Once you start getting into the discussions around various anime, the terms canon and filler get thrown around a lot. While some of us may have an inkling of this, what does canon and non-canon mean in anime?
Canon refers to the official or original source material, and non-canon refers to anything that doesn’t fall into this category, such as fan fiction, spinoffs or filler. Whatever media came first is generally the canon.
While a contentious topic, join me as we look to find a definition and meaning of the word canon, along with some examples to help flesh out what it means. So let’s explore the wonderful world of canon and the slightly less wonderful world of filler!
Canon and Filler in Anime
In essence, canon is the true and complete version according to the original author and work, whereas filler is extra parts that may or may not have an impact on the story, but in the least weren’t part of the original work.
Thus when considering what is or is not canon, it is helpful to consider the concept of filler as well.
With anime, often anime is not the original source material but instead there is a manga, or comic book, that comes first.
This manga will establish the whole universe including the storylines, characters, important moments and many other aspects. In this way, it is like a film that was based on a book, the book sets up most of the main concepts that the film tries to recreate.
However, sometimes there are artistic differences, pragmatic considerations and many other approaches to filmmaking that require that the book or manga cannot be put into being exactly as it was described in the source material.
This can lead to small and significant differences between the two. We can see this, for example, with films that have several endings, or a director’s cut. Authors may also come out afterwards and complain that their book was destroyed in the film version.
However, in the world of anime, the terms canon and filler will come up to describe these differences.
A more cynical take is to consider that filler is a way of stretching out an anime in between the major events described in the manga. More episodes equals more eyeballs equals more time for advertising.
Long-running shows such as Dragon Ball, Bleach, One Piece and many others have so many filler episodes that there are even watch guides that will tell you what episodes you can safely skip, in order to not watch 10 episodes in a row where nothing happens.
Dragon Ball was one of the first times I came across this concept, as my friends got me to watch it, and I got up early to watch it before school only to be treated to three episodes in a row where Goku charged the Spirit Ball. Suffice to say I never watched the show again.
Is Canon Only in Manga?
It’s not true that the concept of canon only applies to manga. It just so happens that the vast majority of anime are made because of the success of the manga.
However, canon includes anything that the original creator put into the series, and not other artists’ reinterpretations or fanart that envisions certain other storylines, characters or results of decisions.
There are some interesting points to consider about what is and isn’t canon, for example what about inconsistencies? There may be a long-running series that is an anime, and then the decision is made to produce full-length movies around the same universe.
These movies will often introduce new characters, or bring back old characters from the dead or similar in order to make a coherent film. However, these inconsistencies with the previous manga could be considered non-canon, even if the original creator made the films.
This is to say that what is or is not canon can be quite subjective, and that’s why many believe that it takes a combination of what the creator says and what the audience says when considering what is canon.
Official and Canon Are Not the Same Thing
The various machinations of copyright law and ownership can sometimes result in a work being produced officially and legally, but no longer having the original creator having any input.
It is definitely an official work, but that does not mean that it is canon. Certain rules or aspirations held by the creator may be ignored to create something different, making the entire work non-canon.