Thursday, 1 September 2011

Shounen Filler: Bleach

In the second of my series of posts on shounen filler, I am beginning to look at individual series and how they make use of filler; and what better place to start than Bleach, one of the "Big Three" and the show that originally inspired me to write about this topic in the first place.

So what type of filler does Bleach use and how does it incorporate it into the story? The majority of the time, the series employs the use of long filler arcs to hold up the story for months at a time - yes, MONTHS.  A year and a half ago, when I was bored and had little to do, I worked out the number of filler episodes (conisting of standalone eps and full arcs only) for each of the big three and the average length of these non-canon arcs, the results of which were fairly interesting to say the least. I conducted my mini study on the 3rd March 2010 and here is what I found:

A year+ later and there have been a further 37 filler episodes in Bleach raising the percentage to 43%! The shortest of the three series, but the highest rate of non-canon episodes. On top of this, Bleach also wins in the filler length fight:

So not only does Bleach have more filler, but when you hit a non-canon arc, be prepared to be stuck there for at least 6 months! On top of this, Bleach has abysmal timing when it comes to adding in this padding. With the exception of the Bount arc (which nicely slotted into place after the Soul Society plotline) and the current run of filler (yay for slightly altering the end of the Arrancar arc to accomodate more fluff), the series has a habit of just chucking it's anime-only plotlines in any old place. I'll never forget the first time I felt utterly abused by this habit.It was right in the middle of the Hueco Mundo battles. The action was engaging, I was excited, and by the end of episode 168, a whole bunch of the cast were in mortal peril, laying possibly dead on the ground and I couldn't wait for the next installment. Then came episode 169 which suddenly flipped and everyone was back at Karakura High having the time of their lives. WHAT. THE. LIVING. HELL?! Talk about a way to piss on your own fireworks and kill the momentum that had built up. That is not a good way to treat your audience, at least attempt to find a more natural break in which to dump your filler.

Additionally the actual quality of these filler arcs isn't exactly top notch. I remember watching the Bount plotline and becoming very bored - and in comparison to the beginning of the Lurichiyo stuff, seemed like a masterclass of storytelling. Likewise the Zanpakutou arc started off with an interesting concept and ended up dragging it out for far too long, to the point where it got a bit dull and I stopped caring. Finally, as if to add insult to injury, the animation quality - particularly when it comes to bodily proportions in the Zanpakutou arc - is horrific. For such a high profile show to have such sub par visuals - even during filler - is unacceptable. Way to dump on your audience, Bleach, way to dump.

Ken-chan, why has my head shrunk?

I dunno, but I think it's catching.

Besides, I'd worry more about the weight you've put on in the last few minutes.

Does my squishy face lok like I care?

Outside of the behemoth filler arcs, Bleach often heads down the route of standalone "comedy" episodes. These in particular are awful. Just awful. With content such as Arabian Nights-esque parodies, Hitsugaya playing football and Shinigami film festivals, the quality bar isn't exactly high. Individually they may have their comic merits (except for Hitsugaya the football player - that was just BAD) and are easy to throw on and watch while brain dead (or drunk). Likewise they may have been more tolerable if they didn't interrupt the main plotline so damn much.

I personally consider Bleach to be a shining example of filler gone bad. Fluff arcs that make up nearly half of the total anime and last for far too long being unforgivably chucked in during the middle of an awesome plotline is not the way to go. Had it not been for the excessive filler bitch-slapping me round the face when I just want to watch the next fight, this show would have stayed higher up my list. Instead, the Bleach anime has dug it's own grave, but with so much padding, at least it'll be nice and comfortable when it finally lays to rest.