Created By: meeg on April 27, 2014 Last Edited By: Arivne on February 6, 2016

Eleventh Hour Flashback

A FlashBack right before the climax or exciting conclusion.

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Trope
The action is gearing up and it looks like we're just about to see the final showdown or find out the answer to the big mystery... but before that we get an extended flashback. In a television series it may be a Whole Episode Flashback or even one that goes on for several episodes.

A lot of times this seems like a cheap way to artificially prolong the suspense or pad the number of episodes in a series. Indeed, if it seems like the exciting conclusion is right around the corner but there is more than one episode left, you might see this coming.

In the most egregious cases, the flashback presents the audience with little to no new information that is of interest or pertinent to the present action (e.g. why do we suddenly need to find out about the hero's childhood and his relationship with his mother?). In other cases, the flashback does show the audience something worthwhile but the timing is questionable. Occasionally, however, the Eleventh Hour Flashback is justified in that it reveals information right before the climax that leads the audience to view the events in a new light.

This is used most often as a Japanese Media Trope, based on Japanese cultural ideals revolving around Japanese Spirit. In a nutshell, Japanese media tends to emphasize resolve, or someone's willingness to fight for something they believe to be right, no matter the cost, danger or difficulty. Based on old Samurai philosophies and doctrines, there's an idea that the measure of someone's spirit and resolve are equivalent based on the moral correctness of what they're fighting for, and how strongly they fight for it, and that you can "feel" this through combat or competition (this is most obvious in stories that have Ki).

However, before this, villains are typically made out to look nigh-unstoppable in order to truly emphasize how brave the hero is for taking on a battle that seems hopeless. Thus, we rarely receive any insight into their past at all until this trope suddenly comes into effect, where we finally find out what the villain is fighting for so that the hero's more morally sound judgment can triumph and provide our Aesop. In cases where the character isn't quite a villain, but more like an Anti-Hero or The Rival, the person who is following the more correct path will typically defeat the person who is not quite correct, again, allowing this trope to compare/contrast their reasons.


Examples

Anime & Manga
  • Episodes 18 and 19 of Fate/Zero (a 25 episode series) are a flashback showing Kiritsugu growing up on an island in the Philippines with his father and subsequently being "adopted" and trained by a mercenary named Natalia.

Comic Books
  • The fifth volume (out of six) of Locke & Key is composed almost entirely of flashbacks (Chapter 2 and the end of the last chapter are the two exceptions). Here the flashbacks are justified in that they answer a lot of the reader's questions about the villain, the keys and what happened to Rendell Locke and his friends in high school. At the same time, Volume 4 ended on a huge cliffhanger (everyone thinks Dodge is dead but he's actually taken over the body of Bode, the youngest Locke kid) which isn't resolved until the final volume.
  • In Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory maxi-series, eleventh-hour flashbacks abound.
    • Mister Miracle #4 opens and closes with a flashback to Shilo Norman's childhood.
    • Bulleteer #4 recounts the long and unhappy life of Sally Sonic, a forgotten Golden Age superheroine who's grown up into a literal and figurative home-wrecker.
    • Guardian #4 opens with a flashback to Baby Brain's history as one of the Newsboys, and reveals how he became aware of the Sheeda.
    • Seven Soldiers #1 opens with the story of Aurakles, a caveman who was transformed into the first superhero before becoming a victim of the Sheeda.

Film
  • Chapter 8 in Kill Bill, "The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei," is a flashback showing how the Bride was trained by a wizened Chinese kung fu master. There are 10 chapters in all; Chapter 7, "The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz," ends on a cliffhanger with the Bride buried alive and trapped in a coffin. The flashback gives us background information on the Bride and also explains how she is able to get out of her current predicament.

Live-Action TV
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) does this the series finale. Before the main characters embark on a dangerous mission that might just kill them all, we see flashbacks of their lives on Caprica, before the Cylons attacked and things were still normal. The flashbacks flesh out the characters and their relationships some more, but otherwise they don't really have anything to do with the plot of the finale.

Web Comics

Video Games

Community Feedback Replies: 26
  • April 27, 2014
    justanotherrandomlurker
    I... don't know if this counts or not, but here's a suggestion thrown out there:

    Anime
    • Pokemon. Towards the end of, "Pikachu's Goodbye," Ash decides to leave Pikachu behind with a warren of other wild Pikachu after they take to him and he takes to them, figuring he'll be happier this way. After setting him free, Ash runs off in a fit of sadness, while we're treated to flashbacks from previous installments of the various different adventures and situations the two of them had gotten into. Afterwards, when Misty and Brock catch up with him, they all find that Pikachu would rather stay with Ash, while the rest of the wild Pikachu cheer for them.
  • April 27, 2014
    Tuckerscreator
    • Tangled: After Rapunzel is retrieved by Mother Gothel, she's had her spirit broken and is disillusioned about the outside world. However she still has her small banner taken from the festival. Looking at the sun emblem sewn on it lets her see the emblem subconsciously painted all over her room's mural, triggering a flashback from her infancy that let's her realize who she realize is and who her parents really are.
  • April 28, 2014
    Arivne
    • Changed the title so it was legal (you can't start a title with a number).
    • Examples section formatting.
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples sections.
      • Blue Linked Example section media titles(s).
    • Deleted unnecessary blank line(s).
    • De-capitalized Significant Capital(s) (Kung Fu Master, Chapters).
  • April 28, 2014
    Koveras
  • April 28, 2014
    Tuomas
    Live Action TV
    • Battlestar Galactica Reimagined does this the series finale. Before the main characters embark on a dangerous mission that might just kill them all, we see flashbacks of their lives on Caprica, before the Cylons attacked and things were still normal. The flashbacks flesh out the characters and their relationships some more, but otherwise they don't really have anything to do with the plot of the finale.
  • April 28, 2014
    JimmyC
    Webcomics
    • In Sam And Fuzzy, there is a short flashback chapter about Black and Blank's friendship before they met Sam. Without this flashback, Blank killing Black would not be nearly as horrifying.

  • April 29, 2014
    StrixObscuro
    Comics
    • In Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory maxi-series, eleventh-hour flashbacks abound.
      • Mister Miracle #4 opens and closes with a flashback to Shilo Norman's childhood.
      • Bulleteer #4 recounts the long and unhappy life of Sally Sonic, a forgotten Golden Age superheroine who's grown up into a literal and figurative home-wrecker.
      • Guardian #4 opens with a flashback to Baby Brain's history as one of the Newsboys, and reveals how he became aware of the Sheeda.
      • Seven Soldiers #1 opens with the story of Aurakles, a caveman who was transformed into the first superhero before becoming a victim of the Sheeda.
  • April 29, 2014
    KingZeal
    Okay, something to add:

    This is used most often as a Japanese Media Trope, based on Japanese cultural ideals revolving around Japanese Spirit. In a nutshell, Japanese media tends to emphasize resolve, or someone's willingness to fight for something they believe to be right, no matter the cost, danger or difficulty. Based on old Samurai philosophies and doctrines, there's an idea that the measure of someone's spirit and resolve are equivalent based on the moral correctness of what they're fighting for, and how strongly they fight for it, and that you can "feel" this through combat or competition (this is most obvious in stories that have Ki).

    However, before this, villains are typically made out to look nigh-unstoppable in order to truly emphasize how brave the hero is for taking on a battle that seems hopeless. Thus, we rarely receive any insight into their past at all until this trope suddenly comes into effect, where we finally find out what the villain is fighting for so that the hero's more morally sound judgment can triumph and provide our Aesop. In cases where the character isn't quite a villain, but more like an Anti Hero or The Rival, the person who is following the more correct path will typically defeat the person who is not quite correct, again, allowing this trope to compare/contrast their reasons.
  • June 17, 2014
    Generality
    • Happens all the time in Bleach due to a rule in the setting that when two zanpaku-to clash, they share information about their wielders. Thus, when a new villain finally gets around to fighting one of the main characters, an extended flashback usually unfolds which displays the villain's entire backstory, usually intended to make the audience feel sorry for him before he's killed.

    • Throughout Once Upon A Time In The West, the villainous Frank doesn't recognise the unnamed protagonist... until right after their climactic duel, when the two share a flashback of the villainous incident Frank perpetrated that set the man on his path.

    • The Way Of Kings begins with Kaladin having recently been Made A Slave and dealing with everyone he cared about being dead. Sporadic flashbacks throughout the book drizzle out small details of his past, but only when the climactic battle begins is the reader told how he was made a slave in the first place.
  • June 17, 2014
    DAN004
    Before the climax in Dressrosa arc in One Piece, we are treated to a long flashback detailing Thunder Soldier (aka Kyros)'s past, showing, among other things, exactly what Doflamingo (the Arc Villain) had done around 10 years ago in the island.
  • June 18, 2014
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • Just after Scar whispers his little secret, "I killed Mufasa" in Disney's The Lion King, Simba has a flashback of the stampede in the gorge. The flashback reminds him that he was nowhere near his father at the time, but that his uncle Scar was close to Mufasa ... close enough to cast him to his doom. This is all the impetus Simba needs for his Heroic Second Wind.
  • June 18, 2014
    paycheckgurl
    • The Secret Life Of An American Teenager: The last episode before Amy gives birth in the season one finale has Amy flashback to how she and Ricky hooked up. Turns out it didn't "just happen" as we were previously led to believe, but that Ricky had given her ample opportunity to not take things as far as they did and she just chose not to say "no". Her Teen Pregnancy and the labor pains she was dealing with were totally her fault and could not be blamed on just the Bad Boy's charm and a fit of quick passion. And Thats Terrible.
    • Before the series two finale of Series/Torchwood saw the return of Jack's Evil Counterpart John Hart, Jack's now evil Brother Grey, blew up half of Cardiff, and the status quo is shaken up because Tosh and Owen were sacrificed to show Anyone Can Die, we're treated to an origin episode. We find out everyone's tragic backstory and see how Jack recruited them. In Jack's case, we finally get to see just how he ended up working for, and eventually running, the formerly evil organization bent on killing his friend and idol the Doctor anyways, answering a few lingering questions. The episode's ending leads directly to the chaos in the finale.
  • June 19, 2014
    Arivne
    • Blue Linked (flashback).
    • Examples section formatting
      • Media section title(s): changed double curly braces to Wiki Word(s).
      • Alphabetized media sections.
    • Namespaced and italicized work name(s).
  • February 3, 2016
    DAN004
    "This is used most often as a Japanese Media Trope, based on Japanese cultural ideals revolving around Japanese Spirit. In a nutshell, Japanese media tends to emphasize resolve, or someone's willingness to fight for something they believe to be right, no matter the cost, danger or difficulty. Based on old Samurai philosophies and doctrines, there's an idea that the measure of someone's spirit and resolve are equivalent based on the moral correctness of what they're fighting for, and how strongly they fight for it, and that you can "feel" this through combat or competition (this is most obvious in stories that have Ki)."

    I don't see any of this paragraph saying how it relates to having an eleventh hour flashback in any way.

    By the way
    • Mega Man Maverick Hunter X: In the OVA The Day of Sigma, in the climax where Sigma is revealed to be a bad guy, he holds Zero up and taunts X, a hesitant rookie, to try and shoot him. He briefly goes catatonic and drops his Arm Cannon, but then we get treated to a flashback to when before he was sealed, where his creator, Dr. Light, told him to protect humanity with all of his power. Right after this, X suddenly makes his other arm glow bring and uses it to scar Sigma's face before he fainted. Sigma gets satisfied with the "hidden potential" he finally witnessed from X.
  • February 3, 2016
    TonyG
    Chapter nine of Over The Garden Wall, the next to last episode in the series, mostly consists of a flashback explaining how Wirt and Greg got lost in the woods, and revealing that they're modern-day kids transported into a magical world.
  • February 3, 2016
    KingZeal
    ^^ You can't be serious. That paragraph and the one that follows it, completely explain what it has to do with this trope.
  • February 3, 2016
    Kartoonkid95
    • In the middle of Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, we see a flashback of how Kahuna consumed his father's immortality formula when a shadowy figure tried to steal it. After Biscane reveals that he is Kahuna's jealous older brother, the flashback plays again, only this time he is revealed to be the would-be thief.
  • February 3, 2016
    DAN004
    ^^ You better explain how rather than saying "no, it totally fits" because it ain't helping any.
  • February 4, 2016
    Koveras
    • In Noir, the flashback of the Bouquets' (Mireille's parents) murder is shown in bits and pieces throughout the early episodes, until it's finally played in full just before the finale arc, revealing that it was Kirika who carried out that assassination to prove her worth as a True Noir candidate.
  • February 4, 2016
    KingZeal
    ^^ I CANNOT explain it to you better than the paragraphs themselves explain it.

    I have no idea what about them is confusing .
  • February 4, 2016
    randomsurfer
    ^ You don't mention "...this trope coming into effect..." until the second sentence of the second paragraph, but then it continues without referencing this trope again. I think that Dan's looking for a more concise explanation.
  • February 4, 2016
    DAN004
    Rewrite it a bit plz.
  • February 5, 2016
    KingZeal
    I am not seeing what is confusing about this statement: "villains are typically made out to look nigh-unstoppable in order to truly emphasize how brave the hero is for taking on a battle that seems hopeless. Thus, we rarely receive any insight into their past at all until this trope suddenly comes into effect, where we finally find out what the villain is fighting for"

    The trope is named and about flashbacks that occur in the eleventh hour of the story. I do not get what is hard to understand here.

  • February 5, 2016
    DAN004
    Okay I see.

    I don't think the example structure should always follow what you wrote, though (the unstoppable villain and hero thing).
  • February 6, 2016
    KingZeal
    It doesn't. The point is that the formula is EXTREMELY common, though.
  • February 6, 2016
    DAN004
    In my example for one, the one having flashback is the good guy, not the baddie. :P
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