For the next few weeks The Beginner’s Guide will be looking at the anime adaptations of Japan’s most popular manga magazine Weekly Shonen Jump.
This magazine of boys’ comics is famous for producing some of manga’s biggest and longest-running hits. These series sometimes produce a new episode every week. These are anime’s serial dramas – soap operas for the guys – “Swarfega operas” if you like.
We have covered many of their titles before, some are decades old like Dragon Ball (No. 99) and some have become successful in other areas such as Yu-Gi-Oh! (No. 88), but the most famous titles are the “Big Three” of One Piece (No. 6), Bleach (No. 15) and Naruto (No. 95). However, while One Piece has recently entered the Guinness Book of Records for: “The most copies published for the same comic book series by a single author”, the manga of Naruto ended a little while ago, and Bleach is soon to end. Which results in the following question: can any manga currently around become part of a new “Big Three”.
Concerning Shonen Jump it is a hard one. The only other long-running shonen (boys) manga to make it big in recent years is Fairy Tail (No. 52), but it is published by a rival company so some people would say it would not count.
In terms of Shonen Jump’s current crop, probably the manga most likely to become part of the “Big Three” would be Gintama (sometimes written as Gin Tama); a mixture of alternative history, comedy, and samurai stories which is often totally bonkers. It has been running as a manga since 2003, and has had three different anime series, the first of which began in 2006 and the most recent starting in April 2015.
The series takes place in alternative version of Japan’s “Edo Period” of the 19th century, when it was still isolated from rest of the world – until it was attacked by aliens known as the “Amanto”. Edo loses, and is forced to live with the Amanto as rulers and the Shogunate now just a puppet government. The Amanto open up Edo’s borders to space, and ban the use of swords in public. This wipes out the samurai class, but some struggle on with life. One such man is Gintoki Sakata, possessor of a wooden sword, naturally wavy hair, a scooter and a love of sugar so great that it make a wasp gasp in horror.
Gintoki runs “Odd Jobs Gin”, taking any job for money. His staff includes the show’s straight-man Shinpachi Shimura, who decided to work for Gin partly because he saved his sister Tae from working in a brothel, and partly to earn money to save the dojo that both he and Tae own. Also working for Gin is Kagura, an Amanto from the Yato Clan – one of the strongest and most violent of alien races, a heritage she rejects. She is usually seen carrying a gigantic umbrella which is both a weapon and also protects her sensitive translucent skin from the sun, and is often followed by a gigantic dog she adopts named Sadaharu.
Most of the stories are stand-alone episodes, in which Gintoki, Shinpachi and Kagura are either given a job, have trouble with the law or the Amanto, or some other more bizarre situation. There is a wide supporting cast, such as Gintoki’s landlady Otose who is always demanding that Gintoki pays his rent; Kotaro Katsura, a former comrade of Gintoki who is part of the Amanto resistance movement; Elizabeth, seemingly a man dressed all the time as a big white duck that Katsura strangely adopts and adores; and short-sighted female ninja Ayame Sarutobi, who falls in love with Ginoki and is extremely masochistic.
There is also the Shinsengumi, the police force who are one of the few people still allowed to use metal swords. They are led by Isao Kondo, who is respected by his troops but not by the woman he falls in love with, who happens to be Tae; Toshiro Hijikata, the fearsome, chain-smoking vice-commander who also has an obsession with mayonnaise; and skilled sadistic swordsman Sougo Okita who always seems to want to kill Toshiro without remorse.
Gintama has become a very popular anime comedies. People love both the characters that appear in the show, the bizarre situations, and the gags themselves – although some might get lost in translation or reference to particular aspects of Japanese culture most westerners would fail to grasp. There is a lot of breaking of the fourth wall, and due to the use of alien technology, the show can get samurai to reference modern day aspects of life. It is set in the 19th century, but they do have televisions, cars, aircraft, and Gintoki regularly reads this world’s version of Shonen Jump himself.
One problem the series does have is the lack of availability. While there are over 250 episodes, only 49 were released on DVD in America, and the only commercial release in the UK was of a film version of the anime. You can however stream the series online. It is not just the anime that has been affected by this. There are 59 volumes of manga, but the company the released the manga in English, Viz Media, stopped after Vol. 23 and never said why.
Some of Gintama’s gags might be a bit hard to get your head around, but the characters and stories do make it entertaining enough to make for enjoyable viewing. Out of the Shonen Jump series currently available, it has certainly established itself to be considered to take any possible “Big Three” slot.
Gintama is available to stream via Crunchyroll. The film version is released on DVD by Manga Entertainment.