Oh anime filler. Filler is usually defined as non-canon material in anime. It’s story/ narrative, usually anime exclusive, that spans for a few, sometimes many, episodes (or seasons, in a few cases). Usually this material is never referenced to again. Filler usually happens, because for quite a few anime series, the source material is manga or light novels. Sometimes the anime starts to catch up to the source material’s run and in order to allow the source material more time to develop future story arcs and gain some distance from an anime adaptation’s run. Some anime stop this from happening by having one to two seasons a year (Boku no Hero Academia/ Noragami/ Ao No Exorcist) or going on break, but weekly non-seasonal anime that keep churning out episodes for most of the year don’t have the benefit of breaks and unfortunately need filler. Then there’s anime that just started too soon into the source material’s run and end up making anime exclusive endings (i.e. Ao No Exorcist, Noragami, or Full Metal Alchemist). Anime exclusive endings, to me, are worse than filler because we’re capping a series (for Ao No Exorcist and Noragami these endings were then discarded after their studios decided to make new seasons and the endings were never referred to again, so Akame ga Kill would be a better example) that wasn’t actually intended, and usually it ends up disappointing the fans way more than it should.
Now I understand that filler is a hated topic in the anime community, but now of days I’m seeing more and more fans watching less action oriented/ in the story arc episodes and calling them filler. And while I get that there are disappointing episodes, I wouldn’t deem them filler. For this I’ll be looking into two series that are just redhanded culprits when it comes to filler: Naruto (including Boruto: Naruto Next Generations) and Dragon Ball (of course including Super, but not including GT because: a) it’s not canon and b) because while it has its merits and gave us SSJ4 and Super Uub, it generally ate floor candy).
The Case For Dragon Ball
Dragon Ball loves its filler. There are many an episode that do not matter to the plot, especially in DBZ. In fact, there’s an entire guide on which episodes are filler and which aren’t. You can find it here. Filler starts in this series at episode six. Filler counts for about fifteen percent of the series, which isn’t that bad if we’re talking about percentages, but in actuality that’s forty-five episodes of the two-hundred-ninety-one episode series. One of the easiest targets for me to define filler for the Dragon Ball series would be the in-anime Garlic Jr. Arc. Not only does it not happen in the manga, it’s also never referred to. Like a solid episode after the end of that arc, there’s no mention of it. Krillin’s not going, “First we had Garlic Jr. and now Frieza’s attacking? (insert Krillin panic noises)”. We just simply discard those episodes and go into the point that Frieza’s coming back. Which at the same time I question why the anime director thought that as wise. You have filler for a movie villain right before an actually baddie comes back, and Gohan plays a central role in this arc which is kind of a waste because the arc that comes after that, the Cell Arc, uses Gohan in a similar way. He’s the main hope for saving the world, but the Cell Arc completely ignores the Garlic Jr. Arc, so any amount of character development for Gohan is wasted (and my boi’s characterization is not something to waste).
Another example (also including my boi, Gohan) is the episode where General Tao returns (“A Girl Named Lime”). It was a good episode. I remember it clearly, but it’s the point that the episode didn’t matter. It was fine for nostalgic reasons because General Tao was in the original Dragon Ball, but other than that fanservice, the episode does nothing for the plot it refers to Cell. It reminds you that Cell is a looming villain, but beyond that it means nothing for the overarching narrative. If this were a superhero series, it’d be a villain of the week episode. If anything the episode mainly shows Gohan’s heroics…kind of. He doesn’t fight anyone, but he’s there and… you know what, never-mind this episode is pretty useless.
The last example would be “Goku’s Ordeal” or as everyone else knows it, Goku and Piccolo learn to drive. And it’s a hilarious episode and worthy of meme-ing, but once again it’s not at all important to the plot. This is what filler is. But with the new series, Dragon Ball Super, quite a few fans are calling episodes filler even though they aren’t filler.
There’s a lot of hoopla over the current Universe Survival Arc happening right now in DBS and a lot of people just want to get into the fighting part of the arc. Unfortunately for fans, every episode after episode eighty-two has been less Universe Survival Arc, and more recruiting participants for the Universe Survival Arc. So fans have been calling these episodes filler, even though that’s not true. Episodes eighty-three through eighty-seven have all been building up the narrative of the Universe Survival Arc. The directors of the anime thought that they should show the recruitment of each team member rather than skipping straight to the tournament. They’ve decided to put some focus on other universes so that there can be expansions for the narrative. We have a rival universe in our thoughts now because of it.
If anything, these episodes might be disappointing. They might be screwing around with power scalings which were already turning irrelevant. I realize that each episode looks like Goku is losing to people who’re weaker, but what you’re actually seeing is the side characters of DBS fighting with actual tactics rather than with power alone, and I realize that that’s hard to understand since, pretty much after the ending of Dragon Ball, there hasn’t been much strategy in fights—it’s just been power levels, fast moving hands, and beam struggles.
Another reason the episodes may seem like filler is because we’ve already known the lineup for a few months. This is a fault of the PR people and story writers because you want to hype people up with members like Android 17, but then you write an episode where Android 17 acts like he won’t join. It’s contradictory and if you wanted drama, you shouldn’t have revealed your hand months prior. But even though the 17 recruitment was disappointing in execution, it still isn’t filler. It’s just unfortunate execution. Also tonight my boi gets to continue on the come up.
The Case For Naruto
If you thought Dragon Ball Z liked its filler, woo boy does Naruto love it. I mean for the original Naruto series, there’s over eighty episodes of filler and the series is two twenty episodes long. I mean after the Sasuke Retrieval Arc, it’s essentially filler until the last episode which is also kind of filler. Though those episodes do highlight the side cast, they’re as useless to the plots as wonder bread is to tacos (I don’t know why I chose that).
Naruto Shippuden is just as filler filled with long stretching arcs that are part filler part important to the plot. When I used to watch this anime, I used to be excited about certain arcs, like right after Naruto uses the Rasen-shuriken (well the proto-type) and learns how to use his frog summon to do water jutsu and I was happy because that could compete with Sasuke, but it never came up again. I didn’t quite know what filler was back then. As I got older, every arc that had a jinchuuriki that wasn’t Naruto, B, or Gaara seemed like a let down because it would do nothing for the plot. The point is that regardless of how much the series might’ve shined in plot relevant episodes, there was an overwhelming amount of episodes that didn’t matter.
Fans were also sad that the last arc had so much filler in between, but after we reached the episode covering the final fight, we received a few extra episodes that fans also considered filler, but to that I say it wasn’t filler. They were episodes adapted from another source material, the Naruto novels. Kishimoto had a bit of involvement in them and they all built up to create semi-epilogues. Then there was the arc on the wedding, though they were goofy episodes, there was still an overarching narrative about Iruka and Naruto’s relationship and how both were attempting to define it (also…I mean… Naruto and Hinata’s marriage is canon, so episodes building up to that point are still plot relevant).
Now the problem I have with fans now of days is that they’re deeming the first few episodes of Boruto as filler. A few complaints have been about how the episodes aren’t building up to anything, but I say that these episodes are the most important. A teacher once told me that TV series are the new novels (not sitcoms, but serials). And though some novels may start with dramatic plot points right in your face, other shows have a buildup. Boruto is doing the latter. It’s setting up characters and displaying them to the audience before getting into the expansive world that its predecessor, Naruto, has set up.
Also the first episode starts with Boruto facing an enemy named Kawaki, and Boruto shows off an eye that looks like a byakugan. The other half of the first episodes and a good number of episodes afterwards then show Boruto with this eye. There’s an overarching plot in both the mystery of Boruto’s eye and the mystery of this dark chakra that’s taking over people.
Some argue that the episodes are filler because it takes place before the Boruto manga, but I wouldn’t call that filler. I’d call it revision. Just as the manga revised certain plot points of Boruto: Naruto the Movie, I’d say the anime is doing the same. More characters are being introduced that don’t show up in the manga or the movie, and from how frequent they’re shown in each episode, it’s hard to believe that they’re simply filler to never be mentioned again. Each adaptation is revising itself and I find that kinda fascinating. And also even if it goes in a different direction than the manga, it might be in the same way one sees the Dragon Ball manga when compared to the anime. Most never really refer to the manga as their source and the Dragon Ball Super manga is proving that manga can’t really be relied on as the source material. So maybe the Boruto anime is in the same direction and very well going on a different track than the manga (and let’s hope so because I think the manga might be ruining Sarada’s character and that’s no bueno). But while I say that these episodes of Boruto aren’t filler, I’m sure there’ll soon be plenty episodes of filler because this is a Naruto show.
Anyways…I hope you guys understood my weird definitions of filler and won’t mislabel disappointing episodes as filler. Call disappointing episodes what they are: shit. I leave you with filler. Later days.