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"Gintama is probably the hotpot of seriousness and comedy. I don’t really think about it. I’m just a punk who does anything he wants." - Hideaki Sorachi from an interview with Quick Japan in 2009.
It’s arguably the most unique hotpot in manga, right?
Although not as big as the holy trinity of Shonen Jump, Hideaki Sorachi’s Gintama recently hit the 50th volume milestone. This is a big deal considering the fact that the series is generally very episodic and a gag manga at heart. Yet with the help of the anime adaptation, Gintama has spawned a wide variety of fans from all over the world to talk dirty, make fun of people’s glasses, pick noses and believe in the power of sugar. Sorachi once mentioned that he wanted to end the series at Volume 30, but has pressed on to create even more insane moments over the past 20 volumes. Yet you have to think about Gintama’s appeal and why some folks still find it hard to appreciate a series such as this one.
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"One was trying to protect Shoyo’s legacy. The other was trying to destroy Shoyo’s legacy. But they had one thing in common. They both had such sorrow in their eyes."
Another emotional roller coaster in Gintama was recently built to bring us through more loops and turns in the form of the "Ikkoku Keisei" (Courtesan of a Nation) arc. What started off as a simple love story became a tense emotional look at the pasts of two men walking opposite paths, Gintoki Sakata and Shinsuke Takasugi. How much sorrow is enough to drive one to keep on living?
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"It galled me to do everything that young punk said…but you can’t judge a person by their age. There are young kids who’ve lived and felt more in their short lives than I have in all of mine."
You ever had one of those moments where you talk to someone younger than you and felt like that person was actually making sense? What if someone older talking to you felt the same? Don’t worry, you’re not the only ones.
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“True, your luster may not have been as bright as gold…You only shined on occasion. You were always arguing and fighting. You had wavy hair. You were lazy. You were the king of sexual harassment. You never paid the rent. You paid your people late. Still, you were brighter than the fake glint of gold plating. When you were angry, your entire soul was enraged. When you laughed, you laughed with all your heart. Your silver was much more beautiful.”
In a world where things are taken completely at face value, perhaps we need to re-evaluate what is of true value. The beginning of Gintama Season 6 adapted a highly-touted arc from Volume 43 of the manga and highlighted a world where gold captivated it. Despite its amazing allure and beauty, the gold portrayed was tainted and corrupt. The battle between Gintoki Sakata (silver) and Kintoki Sakata (gold) reflects society’s obsessions with perfectionism and how being first place in one area doesn’t always translate well to other aspects of life that are far more important.
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"It’s all right. You did well. You’re…a fine man. You’ve grown strong. Don’t look back. You made your decision. This is the path you chose. Don’t apologize. Don’t cry. You did what you set out to do. I felt proud watching you go. You’re blunt, belligerent, and bungling…but you’re kind. I love you guys. I was…very lucky…to know men like you…and to have a brother…like you…Sogo. I’m proud of you."
In many anime/manga series, there are certain characters that resonate in our hearts. Yet they end up dead in a shocking twist and makes us go “Noooo! Why!?”. With that said, a recent poll conducted by MyNavi focused on which anime/manga characters fans wished did not die. While some of the choices were not surprising to many (i.e. Ace’s death in One Piece and Tomoe’s death in Madoka), there was one character who I was happy to see made the list and hit top 10. Look at number 8. It’s none other than Mitsuba Okita, the older sister of Gintama’s favorite sadist, Sogo Okita. She was a somewhat minor character but the fact that she was a well-refined girl with a terminal illness and had close ties to three major characters spoke greatly to many fans. Her brief time is a lesson that nothing should be taken for granted.
Mitsuba first appears in Chapter 129/Volume 15 and was presented as someone who raised Sogo all by herself. She was childhood friends with the other two main Shinsengumi members (Kondo Isao and Toshiro Hijikata) though they and Sogo left her in the countryside to move to Edo. Mitsuba immediately warmed fans’ hearts by showing off her addiction to a variety of spicy food. She has a chronic lung ailment which has affected Sogo emotionally. While Mitsuba travels to Edo to tell the Shinsengumi about her marriage to a merchant, she runs into Hijikata and faints. It is revealed that she was in love with him once. Hijikata rejected her because he didn’t want her to suffer by being with him. That moment led to the development of Sogo’s love/hate relationship with Hijikata. She is then taken to the hospital as her health begins to deteriorate even further. We then find out that her fiance is actually a terrorist and that he is using Mitsuba to take over the Shinsengumi from the inside. Hijikata confronts him (and smoothly says "I just want the woman I love to be happy", a line that fans rank highly as one of the top moments/lines in Gintama) while Mitsuba is dying in the hospital. Sadly, there is no happy ending as Mitsuba dies in Chapter 132/Volume 16 and we’re left with sadness in a series known for humor.
When you think about Mitsuba, your life’s problems are pretty much tame compared to her’s. Her approach to life might be different. I think there are some important lessons to learn from her.
1.) Build a network of support.
Sogo said that in life, some people don’t ever make real friends. Even Mitsuba commented that Sogo never had a true friend (though she notices that Kondo, Hijikata, and even Gintoki Sakata are his closest friends). She remained tied to the Shinsengumi by sending them spicy crackers from time-to-time while Sogo sent her money to cover her healthcare costs. Even though you might be suffering, having a wide variety of helpful people in your life makes things much more bearable and will make you feel better about yourself.
2.) Do what you love.
Mitsuba loves spicy foods and is usually warned not to eat them because of her health. Yet she still does it anyway to a huge degree. Just do what you want to do without regrets. Life is short for everyone and you might as well make it enjoyable for yourself as best you can.
3.) Don’t be led and driven by fear.
This is probably the most-important lesson. We’re all victims of fear when we hear and face bad news. We all want to cry and grieve, but what good does that really do us in the end? Mitsuba continued to face things head-on and was prepared for the inevitable. She didn’t let fear stop her from enjoying life and wanting to be happy. Mitsuba also wanted to make sure to leave something behind and that was to make Sogo a strong person. She let herself be driven by her sense of self. We need to learn how to better control our negative emotions and not let them lead us astray.
I would like to say that I’m glad many anime/manga fans recognized the importance of Mitsuba Okita’s death as one that affected them greatly. I remember seeing this story arc in the Gintama anime (Episodes 86-87) first before reading it in the manga. The ending with Mitsuba’s speech to Sogo had me literally in tears. It makes me realize that my problems pale in comparison to certain individuals who have it a hundred times worse. Some of them are staying positive while I just sit there and complain. How many of you Gintama fans out there have also felt greatly impacted by what transpired with our fallen sister?
If you ever meet/know someone who has a terminal illness, please learn from those folks and you will gain newfound or renewed strength that will go a long way. I think we all need to encounter a Mitsuba Okita at least once in our lives.
To reword a certain idiom for Mitsuba, spice is the variety of life.
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