Anime has a problem. It is a serious problem that will only get worse if something isn’t done. What is that problem? Filler material. In a rush to push out content as fast as they possibly can, creators are leaning on more and more filler to take up digital space on the streaming timeline. It has to stop. Perhaps an intervention is in order.
Filler is pretty commonly known within the anime community. And for the record, anime creators are not the only ones who lean on filler. Creators in nearly every other media lean on it too. It is just that filler volume seems to be increasing in the anime industry. It’s so bad that an anime fan and well known YouTube user recently made the news after he managed to cut 115 hours of filler out of the Naruto series.
1. The Need for Filler Material
By definition, filler material isn’t necessary to maintain story continuity. It is not essential to the plot. So why include it? The good folks at Umai, a boutique clothing brand specializing in anime T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies, explain that filler is a way to extend an anime series or create a new arc.
Extending a series with filler make sense at a time when distributors are constantly demanding new content. Creators simply cannot keep up. It takes a lot of episodes to develop a good story. Those episodes take time to create. So in between, to keep distributors happy, creators throw in filler. That keeps distributors happy and extends what could have been a very short series into one that stretches for multiple seasons.
2. Arcing with Filler Material
As far as creating new arcs is concerned, anime creators are not stupid. They have seen how successful good arcs can be if you hit the right story and find a way to connect it with audiences. The entire Star Wars franchise is built on arcing off the original three films. Disney keeps doing it with one story after the next.
The difference is that successful film franchises do not get to their arcs by throwing in filler material. Their arcs come directly off the main story. Furthermore, they explain details that the original didn’t include. Some anime arcs do that, but a lot do not.
3. Filler Material and the Story
So, how can you tell the difference between necessary material and filler? Look at the story. Any material that isn’t necessary to tell the story is filler. However, there is a caveat: what is necessary to a story is often a difference of opinion.
Some filler material is blatantly obvious. But other filler is a matter of opinion. One person might see it is necessary to the story while another may disagree. The key is the content creator. Only they really know how much filler is added to each episode.
At any rate, being able to cut 115 hours from a 720-episode series, and not lose the plot, demonstrates the reality of filler in anime. The fact that the fan in question was able to take out that much material – and still leave some filler intact for nostalgia purposes, by the way – says that the Naruto series was bloated.
Distributors continue demanding more and more content. Movie studios and streaming services want a piece of the action, too. With such high demand and not enough creators to meet it, it’s inevitable that filler material will increase. How bad it gets is anyone’s guess. But from this writer’s point of view, it is time to stage an intervention. Otherwise, the anime of five years from now might be completely unwatchable.