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If you want to see the future, read the past—Old Saying
Often a show will have a situation that is repetition of something that happened previously within the show history. Almost always used as either a Running Gag or tragically.
There are some films where they deal with the world repeating over and over, e.g. Groundhog Day, the similar film 12:01, and the Eternal Recurrence phenomenon. But this trope happens when history repeats itself without a Groundhog Day Loop.
A common example will be for a show about kids to have the children experience something, and then have the adults in the show respond by reminiscing about when the exact same thing happened to them at that age. Sometimes there is a flashback. If the adults are the main characters and the same thing occurs, this becomes Generation Xerox.
Or it can happen in an adult show where the characters have had flashbacks to show some of the older characters' backstories, and then you have an episode that focuses on the younger characters who experienced the same thing.
Can also be used just with a character repeating the exact same experience as another character did previously (sometimes in an earlier episode). The new victim might have boasted about how much better he would have handled it, expect an Aesop on how we should be less critical of "The Man in The Arena". Or he might just handle it perfectly, making the first victim hate him even more.
Can be used to justify (or subvert) Genre Savvy characters.
Anime and Manga
- Naruto has this due to the Cycle of Revenge, primarily between the Uchiha and Senju/Uzumaki clans.
- Love Hina has parallel scenes at the beginning of the series and the beginning of the epilogue.
- In the past, Chrono of Chrono Crusade (the manga version) was in love with a woman called Mary Magdalene, who was possessed by Pandaemonium, the demon's Hive Queen. This kicked off the events which led to her death. When Rosette is placed in a frighteningly similar situation, Aion feels the need to point out that history is repeating itself.
- Mahou Sensei Negima is shaping up to be this, with Negi and his Generation Xerox crew facing more or less the same scenario and villains that the last generation did.
- The Gundam series, according to Turn a Gundam, is all one timeline with this going on. Mankind keeps making space colonies, having a civil war with them, getting a bit too violent and inventing gundams that are too powerful, and destroying said colonies, forgetting about it, then sending out new colonies, only to have a civil war with them. Then gundams get too powerful... and each time, they progress a little further, with the destruction and casting back of mankind going further each time. By the time of Turn a Gundam, they're at an early-1900s level of technology. And history repeats again anyway, using Lost Technology.
- This is also specifically the point of the ideological debate in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing's movie, Endless Waltz. The villainess argues that war is an inevitable part of human nature (the titular "endless waltz" of war, peace, and revolution), while the female lead says that lasting peace can happen if people are willing to put forth the effort to end the Vicious Cycle. Needless to say, at least in the Turn a Gundam version of events, she does't succeed in spreading that idea.
- In Code Geass, Lelouch lost his mother to an assassin, which shattered his cozy, comfortable worldview and inspired him to change the world with Well Intentioned Extremism in order to give his beloved sister a better life. His father the Emperor, who is the biggest obstacle on his quest, went through pretty much the exact same thing in his lifetime and is himself trying to change the world -- along with his wife, who's Not Quite Dead. You can imagine Lelouch's shock when he learns all this...
- Maison Ikkoku has an example where Kyoko romantically pursued her teacher, and when Godai gets a teaching job at her old school not only is he also romantically pursed by a student, but the several of the methods used are very similar. (Tagging the teacher with a heart on the back when he's not looking).
- How about situations where something happens on a Show Within a Show and then something like it happens in the main show? Like in Martian Successor Nadesico, when Joe makes a Heroic Sacrifice in Gekiganger 3 and in the same episode Jun attempts to make a Heroic Sacrifice but survives- then Gai Daigouji gets killed suddenly and pointlessly at the end of the episode.
- In Ikki Tousen, the fighters (who are reincarnations of the various generals of Romance of the Three Kingdoms) are destined to fight and die in the same battles, in similar ways.
- Geo-Force tries this gambit against Deathstroke in Final Crisis: Last Will and Testament by luring him to the location where Deathstroke's son had his throat slit. Deathstroke claims that Brion isn't the first one to try this, but Brion is the first to slit his own throat for full effect.
- I Am Legend: Like Little Shop of Horrors, another Warner Bros. film, a Focus Group Ending causes all meaning in the story to be lost, and the editors of both films are so damn lazy they forget to take out the foreshadowing.
- Back to The Future, anyone? Just one example - the skateboard chase in 1955 in Part I, the Hover Board chase in 2015 in Part II, and the horseback chase in 1885 in Part III. All involving Marty McFly being chased by a Tannen.
- Notably, though, they all work out entirely differently. The first time, Marty easily beats them because he's the only one with a skateboard. The second time, they've all got hoverboards, in fact, they've got better hoverboards, and he narrowly escapes them. The third time, they're all on horseback, and he's on foot, and they catch him easily.
- Lampshaded by old Biff in 2015: "There's something very familiar about all this."
- German philosopher Oswald Spengler claimed in his non-fiction book The Decline of the West that this happens in every major culture: A culture emerges among until then barbarian people, fuses them together to nations. The great myths, art styles and religions develop. At the beginning, strong kings rule, but their power soon is weakened by their noble vassals. A great movement reforms the religion. Meanwhile, in the cities a somewhat-privileged middle class has risen, replacing feudalism economy slowly but steadily by capitalism. By cooperating with them, the crown can weaken nobility and the church, forming an absolutist state. Science and capitalism develop further, and an enlightened philosophy spreads, weakening the hold of religion. Then, the middle class will decide to get rid of the old system, usually in the form of a revolution - which starts civilization. This marks the fall of the culture - wars will get worse and worse (Napoleonic Wars -> American Civil War -> World War One -> World War II), art will become more and more offensive, and capitalism runs rampant (not without provoking counter movements). At the end, one state will conquer/control all other states, and one man will rise to the top of this state - voila, The Empire.
- Rudyard Kipling in 'The Gods of the Copybook Headings' pointed out how political ploys of the time are less than fresh by mockingly attributing them to prehistoric times -- "When the Cambrian measures were forming..."
- Pretty much the entire moral of Anthony Burgess' The Wanting Seed.
- In A Canticle for Leibowitz, the readers know the world had had a great nuclear sometime in the past (our present). Then there's The Simplification, which is another world-wide war, and a third war (nuclear again) in the third part. The book ends with what's left of humanity moving on to a new planet, to probably keep the cycle of stupidity going.
- Played straight, then Justified, in The Belgariad and its sequel series The Malloreon.
- Indeed, cherished by the Mallorean. Due to a mistake in the fabric of the universe, events recur with minor changes throughout history. By the end of the series, the heroes are actively noticing the recursion and using it to their advantage. The ultimate goal of the series is to fix this, so that time can finally move ahead.
- In The Wave, a High School history teacher is trying to show his class just how easily the Nazis came to power, only to be met with disbelief by students who think that "it can't happen here." So he shows them otherwise by starting a fascist movement in the class.
Live Action TV
- In Third Watch, Ty's father is murdered years before the series starts. His partner Sully finds out the truth behind the murder (that the murderer was paid by a corrupt cop, CT Finney) but says nothing in order to protect Ty's family's police pension. Fast forward to 2004, where CT Finney is exposed and commits suicide. Ty ends up helping Finney's son to make it look like an accident - so that Mrs Finney can still get her police pension.
- Battlestar Galactica Reimagined "All of this has happened before. And all of it will happen again." The series ends uncertain whether or not humanity is destined to fight yet another Robot War.
- The Criminal Minds episode "Birthright" ends with the villain being killed by his pregnant wife, just like his father (also a serial killer) was.
- Babylon 5. The various incarnations of the Shadow/Vorlon War, up until the point where Sheridan punches History in the face and throws it out of the galaxy.
- In the series finale of HBO's The Wire, several characters end up in situations that harken back to the pilot episode (in tandem with Call Backs). Most notably, Detective Leander Sydnor goes to Judge Phelan and asks with his help investigating a major case (which Detective Jimmy McNulty did, in a conversation with the exact same character, five seasons prior). The Where Are They Now? Epilogue insinuates that Baltimore is a cyclical place, and that characters will always end up in certain roles (e.g. Michael becomes the new Omar, Dukie becomes the new Bubbles, etc).
- Lost starting in the season 5 finale. Its implied that people have been coming to the island only to be wiped out over and over again as part of Jacob and the Man in Black's grand morality test. Taken to an extreme in "Across the Sea" where it's revealed that Jacob isn't even the original protector of the island and that there had probably been many previous protectors before he was born.
- History Never Repeats by Split Enz sounds like it will be an aversion. It's actually the singer trying to convince himself of the aversion.
- The Tales of Phantasia and Tales of Symphonia time line has this going on. Periodically, mankind invents magitechnology, culminating in a Mana Cannon, the use of which kills large numbers of people and depletes so much mana as to threaten the life of the Mana Tree. Things progress too far, the Mana Cannon causes too much destruction, and civilization is cast back into the Dark Ages for a while. Then somebody starts exploring ruins, and finding out about this thing called "magitechnology"...
- Dwarf Fortress being its darkly humorous self, its Video Game Cruelty Potential is very, very high and usually combined with exploits. So here's probably the best fan theory on the origin of the... stuff usually mentioned in spoilers or by Fan Nickname. If you start by raising children in cages with animals driven crazy just to make them tougher, then proceed to make Super Soldier squads by non-lethal fat scorching... where exactly do you think this line eventually ends up?
- Amazing Super Powers demonstrated how frequently those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.
- Used so often in Homestuck that the concept is almost weaponized by the various textual and visual callbacks. Many of these instances, such as stairs, are subject to memery both in-story and out.