Anime adaptations of shonen manga are some of the most popular in the medium, so it’s no surprise that the biggest names in the “genre” demographic have also released animated films. Many of these productions have been mostly non-canon, which makes the films quite avoidable and pointless to watch. This trend has changed in recent years, but it comes with its own set of problems.
Many of these films take a while to arrive overseas, and their canonicity makes them a must for those who want to follow the story. Never mind the fact that the anime might just retread these stories anyway, rendering them as useless as the old movies. So, despite their enormous success today, canon animated films present as many problems as they do solutions.
Canon animated films are mandatory, for better or worse
The change in animated movies being canon started with releases such as Dragon Ball Z Battle of the Godswhich differed substantially from previous Dragon Ball Z movies. These were largely non-canon from the anime and manga, and thus were simply throwaway storytelling means that benefited from the success of the franchise. With Battle of the Gods and Resurrection ‘F,‘ however, the stories from the films have become important to the anime. This has also been seen in other franchises with films such as Jujutsu Kaisen 0 and Demon Slayer: Mugen Trainwho adapted the arcs of their respective manga.
The problem with that is that, being anime canon, fans have to watch the movies as well. It would be nice if said films had international release dates that coincided with their Japanese premieres. Instead, otaku outside of Japan have to wait months for movies to reach their country, especially those from the West. Some of them, namely the dragonball productions, receive theatrical releases in America, although they are still performing long after their debut in Japan. They’re also less prevalent than Hollywood releases, making them harder to catch. For those without a theatrical release in America, fans have to wait months to a year before stumbling across streaming platforms such as Crunchyroll or Funimation.
This makes dodging spoilers from the events of the film a mad dash, and it’s even more problematic if the anime’s new season airs in the West before the film. Likewise, some of these anime in question directly tell the stories of the films in their upcoming seasons, which makes the film redundant and calls into question the point of their canonicity. Such was the case with the starting arc of the Dragon Ball Super anime, which simply reiterated what the movies had already said.
Theatrical Canon animated films bring audiences together
At the same time, there’s a reason fans might actually prefer these theatrical adventures. For one thing, despite being related to the anime they are adapting, movies such as Battle of the Gods and Train Mugen are somewhat autonomous. So newcomers can watch the movies with friends and join the franchise without feeling left out, while pre-existing fans still have something to enjoy. This is best served in cinemas, with home streaming simply not offering the same experience.
There’s also the financial incentive for these anime production companies, as the major box office draws of these films instantly bring in money that streaming or TV views simply wouldn’t. This is all the more the case with the decline in sales of physical media in Japan, especially since streaming has taken off. It’s certainly not ideal for some overseas fans, but since these films tell more of a franchise story than ever, who can really complain?