The standard shonen jump series based movie often have an original story written entirely just for the occasion. . . Or yearly routine, but having a movie based on one of the series many story arcs is either playing it safe with material fans already know of, or it's just simply being lazy. . . And the Yorozuya knows all too well about laziness.
STORY: Gintama Shinyaku Benizakura-hen is the first (And mostly the only) movie for the Gintama franchise, I movie that adapts one of the series' most famous arcs, the Benizakura arc. . . Or more accurately, rehashes the Benizakura arc giving it a fresh coat of better animation and a smaller running time than what it took for the anime to get through with it. And in Gintama fashion, the main cast of characters themselves ridicule the idea of the movie ultimately being a rehash, in fact the movie does not care to admit it, the word rehash is even in the title!
But for those who have never read or watched the series, I honestly would not suggest to use this movie as a starting point because despite that Gintama is predominately a comedy series this movie showcases the series in a much more serious light than how it really is. Not that I'm saying that Gintama isn't serious, it is from time to time, it's just this movie will give first time viewers a dead wrong impression of the what the series mood is.
So ultimately this movie is really for the crowd that were already into the series to begin with, so how does it fare with that in mind to people who are already fans of the franchise? Honestly, the movie plays out like any other shonen jump series movie, bad guy stirs up trouble like killing someone, stealing something or causes some kind of troubling commotion. And this movie is three for three, it starts out with one of the series' regular recurring characters losing in a fight with the main antagonist of the film, Nizo, a character that had showed up in a episode prior to the arc that this movie is based on. His reasons for doing so is so that the main antagonist(Of the series, not the film) will recognize him as an equal of sorts, which for to really happen, any gintama fan will tell you he will also need to defeat the main protagonist of the series, Gintoki Sakata, in order for that to happen. Nizo is also using the movie's namesake item, the Benizakura (Or awesome cherry blossom in the english dub... I'll get to that in a bit), a sword with a mind of it's own that infects it's wielder like a parasite slowly turning the user into some sort of 90's sci fi cyborg monster.
And with the main antagonist out of way, I need to talk about the series main trio, the Yorozuya itself. Gintoki Sakata, the dead eye'd, silver haired jack of all trades with an obsession with sweets and shonen jump, if he wasn't the same as he is in the series, then this movie would have some serious problems. Shinpachi Shimura, the straight man with a tendency of being the butt end of every joke, and Kagura, the young alien girl who the opposite of your typical shonen heroine. I want to speak of the group's comedic triumphs, but as I stated above the movie goes into a more serious tone than what the series is famous for, which, for anyone who has read the manga and watched as the anime adds more to the comedy, don't expect the movie to add too much humor, the most you'll get is two jokes, funny jokes mind you, about Warner Bros at the beginning and end of the movie. Like-wise with the jokes, hardly any of the various characters of the series make it into the movie. Granted that the arc that this movie is based on is set pretty far back in the series (Episodes 58-61 and manga chapters 89-97), it is still disappointing to see so little of the recurring characters, especially the shinsengumi.
But to be fair with it's serious tone, the movie displays great action scenes between the antagonist and Gintoki (Though it is almost entirely rehashed from the anime) and ends on a flashy and bloody final battle. And at the very least, if they really had to remake an arc into a movie, they hardly could have chose better.
ANIMATION: It's a constant step up from the tv series that hardly lowers the quality with no signs of characters going off model, and that is all it really is, just a step up from the tv series and it doesn't look quite as great as most shonen series movies do. And despite how well the fight scenes look, except the final battle towards the very end of the movie, it is clearly just a more polished up version of the tv series, but at least that's exactly what we should expect from a rehash.
SOUND: The background is almost entirely just the soundtrack from the tv series, save for the song that play during the final battle of the movie, Bakuchi Dancer by DOES which is a pretty rockin' song. The japanese cast of course is still as great as ever, there's no performance better than Tomokazu Sugita's Gintoki, not even the english dub by Sentai Filmworks (With bad lip flap and all).
The english dub is decent, some performances are befitting of the character they play like Luci Christian's Kagura, most are half and half like Chris Patton's Gintoki Sakata, which he gets the mannerism down and surprisingly does well, but lacks greatly went it comes down to fight scenes, and then there ones that are just flat out disastrous, Mark Laskowski's performance of Shinpachi is one of those ear bleeding performances that makes me want to file a lawsuit for assault especially since he gets the majority of the lines.
Outside of the questionable performances are some very odd translation decisions, like for example the sword Benizakura is literally called The Awesome Cherry Blossom while the honorifics are kept in the english dub like -chan or -san making a lot of the character exchanges sound incredibly awkward and out of place in the english dub.
The english dub is ultimately hit and miss, but could have been worse, they could have gotten Steven Foster to work on it. . . Brrrrrrrr.
+ Animation is a step up from the tv series.
+ Good action scenes
+/- English dub has some competent performances like Luci Christian's Kagura. / Some like Shinpachi's performance nearly ruin the entire experience.
+/- Remake of one of the series most famous story arcs. / Rehash of a story arc rather than being an original story.
- Too serious for a series that hardly ever takes itself seriously.
- Too little of the side characters from the tv series hardly make an appearance outside of the last scene during the credits.
Despite my complain about it's serious nature, I did enjoy myself watching it, both the english and japanese voice overs. But if Sentai Filmworks decides to dub over the tv series, I'd be a bit worried.