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Sunday February 24, 2008

Samurai sci-fi

Story and art: Hideaki Sorachi
Publisher: VIZ Media; 216 pages
(ISBN: 978-1421513584)
For ages 16+ 

IN an alternate Japan, a coalition of aliens from outer space called the Amanto invades Earth in the 1600s. They take over Edo (the present-day Tokyo). Their first act is to strip the samurai warrior class of their rank and to ban swords in public, turning samurai into homeless vagabonds. 

The Amanto introduce technology far ahead of the era, so high-tech starships coexist with quaint Japanese medieval architecture. Edo has become an intergalactic melting pot with aliens from other worlds walking the streets. 

In this world lives Sakata “Gin” Gintoki, an eccentric samurai with a wavy perm, and who utters deadpan quips that’d put David Letterman to shame. But don’t underestimate this man – he is lethal with the bokken (wooden sword) and will go berserk if deprived of sugar (he has “glycosuria”, you see).  

His apprentice, bespectacled Shinpachi Shumura, is trying to learn the samurai trade from Sakata and an alien called Kagura. While Kagura looks like a cute little girl, she is actually a member of the Yato Clan, a race of aliens with super strength and unnatural toughness. Kagura also has a weird accent, depicted in the manga by her odd sentences.  

The trio become freelancers, taking on all kinds of odd jobs, from recovering pets to dealing with ghosts, to pay rent for their humble hovel. Despite their best efforts, they’re still mostly behind rent!  

The interaction between the trio is hilarious with Sakata teetering from goofy to deadpan serious, Kagura taking everything literally, and Shinpachi being the voice of reason that nobody listens to. 

In general, Vol.1 sets the tone and background for the series, and shows how Shinpachi and Kagura (and some other secondary characters) end up with Sakata. 

There’s also the added bonus of Dandelion, Hideaki Sorachi’s first piece of work about Yakuza-style angels dispensing heavenly justice on restless ghosts; it has a rather bittersweet ending.  

Hideaki’s art is clean and his characters have distinctive looks. They are also well-developed with quirks that make them easy for readers to relate to. The translation is impeccable and maintains the original humour of the series with an attention to detail that includes the translating of signage, sound effects and cultural references. Of note is the fact that Sakata regularly “breaks the fourth wall”; he sometimes addresses the readers and realises that he’s starring in a manga!  

Gintama is highly recommended. 



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