Ambiguous Time Period

Mallory: What year do you think this is?!
Archer: I... yeah. Exactly. Good question.

An ambiguous time period is where the series takes place at a certain time in the past or future and in the same universe as ours, except for the story elements added by the author, but doesn't state anything specific. This is either because the time period is completely unmentioned, or because it's mentioned but elements of the story or Word of God state that the fiction uses a different calendar than ours.

Sometimes Anachronism Stew will unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) confuse viewers into wondering when the work takes place.

This can still happen in works that take place in a completely different universe to ours when there's an overarching timeline, but it's very difficult to pinpoint where in that timeline the events currently being described take place.

When the ambiguous time period is obviously not long ago, it's an example of Present Day Past. Could also be an unofficial form of a Retro Universe. This trope is the temporal version of Where the Hell Is Springfield? Contrast Period Piece and Unintentional Period Piece.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Gundam takes place in the future, but thanks to their excessive use of Alternate Calendar (several, in fact) how far in the future is impossible to pinpoint.
    • Although we do get a few clues. In Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket it's mentioned January 14th, U.C. 0080 falls on a Monday, while ZZ Gundam mentions 0088 is a leap year. Apparently somebody once did the math based on this and found 2047 to be the earliest possible date for the changeover (technically, the earliest date would be 2019. The 2047 start date much touted in Fanon is based on some sourcebooks that give 2045 as the last AD date mentioned but don't specify when exactly the switch happened. Sunrise has since declared all timelines that mention the AD era non-canon, though, so now it's anybody's guess).
  • There's a split in the fandom as to whether Naruto takes place in a modern day Alternate Universe that lacks certain details (like guns or cars) or in a past that is modern. Rock Lee's Springtime of Youth lampshades this.

    Comic Books 
  • The first Dragon Age comic mini-series is notoriously hard to fit into the series' overarching timeline.

    Film — Animated 
  • The Lion King gives no indication of what time the story takes place. There are references that hint it is set in present day. The series confirms this.
    • A lot of the Disney Animated Canon has this; being fairy tales, they're just set "a long time ago." Sleeping Beauty actually does say "this is the fourteenth century" but most of the rest don't even have that.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Batman loves this trope. Reporters use very old fashioned cameras and a lot of the film's elements seem to be from The Forties, and yet Batman himself has very modern technology; far better than anything that existed when the movie was made!
  • Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story: Word of God has it that the movie was supposed to take place in the early 1990s, but the case of Anachronism Stew (including Peter renting Mona Lisa Smile on DVD, as well as the existence of digital cable) would suggest otherwise; it pretty much looks as if it could have been set in the present day.
  • Most of the time, The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking seems to be set around the 1940s (when the first books were written). However, the characters are shocked when a local man "invents" a flying machine and Pippi's sailing adventures with her father seem to be out of the 17th century.
  • 10,000 BC appears to be set in prehistoric times, with the main character encountering both a wooly mammoth and a saber tooth tiger. However, he ends up somewhere that appears to be ancient Egypt or at least Mesopotamia (an emperor is having a large pyramid built).
    • Based on the hints in the story, the civilization is meant to be an Atlantis-like place that gets destroyed in the events of the movie, but inspires the later, historical civilizations.
  • Brazil deliberately invokes this. It's set "Somewhere In The Twentieth Century"- whilst genre convention would normally dictate a dystopia of this type, it's also very Zeerusty and could just as easily be a twisted version of the then present-day world. It's left deliberately ambiguous, and in a way the precise setting isn't meant to be that important.

  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories take place sometime between 20,000 B.C. and 9500 B.C. Or as his short story "The Phoenix on the Sword" puts it, "Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas."
  • Warrior Cats appears to take place in the present day. However, nobody knows how long in the "past" the background lore goes back - Word of God has flip-flopped on whether the Clans have been in the forest for 50 years or 30 years, both of which are considered to be too short by fans considering all the leaders and generation gaps we know about. When you go all the way back - before the Clans were formed, before the Tribe was formed, back when their ancestors lived by the lake - there seems to be modern construction equipment; it describes yellow vehicles. Most people accept the series as taking place slightly in the future because of this, but it's not clear exactly when.
  • In Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, the time period is never mentioned. Word of God has said that she knows when it is set, and the location of the island it's set on, but she will not say.
  • Based on the hints, The Quantum Thief seems to take place approximately 300-400 years to the future, but time has become almost irrelevant in a world where most human beings have been uploaded into immortal computer systems that can alter their subjective sense of time by increasing or decreasing processing cycles. The oldest Sobornost Gogols that work in the Deep Time are believed to be at least tens of thousands of subjective years old.
  • It's hard to nail down exactly what period A Series of Unfortunate Events is set in, as "advanced" computers lie alongside telegrams and early mid 19th century automobiles and fashions, as well as practically medieval outlooks on child labour, medicine and the law.

    Live Action TV 
  • Pryors Place falls victim to this: the basic format of the show is Richard Pryor reminiscing about various childhood experiences, however his stories show his childhood friends in obviously 80s attire, not to mention such things as break dancing and arcades exist. It could all be justified, however, in that his stories are fictionalized versions of his life.
  • The U.N.I.T. stories in classic Doctor Who take place sometime in The Seventies, or Is it The Eighties? Not even The Doctor knows for sure. Not even UNIT itself knows for sure.
  • Similar to the above-mentioned Batman and the below-mentioned Batman: The Animated Series, Gotham's version of its title city has an tons of Anachronism Stew going on. The intent seems to be that Bruce Wayne is Batman in The Present Day, therefore this is The Past, but making it clear when in the past would tie down how long it's going to take Bruce to become Batman.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Ask the average person when Peanuts takes place and they'll state the The Sixties, maybe The Seventies. The fashion especially seems to pin the series as averting Comic-Book Time.. Except it doesn't. It's subtle but there are still references that pin strips at certain time periods. Harry Potter was referenced in a late 1999 strip putting the kids at modern day.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Several time periods you visit in Final Fantasy XIII-2 are labeled simply "??? AF" in the Historia Crux, meaning these episodes take place After the Fall but how many years after is unclear.
  • Nigel from The Lost Crown never does get a straight answer when he asks what year is it in Saxton, a region filled with anachronisms due to its numerous hauntings.
  • Live A Live avoids specifying dates at which chapters occur (although the timeframes are much clearer). Logs in the Science Fiction chapter even go so far as to hide dates with X's (although the "copyright" text in Captain Square minigame makes it clear it takes place no earlier than 22nd century).
  • EarthBound takes place in "199X". Its sequel is even less helpful.
  • The Famicom in Madotsuki's room suggests that Yume Nikki takes place at least as far back as The Eighties, but it could otherwise be set anywhere between then and the Turn of the Millennium (when the game was made). Just one of the many ambiguous details this setting has to offer.

  • Word of God states that the calendar saying that the year is 3031 in Ava's Demon is not the BCE/CE calendar we're familiar with.

    Western Animation