Filler episodes are a term that you may see discussed in regards to anime, and with derision amongst casual and serious viewers alike. However, it can be hard to understand why so many people dislike filler. So what are filler episodes in anime and how are they different?
Filler episodes tend not to stay true to the storylines, arcs, and events from the original source. They are needed to fill gaps when the new manga is being made or just to lengthen anime seasons for various commercial reasons.
We’ll look at some of the features of filler episodes, what makes an episode a filler versus a canon episode, and how they differ from OVAs. So let’s get into it and learn about filler episodes.
What Are Filler Episodes in Anime?
As filler episodes are a concept that has hazy boundaries, we can instead look at some of the key features as to what determines filler.
Filler is usually contrasted against canon. Canon is generally accepted as the official storyline, characters, and other features of a series. As anime is usually based on manga, canon can be thought of as anything appearing in the manga.
So when the anime starts dealing with elements that were not in the original manga, these are all considered filler, particularly if they bare little to no resemblance to anything featured in the manga.
As a rule, fillers cannot further the main or official story as they are going in a completely different direction and possibly introducing new characters, interactions, or divergence in story arcs.
Of course, for certain series, it may be that filler begins to take over from canon episodes, particularly when the creative forces behind the anime are separate from the original creator, such as when the intellectual property rights have been completely transferred.
Filler episodes often get confused with extra lengthening that happens in anime. For example, the spirit ball saga of Dragon Ball saw a spirit ball get charged over many episodes. However, this event did happen in the manga, so it is not filler.
How Are Fillers Different Than Regular Episodes?
Fillers will be different from regular episodes as regular episodes are regular because they follow the logic, storyline, and character choices (among many other elements) to stay true to the original story.
Filler will introduce new elements to this existing storyline, which may or may not interact or conflict with anything in the main story.
For example, you may have a protagonist who disappears for a length of time in the manga, with the explanation given that they were away training. A filler episode in the anime might follow that character, explaining what they did and what they said.
When that character comes back, the filler episodes may do nothing to influence the character from that point on as the anime returns to strictly deal with the canon, but those extra episodes would definitely be filler.
Another major reason why fillers are different in that the creative direction of the show will often be drastically different, and generally for the worst. The creator’s original vision for the show will often get lost in filler episodes, leading to a series that feels muddled.
While the story arcs get confused and then contradictory, this only serves to alienate fans who then switch off from the show, waiting for regular episodes to return. It often leads to a feeling of disconnect for those who are dedicated fans.
In the end, fillers just fill up space, rather than doing anything significant to the progression of the show at hand.
How Are Filler Episodes Different From OVAs?
OVA stands for original video animation, and an OVA is a straight-to-video production that will not have a television or theatrical debut.
Because they tend to deal with canon in a consistent way, many fans dislike calling an OVA a filler episode. OVAs also tend to be in the form of prequels or sequels, so if they deal with important canon, you’ll need to watch them to fully understand the series.
OVAs give creators a lot more flexibility, as they are not constrained to fitting in with broadcasting schedules or movie theater restraints. This allows an OVA to showcase full creativity in storytelling while having more relaxed timeframes.
That is not to say that OVAs are always strictly canon or filler, they can be both. It is a bit of a subjective decision to make, but primarily it is because an OVA sticks to canon and advances the plot that it would not be considered filler.
Why Are There Filler Episodes?
There are several reasons for fillers, including programming reasons, content creation timelines, and revenue-raising.
Anime production can outpace manga significantly, as many mangas will have a single artist, the original creator, working on new storylines and the art.
Anime, on the other hand, will be produced via a studio that has a team of people including writers, directors, animators, and many more resources, enabling them to pump out episodes much quicker despite the apparently higher complexity.
This means that with a manga that has suddenly become popular and been turned into an anime, the anime can catch up very quickly to the current storyline of the manga, resulting in the need for filler episodes to delay until new editions of the manga come out.
When a series gets very popular, the demand for new episodes makes it very tempting for a studio to offer up episodes to fill the demand. The cynical viewer may see this as a crass commercial exercise, but it’s also fair to view it as getting more of the content you love.
What Is an Example of a Filler Episode?
The major anime series often have quite a few filler episodes, even extending to filler arcs as they go for so long. Considering the series of episodes following The Other World Tournament Saga in Dragon Ball Z, it is not canon as it is not in the original source material.