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Plot-Based Photograph Obfuscation
Let me guess. That reflection is hiding some big plot secret?

Sometimes, being able to see someone would enable the viewer to wrap up some important part of the show's mystery well beforehand. Commonly, a character will have a photograph of himself next to someone who is obscured by Lens Flare, a deep shadow or some other obfuscation. In any event, you can be sure that, whoever the obscured person is, he's going to be important to the plot.

See also Conveniently Interrupted Document and Plot-Based Voice Cancellation.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The pictures of Kozue's parents in Mahoraba.
  • A family portrait of the Elrics in Fullmetal Alchemist has a well-positioned glass reflection that obfuscates the father, as seen in the image above. Subverted, however in that there's no plot point that it would reveal, since his identity is revealed the first time his face is shown ever. Seeing the face would change nothing at all.
    • The manga, on the other hand, has a picture pinned to a wall, with a separate photo covering the top part, including Hohenheim's face. Unlike the anime, it has two good reasons to hide it: first, he's a dead ringer for the Big Bad, Father, hinting at their shared past. Second? It's to hide the fact that despite the cheerful smiles of the others in the photo, he's crying.
  • The photograph of herself as a child with another, obscured, person that Sylia looks at several times early in Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040.
  • Takahata-sensei's picture of himself, Negi, and an obscured man in Mahou Sensei Negima!. (Effectively subverted because the series ended prematurely with a contrived finale that abandoned almost all the existing plot threads.)
    • Fortunately, the original manga is covering that.
  • The photograph of Fate and her mother in episode four of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Interesting because the secret isn't what Precia looks like — she's shown in episode seven — but that she's smiling: the photo was taken before she went insane. Also, it's not really Fate in the photo, but her sister/original, although Fate has no clue.
  • A torn picture in The Big O shows a young Gordon Rosewater shaking hands with an unknown person on the damaged side. Near the end of the series, he puts the missing part back into place. It's Roger Smith. (Who hasn't aged at all.)
  • Every image of Yui Ikari throughout the first half or more of Neon Genesis Evangelion, be it a physical photo or Shinji's memories of his mother, is obscured so that we cannot see her face. This is to help hide the fact that Rei is actually the clone of a younger Yui.
  • In Ouran High School Host Club, Tamaki's mother is shown only in flashbacks, where she either has her skin and face blacked out, is seen only from the back, or has only the lower part of her face shown. Later, when we are shown a photo of her and Tamaki that had their faces blacked out in the flashback, Tamaki's face is clear but his mother's falls victim to a convenient lens flare. This is mainly because she had yet to be fully shown in the manga when the anime was made.
  • A sub-plot in Maison Ikkoku involved Godai constantly trying to find out what his love Kyoko's deceased first husband Soichiro looked like, only to be constantly thwarted by ripped, stained, coloured over and missing photos. In the end, he sees Kyoko's wedding photos and comments 'Wow, now I finally know what your husband looked like' - but the part of the photo showing Soichiro's face is kept off panel.
  • Early in G Gundam, Domon goes around flashing a torn picture of a man and asking if people have seen him. Shortly into the series, we learn that the man is his older brother Kyoji, and the missing part of the picture shows the rest of the Kasshu family, with an adolescent Domon sitting on Kyoji's shoulders. This isn't really a spoiler so much as an indication of Domon's current attitude towards his brother.
  • Renton's big sister is discussed and shown repeatedly throughout Eureka Seven but we are never shown her face until near the end of the series and it turns out there was really nothing important about her appearance.
  • In one episode of (Zoku) Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, Itoshiki plays the part of a detective and investigates the mansion's twelve female residents, one of whom was going to marry the murdered master of the house. There's a photo of the master hanging on the wall, but it's completely in shadow to the viewer. Later, when the girls attack Itoshiki, lightning flashes to show the photo and the fact that the master is Itoshiki's Identical Stranger.
  • Chobits does this with Chitose Hibiya's husband; in the family videos and photographs his face is completely obscured until near the end of volume 7, when he's revealed to be Ichiro Mihara from Angelic Layer. In fact, there's a direct reference to the game of Angelic Layer itself complete with flashback.
  • Zoids: Fuzors features a photgraph of the "old" Mach Storm team; the face of RD's father is obscured in it. But then, every picture of his face is obscured. In a twist to the conventions of the genre, his identity is not important to the plot at all.
  • In Allison and Lillia, the only photo Lillia has of her Disappeared Dad is one where he moved during the exposure, so she has never seen his face. This is intentional, as otherwise, she would quickly recognize the man dating her mother as her own father with dyed hair.
  • Marika of Twin Spica has a photograph of her and her father. The obfuscation is to hide that the age of her father doesn't match his current appearance, but the girl in the picture looks just like Marika.
  • Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle: Later in the series, a few flashbacks show a photo of Syaoran with his parents, but the mom & dad's faces are obscured by the lens flare (somehow always perfectly placed, despite the lighting). Their faces are never shown in any other shots of them, either. But we know who they are, right, guys?
    • The same applies to a pocket watch regarding Watanuki in xxxHolic.
  • The photo of Ranka and her older brother in Macross Frontier.
  • The photo of Dante's mother, Eva, has her eyes perfectly flared out in the first episode of the Devil May Cry anime.
  • A photo of a woman (whom Fanon purports to be the late Lady Hellsing) in a sari holding a baby Integra has the woman's face flared out in the Hellsing tv series.
  • Tomoya's mother Atsuko in CLANNAD.
  • A recent manga chapter of Katekyo Hitman Reborn! has a photograph of Ryohei Sasagawa and some woman, obscured by unlikely glare.
    • Earlier, a photo in Kurokawa's room had her and some man with an obscured face. Fans put two and two together and discovered KHR's first Official Couple.
  • A picture of Mayura's family in Episode 4 of Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok has a strip of Lens Flare cutting across perfectly so that her mother's face is hidden.
  • The plot-important picture of Onegai Twins shows a little boy and girl playing in a small baby pool. Throughout the series, this is taken as the boy (Maiku) and his twin sister (either Karen or Miina). Unfortunately, the girl is holding an over-large hat on her head, hiding her hair, which could have indicated which girl was the twin and which was the stranger. At the end, we find out that Karen is the twin and Miina is the stranger, but in a weird twist, the girl in the pool with Maiku really is Miina. In another instance of this trope (which could have informed them that all three were close as kids), Karen was inside taking an afternoon nap and hence was absent from the picture altogether.
  • In the FRLG arc of Pokémon Special, Carr secretly picks up a photo Giovanni accidentally dropped, featuring a younger Giovanni holding his presumably toddler son. What makes it inadvertently hilarious is that while the viewer can't see the toddler's face due to the angle of the light, it's really obvious who it is thank to the clothing.

     Comic Books 

  • Used frequently during Mark Waid's classic 90's run writing The Flash. Waid was developing a grand myth arc involving the legacy and powers of the Flash being passed down over hundreds of years through many generations of the West family. It all started with Wally West (at the time the present-day Flash) who learned on a visit to the future that he would someday marry, father fraternal twins (one male, one female) and that his daughter was destined to one day become The Flash. Great lengths were taken to hide the identity of the mother, including several instances of family photos where the mother's face is obscured, usually by a shadow or glare.
    • In the present-day series, the twins have been born and have begun their superhero careers as Flash's sidekicks, so we now know that their mother is Linda Park-West.
  • A blurry photograph of Gideon Graves that Wallace Wells shows to Scott Pilgrim, although this is meant more to hide Gideon's appearance from Scott Pilgrim himself.

    Films — Animation 
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire
    • When Whitmore is showing Milo the files of each of the crew members, Rourke has his face partially obscured while everyone else's is not, hinting that he turns out to be the Big Bad.
    • Another example actually happens at the end of the film: When the heroes all get their photos taken before finally going home, both Milo and Kida are seen only from the waist down while everyone else is shown completely, hinting the fact that the former actually chose not to go back to the surface like everyone else, and decided to stay in Atlantis instead, which ultimately results in him marrying Kida.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Taken to ridiculous extremes in the Charlie's Angels movie: at one point, Eric Knox shows the heroine a photo of his father "and the man who killed him" (whose face isn't visible). Later, in a Flashback, her mind zooms in on the other man's name tag: Townsend — as in, "Charlie" — and realizes that Knox is out to avenge himself on Charlie. Genre Savvy viewers were way ahead of her — after all, a photo of a man with no face, who else would it be?
  • In Back to the Future III, present!Doc finds a photo of himself in the old west. The photo is torn in half — later, it is revealed that the missing half contained Marty.

    Literature 
  • Lemoney Snicket of A Series of Unfortunate Events never shows his face in photographs, either "in-universe" or in the author photos. In The Film of the Book, he's a silhouette with a typewriter.
    • Happens even more directly in the books when the Baudelaires find a very important photo in the Archives. He's the sole person turning his back to the camera for no reason at all, despite the fact that he's with friends and allies.
    • Near the end of the film there is a brief shot which reveals he was on the photo found in Josephine's house and was a past friend of the Baudelaire parents.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry finds a torn photo, and the missing half is accompanied by the reveal that Snape loved Lily, and had taken the other half because of his obsession/love for her and as a memento.

    Live Action Television 

    Video Games 
  • The face of Eri, Shiki's best friend in The World Ends with You, is obscured by glare on the cell phone's screen. One wonders why, until in a Tomato in the Mirror moment, Shiki is revealed to be taking the appearance of Eri. Basically, Eri is the cute trendy girl and Shiki is actually the plain brunette on her left.
  • In the bonus case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, a videotape shown in court shows a violent confrontation inside the evidence room, but the Blue Badger's movements strategically obscure the face of Jake Marshall, who was disguised as the victim Bruce Goodman at the time.
    • This happens at least twice more in the first game alone.
  • Not a photographic example, but there's a very good reason in Tsukihime that Shiki's childhood memories of Hisui and Kohaku initially aren't in color. Seeing their eyes in color would reveal that Shiki is mixing up the cheerful girl and the girl in the mansion...
    • In the manga, Akiha is occasionally shown with a framed Polaroid photo of herself and Shiki ripped down the middle. Close examination will reveal that there is an arm around each of their shoulders that doesn't seem to belong to either of them; eventually the full image is shown, with SHIKI in the middle of the picture.
  • In the backstory to Team Fortress 2, someone is obscured from the photograph of Zepheniah Mann and company, and his section of Zepheniah's will is similarly obscured. His will shows that he left the entirety of his something to somebody, and swore them to utmost secrecy in its keeping.
    • This continues in Loose Canon, which reveals that a 3rd Life Extender Machine was built for someone.
    • It has since been revealed that the obscured 'something' (which turned out to be "miracle gravel") was for his maid, also obscured, and the third Life Extender Machine, which was more advanced, was for Gray Mann, the previously unknown third son of Zepheniah Mann.
  • In Cross Channel, you can sometimes see glimpses of the murder at the then-Shinkawa mansion. Upon closer inspection, you can see that Youko's knife had no blood on it.
  • In Hatoful Boyfriend, if dating Kazuaki, he at one point drops a picture of someone with their face scribbled out. When confronted, he admits that it was someone he was very close to, who left him (strongly hinting they died), and he scratched out their face because he couldn't bear to remember them. In the Bad Boys Love route, we learn that the loved one he couldn't bear to remember was his foster-brother Nageki, who committed suicide five years prior to the plot, and who is also a potential love interest for the heroine. Seeing him in the photo would give away their shared backstory.
    • Induces some Fridge Logic when you remember that the characters are birds, mostly of different breeds and species. Surely the heroine would be able to recognize Nageki's body, as she'd been surprised to meet that kind of bird in Japan in their first scene.
  • Early in Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, Toadbert gives you a drawing of the Shroob Princess and Princess Peach, with another part obscured by dirt. Much later in the game, you rub off the dirt, revealing another Shroob princess.

    Web Animation 
  • Strong Bad from Homestar Runner has a picture of his parents in one cartoon, but the actual picture is obscured by his chair. Reverse engineering the Flash file to see it only shows a "nice try" message mocking you.

    Web Comics 
  • In Not A Villain, when a photograph of Kleya's parents is shown in Reality, the part with her father has been ripped off.

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alternative title(s): Plot-Based Photograph Obfuscation
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