I can’t say that I 100% knew what I was getting into when I decided to watch Gintama [2017] at Sunday’s sold-out showing at the Fantasia International Film Festival. I will admit that I did not actually know it was an anime adaptation—though I did have my suspicions when a pair of cosplayers showed up.

This showing was preceded by a specially filmed messaged to Fantasia audience members from director Yuichi Fukuda and several cast members: this (and the gintama3enthusiasm of the audience around me) had me geared up to appreciate whatever was in store.

Readers, it was fun. The whole thing was filled with Easter eggs for anime and manga fans. A dramatic reading of Dragon Ball was hilarious even for the uninitiated (i.e., me). I’ll admit that most of the stunts that delighted the audience went way over my head, until “N***a of the windy valley” (“we’re definitely crossing a legal line here!” wails one of the sidekicks) showed up to lend the main protagonist her glider.

There are a lot of typical anime stunts (slaps, girls with high childlike voices, chibi heads and nosebleeds!), but they’re self-aware and enjoyable.

At some point in the past, an alien race landed on Earth and took over. Now that the dust has settled, a former samurai and his two sidekicks are struggling to make ends meet. The first part of the film is really just backstory and “character development”, a.k.a. an escalating set of kooky situations and environments that introduce us to the rest of the cast.

These aliens, by the way, are played by regular humans with animal mascot heads, and I loved it. This film uses its special effects budget coherently and, dare I say, stylishly—this was not a GoT season, where you have cool dragons in one episode but then spend the other ten staring at some tarted-up housecats with wings. It was delightfully self-aware and fun (I don’t think this word can be overused!).

In the se(I loved this guy so much)cond act, we finally get to the actual plot: a serial killer with a magical sword has been… serial-killing. After a friend goes missing, our eponymous hero tracks down the sword while his two sidekicks go looking for the missing friend. Of course, the same shadowy figure from Gintama’s past is behind it all, and a more serious battle must be fought.

There’s a long showdown when they finally defeat the enemy. Jokes cease to be uttered, and instead, new intrigue is shoe-horned into the final minutes of the final duel. If they’d used a more tasteful hand, this could have been the most effective standalone adaptation ever made… but I suspect they’re opening the door for a sequel.

A lot of film adaptations—books, manga, tv shows—are guilty of sticking too much story into too short of a run time. This movie almost makes it work, but the entire first act (and second half of the third) could have used a more ruthless cutting hand. This was one plot twist and maybe 10 minutes of dueling too many. Even so, I’m willing to forgive it because the vast majority was so entertaining, even for a relative neophyte.

Gintama is playing one last time on July 29—if you’ve got time and any fondness for anime and manga, this is definitely worth seeing. And to be honest, even if you don’t… you’ll still enjoy yourself.

 

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