Can fillers be filling?

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Fillers are quite often one of the most dreaded parts of anime that cause us to sigh, roll our eyes, press the fast forward button and/or maybe write a long drawn-out post complaining how this is the twentieth episode we've had with Absolutely Nothing Happening.

They come in many interesting if not always entertaining flavors such as The Beach Episode (pictured), The Convienently One Episode Long Conflict, And Now For Some Of Our Other Characters That Still Exist, and everyone's favorite, The Recap.

Now naturally the entertainment value depends on many different things, such as originality, quality, and how many fillers you've seen in a row. But from a story perspective, I've always struggled with the stigma of filler as something completely devoid of content.

Maybe it's a faulty definition of filler, but I've found that filler episodes, per se, may actually be necessary to the overarching feel of the series in the end in leaving a good impression. This may not be the case for more shonen material (Fights O' The Week) or whatnot, but at least in my specialty genre, romance/harem/harem-likes, I almost find filler to be useful at times.

(Minor blatantly obvious spoilers for Da Capo and huge ending/plot spoilers for Shuffle ahead.)

Even in the most meaningless of filler (pictured) in the midst of a wide sea of filler-type (pictured), I find there to be at least a meager bit of content in the episode. Maybe it's not the plot tour de force you'd find in an average episode of School Days or Kanon, but little things, like the development of the Sakura x Junichi x Nemu dynamic in Da Capo in the beach episode above still count.

In the midst of all the fanservice or lazy animation or scenes you've seen before (or maybe all of the above) usually there will be perhaps a glance, an exchange of words, an unnatural look that will hint at some important plot or character point to be used later on.

It always seems to be said that a series could be better if it was half the length, or an OVA, and I'm always inclined to disagree. As hard-hitting as a series can be with it's plot developments and twists, I find that if a series was just condensed to this, it wouldn't be half as good as if it was slowly put together through character episodes and filler.

For example, Shuffle is one I could use for example. Sure, the first twelve episodes were, as Rin even put it himself in the beach episode, "breasts everywhere you go", with perhaps that blue-haired skirt-flipping kid thrown in for good measure. But certainly if one looked between some lines and some frivolous scenes you could see the tension develop between Kaede and...well, everyone as she got the short end of the stick repeatedly. You could see Primula become attached to the world around her.

If we were just to spend one or two episodes introducing the characters and launch straight into the Primula arc, with the Kaede/Asa arc perhaps halfway through, it just wouldn't have the same impact.

As has probably been said a million times, I find anime better when I can connect to the characters, whether on a personal level, or on an emotional level (i.e. through moe appeal, or pity, or sympathy for a story), and well, if Kaede just sort of showed up within the first few episodes with a boxcutter demanding Asa give Rin back, would we feel the same pity for her desperation than we did in the full 26-episode series?

Rather, it would be more abrupt and jarring, resulting in confusion more than anything else.

Perhaps this is from a faulty definition of filler; usually I label any plotline (if any) that lasts 25 minutes or less and is cleanly resolved within the episode as "filler", especially if it's not attached to any particular overreaching storyline or character arc. But character episodes (the first eight or so of both D.C. and Shuffle) certainly fit the guidelines of this definition but yet are rather indisposible in providing insight into a character and their personality and feelings.

Neither can certain events be proven tip-offs for filler; while an Onsen Episode certainly is bound to waste at least a few minutes (and a large chunk of the budget) on bouncing and/or cleverly hiding genitalia, usually there can be a lot of things discovered (which may or may not already be obvious) by the large amount of female characters (often rivals, if not indirect) in close proximity.

Maybe filler, like a tsundere (Admittedly a little controversial), is one of those things that can't be exactly defined but can only be sensed; while one can always roll their eyes whenever they smell it coming, quite often it's the contrary (Da Capo, at least Second Season, is pretty good with pulling off subtle twists on stale topics). And vice versa, although an episode may not have had any of the obvious Signs of Filler, one can still come out of it with an empty taste in their mouth.

It's not to defend filler or to say that it's always worth watching, but certainly it has its use at times. Something that can be said for a lot of things in anime, at any rate.