Sanity’s Other Side: Filler Episodes

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Naruto Ninja Ostritch filler

Any fan of long-running anime, usually shonen, knows the term “filler” like an obnoxious next-door neighbor. What kinds of filler episodes are there? And why do we even have them? Tonight, the Inverseman looks into this oft-seen phenomenon of anime.

Like any good logician, it’s best to have a well-rounded working definition of “filler”. So let’s supply one.

Filler: Episodes of an anime that do not advance the plot.

Now filler comes in many different shapes and sizes. Four main fillers come to mind.


1. Timekillers

bleach bount fillers

One of the most well-known and often seen in long running anime, this type of filler is present because the source material has not yet progressed far enough or the anime is too caught up. The most famous example is the year’s worth of Naruto filler episodes before Naturo Shippuden. Even though the heroes are fighting for their lives in the most perilous perils, it won’t really matter once the main story gets back on track (aka when the mangaka has written more real material). You can’t really advance character development as easily in this filler since it might run aground of the author’s vision for the characters, and the viewers aren’t really missing anything if they just skip the episodes. The end result is just sitting on your hands and amassing a few ratings while everyone waits. On the worse end, many viewers might drop the series from boredom.


2. The clipshow

Luffy in pain

Almost more egregious is the clipshow. A very simple assembly of footage from previous episodes and perhaps an unseen narrator narrates or the characters reminisce on past events. Really, there’s not much to say. There’s nothing new added and it’s a poor catch-up as well. Granted, this doesn’t mean you have to bar any and all creativity from it. Why not parody the clipshow? Or perhaps have a frame story on why the characters decided to use 22 minutes of airtime milling about?


3. The breather

Dai Gurren-dan eyecatch

Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. What ho! Even Shakespeare knew how to use filler content! Sometimes after a huge battle or a world-shaking event that tears through time and space, you need some kind of a breather. How about a funny episode featuring a minor character? Or perhaps an episode with our heroes catching a little R&R by the beach? How about a clipshow? Many authors know some easy ways of lightening the load, and the breather episode is one of them. The more well-executed one that comes to mind is the clipshow in Gurren Lagann that reflects on the whole first arc of humanity’s revolution against the Beastmen. It was time to take a break, because what was coming in the time skip no one was prepared for, not even the viewers.


4. The standalone that does not stand alone

Bakuman PCP panel

Finally we have the most pleasing form of “filler.” The catch is that it’s not really filler. As known in Bakuman, it’s the standalone chapter that doesn’t stand alone. The episode or chapter does not continue a long drawn-out plot line nor does it confuse new viewers, but a shocking revelation or critical change is made in the episode that longtime viewers would greatly appreciate. This is the hardest form of filler when making an adaptation and needs close communication with the story’s original author, but it hardly feels like filler at all.

Yoruichi eating filler

That’s fillers in a nutshell, those episodes and chapters you’d rather skip, but in this industry you do have to put bread on the table. By working close with the original authors and pursuing the ever-envied authorial intent, fillers can be enjoyable, not just tolerable.  Join me next time when I eat some Curry of Life.

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The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.


The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

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