Have you ever saved multiple versions of a document before? You would start numbering them at first, giving them filenames like Outlinev1, then Oultinev2, then Oultinev2.5. It starts to get messy, and you lose track of what number you’re on, and you start thinking “wait, am I thinking about version seven because I just saved version six and need to do version seven, or did I just do version seven so I need to save it as version eight?”
So you start over. OutlineNEWv1.0 is born. A fresh start! But then it gets a second version, then a third, then a fifth…
“Enough!” I hear you cry. “I’m done with this!” You take that ultimate, definitive act to be rid of this document and name it OutlineFINAL. The work is finished. The deed is done. You can move on with-
Oops. Forgot something. Okay one quick edit. OutlineFINALv2.0.
Surely, this is the last revision. Surely, you won’t find another typo or need another rewrite. But then again, a work is never truly finished, only published…
Hideaki Sorachi is clearly very familiar with this process, as is the entire staff working on the Gintama anime. Gintama: The Final is the GintamaFINALv3.5 of the franchise, a true and definitive ending that has gone through numerous iterations and is so very obviously the result of tireless rework, rewriting, and reshaping. Whatever the original vision of the ending was, it has long since been iterated on and revised until it is hard to remember which version is being discussed, or what pieces and parts need to be addressed to actually finish the series the right way. The film is here and has more than a few warts.
But what makes Gintama: The Final work so well is that it embraces the chaos of its creation. This is a finale so aware of its own faults that it often spends more time lampooning itself than ending the series with any semblance of coherence. This is ultimately to its benefit.
Gintama’s not-inconsiderable run in manga and anime form have been a rollicking ride of comedy, action, and heartfelt life lessons. Gintama is a potent mixture of referential humor and character-driven comedy, peppered with moments of heart-pounding action and gut-punching emotional beats. I often think of it in the same space as Futurama, where I will find myself cracking up for 18+ minutes at ridiculous shenanigans only to suddenly realize my cheeks are wet with tears. The ability to capably manage these seemingly contradictory states of serious and silly while pushing both to their absolute extremes is what gives Gintama its unique texture.
That uniqueness has also been a source of challenge when it comes to ending the series. Just how do you create an appropriate send-off for a series that is as likely to ruminate on the nature of service to a shattered ideal as it is to set an entire episode in the stalls of a men’s bathroom? The series definitely benefits when it leverages all of its disparate parts, and perhaps the roughest sections were when it leaned too heavy on one tone at the expense of another – I myself started to feel fatigued during the very long melodramatic fights of the final season. The answer is not easy or clear-cut, and Gintama: The Final answers this by having its cake, eating it too, questioning whether it’s in the mood for dessert, and flicking off the bakery all at once.
Don’t get me wrong: there is a clear resolution to our story here. A whole host of side characters and supporting cast get their moment to shine, many of them in the leadup to the final confrontation. The battle between Gintoki and Utsuro is satisfying, and without spoiling anything I will simply say the team went all out to deliver in this fight and succeeded brilliantly. The conflict is lovingly and viscerally brought to life in what has to be one of the standout duels of the series – precisely the kind you want in the final film.
Yet, action set-pieces are only one component to Gintama: The Final and arguably the smallest one. Much of the film is comedic, as one would expect. The first ten or so minutes is a recap but done almost entirely as a Dragon Ball parody, complete with character redesigns and turning manga pages. It’s so focused on breaking the fourth wall to dust and cracking jokes (both surface-level and deep-cut humor) that it actually makes it difficult to track what the recap is outlining. Then, the characters start fighting over how bad of a job the recap is doing.
And that’s what makes the movie so effective. Much like the series, the film has no clue how best to end everything – but instead of trying to think of the best ending, it revels in the struggle of ending anything. What should we focus on? Why did we give closure to one plot thread but not another? Are we ever going to address that one mystery? Should we acknowledge fan theories? These are the struggles of a creator dealing with ending a long-running popular work, and the Gintama cast plays out this battle in real-time as the audience laughs along.
Gintama has always been earnestly self-aware, irreverent without being cynical. Gintama: The Final is a continuation of this core identity, laughing and crying and falling and cheering all the way to the end. Even as the Odd Jobs team heads off into the sunset, not all the questions are answered, nor are all the loose ends tied up. The final post-credits sequence is mostly about Soraichi himself being lampooned and shouted over by his own creations.
But that’s always how it was going to end, and I couldn’t be happier to see Gintama reach its conclusion – or sadder to see it go.