Meaningful Background Event
When some critical event is due to happen, it usually happens all of a sudden and this moment is accompanied by camera focusing and music effects. But think of a scene where we can see the event going on for some time. No Ominous Latin Chanting
, no triumphant music, just some sort of silent background process, which an attentive viewer can notice some seconds earlier than his attention will be drawn to it forcefully by some means.
The similar Funny Background Event
is used less for plot development and more for comedy.
See also Dramatic Irony
and Chekhov's Gag
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- In Paprika, it's entirely possible to miss Osanai's bloody hand moving across the glass in the background of a mostly still shot of Dr. Chiba and Shima.
- Before the sudden and gruesome death of General Regius in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, we actually see the killer moving closer to the victim in the background with each shot of the room they're in. But since she was disguised as a Living Prop, it's quite easy for the audience's mind to ignore it the first time around.
- In the Suzumiya Haruhi anime, during the episode "Live Alive", we can see Haruhi and Yuki with their musical instruments walking through the background, foreshadowing their unexpected involvement in the ENOZ concert. Earlier on, the two uninjured ENOZ members can briefly be seen running past in the foreground while the main characters are talking. And, even earlier on, all four members of ENOZ can be seen arguing with the student council representative in the background, as shown up close in the flashback later in the episode.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, while Al, Heinkel, Marcoh and Yoki's car breaks down in Central, you can see Fuhrer Bradley walking in the background.
- Code Geass has a rather divisive example. The death and return of Nunnally vi Britannia was seen as an Ass Pull by some segments of the fandom. Others, however, pointed out some of these in the death episode, particularly the presence of a second, identical transport plane in the hangar. Additionally, Rollo is sent to retrieve Nunnally, while Sayoko rescues the captive Kallen, gets her to her mecha, and still manages to find Nunnally first. This doesn't make sense unless Rollo found the wrong plane and assumed Nunnally was in it without actually bothering to check.
- During Zero's rescue of the Black Knights near the beginning of Season 2, Villetta can be seen sighing in relief at it going down successfully.
- In the background of episode 6 of Persona 4: The Animation, Nanako leaves a television show playing while the conversation with Yu and Dojima is going on. The words are fully intelligible, and it's very obviously reminiscent of Naoto's show on the Midnight Channel, much later on.
Mr. Experiment: Thanks for tuning in, all you curious kiddos! With the body of an adult and the heart of a child, lovely whiskers and gentlemanly ways, I'm Mr. Experiment! [...] In this corner let's try to solve mysteries found in your everyday lives!
- In episode 17 of Legend of Galactic Heroes, while Yang Wen-li and his staff are having a discussion in the central command centre of the newly-captured Iserlohn Fortress, crews of technicians can be seen in the background dismantling the ornate Imperial decorations and replacing them with plain Alliance-themed fixtures.
- Attack on Titan does this in Chapter 42, with the revelation that Reiner and Bertholdt are the Armored Titan and the Colossal Titan, respectively. Absolutely nothing in the page layout or tone suggests this conversation happening off to the side is important, until what's being said sinks in. Instead, all the attention is focused on the other characters discussing their next move, with the layout suggesting this is the important part to follow.
- Occurs in The Lion King Adventures. There are several holes scattered around the area Simba, Nala and Haiba are walking through in The Prince and the Frog. This foreshadows the sinister Camp Kazi in Dig It.
- In Forward, during the "Charity" episode, there are several minor scenes involving Zoe walking around with a child from the village named Katie, whose parents were killed in a raid, and whom Zoe became attached to out of a sense of maternal protectiveness. Katie's full name is Kathryn Wade, and she's an "Inducer" psychic who escaped from the Academy, and can apparently control emotions and perceptions in people around her - and is apparently behind everything that happened in that arc of the story.
- Rare literary example: In With Strings Attached, the four and the Hunter find themselves on a ledge overlooking a 500-foot-wide canyon that they have to get across. Paul and John get into an inane argument about whether or not Paul should jump across and thus break the ledge, while behind them, the Hunter calmly sets up a series of magic stepping squares across the canyon.
- In The Dresden Files novel White Night, when Harry and Elaine are heading for Thomas' boat at the marina, there's mention of a boat with a particularly bad engine belching smoke. It gets passed off. The boat in question is carrying Madrigal Raith, a White Court vampire with a grudge against Thomas and Harry, and his ghoul hit squad. The boat then attacks Thomas' ship a chapter later.
- In the first book of Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, So You Want To Be a Wizard, has Nita waking up rather disappointed after she's taken the Wizard's Oath and nothing is different. Except a careful reader will notice that now 'Sun' is capitalized, even if not at the front of a sentence...
- These show up occasionally in the Wheel of Time series. Sometimes a person (or persons) slipping into the scene is slipped into a paragraph. A paragraph or two later, someone notices that he (or they) are carrying knives. It's a gray man attack.
- In Purple Hibiscus the main character's father is head of a newspaper that repeatedly refuses to censor its stories so the government looks better. It's very much out of focus until the main editor is violently killed by a parcel bomb
Live Action TV
- In one episode of Boy Meets World, the characters are sitting around in the student center having a comedic conversation while Cory gets in a fight with his teacher in the patio outside. The event is brought to the foreground when Cory shoves the teacher through the doorway.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- In "The Body" is noted for its complete absence of any incidental music. This is used for great effect when Dawn goes into the morgue to look at her mother's dead body and a vampire silently rises in the background.
- Also in "After Life", when Xander is on the phone to Willow and Anya after the Buffy impostor attacks them, and just out of focus, we see Anya walking back into the room, possessed.
- In "Conversations with Dead People," Dawn is alone in the house, and strange things are happening. As she tries to figure out what's happening, the camera suddenly shifts angle, and we see her mother's body in the background. Cue Scare Chord as she suddenly realizes what's behind her, and turns to see nothing.
- Spike can be seen in the background of a minor scene in the two episodes prior to his main appearance in the series, dancing in The Bronze the first time, and in class with our heroes the second.
- In the episode "Him," Principal Woods is oblivious to Buffy carefully taking aim at him with a missile launcher as Spike interrupts her and then Buffy starts chasing him, cartoony-like back and forth. Finally, Woods looks up and see no one around, and shrugs it off.
- In the Community episode The Psychology of Letting Go, Abed has a SUBPLOT play out in the background of other characters' stories - he meets and bonds with a pregnant girl, gets in a fight with her boyfriend, and delivers the baby. This is then lampshaded in a later Season 2 episode - when Shirley goes into labor, everyone is surprised to learn that Abed has experience with the situation.
- In "Cooperative Calligraphy", you can very briefly see Annie's Boobs picking the pen up off the table just as Troy says "I want to lick it!"
- Doctor Who
- In the episode Midnight, a videoscreen behind the Doctor briefly shows Rose mouthing his name. None of the characters notice. This is foreshadowing for the next episode.
- Rose appearing unnoticed on video screens was one of the running themes for series 4 that replaced the Arc Words of the past three series, with her showing up at some point in nearly every issue.
- Also in Doctor Who, The Waters of Mars: the first person to get infected by the Flood does so in the background of the shot with his back to us, with lots of jerking and writhing, so that we know something is wrong and are yelling for the character in the foreground to get out of there.
- In Forest of the Dead, while the Doctor is talking to the Vashta Nerada, Other Dave says "We should go now, Doctor!" repeatedly. It turns out that he has been eaten, and the words are just his communication device ghosting.
- In "The Time Of Angels", you can notice Amy occasionally slipping numbers into her dialog. It's so fast you'll have trouble noticing it, and you might not even pick up that she's counting down. Eventually the Doctor notices, and realises that it means the Weeping Angels are possessing her For the Evulz.
- Spin-Off series Torchwood continues this - in the episode "Captain Jack Harkness", a "Vote Saxon" poster is seen on the dance hall door.
- In ER, when Doctor Pratt was seeing off a patient up on the roof, there were two faint lights behind him. Then, when Pratt turned around, we see that the two lights collided. A commercial plane and a private jet had crashed.
- in "Safe", while Simon and Kaylee are arguing in the general store, River can be observed in the background wandering away, setting up the rest of the episode.
- In the episode "Objects in Space", while (almost) everyone's asleep, Serenity is boarded by a bounty hunter looking for River. The hunter's ship could actually be seen in the background in the previous episode, although its significance wasn't immediately apparent.
- In Fringe every single episode has an observer in the background of an important scene.
- In Ghostwatch, the evil poltergeist "Mr Pipes" can be seen several times at the back of a room, etc., meaning you could either jump or not notice it at all.
- In the How I Met Your Mother (Wham) episode "Bad News", numbers starting at 50 and counting down can be seen strewn about random locations throughout the entire episode. When the "countdown" finally hits zero, Marshall learns his father's just died.
- In "Drumroll Please", behind Ted first seeing and falling in love with Victoria, you can see Marshall first tasting and falling in love with the best cake of his life; a comparison that comes up later in the episode.
- In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger episode 13, you can briefly see a man in a red shirt making the Monster of the Week obey a crosswalk sign. In the very next episode we learn that the man is Kyosuke Jinnai, former Carranger leader Red Racer and the focus of that particular episode.
- In the first episode of Kamen Rider Double, during Shotaro's phone conversation with Phillip, the Magma Dopant can be seen for a brief few seconds before Shotaro could bat an eye at it.
- The LOST episode The Other 48 Days opens with a beach scene. Several dots appear in the blue sky, which slowly get bigger and reveal themselves as the tail and other pieces of Oceanic Flight 815 hurtling towards the island.
- Mad Men did this well with JFK's assassination as two men are in an office having a conversation with the TV on with very low volume. The report becomes a special report, but neither pay attention as they are busy in their conversation.
- In The Middleman there is a scene where the focus is on the Middleman speaking to his Mission Control, who is telling him that the Monster of the Week MUST be captured alive. In the background, the Middleman's sidekick is shown finding, fighting, and ultimately killing the fish. Really more of a Funny Background Event, but plot-relevant.
- The Nanny did it once (combining with the humorous cousin): when Fran describes to Mr. Sheffield the reactions of children being disappointed by their parents, C.C. is on the patio acting out these symptoms on Niles. Then commented on by Fran "And that concludes today's audio-visual demonstration."
- In the final episode of the second season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, during the confrontation between Weaver and the Connors in her office, one can see the explosive HK drone that's about to crash into the building out the window a few moments before it becomes very relevant.
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode The Brocha Divide, you can see one of the Touched in the forest behind Daniel and Teal'c as they tend to the body of a woman. They actually attack a couple of minutes later.
- In an early episode of True Blood, two characters are talking in the foreground. In the background, a hanging corpse is visible through a doorway for several minutes before the characters draw attention to it.
- In the Season 2 premier of The West Wing, Josh is waiting for a plane when several Secret Service agents enter the frame around him, one-by-one. It takes a bit before the audience notices, but Josh doesn't until the President enters from offscreen.
- In the mini-series Whitechapel the camera would often linger on a red-headed nurse who worked in the hospital that the investigators keep visiting. She ends up being the Ripper's last victim.
- From Ultra Seven: In the episode "Escape from Area X" Dan is seen covering his ears while an Ultra Garrison staff officer is explaining the concept of virtual space to Kiriyama. This may look like a blooper, but the Monster of the Week hiding in that virtual space emits an ear-piercing ring that bothers and eventually harms humans, but it can and does stun a Human Alien like Dan. It seemed like Dan's hearing could pick up the sound no matter how faint. Cue the ear-piercing ring coming out of the radio a few seconds later.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation has one that almost becomes a Chekhov's Gun when the musical score turns ominous seemingly for no reason when Picard orders a fairly routine operation. This becomes meaningful later when it is revealed that the order Picard gave is what prevented life from arising on any planet in the Alpha Quadrant, summarily wiping out every living thing seen in Star Trek up until that point.
- Marble Hornets milks this for all it's worth. Many times in the videos Slender Man is visible in the background standing statue stiff and staring at the viewer. And except for Entry #7, no one ever notices him.
- There is also Entry #12, where the cast seems to notice him but not his strange features.
- Also, look very carefully at the window in Entry #19. Masky peeks in for a couple of frames before coming into the room.
- In the DVD Commentary, the creators joked that all of MH can be summed up as: "Agh! Look at the background!"
- Slender Man's appearances anywhere.
- There is a man hiding in the shadows during the video conversation in chapter 17 of Broken Saints. He proceeds to kill minor character Sandra.
- In BioShock 1, the first time you see a Little Sister Annex (the metal things built into the walls where Little Sisters come out of), there's one staring at you for a few moments. The object isn't a visual focal-point for the player, and quite a distance away from you when it happens, so many players miss it.
- Psychonauts has a few of these these.
- Multiple times throughout the scene where the Lungfish is attempting to fish for Lili and Raz.
- While ascending the insane asylum, it's easy not to notice the sobs or the flashes of a girl's image. (Unless you have subtitles on...) It's Sheegor, trying to warn Raz off.
- Throughout the Meat Circus level, one might notice a strange blue apparition appearing randomly to scare the crap out of players. Raz's father is trying to break into Raz's mind to save him.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - During the cutscene for the 'Wu Zi Mu' mission, a man in a black jacket and green jeans is sitting casually on a car in the background. That man is Claude, the player character of Grand Theft Auto III, who is Catalina's new boyfriend in the next mission and who gives CJ his car garage in San Fierro.
- Most of the G-Man's appearances in Half-Life. The first is even before all the trouble starts - you look through a window and see a scientist arguing with him.
- Actually, you can see him even earlier, before you get off the tram.
- The advisers can be seen in monitors throughout Half-Life 2: Episode One.
- Well actually, the first one shows up on a monitor at the very end of Half-Life 2, having a discussion with Breen.
- When Princess Peach's birthday cake is first seen in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you may notice for a second that the 'decorations' are actually the hair/headgear of the Koopalings.
- In Brütal Legend, upon arriving at the Kill Master's domain, there's a difficult to see event occurring just above the default camera position (and above the focal points of the scene): Razor Girls, who will not be introduced for a couple of missions, are peering through the holes in the rock building to see if Ophelia is going to be okay.
- In Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth there are several instances early in the game where you get visions of being watched. If you look in the right direction at the right moment, you may catch glimpses of your watchers on the rooftops, hinting at what's waiting for you later in the game. Also, if you look through certain windows in the starting area, you can see various disturbing sights, such as corpses being dragged away.
- A number of suspense scenes from The Lost Crown have small yet creepy details in the background, like the face of an Ager brother looking on when Nigel is attacked by flies in the Nightmare Room.
- A lot of plot points in Golden Sun games tend to be foreshadowed in NPC dialogue or thoughts, browsing through bookshelves in random houses, or the like.
- In Rule of Rose, when Jennifer first goes up to the Old Mansion (first part of the intro), take a gander up at the roof region; most players miss it, but the airship's billowing form can be briefly (like 1 to 2 seconds) seen as a dark shadow overhead while a cloud passes in front.
- Another scene that this happens is in the first half of the April chapter. You are given the task to find a beautiful butterfly in the background; after rescuing Brown, when you're doing 'Find' commands with him you will sometimes notice the little boy from the opening occasionally running by if you have Jennifer facing the camera. This sometimes serves as a reminder that the game's creepy as sin.
- Several moments before the terrible Player Punch with Brown occurs, Wendy is visible in a window outside near the coffin (after the cut scene) if you rotate your camera around while walking in the orphanage.
- During an early cutscene in the second No More Heroes game, a man falls from the sky and destroys a car across the street from where Travis and Sylvia are sitting, without even getting a notice or mention in their conversation. What at first seemed like a random incident turns out to be the final boss' insta-kill.
- In Kingdom Hearts II, Stitch can be seen crawling around the hidden laboratory a couple times before Goofy notices him on the ceiling.
- Batman: Arkham City uses this five times in row during the opening. When the player first starts walking through into the city they can see Black Mask, one of the villains, getting forced into a corner by some guards. Shortly after while standing in line they see a prisoner that looks an awful lot like Deadshot standing in line and hear him say that Bruce Wayne is "on his list". Shortly after that as the player walks towards the gates they just barely see Azrael standing on the top of a nearby building. Soon after you get the batsuit you can encounter a group of doctors, one of whom has been disfigured and is wearing bandages that make him look just like Hush. Finally during one of Joker's messages you can just barely hear someone that sounds oddly similar to the Joker coughing and whispering in the background. Turns out later that the "Joker" you've been interacting with is actually Clayface in disguise.
- Actually with Joker this happens a lot throughout the game, as if you notice closely he always puts two images of himself. Such as in the clock tower there are two Joker statues holding the TVs and when Harley steals the cure she puts a playing card of Joker and a picture of a playing card, as if stating that there are two Jokers and one is a fake.
- At the end of the Dragon Age II: Legacy DLC, before Hawke strikes the final blow on Corypheus, we see his eyes turn briefly black and Janeka or Larius stagger in the background. It's heavily implied that Corypheus is now possessing them, since they adopt a large Slasher Smile as they leave
- Mass Effect 2: On the Derelict Reaper, if you look closely when you first enter the room with the Dragon's Teeth, you can see Legion walking along the upper catwalk, several minutes before he finally makes his dramatic entrance.
- In Hatoful Boyfriend, during the summer holiday Hiyoko decides to go for a run, and several backgrounds proceed to pass by. One of them consists of the ruins of several skyscrapers, hinting that things aren't quite as cheerful as they first seem. Also, during Yuuya's route you can find him chatting briefly with the janitor, who has a role more fully revealed in BBL.
- One event that shows up on many routes is Hiyoko finding a student's lost ID card and returning it to a member of the faculty she trusts. On Dr. Shuu's route, it's obvious that she's helping him hide the evidence of his... experimentation. In the paid version, she can recognize it as belonging to Anghel if she's on his route.
- In World of Warcraft, early on in the Terrace of Endless Spring, you can see Tsulong fighting with the Sha of Fear off in the distance while you fight the trash and the Protectors of the Endless. After the Protectors are defeated, Tsulong gets corrupted and you face him as the second boss.
- This trope is the only reason this Order of the Stick page isn't filler. Elan tells Haley that he just found she was right about his father. Until it became foreshadowing for Malack's method of having children.
- In this General Protection Fault comic, Fooker gets a call from his brother that turns out to be much more meaningful than he lets on.
- In Drowtales, Shodun, a previously introduced character and a member of the Big Bad Nidraa'chal, appears briefly in the foreground of a scene, and then later shows up out of focus through several pages before coming into the foreground again, where she blasts Sandaur out a window.
- The Fox Sister: The Kumiho is shown in human form, presumably nursing her shoulder which was hurt in a fight with Soot Bull. Her shadow on the wall behind her shows her fox form, licking said shoulder.
- In Chapter 5 of The Dragon Doctors, while Kili and Greg are wandering through their linked Mental Worlds, readers can catch a couple glimpses of the Crax in the background before he finally shows up in person.
- El Goonish Shive: While Rick and Rhea discuss drinking in moderation, a pair of party guests are visible in the background and one of them gradually transforms into a girl without anyone noticing. Also, an attentive reader would note that the other person in the background was seen in an earlier strip as a guy. Dan hints at all this in the commentary by insisting that there is nothing else to comment on after he comments on the events in the foreground.
- Schlock Mercenary: A very perceptive viewer might spot that amongst the prisoners that the Toughs have rescued from the Buuthandi, there's an Ob'enn in panel 2. This becomes rather more significant nearly 4 months later when it becomes apparent that Petey has been engineered such that he has to take orders from biological Ob'enns with suitable military rank.
- In one PVP Online strip, Cole watches Francis via webcam as he stands in line for Star Wars Episode III (around the time Episode II was released), worrying about him and hoping he will be alright. In the second to last panel, before Brent reassures Cole, you can see Francis walking in, the first indication that he put a robotic double in his place.
- In Final Fantasy III Trilogy, while the heroes are answering the bridge troll's questions, you can briefly see Kefka pull Celes offscreen and then replace her after taking her likeness.
- In Red vs. Blue, in Season 2, Church and Tucker are having a conversation, and someone in blue armor just runs by in Blue Base. In Season 3, it's revealed to be Church from the future (or "past") trying to fix everything that went wrong in the past two seasons. Didn't work well.
- Until Season 8, where it is revealed that the whole time travel loop he went through (aside from the idea of making copies of himself) was just a sample of Cold-Blooded Torture For the Evulz by Gamma. So it was probably just Caboose after all.
- Crosses over with a Funny Background Event in the first Tankmen cartoon. During one scene there's a gag in the background where we see a soldier get shot right after learning that he's about to have a son with his wife. It seems like just a minor one-off joke in the background. Over the course of the various Tankmen cartoons we learn who he was, how he joined the Tankmen, how he met Sgt. John Captain, his origins, some of his personality, and who killed him.
- In Worm, during Skitter's first bank robbery, Tattletale is described as wandering off to the bank manager's office, ostensibly to use the computer systems there to monitor the response of the authorities and the security cameras. She's even able to give the Undersiders some warning when the Wards are scrambled. We find out later that she used the opportunity to skim from the robbery's tank and bank assets for her own personal funds. This is one of the instances used to build a financial powerbase to rival Coil's.
- In the Futurama pilot, Nibbler's shadow can be seen for a split second after Fry falls into the cryogenic chamber. You'll have to be looking for it to notice. In another episode, Nibbler's eye can also be seen sticking out of a trashcan in a flashback. As with the shadow example, it's only there for a split second and you have to pay close attention to see it.
- Used in X-Men: Evolution, not in terms of plot, but theme. After the kids are outed as mutants, there's an episode about whether mutants should be allowed to go to the same schools as 'normal' people. In the shot when they walk back into the school for the first time, there's a black kid in the background drinking from a water fountain; a clear nod to a rather less Fantastic Racism.
- In the Young Justice episode "Infiltrator", Miss Martian and Artemis are supposed to be gaurding the perimeter, but start arguing over how Artemis embarrassed Superboy. While they are distracted, the assassin Cheshire can be seen in the background, somersaulting over the fence and sneaking in behind them.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has several in the episode "Keep Calm and Flutter On." While Discord enchants several beavers in a subtle-yet-not-so-subtle way near the beginning of the episode, and they build a notably huge dam by the end of it, the beavers can be seen hauling logs and sending them downriver throughout the time between. They're easy to miss the first time with Discord being quite the scene-stealer.
- An early episode of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes introduces villains Amora the Enchantress and the Executioner. Before they make their official debut attacking the heroes, they're first seen several scenes earlier as just two civilians walking past the Avengers Mansion.
- In the zombie episode of Six Teen several minor characters are seen being turned into zombies in the background.
- The Moral Orel episode "Innocence" has Orel come into his teacher Miss Sculptham's classroom to ask for advice. She freaks out (because all the adults are avoiding him) and puts away her newspaper she was cutting out. The paper reads "Rapist's Profile Emerges: He Doesn't Like Blondes" and less noticeably "Victims Share Common Characteristics". She's shown to still have this newspaper article the next episode.
- Due to change blindness, you can miss this happening right in front of you, even if you are told it is happening, unless you are told exactly what you are looking for. Visit the University of Illinois Visual Cognition Lab and try the seven "Gradual changes to scenes" videos. You know in advance that something is being added or taken away from a scene you are watching, but many (most?) people will miss most of them.
- There is also the Selective Attention Test video, in which two groups of people pass a basketball each back and forth, and half the audience is supposed to keep track of how many times one of the groups passed the ball. Most people fail to notice the guy in the gorilla suit walk in, thump his chest, and walk out partway through the video.
- A similar test had students who volunteered for a survey who were met by a receptionist and given a form to fill out. This receptionist dropped a pen, bent down behind the counter to pick it up and a completely different person stood up and continued the conversation. A large number of the participants didn't notice.
- This trope was how a purse snatcher got nabbed.
- A Tampa reporter was filing a report about high gas prices when two cars had a serious collision in the intersection right behind her. The anchorwoman deadpanned: "They must have been shocked by the gas prices."