A Talk About Anime Filler

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.

The Problems with the Anime Protagonist

Recently I was listing my favorite anime characters in a discussion with a friend. To my surprise none of these characters actually where main characters. Now I found this interesting and than thought of my favorite characters of western media. Nearly all of them were main characters. So why do I like side characters in anime more?
Is there something wrong with the anime protagonist? Why are side characters almost always better? Today I look into this thing.

The Anime Protagonist is oftenly unrelatable.

Breaking Bad is one of the best tv shows of all time and it is also one of the best examples on how I can relate to a main character. I cared for Walt, even in his darker moments I cared for Jessie even if the way he talks made me cringe real hard. What differentiates them from a plethora of anime characters is how their goals are so much more relatable. They want to do right by their family, try to survive… earn a quick buck. Anime doesn’t oftenly do that.  Sure there is the slice of life genre where goals are often a bit low key , but that is oftenly over romanticised still. In the more common genres like Shonen we lose track even faster. 

Luffy wants to be the Pirate King, which isn’t even a thing here! Like what the friggin fuzz is a pirate king? How can we relate to this wish? Goku wants to fight the strongest opponents…for funsies.  I seriously doubt anyone of us desires to have their ass handed to them just so they can go stronger .. for the sake of getting stronger. LeLouch wishes to see the rule of Neo Britannia on Japan end and wishes to lead a group of rebels to victory and independence. Their biggest wish is often  tied in to the McGuffin of the series and can be described in one or two words. What does Goku want? Growing Stronger. What does Lelouch want? Freedom, What does Honoka from Love Live want? Idolhood! Yet all their goals are extremely situational and tied in very much to their series. Their goals are not that interesting because they are also the point of their respective series. They are oftenly huge and not exaggerated and not something we ever could achieve, oftenly their goal doesn’t even exist in our world.

Apparantly you need a red coat with pauldrons to be a pirate king!

Now by themselves this would not really matter and it would still work, but since anime often have such a large cast, it becomes a problem. In One Piece, Sanji wants to see All Blue, to behold a spectacle of nature, Zoro wants to be the best in his speciality and Nami wants to do something no one has ever done before.. in making a completed map of the world. While still rather hard to realise in the real world,we understand their goals much more. Luffy’s goal becomes more of an engine to get the others to their goals. In Naruto .. the fox boy wishes to become the Hokage…which again is an engine to make plot happen rather than .. in our worlds perspective .. a real goal. Sakura and to a lesser extend Hinata want love, Sasuke wants revenge heck Shikamaru wants stuff to be less bothersome.  Now I do feel revenge is not a great motivation as that on it’s own can be a bit unrelatable but the base emotion is something we can vibe with. Yet no one really of us would , (without a series) dream of being the political leader of a ninja village, to be the one who finds some special pirate treasure which makes you recognized as the pirate king or win a idol girl contest while in school. .. because those aren’t really a thing..

Why do all these titles come with weird clothes?!

Anime Protagonist oftenly have flat character arcs. 

Walter White started out as a soft , nervous good willing man who evolved.. or devolved depending on you look at it into a hardcore  drug Kingpin, who played mind games and wasn’t afraid to murder. Throughout his series he evolved. Anime protagonists oftenly don’t do that. The best example of this is Goku. While he does learn things and he does grow.. he never really changes. Way back in the earliest series of Dragon Ball,  Goku wishes to fight strong opponents and get stronger. Right now he still does. While he matured a bit… at times , he has not experienced significant change because his goals are the story engine.. it keeps on going. Enter Vegeta in the equation and let’s add some of his wishes to this. He wishes to surpass Goku and prove he is the true elite. 

Good luck Geets!

Now Goku’s goal will always proceed without to much hinder.. as it makes the plot possible.  Vegeta’s goals.. clash with this. This creates a tension in a character like prince of all saiyans.  He can’t reach his goals… so he has to react to it. His path is not a straight line from A to B. In the Buu Saga.. and even a bit in the Cell Saga already, he discovers he can’t surpass Goku.. or the potential of future saiyans.. he discovers the importance of family, having something to protect. His journey starts out as an A to B type of situation, but in the end we see him strive for C instead, and only after getting it return to try and reach B. Such characters gain more dimensions, Gohan not wanting to fighting but having to embrace he has to is another one of these types of situations. 

Lelouch never truly wavers from his goal no matter how much friends or loved ones he loses. The goal established in episode 1 still is the goal in the final episode. He is more hurt and more scarred, but his journey has never changed from A to B .. at least not really.  Main characters age, but not change. Even when they do their allies change faster. A good example of this is Hunter x Hunter. While Gon does grow, accepts responsibility and consequences of his actions basically everyone arounds him grows faster or more significantly. Killua is a great character that gets so much development he completely blows Gon out of the water. We see him change some of his core values, his status quo and his beliefs as he learns and discovers. The same can be said for characters like Kurapika and even Hisoka. In the case of Kurapika we see him reinvent his goal of vengeance to a certain extent.  We see him adapt , in the case of Hisoka we see that a lot of things we thought we knew where not true, or a shift in his position in the world. So obviously these characters will have a more interesting narrative. 

Look at how happy he is that I think he is cooler than Gon!

We know to much of the Anime Protagonist

Now let’s move away from your standard shonen a bit and expand our look a bit , because there are issues with main characters in other genres as well.. not that Love Live is Shonen..but still. One of the weirder things that make an anime protagonist less interesting stems from the original media, the manga.  Now I am gonna make a cardinal sin here and compare anime to comics.. because both of these have something that makes characters way less interesting when they carry over in other media. Thought Bubbles. Bloom into You was a great anime but throughout the series we hear Yuu’s thoughts. We can tell exactly how she feels not because we can relate to her ..but because the voice in her head tells us what she feels. Touko and Sayaka do not get this same effect so we have to guess what they feel, based on the look in their eyes, the inflection in their voice and possibly their posture. 

Sayaka creates a tension when she talks to Yuu because we do not know how she feels.. we guess. We get hints and have to puzzle the whole thing together. We can not take everything face value. While for Yuu we have to put zero effort into knowing her feelings.  The standard shonen protagonist shouts out their feelings and your average magical girl protagonists again has thought bubbles again or keeps a journal which they use to recap the last episodes. We so rarely have to wonder what motivates an anime protagonist or what they are feeling it is as Kevin Sorbo is acting out their script! For those not in the know.. he once read the emotional descriptions of a scenes tone as part of his lines..and that somehow made it into an episode. But that is exactly how the overly narrated protagonist can feel like. 

While this is more a flaw with anime in general than with its main person this post is not meant to say all anime protagonists is bad, because they aren’t… I just rather have Gohan over for Coffee than Goku. I’d rather interview Sakura than Naruto. The episodes of Crime Scene Investigation that are best are the ones where you have a chance to get who the killer is in the first or second act by simply finding links.. Oh that character’s mother died in an hospital.. the murder victim was an orderly.. perhaps they could not save his mother and he took vengeance. If we could hear the thoughts of all characters , we would know who the killer is right away… and the character itself becomes much less interesting. Like how a random bit of trivia on some paper is less stimulating than a riddle.

See this is the most interesting thing in my entire post! Desu Nee?!

We need the protagonist

I could totally see Breaking Bad kill off Walt in the third season after which we suddenly strictly follow Jesse, or maybe see Gil take over, it would have made the story less but in a way Walt as a protagonist stood apart from the major events happening in this story. Gus and Tuco would still do their thing , Jesse would still do his. The world is in motion despite of the characters interaction. In plenty of anime this is not true. Without Zero, Neo Britannia would  not be the same. Without Goku virtually non of Dragon Ball Z could have happened and Sword Art Online is basically just a collection of games Kirito plays, with the exception of the Rosario arc, which was one of the only SAO bits I actually liked. Without Honoka , Muse would have never been founded and it would not easily continue without her either as her enthusiasm drives everyone.

While anime is not afraid to let important characters die, rarely do they kill of golden goose. Which the same thing can be said for Western Media but compared to anime , these characters feel more killable. Would Yuu not show any interest in Touko at all, Bloom into you could not happen, so in essence Bloom Into You .. is Yuu. As a result Yuu HAS to develop some feelings , she HAS to overcome. It removes suspense once more because without progression there is no story. Some protagonists suffer from this worse than others.

Kirito from Sword Art Online is one my my least like protagonists ever and that is all in the way he is written. Kirito in almost every season.. for some reason just “gets” stuff. The plot has to get moving. The Dual wield skill just appears, in Gun Gale he figures out the plot out of the thing air and he gets a sword again for no reason, a particular model for no reason and so on. He needs the swords to beat the bad guy in a  cool way, he needs the sword to still feel like Kirito , he needs to figure out the plot then and there to save Sinon. We need him to do the stuff that he does.. and as such it can feel unearned and insincere. Achievements main protagonists reach are often in service of the main story, while side characters achievements feel like a side story.. so while I would contribute Asuna’s accomplishments to her as a character.. Kirito’s I’d count as the plot of Sword Art…   

Aww, he seems bummed I don’t like him…he will somehow grow a skill for that I guess

Great but Never Number 1

Except for Kirito I like all the main characters I mentioned but because of all the reason above I never would name them as my favorite. I favor L over Light, Matt over Tai, Kai over Tyson, Megumin over  Kazuma and Rem over Subaru and obviously Kamina over Simon. While plenty of them are well written and truly satisfying to look at, the way anime depicts their main characters differs from how western media does it.  It uses fantasy in another way and because it creates such unique worlds their main characters are always the least interesting thing about them. 

Yay I can show Kamina off again!

Western Media is like muscle cars.. we all want it to be red and have a big engine with plenty of V thingies. We care about how hard it goes Vroom. Walter White is the Engine of Breaking Bad.  In fact all Protagonists are the engine of their respective series..which are now cars! Anime however is like a concept car. It has such a weird body that we know little about what kind of engine should be in there.. so as long as the car moves.. the engine is fine.  We are more interested in the fact that they added glowing wheels, augmented reality windows or bubble doors. Midoriya just has to punch stuff and eat other peoples hair to make the plot go vroom, but by adding their Bakugous and Todorokis  this car will show some unique features. There is nothing wrong with buying a car for it’s cute interior.. I sure would if I could drive!

See I like how white the chairs are before I worry about the engine!

Do you generally prefer anime protagonists or do you favor secondary characters like me? Why do you feel that way? Let me know in the comments and remember I love you all!
Stay smiling and keep positive!