Creator: Hideaki Sorachi
Publisher: Viz
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Action
RRP: $7.99
Gin Tama v2
Reviewed by Michael Aronson

“The samurai didn’t stand a chance. First, the aliens invaded Japan. Next, they took all the jobs. And then they confiscated everyone’s swords. So what does a hotheaded former samurai like Sakata “Gin” Gintoki do to make ends meet? Take any odd job that comes his way, even if it means losing his dignity. Gin helps an escaped convict make amends with his daughter, fights a duel with the love-struck chief of the secret police, and tracks down a dying man’s childhood sweetheart, who has seen better days. . .”

The synopsis sounds a lot funnier than the manga actually is, and that seems to be due to weakness on both the part of Sorachi and the translators.

I don’t usually jump into the art first, but I think it constitutes a bit of a problem. On one hand, the art is pretty sharp with effective designs and good expressions on the characters. On the other hand, the script and humor attempts a more slapstick, faster-paced tone to which the art can’t keep up. The art style is, for lack of a better description, a little too realistic and unexaggerated for the tone of the humor. Regardless of whether he’s cracking wise, joking outright or sarcastically lamenting, Gin’s expression always looks subdued and half-hearted and doesn’t well reflect his dialogue.

But then, perhaps the dialogue isn’t supposed to be as silly as it’s been translated. Much can be lost in translation, but then much can also be inserted. A Korean friend of mine who’s fluent in English recently described to me how much funnier the English subtitles of the film Old Boy were than the actual spoken script. Translations require much adjudication to determine what needs to be removed and what needs to be replaced, and while there’s no evidence to suggest their fault, the translators could have made the script smoother all the same. I’ve neglected to mention the few moments are in fact pretty funny, such as parodying teen pop star nonsense, “Forget our hassles and wrastle the goat in the castle moat!”

But really, in a world overrun by aliens, why are there so few aliens? If they took all the swords away, why do Gin and Hijikata engage in a sword fight? Is the series nothing more than Gin taking on all manner of odd jobs, one per chapter? Formulas succeed based on the strength of the formula, and if there’s going to be little to no forward plot momentum through the series, there need to be more laughs and funnier jokes. The potential is there, but the execution is struggling.

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28 April 2009
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