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Flash Back Effects
"Initiate super-wavy flashback effect!"

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:
  • Explicitly setting the date of the scene through narration or subtitles (or text boxes in comicbooks). "Seven years ago..."
  • Using an Idiosyncratic Wipe or Dissolve to mark the transition from Present to Past. May or may not be accompanied by a unique sound effect.
  • Make the scene in the flashback look or sound different from the present in some way. Common ways of doing this include:
    • Blurring it.
    • Showing it Deliberately Monochrome, or more subtly tinted.
    • For High Definition-era television shows, making the picture square, and/or adding faux-VHS artifacts and removing detail to give it a 'dated' look.
    • Add a misty border around the edge of the screen.
    • Apply an echo or other sound effect to everyone's voice.
    • In animation or comics, apply an Art Shift.
    • For books, changing the typeface.
    • In comic books, changing the panel border style.
    • In manga, making the negative space between panels black.

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

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • One Piece uses the common black negative space for several years ago and gray space when the event was more recent.
  • 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..."
  • Mobile Fighter G Gundam 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 Fullmetal Alchemist: 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 these (misty border around the edges of the screen with echoes to everyone's voice) where in the original Japanese version there were none.
    • They did the same to Yu-Gi-Oh! and probably many other of their properties, but none as intrusively as Sonic X.
  • 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 ElfQuest story Recognition, Brandon McKinney 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

Literature
  • The Yiddish Policemens Union is written in present tense, but shifts into past tense for flashback scenes.
  • The Pilots Wife. by Anita Shreve, does the reverse: the main story is in past tense, but flashbacks are in present tense.
  • In-Universe, the Cho-Ja remote-viewing magic in Mistress of the Empire is described as presenting a wavery image with muted colors when used to view the past, in contrast to a crystal-clear image when viewing the present.

Live-Action TV
  • Dutch TV presenter Bart de Graaff had this in his channel / program "Waar kan ik je 's nachts voor wakker maken?" (What can I wake you up for, in the middle of the night?) as part of an interview series with famous Dutch people, and then revisited a year later when he would actually wake them up in the middle of the night with the thing in question. It'd start off in the middle of the night going "Do you remember when I talked to [X]? Let's find out!" and then draw wavey lines with his hands in front of the camera making the screen go all wiggly.
  • 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 occurred 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:
    • This sketch in episode 21 lampshaded it:
      <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.
    • The "Puss in Boots" sketch in episode 28:
      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. In one episode they got the effects for "flashback" and "fantasy sequence" mixed-up.
  • 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.
  • In MythQuest's 11th episode, all the flashbacks are sepia-toned and have a slight reverb sound.
  • MythBusters shows flashbacks to previous episodes with washed-out colors, with some color accents.
  • UFO episode "Court Martial". The teaser shows Colonel Foster being sentenced to death. The first act starts with a shimmering effect on the screen like falling water, then continues with the beginning of the events that led to the sentencing.
    • "Do you remember the Dalotek Affair, six months ago?" The Dalotek Affair...the Dalotek Affair...
  • In the Supernatural episode "What Is And What Should Never Be" (S02, Ep20), before and after the brief flashbacks to the figures Dean saw in his closet and the prior appearance of the woman in white, there were flashes of bright white. The flashbacks were also desaturated.

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.

Radio

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.

Videogames
  • 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 & 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.
    • But the mission briefing shows physical maps and B&W photos of the targets instead of the usual computer imagery.
  • 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 fanservice and a Shout-Out to anyone who has played the original game.
  • While not exactly a flashback, during the boss battle reruns in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, everything except for Link and certain particle effects is rendered in grayscale. The normal boss battle music for each fight is replaced with a trippy and more electronic version of the theme.
  • Despite Dr. Nefarious's Lampshade Hanging, Ratchet & Clank doesn't usually use the classic harp and wave dissolve combo for flashbacks - a quick Art Shift from 3D to 2D does the trick most of the time.

Webcomics
  • 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.
  • Darths & Droids: Uses sepia for flashback panels.
  • DOUBLE K. "And what's this?! The ever-darkening panel gutters would seem to indicate the approach...OF A FLASHBACK"
  • El Goonish Shive uses the rounded panel corners variant for both flashbacks and Imagine Spots.
  • Exterminatus Now: Toys with it in a Leaning on the Fourth Wall moment in this strip.
  • The Fox Sister uses reddish monochrome colors with faded edges for a flashback panel.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • A later flashback chapter has slightly desaturated/sepia-ish colors throughout.
  • Irregular Webcomic! uses both the misty border and the sepia tone effects.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.
  • The Strangerhood: Every time Wade wants to tell a story, the screen goes wavy and leads into a flashback. Eventually Sam gets fed up with this.
    Sam: "Quit making these stupid wavy lines"
    Wade: "Don't fight it, man."
    Sam: "You're making me dizzy"
    Wade: "Don't fight the wavy lines"

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 Bros.. 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.
  • Thomas The Tank Engine And Friends uses misty borders for flashbacks, and often ripple dissolves to transition to them.


Flashback EchoFlashbacks and ChronologyFlashback Nightmare
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alternative title(s): Flashback Effect; Dream Effects
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