Gintama: A Social Commentary On A Cultural Satire

By -

Gintama, a series that has over the years spawned some of the most controversially untouched fans, unlike most of the popular shounens of the current time that are prone to critical treatment in their daily progress. Ironically, Gintama boldly violates almost every term that its publisher The Weekly Shounen Jump imposes, chapters every week are drenched in mindless satirical gags that are often claimed repetitive by people, which at times hampers the weekly rankings and Jump is one of those merciless companies that does not like one of its series at the last spot.

The cunning mangaka

Sorachi Hideaki, the mangaka, is a sly fox or rather a Gorilla as he loves to portray himself in the manga, who is always quick enough to loose free before the guillotine decapitates him, with an exciting new story arc.

When inquired in an interview about how much dedicated Sorachi sensei is to his work, he replied “Deadlines. If I didn’t have any deadline, I’d never be able to finish the manga manuscript. When I just started, I once spent a whole day on one line.”

Also when asked about having any sort of dream he answered, “I don’t really remember. My editor says he often dreams about being chased by something. I wish he’d be taken away forever and never come back to this world.” Not sure if he was quite sober when blabbering all that but that is some typical Gintama style sense of humour right there which ardent fans may recognise.

Sorachi sensei has always revealed himself in these interviews as a bohemian gorilla who lives by his pen for sustenance and not much a fan of socialising, technically being the epitome of a caveman, which is but a facade as can be drawn out from his own greatest creation at the moment, Gintama.

Cringy take on social issues

The series, aside from all the gags and typical shounen-esque arcs, is a bold display of some of the most heated social controversies walking bare in the current times: Misogyny being one such issue, which feminists all around the globe strive against.

The series at times portrays its female characters as having the notion of prostitution. For example, the character Sacchan is as vulgar a female exhibitionist can ever get, dipping her foot in hot chocolate syrup to seduce her beloved Gin-san on Valentine’s Day.

The balance is maintained by Kondo Isao on the leeward side, the beastly (as he is attributed with) stalker of Shinpachi’s beautiful sister. Wagging around his jimmies unconditionally as he is also regularly attached with the notion of an exhibitionist.

Now you veterans might be wondering what could be wrong with these themes as they are not something that have been newly exploited in a shounen manga. But let me ask if you’ve ever seen a shounen manga which has been so flexible as to throw in two straight naked males in the bed and trigger conversations about banana and gorillas right out of the blue. Or the main character being so vulgar as to spank a lady cosplaying Elizabeth in the ass with a seesaw end, and this lady actually lets out genuine moans! One of the few reasons I never watch the Gintama anime series without my headphones on.


That aside exceptions are inevitable, but what sets Gintama on a line apart is that it is a series that hovers in the front lines of sales.

Sorachi sensei, though whatever kind of caveman disguise he puts forward to the plates, it doesn’t set aside the issue surrounding the fact that Gintama is demographically distributed to the average teenage population of the country. He must be well aware of the age of his fans who are exposed to these brilliant tomfooleries dipped in a ton of innuendo, but even if that doesn’t cost him a budge to his door, it is more astonishing to see that Jump itself is fine with distributing this stuff to the hands of their young readers. But then again as the foreigners we are, we needn’t be so typical about this scenario given that we’re moulded by an entirely different social construct.

Vulgarity in popular culture

Let’s move on to the issue of how differently does Gintama deal with vulgarity from the usual series out there. In this context, it should be noted that almost every manga with even the tinge of vulgar note is tagged under the notorious genre called ‘ecchi’ or for that matter of fact even ‘seinen’ demography, which Gintama never had the privilege to put on. It has thoroughly sold since under the primary genre categorisation of fantasy/sci-fi/historical shounen.

Now why is that? Simply because Gintama is so flexible with its fangs that it is hard to compile the series as a whole under these particular categories of sub-genre in a manga, that is to separate the crude stuff from the general readers. Sorachi blends his wriggling fingers amidst the general public and is completely unpredictable as he plants the bean stalk seeds and voila! It grows out of nowhere. For example, at times one may find a chapter getting typically melodramatic and it may carry on till the whole thing is resolved normally, but one is never certain when Sorachi drops the bomb with a crude innuendo even in the most unexpected parts of the manga.

To separate such situational humour throughout the series is like anticipating the mythical Kraken that might surface from the depths of the Ocean. Hence it makes the series unbound by conventional shackles of categorisation.

Gintama’s satirical impact

Now going back to the controversies. Let’s suppose even if Japan has it’s taboos off and the publishers don’t care whatever crude stuff the young readers are exposed to, and considering every other exception, one still cannot undermine the impact outside the country’s boundaries.

Gintama makes some strict sexually offensive statements and even more offensive with shemale jokes at times and on-screen display of vulgarity censored with intended mosaics. Mildly close to American animations like South Park, which as personified, are the connoisseurs of satire, just like Gintama, and make a bold effort to stress on the connotations of Freedom of Speech, with extreme controversial content that is way more offensive than Gintama will ever be. Though the point made in Gintama is not far a counterpart to these social mediums on a global level.

Considering the social agitations that have been in affect all around, primarily surrounding the issue of sexism that pinches almost everyone, in Gintama if scrutinised closely on its thematic surface, one would find that it thrives on an equality in the gender discrimination by countering all inequalities as treating them with utterly unjust portrayal.

Quoting Oscar Wilde:

… till you count what is a shame in a woman to be an infamy in a man, you will always be unjust, and Right, that pillar of fire, and Wrong, that pillar of cloud, will be made dim to your eyes, or be not seen at all, or if seen, not regarded.

Everything that clearly reflects on my examples of the characters of Sacchan and Kondo Isao, and yet to sight several instances throughout, Gintama does not leave even a single hole unfilled which would lead one to point a finger at Sorachi sensei as being a sexist.

He does not differentiate, but simply goes on with his manuscripts scratching his butt and making the protagonist sleep with old ladies and yet again straight males, female characters having weird obsession for male genitals, a male character again who is incomprehensibly stuck with unemployment which is another social issue if delved into, and yet again a female character that is too gullible to even differentiate between headbands and male genitals.

So much for the tennis ball frequently bouncing back and forth. Everything that sets the series apart from your usual manga with crude humour that throws some panty-shots and nosebleeds in with a daily dose of gag.

And in the end…

After going through all that analysis one may think this as a shattering blow to the introverted facade of the mangaka, after everything that has happened, the caveman might actually be buying his daily newspaper and actively supporting freedom of speech. Then again this is subjectively just my take on the whole matter and it might actually be that Sorachi sensei doesn’t care about all these, or perhaps, everything is just a mere coincidence.

But one may again brood over the inevitable lines I just drew which will forever be a crown to Sorachi for creating the most quintessentially genre defining manga in history.

Rahul Ghosh

Rahul will be publishing intellectual opinion-based articles. His writing skills and knowledge in the Japan discipline are quite commendable and his content deserves much more exposure.