If you’re an anime fan, you’ve noticed a recent trend of sorts in the last five years. Though anime movies have always been popular, they weren’t important or canon overall. For those unaware, the phrase “canon” is short for “canonical” and refers to any content that is part of the continuity of the official story. As an example, filler arcs such as the Curry of Life arc in Naruto are not canon. Big shows like Naruto, One Piece, and Dragon Ball Z have had many non-canon movies (such as the original Broly trilogy). And yet, it wasn’t until the last five or ten years that these movies shifted to adapting manga arcs or expanding things with the help/blessings of the creator to create a new canon. In my opinion, canon anime movies are quite strong for the medium as a whole.
Minor spoilers for Konosuba, Demon Slayer, and My Hero Academia ahead.
Canon Anime Movies: An Explosive Success
To start us off, let’s look at some of the great anime movies. Over the last five years, three anime-based movies stand out as the most successful. First off, we have everyone’s favorite comedy isekai: Konosuba. It takes the classic “reborn in another world” trope and turns it into a Futurama-esque satire. Though the main character Kazuma may be blessed with great luck, his party is anything but capable. Konosuba: The Legend of Crimson took place immediately after the second season and had multiple canon elements. From callbacks to prior plot moments to the secrets of Megumin and the Crimson Demons, it had it all. With an extremely impressive budget to boot, it took the world by storm.
Not one to be outdone, Demon Slayer has produced a movie this year. Titled Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, it focuses on the Mugen Train arc of the manga. It achieved incredible success and acclaim, becoming the #2 anime movie of all time. Ufotable has a reputation for producing beautifully animated work, and a movie budget made that even better. We were introduced to the flamboyant Rengoku as Tanjiro clashes with another of antagonist Muzan’s Twelve Kizuki. No wonder it did so well.
We’ve even seen trends of My Hero Academia creating movies that are addressed as canon, even though the events don’t occur in the manga. Both the Two Heroes and Heroes Rising movies are confirmed as canon by author Horikoshi himself.
With so much at hand regarding budgets, skills, etc. let’s take this opinion on canon anime movies into the pros, cons, and conclusions that can be drawn.
Pros: Better Budget, Good for Bite-Sized
There are many pros to an anime movie these days. Though animation studios have reached new heights with regular anime, they will commonly cut corners to make up for it. This can be seen in the rise of 3D CGI for background characters or hard-to-animate enemies. However, with a movie budget, that problem goes away. Not only do these smaller animation studios receive a huge budget, but they also have more time to prepare. That budget and breathing room can go a long way. Take Demon Slayer as an example. An anime that focuses so much on visuals and sound mixing can only benefit from a movie experience. In turn, the impressive hard work studios put in can translate to a higher buzz about the movie. It all feeds back into better reviews and more viewers in theaters.
Something else to consider for canon anime movies is that they are the perfect medium for modern anime. The days of popular manga above 500 chapters are far behind us, with only One Piece above that line now. Many finish before the 400 mark. Demon Slayer has finished in the 200 range, and My Hero Academia is currently in the 350s and gearing up to end. Modern consumers love to binge, so reading or watching 1000 of anything is a lot. Hence the need for canon anime movies. If an already short story arc can be told in two to three hours instead of twelve episodes, it makes it more digestible. Though, it can lead to some problems with time or missteps.
Cons: Too Rushed or Too Easy?
Sadly, one of the disadvantages to anime movies is based on the previous positive opinions. The beauty of a succinct anime movie arc also holds an ugly side. To put it simply, it can be rushed. Many popular manga have side scenes or subplots that enrich the environment and characters. With a movie, according to the studios at least, no one has time for that. We are propelled through the main story points to get the gist of the arc. For perspective, a normal anime season is 12 episodes per arc, with movies only having enough time for about six to eight episodes worth. Konosuba is the only movie to properly adapt, but only because their arcs are at a maximum of five episodes long.
The other drawback of canon anime movies is that they can make the real anime suffer. Demon Slayer, in an extremely controversial move, actually spent the first half of season 2 re-capping the entire movie. That means eight different episodes were wasted. Though it was nice for those who had reservations about seeing it in theaters, it was still a waste. Additionally, My Hero Academia spent many episodes last season on set up for the Heroes Rising movie. It severely detracted from the main plot and the fan-favorite My Villain Academia arc. It just doesn’t bode well for the industry.
Final Conclusions: Movies Should Stay, with Limits
Canon anime movies can be the perfect way to encapsulate an arc, but they aren’t flawless. Their impressive budgets and time frames give the studios time to work their magic to the fullest. It’s also perfect for modern manga and the modern anime viewer. That said, big, drawn-out manga would not fit the template. With such a short time limit to tell the story, it can be easy to cut content or simply introduce entirely new content for easy money.
In my opinion, canon anime movies are a fresh new way to bring media to the masses. With Overlord confirming a new movie alongside their upcoming fourth season, it certainly won’t stop any time soon. We as consumers have to be careful though, as it’s our fervor for these movies that keep them running. If we allow lazy work as described in the cons section, it may eventually spell the end of an era. With that, happy watching and/or binging!