Why Do American Companies Bother To Release Filler Episodes?
by Justin Sevakis,
Why do American companies dub, and show, filler episodes? I'm talking like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, why do they bother? These shows have MASSIVE backlogs, both Naruto and One Piece are like 4-5 years ahead of the US Toonami broadcasts at this point, why not just focus their efforts on the official manga chapters, preemptively making a "Dragon Ball Kai"-like version the series? Do filler arcs actually sell in DVD format or something?
In the West as well as in Japan, the value of long-running shows like Naruto and One Piece is not in the home video sales. The value is in the streaming and in any TV broadcast, as well as the length of time in which the series just keeps on going and going. This makes the show more of a brand, and makes it valuable as merchandise.
Obviously, filler episodes aren't ideal. If there's too many "filler" episodes of dubious quality, those hurt the value of the property in the long run. But the target demographics for these shows usually are younger and less discerning, and even if they don't particularly love those episodes, they are less likely to notice or to stop watching.
But whether those episodes have value or not, that is not a choice that overseas publishers get to make. If a publisher has won the right to distribute a show in America or another country, they do not get to tell the licensor, "well, we're going to skip these episodes because they kind of suck." If any licensor heard that, their response would probably be a very polite, coded version of, "who the hell do you think you are? Release our show or we'll go somewhere else." It would not be a good diplomatic move. They also likely paid a lot of money for the show, on a per-episode basis, so they'd literally just have thrown away the money they spent on those episodes.
The decision was made, in Japan among the show and the original work's creators, to add those fillers. It's too late to second guess them, and the choice of whether or not to include them has already been made. Questioning them after the fact is simply not the overseas release partner's job.
Now, if the TV broadcaster -- say, Adult Swim in this case -- gets to those episodes and wants to jump ahead in the story, that's another matter, and it's a proposal that the American publisher would have to then take back to the Japanese licensor to see if they're amenable to it. The TV network holds quite a bit more sway in decisions like this, because Japanese TV producers very much want their shows to be seen on television. It's the way their shows were meant to be seen, and the way most properties become mainstream enough to make merchandise revenues worthwhile. Also, their broadcast of the show is something ephemeral: it's not a carved-in-stone representation of their show, it's just the way the franchise is being introduced to the audience. So to them, the licensor may be more receptive.
Or maybe not. It really depends on the producer.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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