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.
ExamplesAnime & 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Sam & 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.
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