When it comes to sequels, It is often unclear whether it will live up to the quality of its previous installments, and in the case of the fourth season of Gintama fans can be assured: it maintains its defining traits. There continues to be a great variety in the comedy offered, as well as its share of arguably one of the best consequent "serious" arcs in the entire series so far, expanding greatly upon the setting itself, as well as its cast of characters. However, it must be mentioned that it comes with a slight controversy amongst the fans, the main concern being the inevitable conclusion the series is heading to, and with that, loosing in the process some of its main charm, the comedy, which mainly affects the last third of the season. Regardless of said matter, Gintama delivers in all of its main aspects in a very satisfying manner, where viewers can observe the culmination of the author's experience in the different aspects the anime has to offer.
The story of the show follows a similar structure to its previous seasons, following the daily, both chaotic and amusing, lives of the beloved trio of the Yorozuya: Kagura, Shimura Shinpachi and of course Sakata Gintoki. The series is known for its great variety in comedy incorporating different genres from both the East and West, in addition to providing great referential comedy to the variety of different anime to its advantage - Kuroko no Basuke or Saint Seiya anyone? These are often well executed, albeit being in some cases too repetitive. Naturally, it is not all referential comedy: it has its share of situational comedy, or just simple daily issues taken into a comedic stance: hiding pornmags, or even a marriage encounter.
In various instances it also provides some social critique; what is more, this time around it is more universally centered, making it much more accessible to audiences unaware of japanese culture. Examples such as paranoia over a lottery ticket, greedy shopkeepers, corruption amongst civil employers, you name it. Naturally it has its share comedic sketches mainly catered to the japanese viewers, which are arguably hilarious as well. Not to mention the premise of some of the mini arcs presented: the hilarious gender bender arc and of course, the beloved Shogun gags - which once again are arguably of the best sketches of the entire series.
However, this time around it is impossible not to mention the story oriented arcs in the season: these are a magnificent portrayal of the author's acquired experience over the years, expanding upon the Amanto and the mysterious Tendoshu that rule over Edo. Its "serious" arcs were often criticized for being a bit random and too over the top, yet this time this is not the case. Furthermore, the foreshadowing that was done in the previous seasons become very apparent and explained, in addition to providing a very satisfying flow of events: fast-paced when required, yet balanced and thoughtful when necessary to emphasize on the atmosphere and gravity of the various situations. It ultimately works itself towards a great finale - or rather, another buildup, but to this later - with fantastic action across the board, with a minimal amount of "asspulls" action shōnen are well-known for. The battles are tense, the stakes are high, and it is in fact brutal as it can be: people die left and right, betrayal and disbelief are just some attributes that could be associated to it.
The cast of characters in Gintama remain largely unchanged, with some exceptions, yet this was to be expected, as the series is building itself towards its inevitable finale. Instead, the anime expands on its characters by developing them, as well as further fleshing them out in a satisfying manner. Audiences are presented with the expansion upon Gintoki's past, and with that, his other comrades as well as his master - a wonderful and satisfying display to the character's personality, and of course the story as well. Not only that, it becomes apparent that all the story oriented arcs are in fact used as means to develop and flesh out various characters which initially remained clouded in mystery from the previous seasons: be it Sasaki Isaburou, the founding of the Shinsengumi and its integrants, or even the shogun himself.
Naturally, for the more comedic episodes audiences are presented with the homeless Hasegawa Taizou, a great representation of society itself, meaning the hardships or the apathetic attitude towards life. He is arguably one of the greatest characters in the series, alongside the noble and resourceful Katsura Kotarou. Besides his outdated sense of humour and his fantastic personality, It is truly curious to see his evolution as a character throughout the series from being a radical terrorist to a more pacificist person in the quest to change Edo without causing unnecessary deaths. There is a downside to its cast though: for example, Shimura Tae remains pretty much the same throughout the entire series as a forceful woman, who can instantly change to a damsel in distress whenever the plot required it; in addition, the gags surrounding her persona remained the same, and ultimately got annoying.
As for the character interactions and relations, these are often very well handled because of the nature of the anime and the characters themselves that has been developed throughout its duration. This is however not always the case, as in some instances these were rather abruptly presented to the viewer, which in turn caused the whole scenario to feel unnatural. Some of the characters actions occasionally conflict with their own ideals and personality as well, but as a whole, it could be said that it was satisfying. Now there are some issues to be held with the background of some of the characters: these follow the same formulaic approach which is usual in the series, which naturally may be bothersome for audiences. In some instances it could be said that the motives were either too predictable or convenient for story progression.
~Animation and sound~
The animation in Gintama was surprisingly consistent and well done considering the fact that it aired for a whole year. However, where it excelled was in its action scenes: the fights were incredibly dynamic and fast paced, accurate as well as fluid and detailed, never leaving any viewer bored throughout its entire duration. This however has a cost to it, the backgrounds suffering in various instances from poor quality character models, and the occasional still image that are displayed throughout the series. As for the art style itself, nothing new, it remains with the same standard as the previous seasons; character models are very simple as well, yet varied enough to easily distinguish its cast.
What however stands out is the selection of soundtrack for the different scenes and atmospheres the anime was trying to portray: the usual tunes for the more relaxed and comedic moments, whereas for the serious moments the studio pulled out a great variety of soundtracks that matched wonderfully with the setting. Metal songs, rock songs, gloomy sounds or the usage of percussion instruments which serve to inspire suspense and tension from the viewer, further enhancing the whole experience the show has to offer. Naturally, the voice actors are of great importance as well, which retained their previous ones: Sugita Tomozaku as Gintoki, god-like voice of Wakamoto Norio or Tachiki Fumihiko as Hasegawa which greatly enhanced the characters personality, and with that, the comedy as well.
The fourth season of Gintama was overall a fantastic experience which I personally doubted to be able to surpass that of its previous seasons, yet was pleasantly surprised. It managed to maintain its variety in jokes, the references and such, as well as displaying the one of the greatest subsequent story driven arcs with great characterization contained within. This was all accompanied with a great usage of the soundtrack as well as the fantastic action scenes. It must be said that it did not reach the final conclusion, as the manga is still ongoing, and there were some chapters from the manga left out: this mainly affected the comedy parts.
This does not mean Gintama has no flaws: it does, and quite some in fact. There are some episodes that either were too repetitive on its theme to the point of being annoying, as well as the infamous episode where they literally turned into shit. This was rather distasteful and off-putting for obvious reasons. Another problem that arises with the "serious" arcs are the integration of some of its characters: these are either at times useless/helpless for such situations, yet miraculously survive; or they're included just for the sake of it. Other issue that fans may have with the series is the fact that due to its inevitable conclusion, the anime has gone past the point of no turning back. This in turn meant that the last third of the series had hardly any comedy in it, which may be an issue for some, as the comedy aspect is one of the main charms of Gintama.
All in all, despite the above mentioned problems, I still loved the series as a whole and consider it to be the best comedy anime I have watched so far; I have blurted out in laughter a great amount of times, which is the whole point of comedy. It is very rare to find a series that can maintain this type of quality for over 300 episodes. For anyone who hasn't tried out the this sequel yet, I can highly recommend in checking it out, as it provides both great comedy and expansion upon the setting.
Thank you for reading.