October 3rd, 2006

Some ramblings about filler.

Posted by complich8 in Anime

There hasn’t been an update here in a while, so I figured maybe it was my turn to soapbox a bit. I want to explore a little bit of the history and mechanics of “filler” in anime. If you’re interested, read on …

Now, I daresay that most of us here know (all too well) what filler is, but for the uninformed, the term refers to non-canonical material introduced to fill space and keep viewers watching, while waiting for the manga artist to get enough plot advanced to continue the canonical plot at a good pace. With very few exceptions, you don’t see filler in shorter series.

But how did this practice come about, you may be wondering to yourself as you slog through yet another “country of tea” or “country of rice” arc of Naruto, waiting for them to get back to the manga story and return to decent production values and reasonably well-crafted and well-told stories instead of the putrid effluent you’ve gotten tired of watching over the last two years. Even worse, how did it get so acceptable as to infect not one but two high-rated shounen action series?

Consider back to the days of Dragon Ball Z. Now, Toriyama had been producing Dragon Ball manga since the mid-1980’s, and the original Dragon Ball TV series is largely free of filler, but Dragon Ball Z resorted to it. Look at the Frieza saga, and you see this horrible pacing (several episodes of screaming and powering up, and very little else) which happened when the series caught up with the manga. That arc singlehandedly destroyed the good name of the series. Anime producers learned that nobody really likes that crap, and generally abandoned the practice of artificially slowing down the series by tying a 22-minute episode to a single 20-page chapter of manga.

So then they came up with a clever idea: introduce non-canonical action, stuff that doesn’t really matter or count, but buys the mangaka some time. And the Garlic Jr. saga (also horrible) came about. You’re really damned if you do, damned if you don’t… but a bit less so for inserting filler instead of slowing the series down.

But sometimes that idea backfires, especially if the filler is particularly bad. Rurouni Kenshin is the classic example of this: The first episode up through about episode 63 (the end of the Kyoto arc) is canonical, manga-sourced material. Then, at the end of that sequence, the cast takes a slow stroll back home, visits some hot springs, and then gets embroiled in these really incredibly stupid Geomancer and Christians arcs. Now, the Christians arc is … tolerable. It’s not great, but it’s tolerable. But the Geomancer arc is arguably the worst thing to happen to a reasonably good series since … well, ever. Faced with the declining popularity of the show, the tv stations cancelled it before it could pull itself out of the ratings nosedive that the poorly-constructed filler brought about.

The lesson here: if you’re going to have to use filler, you need to at least make it entertaining and well-crafted. Doing things that are clearly outside of the scope of how the universe should behave (geomancers, bounto, meteorite-chakra) are bad ideas, they make viewers forget to suspend their disbelief, and really snap them out of the show, and then they get tired of it and go watch something else.

But there’s another way you could go: the Hunter x Hunter route. Togashi was drawing HxH as the show aired, and after 62 episodes, the series caught up with the manga, and left the story in a place where you couldn’t really just transplant the characters into non-canonical story. And you also couldn’t jump ahead of the manga, because of possible story conflicts that would occur. So they just stopped doing the TV show, and released a couple of OVA series to finish out the pending parts of the plot (up through the end of the Greed Island arc). Good thing, too, ’cause Togashi’s been pretty slow about drawing the rest of the series, spending large amounts of time on sick leave for some unspecified reason. It’s best, if a series isn’t going to see itself through to completion in an animated for, just to engage in the Fremen “Philosophy of the Knife” — that is, if it doesn’t look like it’s going to end, cut it off, then you can say “there, it ends here.” Or, to put it another way, choose how to end it before the fans and the studio lose interest and force it down on a bad note.

But with Naruto and Bleach, there’s hope. The fillers will eventually end. Hopefully sooner rather than later. The upcoming manga is already comfortably ahead of the anime in both cases. Naruto bought nearly 2 more years for Kishimoto to finish more storyline, and he’s made regular, consistent, somewhat exciting progress. Manga-readers can’t wait to see that stuff animated. Similarly, Kubo’s got some interesting stuff going on in Bleach, and again manga-readers can’t wait to see it come to life.

Naruto and Bleach can get away with it, because they’ve been extremely well-received in general. But their ratings are still suffering, and filler isn’t sustainable forever. Both series have learned from past mistakes though, and while it’s generally crappy (ie: Bleach spending a full episode having the crew frantically running away from water), it’s still better than destroying good material by catching up to the manga and wrecking the pacing of the show.

Still, this stuff is there for a reason, and that reason is that the TV production began “too early” on both shows, to capitalize on the popularity of the manga. But that’s really not a fair evaluation: if Naruto had been started in 2004 instead of 2002, there would have been no need for filler at this point, but there would also have been no huge groundswell of anime fandom that resulted from it, the market as a whole would be smaller and the world would be a different place.

Was it the right decision to walk the filler-littered path? Probably, in the case of Naruto and Bleach. But it’s certainly a dangerous one.

Good stories take time to put together, and it’s hard to tell an epic over a decade when you’re publishing a chapter a week… a lot of planning and preparation has to go into it, to decide exactly where the series is going and how it’s getting there. Authors like Stephen King can pull it off (with his Dark Tower series spanning 1982-2004), and Rowling’s story of the 6-ish years of planning and writing she put into the first book in the Harry Potter series are a bit telling of how that can be done too. But both King and Rowling only have to publish a total of 7 times, they can sit on their storylines and ruminate for months, revising the story, weaving later hints at the story into earlier parts. By publishing as they go, manga authors have a lot less of that flexibility — they can’t go back after chapter 20, and insert pages into chapter 2.

Moreover, good storytellers deserve our support, whether they be bomb-droppers like King and Rowling or incremental builders like Kishimoto and Kubo. So, while it’s disheartening to watch the things we enjoy slide downhill, have faith that the stuff that’s coming up is going to be worth the wait.

======================================
Update to address some of the things that have been commented on:

Yes, you’re right, a year and a half is not 2 years (unless you’re rounding pretty coarsely :p). However, any guesses as to the end of the Naruto filler are also pure speculation at this point. It’s not over yet. Maybe it’ll be over this week, maybe it’ll be over this season, maybe it won’t. They very well COULD make another season worth of filler and get away with it.

Dragon Ball Z’s poor pacing in the Frieza saga indeed did not kill the series, but it DID wreck its reputation among anyone turning even the mildest critical eye at the show. Drooling fanboys will be happy as long as there’s pretty colors and some semblance of fighting, and if that’s the only market you’re able to keep happy, at least it’s a lucrative enough one in Japan (and the US, I might add) to keep the show on the air. The thing is, if you mention DBZ to anyone, ANYONE in the US who hasn’t really given it more of a chance than it probably deserved in the first place, the first thing they’ll think of isn’t the series’ profuse “redemption” and “karmic atonement” themes, but the screaming and powering up. The show lived, but the reputation of the show died.

Stopping the airing of the show is likewise a bad idea. When you do that, you automatically lose an embedded, habitual viewer base. Yes, the TV studios are out to make money, and as long as the show is profitable, they’ll make their money. But more than that, when a show stops airing, it’s extremely unlikely that the show will ever air again. The ONLY examples I can think of are Family Guy and Futurama — american shows largely killed by Fox’s poor scheduling practices, and largely revived by their extremely vigorous DVD sales pointing to an eager marketplace. However, the other canonical example would again be Ruroni Kenshin, which ended up with another substantial story arc that never got animated and never will. Further, HxH has another several volumes worth of manga drawn, but there haven’t even been credible rumors of another series in production to address those.

But the only things that have successfully done that have been episodic in nature. The Hunter X Hunter experiment, while it sold some dvds and tapes, is largely a failure — even with a successful OVA, nobody in the production chain is going to make nearly the revenues that a successful TV show (with all the trappings: merchandizing, accessorizing, advertising, movie spinoffs) would make. When it was airing, the TV show generalized to virtually all of East Asia (at least, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore), and on into several arab nations too. The OVAs simply aren’t going to get that level of penetration, no matter what they do, because of all the new licenses that would have to be hammered out for every locale.

Even though the Naruto fillers are decidedly causing some people to lose interest in the series, they’re still making substantial amounts of money, keeping up the feeling of continuity for the viewers, and generally working out for everyone involved. While the latest movie didn’t stay in the top couple of movies in Japan very long, it did make it into the top 5 (if I remember correctly, I haven’t found a source for that) — not a bad achievement, but a complete failure compared to the stellar performance of the first two movies.

78 Responses to ' Some ramblings about filler. '

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  1. cycier said,
    on November 2nd, 2006 at 3:06 am

    & looks like they put 210/211 now as Kakashi Gaiden 👿

    2006-11-30 211. Kakashi: A Rememberance

    2006-12-07 212. The Man With Lightning Speed

    There is no end

  2. cycier said,
    on November 2nd, 2006 at 3:08 am

    Sorry I meant ANN shifted it
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=1825&page=25

    coz as per a post above it was suppose to be 210 that starts the Kakashi Gaiden

  3. Lightning said,
    on November 3rd, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Thats efffed up. But if you saw the last epi it does seem like they are going to stop the filler becuase they talked about taming the beast inside yourself or something like that.

  4. Adam said,
    on November 4th, 2006 at 11:23 am

    the Naruto series came to a conclusion at episode 135. It’s been 1 1/2 years of pure filler. We are talking about over 70 episodes of fillers. The Bleach filler arc is not so bad even though the manga is way ahead of the anime. The Naruto filler arcs stinks which everyone agrees on. The manga is so far ahead of the anime that Kishimota should start following the manga again.

  5. Katsumi-chan said,
    on November 4th, 2006 at 9:16 pm

    Err… Kishimoto is the guy that creates the manga. Studio Pierrot is the company that produces the anime. They’re the ones responsible for the fillers.

    And for the umpteenth time, DO NOT believe anything on ANN. ANYONE can edit the stuff on there. If it isn’t on http://cal.syoboi.jp/tid/210/subtitle, IT ISN’T TRUE.

  6. Lightning said,
    on November 7th, 2006 at 4:09 am

    You know if the naruto fillers werent so Eyegouging make you wanna puke your guts out and swallow them again bad, people woudnt be this mad about fillers. What I want to know, is why cant a TV studio actually come up with good plot lines, or at lease steal good plot lines…like family guy does with simpsons plot lines. Its like ok lets create a new village even though there are only supposed to be five, and use that village for some horrible sceme. And we will have main characters almost die, then naruto will use rasengan. You know what would be great if naruto wakes up leaves with jiraiya and finds out that every naruto filler was just a dream. I mean hell as shitty as that sounds that would at least get rid of a whole bunch of greif.

  7. Silversnowfox said,
    on November 7th, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Lightning, I couldnt agree more. Not only that, but the whole idea that it was all a dream is actually a good plot line in and of itself. Much better then everything that we have seen so far.

  8. jj82 said,
    on November 8th, 2006 at 12:40 pm

    i completely agree aswell, nothing good has come out of the fillers except buy more time for the manga to progress, but some where in this thread someone gave evidence and pics or naruto 2 plushis that will go on sale in february and that means that naruto 2 should start in december. this happened once before 2 month after the susuke retrieval arc started the rescue team plushis were released. thats the best evidence i have seen yet and lets hope its true.

  9. Katsumi-chan said,
    on November 18th, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    And don’t forget the little poster thingies going on sale December 21st! ^^

    Fillers are gonna end, yay!

  10. jj82 said,
    on November 18th, 2006 at 8:48 pm

    i think you might be talking about the poster scrolls

  11. jj82 said,
    on November 22nd, 2006 at 4:23 am

    alright guys here is something i think you should read this was taken from the narutofan website. “Naruto Anime Fillers to last until Spring?
    Reported by: Tazmo on Tuesday, Nov. 21st, 2006 at 01:08PM
    According to what we would consider a more reliable source than the guy who lives down the street and swears that the fillers will be over after every single episode and filler arc, the Naruto anime fillers will be coming to an end in Spring 2007, that is about 3 – 4 months from now, or 12 – 16 episodes from now. The source? Allegedly the information was posted in the Weekly Shonen Jump, with none other than Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto dishing out the details of when Naruto fans can expect a storyline that will once again continue to follow the story of the manga. We are working to independently confirm this, by walking to the store and picking up a copy when it becomes morning in Japan. But until then, blame these guys if they’re wrong! Look for more information on this in the future.” feel free to verify the information here is the link http://www.narutofan.com/

  12. Pandatron said,
    on November 22nd, 2006 at 4:30 am

    In my opinion, to regain interest in the fillers, (not the shows itself, once the fillers end Im sure it will regain all the popularity it lost and more) the animators and the manga artists need to comunicate more. The artist/author telling the animators and filler writers what will and will not conflict with their stories, and pitch in the odd ideas for story arcs. Maybe it will demand alot from both sides, but Im sure it would keep people interested and actually have some pretty good filler episodes that would get people excited again.

  13. jj82 said,
    on November 24th, 2006 at 1:14 am

    Confirmed: Naruto Anime Fillers to end in February; Series Re-named
    Reported by: Tazmo on Thursday, Nov. 23rd, 2006 at 12:30PM
    It has now been confirmed that the Japanese Naruto anime series will be returning to it’s original storyline as told in the Naruto manga series, coming this next February, a few short months from now. Along with returning to the story, Naruto will be getting a brand new name to go by. It is nothing big that will blow your mind, but nonetheless a couple of words have been added – Naruto: Hurricane Chronicles – which appears to play reference to Naruto being a Wind Element user. This is also the name that the fourth Naruto movie, due to be released in theaters next Summer, will be going under as it is a movie that will take place after the time-skip. Now there, is something to the thankful for this Thanksgiving. taken from www,narutofan.com

  14. Lightning said,
    on November 24th, 2006 at 1:22 am

    you know ive only been watching naruto for about a 3 months. So for me there was only 3 months of filler. God i love coming in to a series late. 🙂

  15. jj82 said,
    on November 25th, 2006 at 6:39 am

    you are definatly the lucky one 🙂

  16. artking said,
    on November 29th, 2006 at 5:42 am

    Dammit! And now Dattebayo stopped Naruto fansub… (to tell you the truth I did dl their version, only cause the got it on the next morning). AoNE is pretty late… Anyone knows a better source? If the first episode of Part2 comes out and i can’t see it right away i am going to commit suicide! O_O (well i won’t but it doesn’t matter. Someone has to be making the subs… and FAST dammit >.

  17. xxnike629xx said,
    on November 29th, 2006 at 9:38 am

    yhbt…thats the thing db has used to post that comment..

    it’s basically their jokes again, so i’m assuming that they’re still subbing naruto so dont worry.

    uh and aone is the best in quality, but db beats aone in speed.

    so what i do is watch the raw epi…delete…watch the db release…delete…get the aone version and check it so it looks ok…archive.:grin::grin::grin::grin::grin::grin::grin::grin:

  18. jj82 said,
    on November 29th, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    oh man we finally solve the problem with the fillers and then once the deadline for the fillers appear something else has to come out and burst our bubble i hope DB is joking about this because this isnt funny at all. considering that naruto 2 will begin sometime in february

  19. artking said,
    on November 29th, 2006 at 11:23 pm

    I hope it’s a joke too… :neutral::???:

  20. Lightning said,
    on November 30th, 2006 at 3:06 am

    Its a joke. They will stop subbing Naruto…and start subbing Naruto Hurricane Chronicles.
    But if you take a look at their website, they made it all pikachew. Thats kinda funny if you ask me.

  21. jj82 said,
    on December 3rd, 2006 at 12:24 am

    well now that we know dattebayo was screwing around with us, i have a question that has yet to be answered, since we know naruto 2 will begin in febraury. can anyone tell me exactly as to when will bleach go back to the manga story line?

  22. artking said,
    on December 4th, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    A question from me too. Anyone knows how much it will be till we see the 3rd naruto movie subbed? I just started watching naruto in the summer and i am a big fun. I’ve seen every single anime apisode+the 2 movies+all the part II manga. So since i am new, anyone with more experience on the time it takes to come out subbed? Thank you:)

  23. jj82 said,
    on December 6th, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    i can easily tell u that, it will be out and subbed sometime in april of 2007 because thats when the dvd is scheduled to be released in japan and DB fansubs will have it there the following day once its released and subbed. it was the same with naruto movie 1 last year and the same with naruto movie 2 this year, so pretty much expect the same thing next year. :mrgreen:

  24. artking said,
    on December 7th, 2006 at 10:45 am

    Thank you :mrgreen:

  25. Lightning said,
    on December 8th, 2006 at 1:55 am

    To the guy with the question about bleach, but it will probably end after the bounto arc. The manga is pretty far ahead of teh anime so they could easily do a couple of story arcs. I could be wrong, and they could do more filler, i just hope they dont. Even though the bounto stuff isnt that bad, i would still like to see the regular stuff.

  26. jj82 said,
    on December 9th, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    thank you very much, greatly appreciated :mrgreen:

  27. kumiriko said,
    on December 22nd, 2006 at 3:21 am

    All an all I would have liked to see bleach and naruto take the Tsubasa Option As in End the last ark then Announce an new series as a new season kind of deal. People would know more is coming and not potentially mess things up quite royaly.

  28. Astaran said,
    on January 13th, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Naruto fillers will end soon, this february i guess. thank good.
    thx for the nice filler insight by complich8.

    but theres a question coming up my mind looking at the nice picture of kagome and inuyasha: why did sunrise give in producing inuyasha? was it also a caught up manga-anime thing?

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