Few words are hated so much by anime fans as the word filler. Empty episodes to slow down a plot so the manga can move ahead.. or a story has more time to be developed. These are often treated as a crime against anime but are they really?! Today I give my opinion.
<Disclaimer> This blog shall only deal with the filler I have seen or know and any statement I make will always be a opinion be it my own or public opinion. I do not disapprove of anyone who does not share my views or claim there is anything wrong with your opinion please do not take offence <End of Disclaimer>
One of the first words I learned in terms of anime was the word filler. While I got into anime Naruto was busy with their Taka arc in the manga. My classmates were sick of the Naruto filler and wanted Shippuden to happen. They read the manga! I did not, so I never really knew what was filler. So …. I might look at this at a slightly different angle then most. Unable to confirm what is and what isn’t in the original story. While sometimes I noticed, like the Fake Namek Arc and The Garlick Junior Arc being not to me liking, sometimes I was rather oblivious, like for example the Bounto Arc in Bleach. While I did not enjoy that last one nearly as much as the arc that came before I thought it was okayish (mind you I was only watching 3 anime at the time, being Naruto, Fate Stay Night and Bleach). So I figured maybe there is just something about knowing when something is filler that makes it worse.. simply because we define it as filler?! I looked into this idea a bit further.
Which brings us back to Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super. I never read the manga of Z and the manga of Super is vastly different from the show.. so what exactly do we qualify as filler here? The manga is behind the series for Super and follows its own course. Still episodes like the copy Vegeta Arc feel “fillerly” I am pretty sure that it is. Yet there are also episodes like Goku and Piccolo learning to drive in Z or the Baseball Game in Super that were really good stand alone episodes that do enjoy a fare share of fans. So if we consider that everything that is not part of the manga and does not factor into the main story in any significant way.. both Copy Vegeta as well as those somewhat beloved episodes can be quantified as Filler. The same goes for the Fake Namek Arc and The Garlick Junior Arc , while the first one is objectively very bad I’d say Garlic Junior would be rather painfully mediocre than bad. Still I do see more active hate against the arc of the immortal little man than that cluster fuck that happend before. Why? I theorise it is because Garlick featured in a movie… so people KNOW this arc is filler as it considers a well known non canonical character
. This theory isn’t fool proof, back when I saw both arcs I did not know either of them was filler, and disliked them both to an extend as they aren’t particularly well written from the get go.. but since the Garlick Junior Arc now can easily be identified as filler, due to the Dead Zone movie being out there, I do actively remember it more as filler while Fake Namek faded away in my head much more. Identifying something as filler has plenty of implications from the get go that are detrimental to your experience ..like actually harming tension arcs and expectations. So by being aware of the label it can actually decrease your enjoyment, I did not mind the Bounto Arc when I watched it because I did not know what filler was, I wondered what would happen and while the answer turned out to be ..not much I did not mind being taken for that right. Filler has a stigma on it simply as a word that can doom excitement from the get go. It isn’t contained to just “fillers be bad” it works much deeper than that, on our expectations and on possibilities…so something labeled filler in a way is already on the back foot.
A reason for this is probably because filler arcs suffer from the same detriment as the “it was all just a dream” trope. Nothing significant will be gained or lost. After the arc the status quo will be the same as before. It’s just more content. However you know Ichigo will survive a filler arc, you even know that not a single character you knew before this arc will suffer to much. Not even mentally.. after all , once the arc is done it’s gone and forgotten. So knowing something is filler can obviously hurt your viewing experience . As soon as you know it’s filler, you know the ending. At least to the extend that the protagonist will not have learned any new techniques, none of the main crew will be to damaged and no friendship they made will last to long. Thus a filler arc is “boring” to some extend. Stakes are very low and the only things that might get lost, broken or hurt are the new elements.. based on how they interact with the main character you can completely predict this as well.
A great example is the “The New Captain Shusuke Amagai Arc” Due to the awkward timing I knew this was a filler arc, which by the way Bleach is a star at ..but we all know that. As a result I knew that Amagai could never stay. The manga can not skip introducing such an important character, so clearly by the end he has to go. The more the story progresses.. the more that path becomes defined the more boring the outcome becomes. This is where I feel filler arcs will always fall through. Since 99% of all arc based filler move like this I think fillers are damn near factually more inclined to be boring than canon content.
Yu-Gi-OH on the other hand included filler character Duke Devlin in so much thing, though mostly filler arcs that felt of consequence still. He was there in the Battle City Tournament to support his friend, which also led into him partaking in the Noah Arc. I do not think that hurt the main story at all and the way they chose to include this side track felt much more natural.. I didn’t know it was filler and even if I did.. Duke is included so they still have a character I have come to care for and they can kill off. Tension remains and there is always some guess work involved. However this way you almost force people to watch filler content and risk polarising people. Which can enforce making filler arcs feel like an additional slog. But not only we as vieweres are limited.. so are the creators.
The No Consequence arc doesn’t only make the story less boring because you know where it has to end , it also limits what you can do. In the Garlic Jr arc you can not have Vegeta show up and take a beating.. this would result in him getting a Zenkai ..which might proof significant later on, you can not have going turn Super Saiyan because that would impact the main story.. and you are not allowed to. So you already have to tell a story from point A to B .. but everything that was pre-established.. can not move from A to B.. they have to stay at A. Ichigo can not learn a new technique.. unless you make him realise the method is to dangerous in the end and still then your pushing your luck. Naruto can not move past an obstacle that still might an issue in the main story. So not only do you have to write flat character arcs for everybody relevant to the main story you also have to make sure nothing is gained by them that might alter the outcome of later events. Luffy can not make a super powerful friend that could have helped in Marine Ford prior to the Arc, (unless you pit them against other filler characters for show) Kirito can not gain a life lesson where he learns how to trust people more. So writing good filler is damn near impossible! So maybe we should go a bit easier on the people making them. No consequences for the characters, no consequences for the writers!
Does that mean that there are no good filler arcs? I think there are. One of the filler arcs I really liked was the Twelve Guardian Ninja bit in Naruto Shippuden. Not for it’s story exactly but for what it set up for me. While in terms of narrative it did not bring anything significant to the table .. it perfectly set up Asuma to…. die. While the enemies encountered clearly looked off designwise to the series, (I did not know it was filler but realised it due to character design being in a different spirit than other Naruto characters) and the main plot felt a bit meh.. it made me really bond with Asuma, I felt he was a great character, such a good spirited and respectable man. So when he lost in his fight against Akatsuki I cried… I would not have without this filler. That to me is what smart and good filler should be like. Look past your limits. With Asuma they could do whatever they wanted because he would die soon after anyway. They could make him into whatever they wanted deepen him and that worked out wonderfully for me! While I did not enjoy the episodes that much.. they sure as hell made me appreciate what happened next more and I think that’s where anime filler could shine.
Dragon Ball did this as well , in Super even more so than in Z. During the Baseball Episode we got some amazing Yamcha moments, simply because Toriyama and Toyotaro didn’t really do anything with the character anyway! They had fun with it and even made his memed pose into something quite cool! A fun callback that felt like a bit of a redemption for the character since he would not prove significant for a long time.. only know the Manga has given him some glory! Two years after super ended. The driving episode in Dragon Ball Z was done in a similar fashion. We do know that Goku has a fairly flat character arc and that the show intentionally stays away from seeing their family life. Having your filler set within that realm gives us something we all want to see but that does not influence anything else. It’s not what the show is about nor will it ever focus on that. So instead of a railroaded story we deepen our understanding of Goku and Piccolo without their characters changing at all.
Bleach however did this completely wrong.. by announcing this new arc is set in an alternate universe you CAN have options opened up sure.. but you know nothing major is going to come out of this anyway. It would still create discourse , while Renji might be killed in the alternate world people already do now even care less because it’s not THEIR Renji. (Not saying Renji was killed but to make a point imagine if they did) Like how blowing up Evil Android 18 felt justified even if we have come to care for the main timeline one. Different character, we don’t care about her. Filler should me made to hold fans over until the time is come to move along. By creating a new Ichigo .. you do not add anything you just make events even more trivial. While ironically the Alternate Story Arc wasn’t that bad in terms of narative, I felt ZERO investment in it. Of course the way they introduced this story did not help either. I did care about Asuma though and I did care for seeing Goku’s escapades..I wanted to see those.. not from Alternate Universe Goku..but from the one we grew up with. Perhaps that is also why I care so little for Dragon Ball Super Heroes the Anime.
So with that I think we have created a recipe on how filler could be good! Fix the flaws of anime, listen to the fans and choose your time pieces carefully. For example had the Alternate Story Arc instead have taken place in the past, focussing around Ichigo’s father losing control of his Zanpakuto with a hint of how Ichigo was born.. that arc could have been fantastic. He could have encountered characters like someone named Yuzu and Karen and even an Ichigo which inspired him to name their kids this way..characters that got killed in a big .. all you had to do was ask the Mangaka.. do you ever plan to do anything with those names or are they randomly chosen. Super simple.. the status quo can still not be altered but we get something else! A form of fanservice… and I don’t mean the jiggly kind. We could get name drops, technique origins, we could see unimportant side characters being deepend out.. or in Asuma’s case.. those who’d pass away. Deepen your story on a horizontal level, not vertically, and what I mean with that is add lore to support current one rather than flat out create new lore that in the end doesn’t even matter.
Filler could be used to emphasis or foreshadow what happens next. I do not feel like filler has the power to stand on its own if you use the same characters, but it has the power to amplify. This goes for both the creator as the viewer though. While it is easy to focus on how Sora is a bit of a lackluster character in the Naruto lore and how the idea of a cloned/fake Jinchuriki feels a bit shoehorned in we can also focus on what did work. Sometimes something can be really good for you but it doesn’t taste great right away. Filler can do that still, it does still offer us more content of something we love. Just because it has that stigma doesn’t mean it has nothing to add. That only happens if you set it in an alternate universe.. in that case it only adds more content for content sake .. which will still please some fans. We still see anime movies for the same reason. The Story of Bardock was a pretty good special.. yet if it had been slotted IN the middle of the Namek Saga as a filler Arc I am pretty sure people would have hated it. Even in the same form as is right now! Look past the story filler tells (by nature it barely can be good) and look at the added content it brings by it’s nature and maybe it is not so bad.
Filler is like the lettuce leafs next to your steak and fries or one of those puffy potatoes! Yes there is a lot less taste to it.. but what did you expect .. it is lettuce.. that’s bland by nature! It can cleanse or pallet which deepens the pallet of the steak and the fries! It’s watery crunch might really appreciate the cuisson of your steak as a nice counterpart.. something you would not realise without the lettuce. A good restaurant knows this and they know when to serve that lettuce leaf even if you see it and all you can do is “eeeew veggies” a bad restaurant however will slap that same leaf on everything just for a bit of colour of the plate and do not think of your dish as a whole. Even when you can not flavor something properly due to limitations you can make the dish in its entirety shine.. you can NOT make the lettuce the star of the dish it’s impossible! Do not make it into “just garnish” Garnish you can cut into al sort of fancy shapes.. but when I see a lettuce flower or carrot carving on my plate.. I usually just toss away. Be wise make your Filler a fitting side dish to enhance your meal.. not something fancy that makes the plate seem less empty!
With that I am done talking about Filler! Are there any filler stories your particularly like?
Any that you feel really added something to a show you loved? Any you feel very strongly against or are you one of those.. filler is never good types?! Let me know in the comments.