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"Initiate super-wavy flashback effect!"
Dr. Nefarious, Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time
"There are two things I remember about my childhood; I just don't remember it being this orange..."
"And what's this?! The ever-darkening panel gutters would seem to indicate the approach...OF A FLASHBACK"
Nate "captainOsaka" Maurer, author's comments of Double K

The use of Camera Tricks and other paratextual elements to distinguish flashbacks, flash forwards, Imagine Spots and occasionally dreams from normal, in-the-present action.

These are very helpful on those occasions when there's nothing in the event itself to specify when it takes place.

Common ways of doing this include:

Flash Back Back Back, Happy Flashback and Troubled Backstory Flashback are Sub Tropes. Not to be confused with Flashback Cut.

Examples of Flashback Effects include:


Anime and Manga

  • One Piece uses gray spaces when the subject of the flashback happened not too long ago, and black spaces when it happened several years ago.
  • Every time someone has a flashback in Ghost in the Shell, it's covered by a monologue, because there is always someone there to listen to the flashback. The exception would be Togusa, who is venting, directing all his thoughts toward an established character who might not be present.
  • The entirety of Boogiepop Phantom is filmed with a vignette effect and more often than not with dull colors. Correspondingly, the entire series is a huge flashback.
  • Mnemosyne's flashbacks are seen from the perspective of the person having the flashback, with the audio and video given a sort of watery distortion.
  • Lampshaded in Excel Saga episode 11: after a short discussion about an impending flashback, the ripple effect begins, and Hyatt chants softly "ripple, ripple, ripple..."
  • No G Gundam mention yet? This might be one of the very few cases where an anime dub suffered from being TOO faithful to the original. Somehow, "You're the same as you were back then. Back then. Back then. Back then. Back then. Back then. Back then." sounds more absurd in English than in Japanese.
  • Done in flashbacks of the 2009 Fullmetal Alchemist anime (also known as Brotherhood) where most colors are duller than usual, the audio is often tinkered with and in the Ishbal related stuff, the eyes have a glow-y effect to them.
    • Also, a flashback to Yoki's backstory is done in (more or less) the style of a silent film, complete with flicker, scratches, jitter, intertitles, tinny music, and the sound of a projector.
  • Irritatingly, the English dub of Sonic X added Flashback Effects (misty border around the edges of the screen with echoes to everyone's voice) where in the original Japanese version there were none.
  • Funimation's English dub of Dragon Ball Z had music by Bruce Faulconer specifically made to play for all flashback scenes. They also have the usual echoing voices effect too.
  • THE iDOLM@STER - During Chihaya's flashbacks, the animation is darker and granier than usual.

Comic Books

  • Popular alterations to panel borders for flashbacks are rounded corners, or making it wavy all around.
  • In the Elf Quest story Recognition, Brandon Mc Kinney uses wavy borders and a "faded" effect (dark grey inked outlines rather than black) for the images for most flashbacks. Others have a shifted art style matched to the culture of the person telling the story: A style evoking stained glass windows for the medieval Europe Fantasy Counterpart Culture, and one inspired by Far Eastern brush drawings for the Mongolia/China mashup.
  • In Watchmen, a glint of light off the frame of an old photograph cuts to the flash from that photo being taken.

Film

  • Wayne's World parodied the use of Idiosyncratic Wipes.
  • In Big Fish, all of the flashbacks have shots with more brightly-colored objects in them and a slight glowing effect on the characters' faces.
  • Boggy Creek 2 The Legend Continues, every single flashback was slightly blurred.
  • Johnny Dangerously explained this trope's effect in scene to a would-be child thief that he was lecturing about his own childhood choices. The screen blurs and the child responds "What the hell's goin' on?!" Johnny explains that it always happens when he "talks about the past."
  • In G.O.R.A., as the alien villain Logar explains why he hates humans, the movie flashes back to his grandfather landing his spaceship in 18th-century Turkey. The flashback is shot in grainy, black-and-white film reminiscent of the most primitive motion picture technology.
  • In Trick 'r Treat, the flashback is filmed with a much brighter colour pallet than the rest of the film, and is bathed in golden light.
  • In Ciao! Manhattan when Edie Sedgwick Susan Superstar tells stories of her time in New York, the flashbacks appear in cool, glamorous black and white.
  • Lucy's flashbacks to her childhood in While You Were Sleeping are sepia tinted; lampshaded, when Lucy's narration remarks that she doesn't remember her childhood "being this orange".
  • Unknown features a good deal of flashbacks since it is about a guy who has a specific kind of amnesia - the kind where his identity is stolen and he can't figure out why. Being directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, expect every last trick under the "make the flashback look and sound different" category. Also, flashback sex scenes!
  • The Element of Crime is one lengthy, hypnosis induced, sepia-toned flashback sequence. This actually works well given the films Film Noir trappings.

Live Action TV

  • Without a Trace. The screen flashes white with every transition from the present to the past (and vice versa). Often these are Match Cuts as well, establishing that the flashback occurring in the same location as the present.
  • Highlander usually had black and white or sepia-toned flashbacks.
  • Lost has a distinctive sound effect to mark the transition to and from each flashback/forward/sideways.
  • At least two episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus parodied this:

 <picture begins to waver and dreamy harp music plays>

Pepperpot 1: Ooh! What's happening?

Pepperpot 2: It's all right. It's only a flashback.

 Captain: We are from the SS Mother Goose. We were twelve days out from Port of Spain, and one night I was doing my usual rounds, when I had occasion to pass the forward storage lockers...

<Eerie music, screen goes out of focus, wavy lines appear. The music stops and screen returns to normal>

Captain: <looks confused, as he expected the flashback scene to appear>

Police Chief: Go on!

    • And one episode played it straight:

 Mr. Bones: Oh, once upon a time there lived in Wiltshire a young chap called Dennis Moore. Now Dennis was a highwayman by profession...

<Wavy lines, cut to Dennis Moore riding along with a big bag of swag>

Mr. Bones: ...and for several months he had been stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

  • Also Lampshaded in The Young Ones episode "Nasty" where the characters begin swaying in time with the rippling picture effect.
  • Cold Case often has flash backs to events decades ago, and goes to the trouble of imitating the production styles and techniques of video footage of that time period (low quality resolution, over bleaching, scratches on the film, etc.).
  • The flashbacks in the Heroes episode "Company Man" are shown in black and white, along with subtitles indicating that it is "fourteen years ago" or whenever.
    • HRG's season 3 flashback episode is also in black and white, and Sylar's are in black and white and red.
  • Parodied on the Sketch Comedy show Roundhouse, where the flashback effects were provided by cast members waving their fingers in front of the camera lens and making sound effects.
  • Babylon 5 used monochrome effects for flashbacks, memories, and telepathy-induced visions.
  • Lampshaded in the Wayne's World sketches from Saturday Night Live, with Wayne and Garth waving their hands in front of their faces and making "doodle-oodle-oo" noises as the flashbacks start and end.
  • Band of Brothers. In the last episode, Maj. Winters has a couple, brief Deliberately Monochrome flashbacks when a general reviews his service record.
  • In Veronica Mars, all the flashbacks are fuzzy around the edges and in sepia tones.
  • The flashback scenes in the Charmed episode "Pre-Witched" are sepia-toned, and the World-War-II-era scenes in "Saving Private Leo" are Deliberately Monochrome.

Newspaper Comics

  • In Funky Winkerbean and its spinoff Crankshaft, artist Tom Batiuk indicates a flashback sequence by shading the panels in sepia tones and adding a little decoration to each corner to make it look as though the panel is an old photograph in an album.

Theatre

  • For the three flashbacks in the City of Angels Film Noir sequences, the script calls for "flashback effect," and the music cues definitely suggest this trope.
  • The dream transitions in the original production of Lady in the Dark were done with a complicated system of turntables within turntables and a kaleidoscopic light effect to get the cinematic effect Moss Hart apparently wanted.

Video Games

  • In the later Ace Attorney games, the Flashbacks are done Deliberately Monochrome.
    • Whereas they're in sepia tone in the original.
  • In the PC game Secrets of Da Vinci: The Forbidden Manuscript, protagonist Valdo will experience flashbacks of someone else's life when he completes certain action sequences. These are presented in sepia tone and, as might be expected, are very confusing to the character.
  • Lampshaded by Grandpa in The Simpsons Hit and Run. "It was so long ago that I'll have to describe it in sepia tone!"
  • Flashbacks in Theresia are interspersed with dots that resemble white noise, but are the same reddish color as the concentrated form of the titular disease.
  • The "All Ghillied Up" mission CoD4 is actually an aversion, since it plays out in full color. However, it's possible to make it Deliberately Monochrome yourself by use of the COD Noir cheat.
  • While not exactly a Flashback, during the past sequences of Final Fantasy VIII the regular battle theme is replaced by the somewhat more peppy "The Man With the Machine Gun" to go with Laguna's battles, the title reflecting that Laguna's weapon of choice is a machine gun.
  • During flashback sequences in the story mode of Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, a pretty cool-looking graphical effect is used that simulates grainy, sepia-tone film. This even extends to at least one gameplay battle that takes place during a flashback. In addition, the game uses stills that seem to be taken straight from the anime (with the aforementioned effect applied) for flashbacks to events from the pre-Shippuden series.
  • City of Heroes uses sepia fade-in/fade-out effects for "flashback" missions: missions that are run at a level lower than your character's current level.
  • Achron adds a sepia tone to the screen when a player is watching/playing in the past.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots, Old Snake relives his past in the form of the original Metal Gear Solid. Shows a nice way of comparing the older style of gameplay and graphics to the newer style. Also counts as Fan Service and a Shout-Out to anyone who has played the original game.

Web Comics

  • Exterminatus Now: Toys with it in a Leaning on the Fourth Wall moment in this strip.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court. Flashback Cuts are represented by a sepia-toned panel inside the present-day panel. Longer, full-panel flashbacks are in color and are distinguished either by textured backgrounds, rounded panel corners, or both.
    • When some fans thought these weren't clear enough, Tom responded with this parody.
    • The most recent flashback chapter has slightly desaturated/sepia-ish colors throughout.
  • Strawberry Death Cake. Flashback Cuts are represented by a sepia-tone-reminiscent black/white/yellow color scheme, rather than the regular black/white/red one.
  • In Queen of Wands, when Kestrel is recounting how she and Shannon met and how everyone became roommates, the flashback strips are sepia-toned. When, during the flashback, Kestrel recounts her backstory with Felix to Shannon, it's portrayed in black-and-white, without the sepia cast.
  • In Count Your Sheep, the present day comics have a blue coloration, while past scenes (from when the mother was a child) are shown in magenta.
  • Irregular Webcomic uses both the misty border and the sepia tone effects.
  • El Goonish Shive uses the rounded panel corners variant for both flashbacks and Imagine Spots.
  • Double K. "And what's this?! The ever-darkening panel gutters would seem to indicate the approach...OF A FLASHBACK"
  • Girl Genius uses sepia toned panels most of the time. There are some exceptions, though.
  • Goblins rarely uses flashbacks. When it does, it uses different effects. There are shiny panel edges here, and black/white here.

Web Original

  • STELLA's "Birthday" sketch has David Wain's character David Wain start his flashback to the time he met Michael Showalter's character Mi-well, you know what comes next. Wain says he "must've met [Michael] twenty years ago!" Then the flashback starts. The color balance is slightly different, and the establishing shot is of a giant calendar with squares reading "REM", "The Cure", "Synth-Pop", and "Ronald Reagan", plus a Terminator poster visible on a nearby wall.

Western Animation

  • Lampshade Hanging in Rocko's Modern Life, "Future Schlock." Twenty Minutes Into the Future, an aged Filburt attempts to enlighten his kids via Flash Back, and forgets which button to press to "make things go all squiggly."
    • "The green one, Daddy!"
  • Used in the episode of Tiny Toon Adventures which parodies Citizen Kane. Buster even Lampshades it by saying, "I remember it as if it were...a flashback!"
  • South Park had quite a bit of fun with this in the episode "I'm A Little Bit Country", in which Cartman is trying to flashback to the year 1776 for a school project.
  • Subverted in an episode of The Venture Brothers. The Monarch starts reminiscing about his past with Doctor Venture and the screen starts wavering gently. Then he realizes he's on fire and the distortion is from the heat.
  • Spoofed in the Canadian animated series, Sidekicks. Whenever there is a flashback or even a cut to dreams we are treated to Eric and Trevor overtaking the screen, wiggling there arms saying, "Ooo Oooh, Ooo Oooh!" while the background wavers out.
  • Parodied in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Doof Dynasty".

 Phineas: But why, master Perry?

Wavery flute music and ripple effect as Perry looks off in the distance.

Phineas: What's he doing?

Ferb: That's a ripple dissolve. He must be having a flashback.

Phineas: Does he...know...we can't see it? ... Should we give him some privacy? I--I don't know the protocol for flashbacks.

    • But Buford just does it because it's relaxing.
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