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Plot-Based Voice Cancellation
A rare visual example of a promise being obscured.

Sometimes, one line can change everything — for the characters as well as the audience. So, often, if that line has to come up early on, it will be cancelled out by some other noise, such as a truck passing or a plane taking off, or, in the case of dream worlds and other special cases, for no obvious reason whatsoever.

Almost universally, this becomes a point for a flashback later in the series, either once the characters (or audience) have learned the rest of the line, or once the conditions have been met for everyone to be clued in as to what happened. Clearing up the issue of what was said usually qualifies as The Reveal (or, if the author hates you, The Unreveal).

Compare to: Plot-Based Photograph Obfuscation, Instant Mystery, Just Delete Scene, Conveniently Interrupted Document. Contrast Exposition Cut, where the audience already knows what's being said and the characters can understand clearly.

Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Melody of Oblivion, when Sayoko is talking to Bokka as the door to the maze closes, and (audience only) what the Melody says to Bokka in the final episode.
  • Uta Kata: Manatsu talking to Ichika in her dream.
  • Bleach: Ichigo can hear the voice of his Zanpakutou, except when the sword tries to tell him its name. It's played differently between the original and the English dub. In the original, the voice is distorted when he says it. In the dub, it's clear, but Ichigo thinks to the audience that he didn't hear it.
  • This happens at least once in Kimagure Orange Road, a show that tends to use a lot of comedic clichés.
  • Anime/film subversion: During Ritsuko Akagi's death scene, one of Gendo Ikari's lines in End of Evangelion is muted, but for no obvious reason, and we never find out what he was saying. Especially annoying because the line looks to be very important.
    Gendo: The truth is (dramatic pause) [inaudible].
    • In this case, Hideaki Anno whispered the real line to Yuriko Yamaguchi (Ritsuko's VA) in order to get the appropriate reaction out of her. So both of them know what it is, but they ain't telling. Originally there was supposed to be an explosion or some such loud noise at that point to drown out Gendo's words. Some viewers have gone back through the whole series to piece together clues to narrow down the possibilities of what Gendo might have been saying to Ritsuko. A collection of theories as to the silent line exist. NSFW. Yuriko has actually alluded to what she personally thinks Gendo said.
    Yuriko: Gendo did tell Ritsuko something, it's not simply a matter of Anno trying to be clever or leave the audience wondering. What could Gendo have said? Many of theorized it was simply, "I love/loved you." — but that seems too clean and simple, too trite, for Anno to make such a big deal about protecting the secret. Love is the obvious answer — and Gendo was never obvious. Personally, I'm content in believing Gendo said, "Ritsuko Akagi, I truly... needed you."
    • The manga finally caught up to this point and the line used there was I loved you. As the manga's plot has differed from the anime series, this doesn't necessarily mean that this was the anime's intention all along.
  • CLAMP
    • The manga Tokyo Babylon, precursor to X1999, includes a promise between the two main leads made years before their second meeting, and only remembered by the elder of the two. They conversed rather innocently under a sakura tree, and a convenient blast of wind obscured Subaru's hearing... making him miss a critical part of their "promise".
    • At the end of their showdown in X1999, a dying Seishiro whispers something to Subaru. All the audience hears is "I ... you."
  • In Code Geass, The only time C.C.'s name is spoken it's replaced by the sound of a drop of water falling. Like the Evangelion example above, Jun Fukuyama actually did say C.C.'s real name, so presumably the main cast all knows it. (Unlike most anime, Geass was recorded in a studio with all the actors present to let them better play off each others' performances.)
  • Zettai Karen Children has one of these in a Mexican Standoff between Minamoto and Kaoru.
  • In the Haruhi Suzumiya episode "Mysterique Sign", we have Emiri Kimidori have her stating of the Computer Club President's name interrupted by Shamisen meowing.
  • The thing the Rail Tracer whispered into Rachel's ear in Baccano!!, which she eventually reveals when she relays the story to the Daily Days newspaper company: "Ticket, please."
  • In One Piece, we never hear what Kuma tells Rayleigh until two years in and out of story (there was a Time Skip and there were break weeks in order to get that to sync up). We knew what it was about, that he was splitting up the crew to help them escape, but we didn't get most of the details on why until after that time had passed.
  • In Ouran High School Host Club Tamaki says something to Lady Eclair right before he jumps off the bridge to rescue Haruhi. What he says is revealed later in flashback.
  • Parodied in the Excel♥Saga anime. The Man in the Iron Mask's final words to Nabeshin are drowned out by a passing train that appears out of nowhere just for the sake of making it inaudible.
  • As the image above shows, the manga version of Chrono Crusade uses a visual example, where the text in the bubble is scribbled out. Interestingly, that frame is when Rosette remembers the important promise being made, with the audience themselves being left in the dark until Joshua (the boy in the image) remembers it himself.
  • The psychological mystery manga Lying Mii-kun and Broken Maa-chan: Precious Lies by Iruma Hiruma features a very similar visual trick: the boy known throughout the book as "Mii-kun" is revealed to be a substitute for the original Mii-kun, who was also the real serial killer, and the unknown third kidnapped child from 10 years ago. The real Mii-kun screams the fake's name at one point but the text is scribbled out. Later, a detective calls the fake by his real name, but it's X'd out. He then recalls his mother speaking a 4-letter word that's also X'd out, and finally when "Mii-kun" had a monologue about his feelings for Maa-chan, he says "I really xxxx you" deliberately making it ambiguous whether what he said was "love," "hate" or something else entirely. We never find out what these omissions are.
  • In Harukanaru Toki no Naka de - Hachiyou Shou episode 16, the first time Yorihisa has a flashback to his brother's death, his brother's last words are muted; the actual line — "Yorihisa, believe in yourself" — isn't revealed until the episode's climactic battle.
  • In the doublet arc of Ah! My Goddess, the only thing that can stop the demon's plan is for his doublet (Belldandy) to say his name. Every mention of Welsper's name in flashback scenes is blotted out until Belldandy remembers it (it had been blocked from her memory; the whole point of the doublet system is that the people involved aren't supposed to know who their doublet is) and says it out loud.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Madoka's dream that opens episode one features Homura shouting something that we don't learn for nine episodes. Homura realized that Kyubey was offering Madoka a contract and was screaming for her not to accept it. Unfortunately, just as the viewer couldn't hear Homura, neither could Madoka.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Touma makes an obscured promise to a shapeshifting villain that apparently gets Misaka very flustered. In fact, it's because of this promise that she falls in love with him. It isn't until the end of the second series that we actually learn what he said. It was a promise that sounds similar to Zettai ni Mamoru. He promises to "guard the world that Misaka lives in."
  • Gintama: Used in their ending parody. "Gin-san... I have no idea what you've just said..."
  • In an episode of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, Kodaka has a dream about his past, and when his friend mentions their name, you can see their mouth move, but its inaudible. Kodaka then wakes up shortly afterwards.
  • In the second episode of the OVA for Infinite Stratos, Houki gives a Love Confession to Ichika during a festival, but she says it just as some fireworks start going off in the distance, so he gets distracted by that.
  • In episode 10 of Season 2's Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts, an angry Miharu berates Akihisa because of his treatment of the two girls in his class, Himeji and Minami. The former he treats like a princess, but the latter he treats like "one of the guys" and never seems to compliment her the same way. He later says something to Miharu, and although its inaudible, Miharu has an angry look on her face and claims he's lying. At the end of the episode, Kouta, one of his classmates, secretly recorded what he said, and plays it back so that their classmates (and Minami, who's just outside of the classroom), can hear it. He tells Miharu that he treats Minami that way because he feels very comfortable around her, and finds that he can be himself. He also finds her a little charming as well. Which causes Minami to fall in love with him again.
  • The first scene of Ghost in the Shell: Motoko Kusanagi is spying on a meeting between a foreign diplomat and a computer programmer, discussing a 'Project 2501' that is behaving strangely. The programmer says that the project was originally intended to — but Batou calls Motoko mid-sentence. Project 2501 is 'the Puppetmaster', a sentient entity created by a confluence of digital information struggling to escape that Section 9 mistakes for a human super-hacker and pursues throughout the film. Motoko wasn't observing the meeting to gather information - she was just there to assassinate the diplomat.
  • Pandora Hearts: When it was revealed that Xerxes Break had been tasked with fulfilling the Will Of The Abyss's wish, what she asked for is left a mystery to the audience. In the manga, the chapter simply ends with her request censored by dash lines, while in the anime the words are drowned out by the environment crumbling around them. Roughly three years later, the wish is finally revealed to the audience when Break reveals it to Sharon — she wants to be set free from the Abyss, as she suffers from a century-long case of I Just Want to Be Normal.
  • In the Season 2 finale of Sonic X, when Sonic returns to his home world and reunites with Amy, she demands that he tell her how he really feels about her. His answer is muted, but Amy's reaction gives a general idea of what he said. The 4Kids dub is...a bit less subtle.
  • Trigun: When Rem makes her Heroic Sacrifice to save Vash, she yells something at him that is cut off by the blast doors closing. Vash still takes this "something" as gospel some twenty years later. (The English version translates this as "Take care of Knives!" but in Japanese, the verb is missing.)

    Comic Books 
  • The trope is played straight in the Sin City story "The Big Fat Kill", where a great deal of trouble could have been avoided if a passing helicopter had not obscured the line "He's a cop!"

    Films — Animation 
  • In Shrek the Third, it takes poor Fiona three tries to tell Shrek she is pregnant, because of the boat horn. When she actually manages it he's too far out of range to continue the conversation, although he does actually get the message.
  • In Pinocchio, Geppetto is searching for Pinocchio in the rain when Stromboli's cart, with Pinocchio caged inside, passes by. He calls out one more time, but is drowned out by thunder.
  • In Batman: Under the Red Hood, the end of Red Hood's line after a fight with Batman is obscured by a passing train. Later, it becomes a Wham Line when Batman enhances the recorded audio and discovers that Red Hood knows his real name.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Done to hilarious effect in Luis Buñuel's The Phantom of Liberty.
  • The Bride's name in Kill Bill is bleeped out until halfway through the second movie; this is more of a theme-based voice cancellation — the point at which we first hear her name coincides with the point at which we begin to see her as less of a pissed-off, vengeful force of nature, and more of a wounded and put-upon human being. Though we can see her name earlier in the story on her airplane ticket. Also many characters refer to her by her last name: Kiddo, though until her full name is revealed, the viewer is not aware of it.
  • Narrowly averted in The Neverending Story. Bastian declares the Empress' new name in the middle of a raging storm, making it seem as though he's yelling incoherently — but if one listens closely, you can hear Barret Oliver calling out "MOON-CHI-ULD!" Since he named the Empress after his mother, this has rather interesting implications. Apparently his grandparents were hippies. One wonders if the use of Dramatic Thunder and the soundtrack to cover the name up was a stylistic choice on the part of the director, so that each viewer could imagine the name to be whatever they wanted (example: "Moriah!"), or if it was unintentional.
    • The German dub of the film makes the line much clearer, avoiding this altogether.
  • In The Spanish Prisoner, this is used to prevent the audience from ever learning where the process was hidden. Oddly enough, though, the line shows up clearly in the subtitles.
  • A unique variant appears at the end of the 1999 Sean Connery/Catherine Zeta-Jones heist film Entrapment. Robert MacDougal (Connery) escapes from police custody, leaving Virginia Baker (Zeta-Jones) and several police officers at a train station. After the officers leave, frustrated by the thief's escape, MacDougal appears and asks Baker what she wants to do next. Baker explains a plan that is drowned out by the passing of a train through the station, directly between the two characters (standing on two platforms). What exactly the plan is never gets explained.
  • This is used for a more romantic ending to Public Enemies. When John Dillinger dies, he whispers something which a fed pretends not to have heard. He only just barely heard it and it didn't make much sense to him, but he relates it to Dillinger's lover, forming the last line of the film. "Tell Billie for me: bye-bye, blackbird."
  • In From Russia with Love, Robert Shaw plays a Russian assassin, Grant. Immediately prior to meeting Bond, there's a scene in which Grant dupes and kills another agent, and his dialogue is deliberately too quiet for the viewer to hear. His assumed English accent when he finally talks to Bond is thus that much more surprising. Grant is English, a criminal recruited by SPECTRE. Bond only assumes he's Russian because he doesn't know yet that SPECTRE has been playing the British and Russians off against each other so they can get the Lektor.
    • In the original novel he's stated to be from County Armagh in Ireland, but this doesn't seem to be the case in the film.
  • In Rushmore, when Max tells Mr. Blume's wife that he's having an affair, he meets her on a highway overpass (no reason for this location is ever given) and what he says is inaudible due to the sound of a truck going by, but it's evident from her horrified reaction. In the script, he says, "Your husband's fucking a schoolteacher, pardon my French. I thought you should know."
  • About two-thirds of the way through North by Northwest, the Professor explains the whole "George Kaplan" scenario to Thornhill at the airport, and his voice is drowned out by the roar of plane engines. This is actually a rather clever inversion of the trope, in that we the viewers already know about the stuff he's talking about, so making the conversation inaudible is sparing us from the redundancy.
  • In Suspiria the heroine arrives at an exclusive ballet school in the midst of a storm. A student appearing outside her cab says something unintelligible. The student is killed shortly afterward. When the heroine finally realizes what she said it drives the plot toward its resolution.
  • While in a tavern (in German uniform disguises) in Where Eagles Dare, Smith and Shaffer are having a discussion, and just as Smith starts to explain something the Shaffer, the scene cuts to Mary and Heidi laying the groundwork for infiltrating the castle. This is when Smith would have revealed parts of the real plan to Shaffer, including the fact that Christiensen, Berekely, and Thomas, the other three agents on the mission, are all German agents, something not revealed to the audience until later.
  • The Conversation starts with the main character spying on and recording the title conversation. He can decypher most of it easily, except for one whispered sentence. When he finally cleans up the recording, it's a Wham Line. It becomes a Wham Line again later when he realizes that the sentence meant something different than he thought.

    Literature 
  • This drives the plot of The Mysterious Disappearance Of Leon I Mean Noel.
  • In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Professor Slughorn's memories of a young Lord Voldemort are key to stopping him now. However, Slughorn is so ashamed of what he said that he has invoked this trope and obscured the memories. This is done with white fog in the book and muted sound in the film. It takes a lot of persuasion and a bit of luck to get the original memories, where it turns out that Voldemort asked about Horcruxes and Slughorn told him how to make them.
  • In South By South East, the Almost Dead Spy's last words are made unclear by the sound of a passing train. Tim interprets them as the titular 'south by south-east', but only near the end of the story it becomes clear that the spy actually said Sotheby's, Tsar's Feast.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5 "You are a child of Valen."
  • In the Korean adaptation of Hana Yori Dango (Boys Before Flowers), a passing plane drowns out what Jun Pyo says to Jan Di regarding their relationship.
  • Revenge of the killer example: The first name of Mrs. Doyle from Father Ted is never revealed. In one episode her full name is repeatedly mentioned over a telephone conversation but something in the background always creates a loud noise at exactly the right time. Funnily enough, she does casually reveal her first name in one of the earliest episodes, which the writers admitted was an example of "the kind of information you carelessly throw around [...] without realising that it had the potential to become this deep, dark secret." It's Joan, by the way.
  • Eastenders had a scene where Jack Dalton told Dennis Rickman the truth about what really happened to his father Den Watts. Predictably it was drowned out by the noise of a passing train. It wasn't until several weeks later that viewers learned that Dalton told Dennis that Den was alive.
  • Young Jae confesses his love just when the Zamboni machines zips by at an iceskating rink in the Korean Series Full House. Naturally, Ji Eun is left looking puzzled...
  • In one episode of House, Chase fatally misdiagnoses a patient immediately following a seemingly irrelevant phone call. Not until the end of the episode do we find out the phone call was his stepmother telling him his father died. (But that was actually a case of Unreliable Narrator.)
  • That Mitchell and Webb Sound has a sketch involving a condition where a character makes a random sound instead of the key word in a sentence - making it very difficult to get their point across. Everyone in the sketch had it.
  • This was actually forced on the creators of The Greatest American Hero. The title character had the last name "Hinkley", which became pretty awkward when John Hinkley Jr. tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan shortly after the show began airing. He spent a lot of time being called "Mr. H." after that, but there wasn't enough time to do reshoots for the very next episode to air, so instead noises are obviously dubbed in every time someone calls him by name.
  • An in-universe version happens in the Doctor Who story "The Trial of a Time Lord—The Mysterious Planet," whenever Sabalom Glitz talks about the Matrix. It's the first clue that something is really fishy about this trial.

    Video Games 
  • Kingdom Hearts II
    • In the very first of Roxas's dreams, two Organization members meet; only one is given vocal dialogue, while the other only gets the subtitles. Upon The Reveal where Roxas realizes that the silent member is himself, the scene is shown again, this time longer and with both characters speaking.
    • Not to mention the incredibly contrived intro plot where nobody could say the word photo because the Nobodies had somehow stolen the very concept of said word from the simulation of Twilight Town.
    • 358/2 Days plays with the scene again, showing us the ending of the scene for the first time...except the final line is completely muted and not even subtitled. Near the end of the game, we hear it in flashback.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, TEC-XX reveals the extent of Grodus's plan to Peach, which is obscured from the player by cutting to the aftermath of the conversation. It's to save The Reveal for the Final Boss fight.
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni: After the first murders in Ep 1, Maria says that the murderer isn't human and that the people killed was just XXX chosen by the XXX. Unusually, it's just the readers who doesn't find out exactly what she said and while Battler heard her it was just so distanced from what had happened that he couldn't connect it. He finally understands what she said once he reads the Epitaph in Kinzo's study and the line On the first twilight, offer as sacrifice the six chosen by the key

    Western Animation 
  • Also done for laughs in The Fairly OddParents: when Timmy goes back in time and meets his parents as children, when Mr. Turner says his name a car passes and doesn't let the viewer hear it. The same happens when Mr. Turner says his future wife, then crush's name.
    • This was also done as the plot of a whole episode. Timmy gets fed up with noise constantly interrupting him, so he wishes for a world completely without sound. As per usual, this bites him in the ass when he finds out a meteor is headed straight for Earth and he can't wish it away due to not being able to speak, so he must unwish the no sound wish through charades.

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alternative title(s): Plot-Based Voice Cancellation
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