Shogunate system that’s currently employed. After the confrontation with the Tendoshu and the retreat out of Edo. I was happy. A character I love dodged a major bullet and will now be the flag bearer for a new nation a better nation. So it hit hard when his assassination was successful. He wanted to meet the people who support him on even terms. Not as Shogun and retainers, but as equal people coming together for a common goal who all trust each other. But the crow’s wingspan was ultimately too wide. This arc started with a failed assassination attempt while the Shogun was about to drink his sister’s tea. And it ended with him drinking that tea and going peacefully in her lap. The note that she had written to the survivors of the previous battle being narrated by her in the background as he greats those he thought he could trust and as her note expresses hope. Not knowing what would happen very soon. It was beautiful. Shigeshige is an all-time great character beyond the gags and the funny stuff. He was a samurai through and through and he’ll be sorely missed going forward in this series.

Gintoki was hilarious during the funnier moments in this arc but I want to skip to the battle between him and Shinsuke. I’ve been waiting for this for so damn long and it didn’t disappoint. It’s brutal, the animation is great, it does one of my favorite sort of tropey things. Which is an interweaving backstory and flashbacks between the present fight. I’ll talk more about it when I get to Shinsuke but I want to rewind a bit before this arc. During one of the episodes with Hasegawa telling scary stories. The crew question why Gin is afraid of ghosts. Its been shown time and time again that Gin is deathly afraid of ghosts. It got me thinking why? I don’t have the answer but it’s interesting to think about knowing his backstory. Knowing that he grew up as a crow on the battlefield picking from dead bodies to survive before he met Shoyo. Even after he met Shoyo, During the Joi war, he’s seen countless death in his life. So I wonder if at a point or if even back then that all caught up to him. Which grew into a fear of ghosts. It’s interesting to think about. But outside of that, the reveal that Gintoki was the one to kill Shoyo was major. Which now that I’m typing this, that event was thematically foreshadowed heavily in the reaper arc. It’s been foreshadowed a lot. Going back to Benizakura where Katsura tells Shinsuke that Gin had endured more than either of them. Gins’ backstory continues to keep getting more and more tragic. He made the choice not to protect Shoyo’s life but to protect what Shoyo would put his life on the line for. Shinsuke states he could’ve maybe saved Shoyo and left Katsura and him to die. Yet he didn’t. Gin killed the person who was most precious to him and has to live with that. Their dialogue through this fight reveals that Shinsuke would’ve done the same. Katsura probably would have too. Shinsuke and Gin are the same but their paths in life diverged that day.

Shinsuke finally gets fully fleshed out. A man who has been at the forefront of conflicts and in the background of conflicts. To this point, we’ve only seen his motives through action and little internal thought. All we know is that he wants to see the world burn for what happened to Shoyo. So let’s talk about his backstory. Son of a rich family who attends a prestigious school with Katsura. It kind of took me back how alike he and Gin were as kids. Both slackers, Shinsuke doesn’t see the value in the Samurai code being taught at the academy he attends and frequently gets into it with his classmates. Meeting Gin and Shoyo changed his life. It opened up his eyes and put him on the path to finding his bushido. The interactions between them as children were fun.

The ultimate revelation is that Shinsuke holds a deep hatred for Gin because he was the one to execute Shoyo. He has severe survivor’s guilt but deep down he knows if the positions were switched he would’ve done the same. He’s an immensely scarred man who changed after that moment and concludes that the world needs to burn. But ultimately he blames himself. He blames himself that Shoyo had to die for them all to live. And he sees Gin enduring and living his life. While he is stuck in the past, constantly wondering why Gin doesn’t seek the same revenge he does. So he points his sword at Gin. His best friend broke a promise and the last thing he ever saw out of his left eye was Gin crying after decapitating Shoyo. He says it himself his crusade would’ve been so much easier if the enemy burned into his eye was the Bakufu. He’s a ghost who is always partially living in that singular moment. Which fuels all his hate. The fight between them is not only physically brutal but you can feel and see the agony and emotional pain in their eyes and through their dialogue. At the climax of the fight, the whole episode is just Gin and him. No other character is present until the very end. The stage is cleared for them. It’s heartbreaking and I wouldn’t have thought I’d feel so much for basically the main villain of the whole series to this point. What’s to come next with his character has been very interested.

Back in my Benizakura Retelling review, I praised the added scenes of Shoyo (which one gets retconned masterfully) and how at that point not much was known about him but his influence and aura were very much felt. He gets a lot of time during the flashbacks and it just exemplifies my original thoughts about him. His teachings and way of life seemingly come from a place of experience but are also pure in intent. I can see why he was sought out during the purge because his teachings at their core invite heavy individualism and intern would cause a revolt. Especially in a rotten Shogunate. It was great to have more screen time with him.

Farewell Shinsengumi arc starts immediately after the Shogun Assassination arc. It’s a good arc. I didn’t like it as much as Shogun Assassination, but it had more than its fair share of moments, reveals, and a different set of characters get focused on here. This arc has a little bit more comedy in it. Which was very funny. The jail scene with Katsura, the fights between Shimura and Elizabeth because of their character overlap, Kagura and Gintoki abusing the Shinsengumi, and of course my favorite hard-boiled detective plays a solid role here.

Sasaki has never really been that interesting to me. A lot of plotting with a lot of different groups but him as a character never piqued my interest. Outside of a certain reveal later, he was the shining star of this arc. The definition of a man who just wants to see the world burn. A character who sees the bs in the world for what it is. He disagreed that the Hitsubanshi family should be assassinated. He disagreed that the newly founded Shinsengumi should take the fall. He disagreed that children should be killed at such a young age. Yet everything his character has done to this point kind of suggests that he’d be at least indifferent to those subjects but I guess what he eventually had to live through would change any man. Back in my season 1 review, I talked about how Gintama will take a gag and make it into something serious. I liked how that was done with Sasaki’s emails. Him keeping in touch with his pregnant wife over emails in the past. So his punishment for disobeying the Shogun was his wife and her guards being assassinated seemingly by Nobume. The scene where he’s racing to her, trying to desperately email her, and each one fails to send over and over. Until he gets to the scene. His character became very complex very quickly. He constantly clings to emails because he can’t forget about the ones that never reached his love. He constantly works with and plays into the hand of all these organizations because he wants them all to collide and destroy each other. Then when it’s all said and done he can exact an act of cruel revenge on the person who killed his wife, by having Nobume kill him. At least that’s what he tells himself. But he came to care for her and treat her as his daughter. It’s so twisted and painful but very powerful. I came to love Sasaki’s character a lot this arc.

Nobume’s backstory is heavily intertwined with Sasaki’s and slightly with Gins. Back in the Courtesan of a Nation arc, Oboro lets it be known that Muruko is her real name and she was once a highly touted member of the Naraku. So we learn that she was an assassin, a great one at that, at a young age. One of the best in the Naraku. But through her learnings from Shoyo while he was imprisoned her outlook started to change. So when the time comes for Sasaki’s wife to be assassinated it’s assumed that she tried to fight and protect her but it was ultimately in vain. By the time Sasaki gets there, it’s only her on a pile of corpses. He can’t bring himself to kill a child even one that’s a murderer, so he takes her in and gives her the name he would’ve given his daughter. Her belief is her wavering feelings at that moment and not killing Sasaki made him endure all this pain for so long and now the only thing she can do is free him from it by her hands when it’s all said and done. That’s tragic, especially because in her heart she doesn’t want to kill anymore. Their relationship is very unique. It was interesting seeing everything between them come to light.

Utsuro being Shoyo has gotta be the biggest bomb dropped in this show yet. I don’t want to go digging for answers to what I’m about to ask out of fear of getting spoiled. But Utsuro has definitely made appearances in Joi war flashbacks right? I think it was during the Courtesan of a Nation arc where he appeared during the war flashbacks and fires that same canon he does during this arc. Either way holy shit that’s a gigantic plot twist. Utsuro is looking op as hell too. Strength wise he seems stronger than Hosen. Which is crazy seeing how Gin and the Hyakka barely made it out of that together. I’m hyped as hell to see where this twist goes and who Utsuro really is. But with his introduction and some lines that Nobume says as they escape a timeline sort of formed in my mind which lead me to my own theory. This boils down to thinking that he was maybe cloned or even someone powerful stole his whole persona. It’s fun to think about and this mystery has me hype. Also, his theme is phenomenal. It made his entrance on the battlefield 10x more menacing.

The Shinsengumi as a whole added a great element to the show. From Yamazaki to Matsudaira, they all had their moments of hilarity and seriousness. As a group, I loved them all and their presence will be sorely missed for however long they’re absent from the show. I just know when they return it’s going to be hype as hell. Everyone saying their goodbyes was bitter-sweet. But it just showed that no matter how many times they clashed at the end of the day they were all loyal friends to each other. There have been arcs without them completely but just knowing that they’re actually gone and probably won’t show up for a while hits different. I’m just glad that Kondo made it out with his life. As a character, he grew on me a lot this season. Beyond his stalking and lewdness, he’s a truly great leader and man. All those death fake-outs got me every time. Farewell to the Shinsengumi for now.

So yeah I’ll keep this conclusion short and sweet. I’ve reached the point of no return and I’m ready for it. This season is easily the best yet as a whole package. Gintama has always been in the contest for my favorite anime ever and I think this season is where it solidified itself as just that. As an aside, I was going through my notes I had unknowingly written the music is great twice, and yeah it really is amazing this season. All three openings all three endings were great (and super catchy), the voice acting was great this season too but particularly Shinsuke’s va was top notch. But yeah, Gintama reached new heights this season and I couldn’t be more excited to see where this story is going to go.

Gintama° (Season 4) – 10/10

Notes – These just keep getting longer and longer huh? I don’t expect the next few to be even remotely as long as this one but who knows. I’m full steam ahead on Gintama right now but I probably won’t watch the slip arc and just leave that for another time. Also I’m thinking about doing some sort of audio podcast to accompany this blog. So if you have any questions or topic suggestions feel free to comment or contact me with them!

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