When reading discussions or talking about anime or manga, the terms canon, non-canon and sometimes filler may come up. Trying to nail down what these terms mean may not be so obvious, So what do the terms canon and non-canon mean in anime?
Canon means the officially sanctioned, original work whereas non-canon is anything which does not fall under this category. In terms of anime, it generally refers to the stories, characters and other main elements as introduced in the manga.
Let’s look at what canon really means, and what it doesn’t cover, in our discussion below. We’ll look at some reasons why this discussion is so important and consider how to classify canon from non-canon.
What is Canon in Anime?
Canon means that something is the official storyline, characters or other features of a series. Something is known as canon as opposed to non-canon because it was created in the original series or appeared in the original source material.
For example, with anime, they tend to be based on a manga, so canon can be thought of as anything appearing in the manga.
To contrast versus canon, it is useful to consider filler. Filler is the general term for episodes or parts of episodes that tell a story, introduce different characters or bring up elements that have never been present in the manga.
Canon will be a part of the main or official story, so once you start noticing that an anime series is going way off what the manga explored, you can safely call this filler or non-canon.
Why Have Non-Canon Episodes?
There are several reasons for creating non-canon content, such as for programming reasons, content creation limitations and revenue supplementation.
A manga artist may have been working on a manga at times for many years before it takes off and becomes a success, eventually getting turned into a TV show.
However, an anime studio will have a large team of people with specialized roles such as writers, directors, animators and anything else needed, with the ability to hire more staff as required.
This means for most situations, a manga artist will have no chance when comparing outputs, as the anime studio will almost always be able to produce way more content, quickly catching up to the current storyline of the manga.
At this point the studio has a few choices, with the commercially sensible option being to create a few non-canon episodes, or filler episodes, to bridge the gap.
Often, a piece of intellectual property may be bought by a studio, meaning that eventually that studio comes up with the storylines, so everything at that point would be considered non-canon.
Extra lengthening of certain aspects commonly happens in anime, but as long as the nucleus on what is happening is canon, some slight detail changes or lengthening won’t change this, but it is quite a subjective line.
Is Canon different from OVAs?
OVA stands for original video animation, and an OVA is in most cases a straight to video production, specifically that an OVA will not have a broadcast debut.
OVAs will mainly be in the form of prequels or sequels. This means that they tend to be very close to canon if not explicitly dealing with it, or at least staying consistent with it.
OVAs don’t have the usual timeline crunches associated with a regularly broadcast series, so OVAs give creators the time to research the canon and make sure that any episodes fit within the canon.
However, not all OVAs follow these stipulations, and so you may have OVAs that are almost entirely non-canon. Some fans consider that if an OVA basically follows canon and advances the plot consistently with canon, then at least it shouldn’t be considered filler.
Is Official and Canon the Same Thing?
Canon can be quite different from official. Official just means that a piece of work as the proper legal permissions to be published, but as discussed above, it may be that the intellectual property was sold to another entity, like a company.
This may mean that the original creator is no longer involved and has no creative input into the series. Such a production would be official in that they have properly purchased the rights to show those characters, but not necessarily canon.
This is quite an objective standard, whereas deciding whether something is canon can be a bit more controversial. The differences in medium (anime vs manga) can result in some major changes needing to be made, but fundamentally fans still consider it all canon.
The decision is also a lot easier to make with shorter series, as the longer something goes on, the higher chance that there has been a bit of retroactive changes being made, or the lower chance that the studio got a bit desperate for content and just made something up.