originally posted on ace-reviews.tumblr.com on march 4, 2017
‘Sup, nerds, we’re doing something a bit different for Gintama Reviews today. Instead of reviewing an episode, I’m gonna go back and talk about a character no one cares about from an arc no one remembers.
Specifically this arc:
and this character:
The Ryugu Arc is presented as a sequel to the Urashima Taro folktale, which is about this guy:
who gets invited to visit the underwater palace of Ryugu as a reward for helping a turtle. It’s a fairly typical dude-saves-an-animal-that-turns-out-to-be-magic-so-don’t-be-a-dick-ya-fuckin-bratchildren morality tale, but has a fairly atypical ending: when he gets his fill of partying in Ryugu and returns home, he finds that decades have passed, and everyone he knows and loves is dead.
In the folktale, he then opens a box Otohime told him not to open, gets instantly transformed into an old man, and presumably wanders the beach until he dies of old age. In Gintama, however, it’s revealed that he was so shocked by the loss of his family and friends that he attempted suicide and ended up in a coma (or whatever), so Otohime put him in suspended animation until he wakes up.
And that brings us to our main topic: Otohime’s motivations. Her stated goal is the same as the evil queen from Snow White: to stay young and beautiful forever. It’s kind of a weak motivation, but it tends to be a popular one for lady villains who don’t have boyfriends/want to bone the main girl’s boyfriend, because vanity is bad or whatever. What makes Otohime’s motivation a bit more interesting, however, is that her desire to remain young has nothing to do with vanity (at least at first. She does brag to Otae about how she’s “cuter” early in the arc). Instead, she wants to remain unchanging so that when Urashima wakes up from his coma (or whatever), he’ll still have at least one person he recognizes.
Is it the best plan? No. In fact, it’s a pretty terrible one that could cause a mentally unstable person (like, say, someone who recently- from their perspective- tried to commit suicide) to become codependent, which is Not Healthy. And the old age box still plays a role in the Arc, in the form of big boxes that release a gas that makes anyone caught up in it age rapidly. Otohime apparently wants to weaponize these boxes for some reason in order to accomplish… something. I think they tried to explain it, but it doesn’t make much sense given her established motivations of wanting to be young and pretty again (hey, I never said the Ryugu Arc was the best written one).
The relationship between Urashima and Otohime is the driving force of the story, and the sole reason it works so well. Normally it’d be a bit annoying that we have yet another female character who’s motivations revolve solely around a dude who said she was pretty one time, except that every choice she made was her own. When Urashima somehow hijacks the palace computers to ask Gin-san and Zura to “save her” (which I don’t think was necessary since one of Gin-san’s few positive character traits is his refusal to just let somebody continue ruining their life, but that’s beside the point), it makes it damn clear that they were not choices he agreed with. And in the end, Otohime’s ultimate redemption doesn’t come from declaring her eternal devotion, her stated intention to die with Urashima after Ryugu Palace starts to break apart and crash, or even her willingness to sacrifice her life for the turtle dudes. Instead, redemption comes when she decides to move on and stop depending on a vegetable to give her life meaning.
Gintama often likes to make it’s arc villains sympathetic in some way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And fiction in general likes to bring back characters that were assumed dead, which rarely works. But in the last scene when Otohime has moved on with her life and is happily working as the proprietor of a bar, when Urashima shows up inexplicably but decidedly not dead and we close the arc on this face:
it feels earned. And really? That’s all you need for a good ending.