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 demographic “genre” have also had animated film releases. Many of these productions have been non-canon for the most part, making the movies fairly avoidable and unnecessary to watch. That trend has changed in the past few years — but it comes with its own problems.
Many of these movies take a while to arrive overseas, and their canonicity makes them required viewing for those who want to follow along with the story. Never mind the fact that the anime might simply retread these stories anyway, making them as unnecessary as the old films. Thus, despite their massive success now, canon anime movies present as many problems as they do solutions.
Canon Anime Movies Are Required Viewing, for Better or Worse
The change in anime movies being canon began with releases such as Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Godswhich was different in a key way from previous Dragon Ball Z movies. Those were largely non-canon from the anime and manga, and were thus simply ways to tell throwaway stories that cashed in on the franchise’s success. with Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F,‘ however, the films’ stories became important to the anime. This was also seen in other franchises with movies such as Jujutsu Kaisen 0 and Demon Slayer: Mugen Trainwhich adapted arcs from their respective manga.
The problem with this is that, in being canon to the anime, fans have to watch the movies as well. This would be fine if said films had international release dates that coincided with their Japanese premieres. Instead, otaku outside of Japan have to wait months for the movies to reach their countries, especially those in the West. Some of these, namely the dragon ball productions, do receive theatrical runs in America, though again, these happen long after their Japanese debuts. They’re also less widespread than Hollywood releases, making them harder to catch. For those who don’t have theatrical runs in America, fans have to wait months to a year before they drop on streaming platforms such as Crunchyroll or Funimation.
This makes avoiding spoilers of the movie’s events a fool’s errand, and it’s even more problematic if the new season of the anime streams in the West before the movie does. Likewise, some of these anime in question straight up retell the films’ stories in their next seasons, making the movie feel redundant and bringing into question what the point of their canonicity is. Such was the case with the beginning arc of the Dragon Ball Super anime, which simply reiterated what the movies had already said.
Theatrical Canon Anime Movies Bring Audiences Together
At the same time, there’s a reason why fans might actually prefer these theatrical ventures. For one thing, though they’re tied to the anime they adapt, films such as Battle of Gods and Mugen Train are somewhat standalone. Thus, newcomers can watch the films with friends and break them into the franchise without them feeling left out, all while pre-existing fans still have something to enjoy. This is best served in theaters, with streaming at home simply not affording the same experience.
There’s also the financial incentive for these anime production companies, as the major box office hauls of these films bring in instant cash that streaming or TV views simply wouldn’t. That’s even more the case with the decline in physical media sales in Japan, particularly as streaming has taken off. It’s definitely not ideal for some fans overseas, but since these movies provide more of a franchise’s story than ever before, who can really complain?