The music box is broken, or is it? It starts to play, and a haunting tune fills the air...Specifically using music for nostalgic reminisces or flashback scenes, in the form of a music box. There's usually a fair amount of pining for lost innocence and/or love. The opposite of Ominous Music Box Tune when the tune sounds much more sinister...
—Spike Spiegel, Cowboy Bebop
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Anime and Manga
- Lost Universe tends to feature a music box whenever the main character talks or thinks about his past.
- Cowboy Bebop has two. The first episode, "Asteroid Blues", opens with a music box track titled Memory. The two-part episode "Jupiter Jazz" features a music box as a plot point. The track used for the melody is Space Lion (organ version).
- The Vision of Escaflowne has a nostalgic music box, Millerna has a flashback montage to it.
- Elfen Lied, with the show's opening song. Among other things, Nyu can become Lucy when hearing it.
- Sailor Moon; there's a music box locket in the first season of the anime. This was inspired by a similarly shaped watch from the manga.
- Noir has a watch with a music box inside of it as a major plot point. The box's song often plays over a flashback that has more and more revealed as the series goes on.
- Aaeru in Simoun has a wind-powered music box given to her by her grandfather. The music it plays is actually a flashback on a cultural scale, though, as "The Door To A New World" is a song passed down from the earliest generations of Simoun sibyllae.
- Nadja Applefield from Ashita no Nadja has one of these among her Memento Mac Guffins. It was made as a gift for her Missing Mom, then pawned away in Paris, and almost casually reached her. It later becomes very important, when we find a certain music sheet inside of it...
- A recurring song during the Arabasta arc in One Piece was a music box theme that played during Vivi's flashbacks.
- There's one of these in Pandora Hearts that crops up so often that it's pretty much the musical equivalent of Arc Words.
- Code Geass has "If I Were a Bird", which plays whenever Rolo's locket opens, as a symbol of his happy times with Lelouch. It also plays in full force during his Heroic Sacrifice.
- This is featured in Axis Powers Hetalia. Russia's character song starts out with a slightly eerie music box melody.
- When alone, Suitengu of Speed Grapher obsessively plays a music box with a melancholic tune and thinks about his past. This ultimately leads to a flashback indicating this is the only possession left from his happy childhood, which was destroyed by loan sharks. Making things interesting, Saiga, the hero, independently whistles the same tune, foreshadowing the fact there's a connection between himself and Suitengu.
- In Full Moon o Sagashite, Mitsuki learns of a song her father's band once performed called "Eternal Snow"note . When she learns more about her mom and dad, among other things she finds a music box that plays the song's melody. From this point, the music box is played in almost every episode.
- In Midori Days, Midori has a music box on her bedside table where her real body is laying. Its melody is heard once or twice coming from the box itself when her mother opens it, but the rest of the time the melody is used in Midori's flashbacks.
- Candy White Andree from Candy Candy gets one from her friend Alistair, nicknamed "the Box of Happiness". It becomes a Tragic Keepsake when Alistair dies in World War I.
- The Steins;Gate anime has a heartbreaking music box reprise of its main theme, Gate of Steiner, played in the later episodes as Okabe tries to restore the innocence of the lab's early days before everything went to hell. More specifically, it echoes his memories of Mayuri.
- In Lady Jewelpet, Lillian finds a music box and its music makes her feel sad, but she doesn't understand why. It turns out to be because Lillian was a doll, and both her and the music box belonged to Diana, who cherished them both.
- In The Rows of Cherry Trees, Yukiko's late father gave her one and she often plays it to remember him.
- The movie adaptation of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha features a Title Theme Drop of "Innocent Starter" when Nanoha resolves to become friends with Fate. It's rather appropriate if one is familiar with the song's lyrics.
Films — Animation
- Anastasia: The music box given to the young Anastasia as a gift. It ends up in the possession of Dimitri, while the accompanying locket functions as an Orphan's Plot Trinket for the amnesiac Anya.
- The Little Mermaid III: Ariel's Beginning: King Triton gives his wife a music box as a gift. She is then killed while trying to save it from being crushed. Later, Ariel finds the music box, and its haunting melody helps persuade her father to lift the ban on music by reminding him of his late queen.
- A music box version of the smooth jazz song featured in one scene appears in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.
- A music box version of the main theme shows up in The Sky Crawlers.
Films — Live-Action
- For a Few Dollars More used two pocket watches, one belonging to Mortimer and the other carried by Indio, that played the same haunting melody, which was incorporated masterfully into the Morricone score. As it turns out, Indio's watch once belonged to Mortimer's sister, whom Mortimer seeks to avenge.
- Pirates of the Caribbean has Davy Jones and Tia Dalma's music box lockets, which is the only thing shown to be able to drive the love-hardened vindictive sadist to tears.
- Batman & Robin. Mister Freeze has turned an alarm clock, a glass jar, and an ice sculpture of his wife into an impromptu music box. He stares intently at it turn, but can only manage a single tear (that quickly freezes and sublimates given his icy demeanor).
- To Kill a Mockingbird has a music-box-like theme at the beginning. The composer said he wanted the music to sound very pure and innocent.
- The Blue Lagoon - film version, has a music box that plays Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9, #2 in E flat major. Emmeline says "That's Chopin! I can play it on the piano." It's used by the kids growing up as a connection with/nostalgic reminder of their life before the island. Sometimes they dance to it. None of this is in the book.
- The song "The Music Box Blues" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
- Ayumi Hamasaki's song "HANABI" opens with a music box, which continues to play as the song goes on. The song lyrics speak about a loved one who has died.
- Emilie Autumn's "Gothic Lolita" opens with a music box that grows more and more distorted until the true song begins. The song's theme is lost innocence, so the music box sets a spooky tone that fits with the rest of the song.
- Britney Spears has two songs using this sound affect: "Everytime" and "Baby Boy"
- Abney Park's "The Secret Life of Dr. Calgori" starts off this way, shortly to be joined by steam valves and clockwork-like rhythmic percussion. Appropriate for the story of a 1800's era Mad Scientist slowly losing his memory.
- "Herr Drosselmeyer's Doll" is much the same, but with less nostalgia and more... allure.
- Siouxsie and the Banshees' 'Mother' on their 1979 'Join Hands' album. The eerily decelerating music box plays 'Oh Mein Papa' whilst the dual lyric details a love/hate relationship with the narrator's mother.
- Surprised the opening of Voltaire's "The Man Upstairs isn't here, always get it, and the above mentioned "Gothic Lolita confused slightly.
- The Rammstein song "Spieluhr" involves one.
- Japanese singer/cellist Kanon Wakeshima has one in the instrumentals "Sweet Dreams" and "Shakespeare No Wasuremono ~Epilogue~", as well as in the beginning of the single "Lolitawork Libretto ~Storytelling by Solita~".
- A vocaloid song, "Music Box of Reminiscence" by MOTHY is this.
- The monkey music box in The Phantom of the Opera. It comes up in the prologue as the first item associated with Christine and what happened in the bowls of the opera. The tune it plays is "Masquerade", the opening number for the second act. (In that big dance with massive decorated costumes, some dancers wear monkey costumes in reference to it.) It is used as a nostalgic music box during the finale, when it begins to play down in the Phantom's lair and he, despairing, remembers the words of the song: "Hide your face so the world will never find you."
- Anastasia, like the movie it's adapted from, features the Orphan's Plot Trinket music box given to the title character as a child; the entire score was expanded or re-written to make the score more fitting for a fully fledged stage musical but not only did the music box's theme stay the same, it became a Leitmotif that reoccurred several times and in several songs throughout the show.
- Yasunori Mitsuda loves this trope, as the nostalgic themes in his best-known games all have music-box versions of the main theme. In fact the music box themes almost all have the same track name: Kokkoro (Heart or Soul).
- Chrono Trigger's nostalgic theme is eventually expanded upon in at least one of the endings, in a song called "To Good Friends" - it starts off identically, but eventually segues into a fully-orchestrated arrangement of the same theme, and it is beautiful.
- Radical Dreamers and Chrono Cross
- Bonus points for actually appearing in the game.
- Disgaea's main theme is music box playing.
- Final Fantasy VIII - The Laguna flashbacks involving Ellone and her daughter.
- Final Fantasy V does a similar thing with Bartz's music box in his old home in Lix. Never mind that he's listening to it and recalling the night his mother died while a squatter bard sits there impassively . . . it's still a pleasant tune.
- Final Fantasy IX has a phonograph music box at the Inn in the Black Mage Village. If you have certain special items purchased at the auction house in Treno, it will play pieces from earlier Final Fantasy titles corresponding to the special items.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky has a nostalgic theme played on a music box that plays in scenes where you and your partner are feeling especially tender, as well as when you're about to go to bed for the night.
- EarthBound - The final rendition of the Eight Melodies, just before entering Magicant.
- In the prequel, you learn the first part of the game's version of the Eight Melodies from a music box that was in the possessed doll you just fought. Also, the ending tune starts and ends with a music box rendition of the Eight Melodies.
- Fable II starts with you in your childhood, trying to buy a magical music box. The music box's theme sometimes appears in the game's score, particularly during flashbacks and dreams of your childhood. It's also the weapon you use to defeat Lucian.
- Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island has an opening theme that sounds as though it is being played on a music box (it even slows down at one point, and has to be rewound). This theme reappears in Yoshi's Island DS, and is the best song on the soundtrack, despite being played in a different key.
- Paper Mario features this in both The Thousand-Year Door and Super Paper Mario with specifically designated "Memory" themes that used a music-box-like effect when a particularly sad event was happening.
- Speaking of Mario, the Lumas' theme from Super Mario Galaxy. Bonus points for being played as the universe is crushed into a supermassive black hole.
- On the "The End" screen of Baten Kaitos, a music box rendition of the game's main theme plays.
- Tail Concerto has a music box-like piece playing when you look at the photographs you collected.
- There's a music box in Quest for Glory IV belonging to the old man, Nikolai, who is searching for his wife. If you turn on the music box while in Nikolai's house, the old man will wake up and ask for Anna, thinking that she has come home.
- The title screen of Xenosaga Episode III plays a nostalgic music box version of its Award-Bait Song, "Maybe Tomorrow."
- In Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Lars carries his late wife's music box as a memento. The track played is titled Box of Sentiment. The melody is later orchestrated in Emotion and Absence of Mind.
- The final results screen after the credits of Devil May Cry has one of these playing, and it's very pretty.
- In Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, one of these plays during The Reveal. In this case, the music isn't the symbolic part, it's the Elysian Box itself, which finally fulfills its original purpose of carrying a message from Anton to Sophia and back. Of course, it's less on the nostalgia and more on the what could've been. The music box track, Iris, is used a few minutes later in orchestrated form for the end credits.
- In Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, another music box tune plays when Henry remembers the time when he and Randall first became friends.
- Game Over screen in BlazBlue has a short sad music box music. Later (especially in Continuum Shift) promoted to flashback music. Also turns out to be theme song of an important unplayable Saya character with even more symbolism. Also has a vocal version in one of the albums but not in the games.
- A music box version of the Shadowlord's theme plays in Nier when the Shadowlord is on his final bit of health. It's meant to represent how at this point he just wants to die.
- All is Shut Down #1(bad ending) from Ray Crisis.
- One or two of the minigames present outside the main adventure of Super Mario 64 DS (such as the Loves Me Not game) have a music box arrangment of the water level theme from the original game play in the background.
- A music box version of N's Leitmotif plays in Pokémon Black and White when you discover his bedroom/playroom in Plasma Castle. It doubles as an Ominous Music Box Tune.
- N's theme itself was allegedly based on the idea of a music box, reflecting his nature as an Manchild. It doubles as an Ominous Music Box Tune.
- The HeartGold and SoulSilver version of Cinnabar Island's theme is one of these, in stark contrast to the upbeat original. Considering the town has been almost completely destroyed in a volcanic eruption, it's nothing if not fitting.
- Undertale has two music box-style themes on its soundtrack:
- The minor-key "Waterfall" theme plays through many of the areas of Waterfall, particularly those with the inscriptions and Echo Flowers recording the monsters' memories and unfulfilled wishes.
- Another such motif, "Memory," can be heard coming from a certain statue in Waterfall. You have to play the tune on a piano in order to access a secret item. The leitmotif it plays, which receives a more upbeat remix in the final area as "His Theme," belongs to Asriel Dreemur, Toriel and Asgore's son, the former identity of Flowey, and the True Final Boss of the Pacifist route.
- Used frequently in the Klonoa series. Fitting, considering the games' theme of dreams:
- Door to Phantomile and the Video Game Remake:
- The main menu music is a relaxing tune played on what sounds like a cross between a music box and bells.
- "Grandpa's Chair", the Leitmotif of Klonoa's kindly grandfather, is a very calming, yet sad, music box song. It plays again, only this time, slower, when Grandpa is dying after Joka's ambush.
- A music box is also used for many short jingles, such as when Klonoa and Huepow first discover the magical Moon Pendant.
- Empire of Dreams:
- A slow, whimsical tune is played for the main menu music.
- A much more tear-jerking music box is played during Emperor Jillius' Disney Death.
- Door to Phantomile and the Video Game Remake:
- Sad and sentimental scenes with Ilya in Fate/stay night (including her flashback as she lies dying in UBW) uses a music-box version of "Die Lorelei", a German folk song, as background music. It's used to underline Ilya in her innocent and humanizing moments, which becomes a source of Lyrical Dissonance since the original song is about a siren who uses her beautiful song to drown sailors.
- Umineko: When They Cry has the melancholy Worldend for the inevitable deaths. When They Cry, indeed.
- Symphonic Rain has several music box versions of the opening and ending theme playing during especially poignant moments.
- The Muv-Luv series of visual novels has A World To Protect, a rearrangement of the main theme. It first plays in Unlimited when Takeru realizes that his memories of his home world and Sumika are fading due to him "going native", it then plays in Alternative when Takeru, suffering from PTSD, breaks down and cries in Marimo's lap while the latter comforts him.