I’m always talking about how much I love Gintama's ladies and the way it treats its female characters, and the Popularity Arc is one of the great, shining examples of why. We should all, as a fandom, just take a step back to admire how thoroughly and beautifully it subverts the stereotype of poisonous, catty female competition. This arc could easily have gone in another direction, with all the girls staying jealous of each other and fighting, but instead they formed a girl band to take on everyone else!
I’m sorry, but I need a moment to compose myself because exactly how rarely do we see this level of female teamwork and interaction in shonen manga? SO RARELY IT’S PRACTICALLY NONEXISTENT. SO RARELY IT’S LIKE A MYTHICAL CREATURE OF LEGEND. IT’S LIKE A UNICORN. WELL GUESS WHAT? GINTAMA HAS ENTIRE FREAKING FIELDS OF UNICORNS.
But dude, you say, it was just a comedy arc, are we supposed to read so deeply into the characterizations? I would argue, actually, that we should take it all so seriously precisely because this happened during a comedy arc. If you think about it, comedy is all about exaggerating character traits and making everything more ridiculous. What comes through in comedy is going to be everyone’s most obvious features, and guess what Sorachi chose to emphasize? How Otae is everyone’s big sister. How Kyubei adores Otae. How Sachan commits to her goals. How Tsukuyo is ridiculously considerate and bighearted. How Kagura is aggressive and competitive but will instantly side with her girl friends. It’s incredibly refreshing.
And, of course, because Gintama isn’t here to moralize and give us saints for characters, the arc ends with in-fighting everywhere and a ridiculous plot twist. Perfect balance of heartwarming with gentle cynicism and fourth-wall-breaking absurdity.
Now excuse me while I build an altar to Hideaki Sorachi and sacrifice all my bananas to him.