Do Manga Artists Have Any Control Over "Filler" Episodes?

by Justin Sevakis,

Christopher asks:

It's a common opinion among anime viewers that filler scenes/episodes/arcs can be very hit or miss. Some, like the ones in “One Piece” often work well, while others, such as some of the ones in “Bleach” are dropped slap bang in the middle of ongoing arcs and often kill the flow of the cannon story. So how much control do Eiichiro Oda, Tite Kupo and all the other manga authors have over the plots and content of these fillers? Do they give the producers free rein and let them do whatever they want with the show? Or do the producers have to go over the paperwork with the authors before they are given the green light?

Manga artists are generally not heavily involved -- and in most cases, are not involved at all -- in the adaptation of their work into anime form. As "original creators" (or "gensakusha") they legally get to sign off on big business decisions regarding adaptation of their work, and they can make broad wishes known to the animation team, but generally they're kept pretty well insulated from the day to day production and decision making involved in anime.

Manga artists tend to be intensely busy producing manga. They don't have time to oversee scripts, design choices, and storyboards, they're too busy hunched over their own desks, scripting out and drawing the manga itself. Their editorial and management staff is mostly concerned with keeping it this way. It's generally preferred that manga artists stick to making manga. They're usually behind on their deadlines anyway, and unless they've worked in anime before they don't actually know anything about making anime. In fact, some artists have tried to influence anime production over the years, and only succeeded in annoying everyone on staff.

So most of the time, the manga artist is kept pretty insulated from the goings on in the anime world. Having their work adapted into an anime is, of course, a huge and exciting honor, and means that their work will become much better known. The promotion for an anime release tends to end up selling a ton of the original work -- which is a big part of the reason it gets made at all. So when a manga artist is old/successful/powerful enough to throw their weight around a little more, only a handful actually will.

In cases like this, the manga artist will often have a meeting of some sort with the director, and give them their blessing to fulfill their own creative vision. They might mention a few important points, or make some wishes known before production begins. But generally they're happy to clear out of the way. If you've seen Shirobako, you know that once things get started, anime production is a runaway freight-train, so anybody with a modicum of common sense knows to get the hell out of the way.

In the case of VERY successful artists, like Masashi Kishimoto (Naruto) or Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist), there can even be a creative back-and-forth between the artists and the show staff. The artist very seldom has enough time to go over every story point and isn't in regular contact with the show staff, however if the staff has a question or wants a briefing as to the future direction of the manga story, they will often help each other out as best they can. The more successful artists tend to want more control, particularly if they didn't care for adaptations of their work earlier in their careers, but if they're not careful they can easily step on the toes of the production staff.

Ultimately, the writing of "filler episodes" -- the parts of the anime that stall for time while the manga can move the story forward -- is usually left entirely to the show's writing crew. The manga artist simply doesn't have time to write multiple parts of the same story at once. That said, the existence of filler episodes is usually in the manga artist's best interest, even if fans hate it: the show stays on the air longer, people talk about it longer, fans stay interested in the franchise longer, and their books continue to sell and sell. Merchandise sells for longer, and if the property stays in the public eye for long enough, it can become a permanent part of pop culture, able to earn revenues for the artist for decades to come.

But the manga artist's priority is always to the original work, and if that's still going, it's almost certainly all they have time to deal with.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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