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Anime & Manga
- While not falling strictly into Steam Punk territory, Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis definitely evokes the feel of a Retro Universe, with much of its style reminiscent of the Thirties and Forties.
- Last Exile:
- The anime takes place in a steampunk-ish world where many of the airships have a streamlined 1930s-era appearance. Most of the fashions worn by the common people seem to date from the 1920s and '30s as well. Most of the military uniforms, however, seem distinctly 18th and 19th century, and the gowns worn by noble women look as though they date from the late Renaissance. In contrast to this, the costumes worn by members of the scientifically advanced Guild have more of an alien, Crystal Spires and Togas look to them.
- The sequel series, which takes place on Earth, is shown to be in a similar situation, with added bits and pieces of World War II and the Cold War as well as Lost Technology.
- The Big O, inspired by Batman: The Animated Series. The setting is far enough in the future to have Giant Mecha, domed cities, genetically engineered monstrosities and other sci-fi tech; the aesthetic is pure prohibition-era.
- Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem was apparently set in 2005 (judging by the date written on a card at one point in the story), but everyone wears 1970s fashions.
- Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei:
- The series apparently takes place in an Alternate Universe from ours; televisions and the setting, in general, are very retro, but the series is technically happening in modern times. The years are given Showa era numbering, even when referring dates after 1989— for example, 2004 (Heisei 15) is still referred as Showa 89.
- One really odd example happens when Itoshki goes with Harumi (and his stalker) to a manga convention. Everyone else there is in Western casual clothing - jeans and t-shirts - and think that Itoshki and the stalker are cosplaying based upon their outdated outfits.
- It's actually an Invoked Trope: it's a plot to get the spirit of Kafuka, who was Dead All Along, to finally move on to the afterlife. She was an organ donor, you see, and the other girls in her class have parts of her in them — as well as her personality, which takes one of them over to play her role every time she appears in the series. All the retro touches to an otherwise modern universe are just an attempt to try and appease Kafuka.
- Zoids: Chaotic Century: Set on a distant planet in the far future. A world with animal-like Mecha used to fight wars. One of the main powers, the Republic, has a capital city with skyscrapers and cars, and telephones that are rotary dial. The other main power, the Empire, has a capital city that looks like some cross between Berlin and ancient Byzantium. The rural areas are equally strange, featuring ancient ruins that look an awful lot like a shopping mall, and a town that looks a middle eastern Bazaar.
- Cowboy Bebop is set in 2070s, but the clothing, hairstyles, music and general mood come straight from the 1970s. Also, a lot of the style is pretty 1940s looking. In fact, even the DVDs are designed to look like vinyl LPs.
- The post-apocalyptic Arc de Grand City from Genocyber looks like a combination of Steam Punk with 20 Minutes into the Future.
- Some of the UC and AU Gundam series seem to evoke this trope, most notably Mobile Suit Gundam F91, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing and Turn A Gundam. Can overlap with Zeerust.
- Sound of the Sky is very evocative of the 19th and early 20th Century. If not for the whole After the End bit.
- Naruto: Word of God is that the original series is set in one of these. They have most of the technology and culture we had in the 20th century, but there are no guns or cars, electronic communication is extremely difficult/expensive over long distances, and video games are still in the 8-bit era. The Distant Finale shows the series starting to diverge from this trope as technology advances; for example, while computers were rare and rather primitive during Naruto's childhood, he's shown using a modern laptop as an adult when performing Hokage duties. This becomes even more obvious in the Boruto era, which takes place at minimum fifteen to twenty years after the original series ended; the technology is now pretty much on par with our own, except there still aren't any cars or airplanes (though they do have bullet trains and airships).
- Hunter × Hunter seems to take place in a fantasy world blended with modern day. There are mythical creatures, powers known as Nen, peaceful villages, and people travel on wooden ships and zeppelins, but there are also cell phones, cars, guns, big cities, computers, and video game systems that transport the user to a virtual reality.
- The cars and architecture of Gotham City in the Batman franchise seem to be perpetually stuck in the 1940s. One of the city's mottos is actually "The Dark Deco City". This is very notable in the 1989 movie and in Batman: The Animated Series. In 1999, much of Gotham City was damaged in an earthquake during the Cataclysm/No Man's Land event. This was used to justify an extensive architectural revamp that turned the city into a mix of the 40s, modern and retro-futuristic architecture.
- In 2000, Metropolis was changed into a futuristic version of itself. It didn't stick.
- In the 1990s Fawcett City (home of Captain Marvel) was said to be permanently in the fifties due to a spell cast by the wizard Shazam. In its appearance in the later Black Adam miniseries, it still had a Malt Shop. This is actually not that surprising, as many small towns in the US have kept theirs out of nostalgia.
- Arcadia, the setting for Ghost, seems to be this with modern technology like computers, but also airships sailing the skies.
- The IDW Jem and the Holograms comics are obviously set in the contemporary time period; however, the setting still has 80s style stuff like absurdly bright colored clothing and records instead of CDs or digital music. It could be seen as Truth in Television, as in the early 2010s dyeing your hair unusual colors is popular and vinyl is regaining popularity.
- Archie Comics modernized with the decades however it still held some of its vintage elements. Subverted with the Archie Comics (2015) reboot, which makes it completely set in the 2010s.
- IDW's Transformers comics gradually developed a visual style evocative of 90's science fiction anime and 80's Saturday morning cartoons. The coloring is usually bright and vibrant and the technology often has Used Future / Zeerust stylings (an advanced communications device that can cross time resembles a walkie-talkie). This is especially apparent when Alex Milne or Nick Roche does the art.
- A cute detail about this is how flashbacks to prehistoric Cybertron switch to a different retro style; they're done in the style of 70's to 80's comic creators like Walt Simonson and Jack Kirby. The art is given a worn-out look evocative of a really old comic, there are Kirby Dots everywhere, and characters talk in a stilted, exposition-heavy manner.
- Ask the average person when Peanuts takes place and they'll state The '60s, maybe The '70s. The fashion especially seems to pin the series as averting Comic-Book Time... Except it doesn't. It's subtle but there are still references that pin strips at certain time periods. Harry Potter was referenced in a late 1999 strip, putting the kids at modern day in the final strips. The earliest strips are obviously set in The '50s (Davy Crockett caps, etc.), though they still manage to be pretty timeless.
Films — Animation
- The Incredibles. Note that the movie actually does take place in the early '70s — Edna Mode mentions several of Mr. Incredible's contemporaries dying in the late '50s — but you couldn't tell from the characters' modern slang and sensibilities. The movie takes place in the streamlined future envisioned by the 50s and 60s, not our world's 70s.
- Frankenweenie seems to take place in the '50s, but has references like Pluto not being a planet anymore. Word of God is it's not as retro as it seems but not exactly current day either.
- The Peanuts Movie seems to be set in a contemporary period, however it isn't remotely noticeable. The characters still dress just as they always do and everything seems the same as ever. However, Charlie Brown writing a long essay by hand stands out a little.
Films — Live-Action
- Sin City is a perfect example of this, being set in the present day but with fashions, cars and the occasional lingo from the 1950s. Here, it makes sense because it is a pastiche of classic film noir.
- Director Wes Anderson likes to use this. In particular, The Royal Tenenbaums has such a distinctly 1970s style that the "2001" date on Royal's tombstone was quite jarring. Rushmore, which has 1997 inscribed on the Swiss Army knife Dirk gives Max but includes manual typewriters, tape machines, and a general aesthetic (clothes, buildings) skewed towards a late 60s/70s feel.
- Terry Gilliam's Brazil fits this neatly. Technology and culture are an odd mix of contemporary and early 20th century (computer monitors resemble 1950s television sets, for example), and clothing and architecture are mostly pre-1960s. The opening title even describes the film as "Somewhere in the 20th Century".
- Dark City: Looks like a mixture of everything between 1920 and the present day (1998). Justified in that the human inhabitants were abducted throughout the 20th century, and that the city was constructed from the recombining of their memories of different eras...
- Napoleon Dynamite took place in the present day, but the fashion trends were somewhere in the 1970s or 1980s, the technology was '80s or '90s, and the music was an eclectic mixture of the '80s and '90s as well. Though this may be unintentional, as that's kind of how Preston, Idaho actually is.
- Streets of Fire is a self-described "Rock & Roll Fable" in a setting of retro-1950s and modern day, or at least what passed for modern in 1984.
- In the movie version of The Cat in the Hat, people still use rotary dial phones, but Sally (played here by Dakota Fanning) owns a Palm Pilot.
- Edward Scissorhands seems to be set in some kind of an eerie cross between the 1950s and the 1980s because the Framing Device is an old woman telling about her life as a teenager in the 50s to her grandchild in the 80s. How she aged so fast, however, is anyone's guess.
- Hot Rod turns this Up to Eleven. Though taking place in the present, the whole movie is done in the style of a 1980s comedy, right down to the costumes and set designs.
- Pulp Fiction contains quite a few callbacks to previous time periods. Jules wears a Jheri curl hairstyle, popular in the 70s. The soundtrack is filled with a lot of surf rock from the 60s. Clutch Cargo plays on television in Butch's childhood flashback. A 50s theme diner plays a big part in the plot. The film takes its name from "pulp fiction," a style of fiction popular in the first half of the 20th century. The film poster apes the style of a pulp fiction magazine cover from around the 40s and 50s.
- The movie Brick is a film noir, complete with hard-boiled dialogue and '30s/'40s slang, set in a modern high school.
- The film version of The Spirit takes place in a world where technology marched on, but the fashion and sensibility remained '40s noir. Dames dressed to the nines snap pictures of the Spirit's adventures with digital cameras.
- At first glance the Nathan Lane movie MouseHunt seems to be set in the 30s or 40s, but then you notice a coin that says 1973, more or less modern cars, video cameras and to top that, there's a Victorian sweatshop that is kinda justified since it was founded by the protagonists' father.
- Gattaca may be the trope codifier. It is set in a future with highly advanced genetic engineering and space travel, but clothing and social manners are those of the 1950s or early 1960s, and the vehicles are "futuristic" ones from that era (mainly Studebaker Avantis and Rover P6's) with the engine sounds replaced by an electric hum.
- In Time, showing that culture has stagnated due to the wealthy ruling class living forever.
- Blade Runner has synthetic humans, skyscraper-spanning ads, intergalactic colonies, etc., in the year 2019, yet some of the characters still wear 30s-era clothing, while others have fixated on 70s punk.
- Daybreakers technically takes place Twenty Years In The Future. Yet if not for the near-future tech, people generally have reverted to a 1930s-40s atmosphere.
- Mars Attacks! (made in 1996) combined '50s/'60s military technology (including Jeeps and M14 rifles), a Rat Pack-era portrayal of Las Vegas, cars and clothes from the '70s and '80s, giant "brick" cell phones, and contemporary video games. And that was just the humans. The Martians were given deliberately anachronistic Raygun Gothic technology. Justified, given that the movie is a parody of classic Alien Invasion movies from The '50s through The '80s. Of course, cell phones were just going mainstream when the movie was made, so the brick phones seen could have just been an example of Two Decades Behind.
- Penelope has modern technology and (mostly) modern costumes, but the architecture and interior design look like the early 20th century with a fairy-tale twist.
- Alan Rudolph's Trouble In Mind (from 1985) is set in some indeterminate near-future/alternate age where Seattle is under martial law, people act and dress like a 1940s noir drama, and the newest car is ca. 1972.
- Blue Velvet (1986) is meant to be a satire of Reagan era 1950s nostalgia, so everything from the clothes to the buildings to the cars make the film look as though it was filmed thirty years earlier or more. Only villain Frank Booth is ever shown using modern technology (a Roy Orbison cassette).
- Repo! The Genetic Opera takes place in a world that's halfway between 19th Century Steam Punk and 21st Century Cyber Punk. Black and white holograms, for example.
- It Follows takes place in a time period that is left vague and undefined. Yara has an e-reader, and modern cars are seen, but nobody has a Cell Phone (other than the one used in the opening sequence by the girl on the beach to call home), the televisions are all tube screens and not flat screens, the main characters drive cars from the '70s and '80s, and an old-fashioned cinema with an organist is seen playing Charade, a golden oldie of a film. This also extends to its '80s-inspired synthwave soundtrack by Disasterpeace.
- found. is similar to It Follows in this regard, albeit drawing more from The '90s. Marty watches old slasher movies from the '70s and '80s on VHS with his friends, and the comic book that he and Steve draw is an exaggerated '90s Anti-Hero archetype. While it's set in the present day, the internet and cell phones never come into play.
- The 1931 version of Frankenstein and its sequels seem to take place in a vague time period which combines the early 1800s era of Mary Shelley with the contemporary 1930s.
- The '90s version of The Little Rascals looks like it takes place in the same time as the original shorts until the ending reveals it that it takes place in contemporary times.
- High School Musical has '00s phones, tech, and pop music, '50s high school tropes, '70s fashions to a certain extent (flares, hair, corduroy, neck scarves, the font on The Wildcats' practice uniforms), and '90s high school archetype characters (the geeks, the Alpha Bitch, etc).
- Guardians of the Galaxy is largely set in an advanced spacefaring society, but the tech and environments frequently have a boxy, Used Future aesthetic and the general visual style was designed to evoke pulp Science Fantasy comics like the works of Jack Kirby. Star-Lord is also totally trapped in the 80's, using an old Walkman and playing classic rock/funk music from the 70's and 60's. In his case it's a plot point, as he was taken from Earth when he was ten back in the early 80's; as far as he knows Earth is still like it was back then.
- The Two Decades Behind aesthetics get amusingly lampshaded at the end of the second film; Kraglin gives Peter a new music playing device, claiming it's the hot new thing back on Earth. It's a laughably outdated Zune that looks like it was bought cheap at a yard sale.
- Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events intentionally contains anachronisms. As The Miserable Mill mentions the 1920s as being in the past, we know the earliest possible time the series could take place is in the 1930s. In The Slippery Slope, Violet is suggested to like Yma Sumac, who was popular in the 1950s. In The Hostile Hospital, the Volunteers Fighting Disease have an attitude resembling hippies or beatniks. In the 2017 adaptation Count Olaf even mentions using the internet, and the books themselves mentioned computers. It should be noted, though, that the text never makes explicit references to the Baudelaire children wearing Victorian clothing — even though they are typically illustrated as wearing such and adaptations portray them wearing Victorian attire.
- Harry Potter:
- Despite being set in the 1990s, the wizarding world in the series never seems to advance beyond the 1930s in style. The third film adaptation goes so far as to feature a good deal of big band music, although the fourth movie portrays the Weird Sisters as a decently contemporary rock band. This is probably in keeping with the Death Eaters and such - the whole series' story is very similar to the muggle world's 1930s (and what happened from 1939 to 1945, except with magic.)
- Considering the total lack of interest for the Muggle technology and culture the wizards display (except Mr Weasley, maybe); this could also be seen as a form of Medieval Stasis.
- Clothing is a complicated issue in Harry Potter. In the books, magical characters are usually described wearing "robes" or "cloaks" with not much more description. In Goblet of Fire, it's mentioned that the Weasley kids wear "Muggle clothes" during the summer, implying robes are worn most if not all the time at Hogwarts. However, Mrs. Weasley makes the kids "jumpers" ("sweaters" to American readers) for Christmas and these are apparently not considered Muggle clothes and they are presumably being worn with some kind of trousers. In the movies, the kids seem to wear Muggle clothes whenever they are not in their school uniforms (Alfonso Cuarón is often blamed for starting this, but Chris Columbus did it too) while the adults' clothing is a mix between stereotypical wizardry outfits (Dumbledore, McGonagall, etc.) and outdated fashions (Rita Skeeter, for example, seems to think it's still the 1950s).
- Robert Rankin's version of Brentford. Frequent references are made suggesting a contemporary setting (most notably The Brentford Chainsaw Massacre, which involves getting a Lottery grant for Millennium celebrations), but it's decidedly 1950s-1960s in other ways, and they still use pre-decimal currency.
- Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci series, in which the main world has reached a stage roughly equivalent to the early 1900s. Women wear long dresses, men dress formally and there are servants, but there is electric lighting, telephones and cars, though the cars aren't very widespread. But it is set in our present; in Charmed Life (published 1977) a girl from our own world remarks how old-fashioned everything is, and remarks that she always wears trousers at home and feels like "an Edwardian child" in a frilly dress and stockings. As the final book in the series, The Pinhoe Egg, is set only a year or so after Charmed Life, presumably the year is still somewhere in the late seventies. The prequel The Lives of Christopher Chant is set about twenty-five years earlier; the feel is Victorian, with governesses, gas light, women in crinolines and men with side-whiskers and top hats. The visitor in Charmed Life suggests a justification for this in that the prevalence of magic has held back mechanical science. It might also be suggested that magic traditionally looks to ancient sources (though there are magical researchers in DWJ's world), thus encouraging social conservatism.
- In a similar vein, The Bartimaeus Trilogy is set in an Alternate History version of London. The year is never stated, but historical clues place it in the early 21st century. It has cars, planes, electric lights and computers, but sailing ships still seem to be the dominant form of sea travel, with "ironclads" being the most advanced naval technology.
- In Stephen Fry's novel Making History, 1990s America in the Hitler-never-born universe is socially very similar to the 1950s. Everybody Smokes, there's racial segregation and serious McCarthyite paranoia, and homosexuality is both illegal and highly taboo.
- Fitzpatrick's War and The Martian General's Daughter by sci-fi writer Theodore Judson combine this with Schizo Tech and some mild Punk Punk, taking place on Earth a few centuries into the future when previous high technology and modern political systems have all but collapsed. Each is a Roman à Clef from Ancient Grome; one is the life of Commodus, the Roman emperor who was featured in Gladiator, and the other is the life of Alexander the Great.
- Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age has a neo-Victorian society in the near future. They combine nanotechnology with Victorian clothing, Victorian and Georgian architecture, and a pub that deliberately looks like a London pub during the Blitz of World War Two (tape on the windows, "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters). All this reflects and expresses their value system.
- In Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, while electric power (they call it anbaric) is available, places in Jordan College (in Lyra's Oxford) are still lit by oil lamps (what they call naphtha). Cars are only seen in the cities and the only aircraft used are zeppelins.
- Who Censored Roger Rabbit? is a Film Noir deconstructive parody, however it takes place in The '80s. Its film adaptation, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, on the other hand does actually take place in the '40s (1947 to be more precise).
Live Action TV
- Although the series timeline is taking place in 1989, the whole Twin Peaks location has a very sixties feel in decor and fashion sense.
- The BBC production of Gormenghast juxtaposes elements of different time periods to emphasize that it takes place in its own, timeless, ahistorical reality.
- Justified in Lost. The Dharma Initiative built research stations all over the island in the 1970s. The modern day islanders find and use these stations which lead to this.
- The ABC Dramedy Pushing Daisies seems to take place in a lavish 1950s universe where people have modern-day sensibilities and things like the Internet exist. The female characters wear fashions that have a '50s look and the show regularly includes street scenes with both '50s and present-day cars, although the '50s cars always seem to have dominance. In one episode, it is stated that the year is 2007 (the same year it aired). Exactly the same 1950s aesthetic also dominates the intro sequences, which take place when Ned was a child roughly two decades earlier (the late '80s, but who's counting), suggesting either that design sensibilities have been completely stagnant since the 1950s or that Bryan Fuller was just really committed to maintaining the show's signature look.
- Some of the Alternate Universes shown in Sliders fit this trope. In one case, the team ends up in a world where almost all the world's oil is under California and nearby states; that world never moved past the mid-1950s in automobile and clothing styles.
- Caprica is set sixty years before Battlestar Galactica and the level of technology is much higher (with total-immersion virtual reality and robot butlers), but the producers remind viewers that this is "the past" by adding certain cultural touches which are reminiscent of The '50s: smoking is prevalent and allowed everywhere, professional men wear fedoras to work, then-futuristically-styled British and European vehicles from the fifties and sixties are on the roads, and there are shades of Fantastic McCarthyism.
- Kamen Rider Double is technically set in the present day, but the world is styled after hard-boiled Film Noir.
- An episode of Fringe is entirely about a story told by Walter to children. This story is set in a noir-like world with Internet and cell phones but old-fashioned clothing. It also includes a musical number. Of course, given that Walter was high when he told this story, this can be expected. Before telling the story he mentions his mother and father's favorite genres of film: musicals and noir detective films.
- Present in a more mild way in Midsomer Murders, a series which generally combines this trope with a Genre Throwback to the golden age of English detective literature during the inter-war period.
- The X-Files: The episode "Post-Modern Prometheus" takes place in such a universe, a retro-nineties filled with fifties cars and diners and other hints of a retro aesthetic, and eighties/nineties technology; it was filmed in Deliberate Monochrome, and delved into the wealth of "Frankenstein" tropes. Justified somewhat because it's a backwater town (whose inhabitants are obsessed with Jerry Springer), but the fifties cars took it into this territory.
- Father Ted is full of this, presumably due to the island's inhabitants being so isolated from the rest of the world. The layout of the parochial house is extremely 1970s, and they often play board games for entertainment. They are shown listening to records (e.g. the Eurovision track they almost used for the tune of My Lovely Horse), and are actually able to buy new ones (The BBC Sound Effects records) in John And Mary's shop in 1996, at a time when most other places would have stopped selling them. Also, when a Cuban priest visits them, he brings them a VHS player, which they are astonished by as they think it must have been really expensive. The joke here is that he is obviously regifting them his old one. Ted uses a mobile phone on occasion but also uses a rotary telephone in the parochial house. The one time the Irish Army makes an appearance, they are armed with Cold War-era British army weaponry.
- Camden in My Name Is Earl falls into this category. Although the series is set at the Turn of the Millennium, the clothing and technology is that of the late '80s or early '90s. May be somewhat justified, as Camden is implied to be largely an impoverished hick-town. And there are mentions (mostly in the cities surrounding Camden, like Nathanville) of technology more appropriate to the time period. For example, Earl is in a bookstore and is amazed that not only are there books on tape, but books available as CDs and MP3s...and he doesn't know what either of those things are. A later episode subverts the trope; most of Camden suddenly has computers and the Internet out of nowhere, and they're all on a Facebook Expy called "BuddyBook." Darnell stays up all night creating fake "friends" for Joy, so she can feel validated.
- Toast of London is set firmly in 2014 and features hipsters and the Internet, but the fashions are based on the 1970s, as is its version of the British actor lifestyle. Note the Colonial Club where Toast drinks, a parody of legendary 1970s actor's drinking pit The Colony Room. There are also 1970s celebrities that are still young and doing their thing, including Francis Bacon and Tom Baker (who can be seen in the Colonial Club in his Doctor outfit). And you can still smoke indoors.
- On The Flash (2014), Earth-2 is at about the same level of technology as Earth-1, or slightly more advanced, but with a prevalent Art Deco aesthetic. Though some things are just different for the sake of being different, like televisions being vertical instead of horizontal.
- Gotham deliberately incorporates technology from decades from the late 1960s through the 2000s, especially electronics and automobiles, to give the show a time-out-of-time feel.
- Mike Hammer: The TV version with Stacy Keach is clearly set in the 1990s (the Cold War is over, and Mike makes use of personal computers), but fashions and societal mores are still in the 1940s.
- This is how Riverdale adapts the perpetual '50s setting of the Archie Comics characters it's based on. While the characters have smartphones and social media, they also hang out at a Malt Shop and a Drive-In Theater (though the latter closes down after a few episodes) and drive cars that come from various time periods stretching from The '50s through The New '10s. The South Side Serpents, given a Darker and Edgier makeover compared to their harmless comic book iteration, dress like a mix of Greaser Delinquents and a more modern biker gang.
- The current writer and artist team on Dick Tracy have embraced this trope. While still nominally set in the present day, various elements — most notably the police cars — look they belong to the 1980's at the latest. Since the strip has been running since the 1930's, and includes both a cast of characters and props introduced at different points all through those decades, this seems like a reasonable acknowledgement of Comic-Book Time.
- Dialed In has an art style, fashion, and architectural/urban planning feel to the city reminiscent of the 1980's or early 1990's but is full of smartphones. However, the technology for these smartphones are derived from the breed of Weird Science popular in fiction from the 80's, while the company that develops that science is apparently atomic- or nuclear-powered, a concept popular in the 40's and 50's. This is best exemplified with the artwork on the side of the machine, which depicts a young man with a jacket-Tshirt-jeans combo not unlike Marty McFly, with a hand-drawn style using airbrushed shading typical of video game box art in the 80's, holding up a smartphone that's getting struck by lightning giving it strange powers.
- Space 1889. The complete slogan for the game goes: “Role-Playing In A More Civilized Time. Everything Jules Verne should have written. Everything H. G. Wells could have written. Everything A. Conan Doyle thought of, but never published because it was too fantastic.” Thus the game is obviously retro science fiction: a game about science fiction the way science fiction was a hundred years ago. The Space 1889 universe, however, is not retro from the perspective of people in that world since it takes place in an alternative 1889 with 1889-current technology (plus some extra), fashion, politics, ideology, etc.
- The Fallout series is a classic example. Despite being set two centuries after a nuclear war that is still 60 years into our future, everything has old school art deco stylings, every computer has a monochromatic green screen, and the music consists of golden oldies from the early-mid 20th century. Note that all of this exists alongside Energy Weapons, Powered Armor, and androids indistinguishable from humans. Fallout America is an amalgam of all the decades of the Cold War, as well as the Sci-Fi Produced during those decades. The '40s give the setting its wartime propaganda, urging you to buy Victory Bonds. The '50s give it their Pre-War fashions, car designs, and hysterical anti-communist propaganda; Fifties Sci-Fi gives it nuclear cars and the styling of its robots. The '60s give it the use of the word "hippies" (in Fallout 3) and anti-war graffiti (all over Hidden Valley in New Vegas). The '70s give it the punk fashion of the Raiders and the pre-war oil crisis. The '80s give it computers that look like Commodore 64s. The post-war civilizations also show elements of The Great Depression and The Wild West, showing how society reverted to a less technologically advanced time after the war disrupted human society.
- Dead Rising explicitly states that its events begin the night of "September 18, 2006", and demonstrates this by introducing us to Brad Garrison and Jessica McCarney, agents of the Department of Homeland Security (established in 2002 in response to 9/11), after which you're handed a small yellow walkie-talkie by Otis to carry. However, it clearly deviates from some modern tones by the severe lack of cell phones, next-to-no mention of the internet, and the somewhat backwards sense of general fashion/aesthetic in both the mall and its inhabitants, producing an environment reminiscent of the '70s and '80s as seen in the original Dawn of the Dead (1978). (Frank West also uses an old-fashioned film-reel camera, though this can be justified by him being a professional photojournalist; while digital cameras were taking over the consumer market by 2006, film still had niches in high-end photography.) This can be seen as an aesthetic choice like that of Napoleon Dynamite, in that the game's setting of Willamette, Colorado is a small Midwestern town that's "behind the pulse of society" in some ways. Upon retrospect, it is a seemingly perfect place for a terrorist attack to happen.
- Mass Effect is another example, although it takes its inspiration from the 1970s/80s science fiction renaissance rather than the Golden Age science fiction often popular with this trope. The art style and trappings are, according to Word of God, deliberately evocative of films like Blade Runner, Alien, and The Wrath of Khan.
- Grim Fandango is ostensibly set sometime around The '90s (the game was released in 1998), as there are office computers in the Land of the Dead. However, the style of architecture and clothing is firmly based in the '30s, '40s, and '50s, and even said computers consist of low-res, monochrome displays that resemble large, circular versions of 1950s TV sets attached to what look like typewriters. Justified, considering much of the population was probably alive during those decades, and would likely want to replicate them.
- Stubbs the Zombie takes place in the 50s, but the technology is much more advanced, similar to the Fallout series
- The Thief series takes place in a fantasy world very reminiscent of The Late Middle Ages. Yet, it also shows many Victorian influences in things like architecture, furniture, art, technology, and attitudes. What's most intriguing is how both of these very different eras are combined nearly seamlessly (it helps that they're united by the whole City Noir atmosphere and Steam Punk aesthetic of the series).
- Harvest Moon:
- Although ostensibly set in something resembling the present day, everyone gets around on horse-drawn carriages, the fashion resembles the mid-to-late 2000s at oldest, and other technology is deliberately retro. Word of God is the lack of modern day farming technology was intentional because you feel closer to everything when doing it by hand.
- Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life could pass for taking place in the early 20th century at first glance, however at times it looks decidedly modern. It could pass for the 1970s at earliest due to the fashions and technology levels, but it's set at the same time as Harvest Moon Friends Of Mineral Town, which is noticeably more modern looking, and a Show Within a Show features cellphones. According to Tom, the Fictional Country the game takes place in is such slow technologically that they don't even understand what airplanes are.
- Super Mario Bros. has many modern conveniences, but the world itself appears to be somewhere around medieval, or perhaps Renaissance times.
- An odd example in Dead Space 3. While the other two games are pretty much straight examples of a Sci-Fi setting, the third takes place on, or in orbit of, a planet filled with ruins left behind by the Sovereign Colonies Armed Forces (a political entity that apparently no longer exists as of the time of Dead Space 3) 200 years earlier. The Sovereign Colonies technology and designs seem rather more primitive than the more "modern" examples seen in the earlier games. Their computer technology seems to be rather dated, many of their doors need to be opened manually, they use a lot more paper than is common in later time periods, they have black and white photographs on the walls (possibly due to aging, or the low light levels), the advertisements for the fictional drink called "Peng" which appear in Dead Space and Dead Space 2 are done in a cyber punk style, showing an attractive woman dressed in futuristic clothes, where as the advertisements for Peng from the Sovereign Colonies era however show women in a more 1950s pin-up style, similar to old school Coke ads.
- The universe that Skullgirls takes place in is reminiscent of the 1930-40s, though both weapons and telecommunication technology seems to be at least a decade or two ahead; and it's implied that things like cell phones and video games (albeit in primitive forms) exist, too. Though non-canon, there is official art of two of the characters playing in a circa-2015 fighting game tournament, both of them using arcade fight-sticks.
- The fashion, technology, and general styling of Psychonauts makes it seem like it's set in The '60s or The '70s however there's an official site similar to Friendster, setting it in the early to mid 2000s (the website dates it as 2003 but the game wasn't released until 2006).
- XCOM Apocalypse reeks of this - it's a mid-high sci-fi setting with handheld energy weapons, personal anti-gravity jet packs, hovr cars in every driveway, you name it. What's the catch? The city council has ordered that everything from handguns to heat-seeking missiles, no exceptions (well, okay, maybe a few), must maintain a very 50s-style aesthetic. Cars look straight out of the 50s and 60s, televisions (and television-analogues) have the classic slightly-rounded, slightly-bulging screen, and so on.
- According to Word of God, Bully was intended as an homage to teen movies past and present, which led them to throw in a lot of Schizo Tech and anachronistic fashion, especially from The '80s, to create the game world. It's firmly set in the mid '00s time period in which it was developed — mention is made of MP3 players being banned at Bullworth Academy, for instance, while the old-looking computers could be handwaved as the school being too cheap to buy new ones (especially since the Nerds seem to have a more modern computer with a flat-panel screen at their hideout). On the other hand, the vehicle designs are pulled from the '50s through the early '90s, the Preppies look, dress, and speak like the villains of an '80s teen comedy, the Nerds' geeky fixation is an expy of Dungeons & Dragons rather than something more modern, and the Greasers seem like they stepped out of the '50s.
- The universe of Jazzpunk could be best be described as, "What if Cyberpunk had been invented in the 1950s — punch-card tape-drive computers and all — and then represented in a pop art style?"
- Grand Theft Auto 2 is set in the near-future of 2013, but is mostly inspired by the dystopian science fiction of the '70s and '80s, with a mix of modern and futuristic weaponry (most notably the electric gun), a sheen of cyberpunk-lite aesthetics, and vehicle designs ranging from the '30s through the '60s ("as if Havana got transported to the 21st Century", as the game's website describes it), with a few cars even based on real-life models from that period.
- The Driver series is mostly set in the present day, but feels very much like a 70's Cop Show thanks to the fashion, car designs and cinematography. Parallel Lines is partially set in 1978, and so averts this with the 2006 portion of the game feeling far more modern compared to the rest of the series. San Francisco is a lesser example thanks to the inclusion of modern cars, but it still keeps the retro feel through a large assortment of classic vehicles and a pseudo-retro soundtrack.
- Alien: Isolation: To mimic the aesthetic of the first film, the game features a thoroughly '70s sci-fi look, complete with monochrome cathode ray computers, Saul Bass-style advertisements, and even a special filter that mimics the film grain of '70s film stock.
- Annyseed Many characters wear Victorian clothing, yet some are a little more 1980s in style. Victorian machinery is often used alongside modern day mobile/cell phones. Ninjas go around with katana blades, and our heroine is dropped off at school by the latest Rolls Royce. - It's all good fun.
- The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!: although apparently set in the present day, Generictown has a lot of elements of this, probably to make it seem more "quaint." Old-style TV aerials are visible on many houses, the town has a malt shop, some of the neighbors wear fedoras. This is lampshaded with a few characters to show how out-of-touch they are: the Dean having a TRS-80, Biff the art teacher being an aging hippy, about half of everything Mr. Bystander ever says — and most noticeably with Bob himself, who wears bellbottoms, drives a sedan that's got to be at least 30 years old, owns a rotary phone, a working Atari 2600, and a basement full of videotapes. The videotape collection is important because much of Molly's speech patterns derive from it, so she peppers her speech with references that date back to well before she was born.
- Light And Dark: has a setting that is similar to modern day Earth, but with a minor 80s aesthetic to it.
- Justified in 1983: Doomsday. By that timeline's present, the most developed and powerful countries have only just recovered to 1980s or early '90s standards of living and technology; even those places that escaped World War III largely unscathed still had to weather a second Great Depression due to the collapse in trade. Meanwhile, the less fortunate parts of the world run the gamut from Mad Max-style wastelands to Schizo Tech survivor-nations ranging in tech level from early 20th century to pre-industrial, where swords coexist with helicopters and old-school radios.
- Jokingly invoked by The Onion: "Nation Gathers Around Radio Set To Listen To Big Ball Game"
- Used in the roleplaying forum Pacific Lockup, it technically takes place in modern times but everything has an 80s feel to it and there's still a Reagan in the White House.
- Late 80s/early 90s Disney cartoons like DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop, and Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers invoke this to varying extents, usually with episode-specific themes (e.g. 50s style mobs, swashbuckling pirates, and historical-period towns all appearing in early 90s Earth). With DuckTales, at least, it was justified, since the Carl Barks comics on which the show was largely based had been produced in the mid-20th century. (And remember, Scrooge McDuck had been a gold prospector in the Klondike in the 1890s!)
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius take place in the city of Retroville, which follows the trope.
- Several Rankin/Bass Productions Christmas specials invoke this. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is shown to take place in the 1960s, Rudolph's Shiny New Year is shown to take place after 1965, but Rudolph And Frosty's Christmas In July seems to take place at the turn of the century judging by clothing and the dialogue.
- Batman: The Animated Series. Architecture, clothes, and cars in Gotham mostly resemble the 40s and 50s, but on the rare occasion that real dates are given the show is ostensibly set in The Present Day.
- The most jarring, yet awesome, part is the rare glimpses of Dick and Babs as civilians at Gotham University. They couldn't be dressed more for The '50s if they tried. Case in point, Dick's red sweater vest ensemble.
- One episode featured the Joker robbing an electronics convention. A giant "DVD" logo can be seen in the background.
- The episode with the Grey Ghost showed a young Bruce Wayne watching the series as a child on a black and white TV in what seemed to be the 60s. At the end of the episode, the episode is shown to have taken place in late 1992.
- "Joker's Favor" shows someone's driver's license, where it shows he was born in 1946 and appears middle-aged, while his license was issued in 1991 and expires in 1995.
- This changed back and forth throughout the series. Sub Zero has computers in hospitals and color TV, while Mask Of The Phantasm has little trace of the present day. The best explanation is that BTAS Gotham is a city that lives in the past. By the time the series was revamped into The New Batman Adventures it was completely in the nineties, however.
- When Batman: The Animated Series segued into Batman Beyond Gotham had become a Zeerust version of Cyberpunk.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold continues this trend by making it a bit of an Anachronism Stew. Modern innovations like cell phones, video games, and the internet are around, but a lot of the buildings, cars, and characters have decidedly retro vibes. There's very little consistency in this regard, as one episode will have modern clothing and tech, while the next will have fedora-clad gangsters shooting at Batman with Tommy-guns. Though despite this retro vibe, the show definitely has modern social values. Nobody ever comments on the races of minority heroes like Firestorm, Blue Beetle and The Atom, nor the genders of characters like Vixen and Black Canary.
- Justice League: In the episode "Legends", half the team gets blown into an alternate 50s-style universe that invokes The Silver Age of Comic Books, and team up (after the obligatory Let's You and Him Fight, of course) with the Justice Guild of America, a team full of Captains Ersatz for the Justice Society of America. And oddly enough, all those characters are characters from comic books from Green Lantern's youth. Hawkgirl gets pissed at the gender standards, Green Lantern is happy to meet his idols (casually letting a You Are a Credit to Your Race comment slide), Flash is already so corny that he fits right in, and Martian Manhunter receives intense mental images of nuclear holocaust. Wait, what? Turns out in this universe the Cold War led to mutually assured destruction, but the Justice Guild sacrificed themselves to save as many as they could. A kid gained mental powers from the fallout, and basically became a purple, warty Reality Warper, recreating the Justice Guild and placing himself as their kid sidekick, and forcing the townspeople to live out their roles as extras (one man was trapped in an ice cream truck for forty years). Basically, it was a weird episode, and the phrase "Nuns and Dynamite" was important in The Reveal.
- The style of Camp Lazlo was made to evoke the 1950s and 1960s summer camps, using brochures of that time as a main source to the art department.
- The Simpsons, at least in the 1990s episodes:
- Springfield is often shown as still selling contemporary music on LP and 45s, and (for the Simpsons family at least) televisions with dial tuners.
- Parodied in the newer seasons where the HDTV has rabbit ears, if not a comment on the popularity of cutting cable nowadays.
- They had a Betamax VCR well into the '90s at least.
- Krusty is a major celebrity due to hosting a live afternoon kids' show on TV, a notion that was already decades out of date when the show started.
- Much of this is because Matt Groening based the characters on members of his own family when he was growing up in the 1960s. He even explained that Marge has a three-feet-tall blue beehive hairdo because that is what his own mother's hair looked like (from his point of view) when he was much shorter than her.
- Hey Arnold! obviously takes place in the 1990s, but the boarding house gives off a retro feel, as does the rest of the neighborhood. Justified in the fact it's a historical area, the boarding house is over 100 years old, and he lives with his grandparents. Most of the vehicles, such as police cars and city buses seem to be from the 1950s though. The show also uses a jazz soundtrack, kind of like Peanuts and a recurring character is a Frank Sinatra Expy.
- Archer has fashions from the 60s, cars from the 70s, computers from the 80s, and cell phones from the 21st century. Lampshaded in the episode 'Lo Scandalo'.
Archer: The what?! Wait, doesn't Italy use a king?
Lana: No, they don't "use a king!"
Malory: What year do you think this is?!
Archer: I... yeah, exactly. Good question.
- Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot takes place in a world with complex robot AI and holographic recording devices, but there's retro-futuristic styling to the computers and microphones (pic◊; and another◊). The cars tend towards "classic," and the military seems to be structured as it was before the Air Force split off from the Army.
- Regular Show explicitly takes place in the modern day (in one episode time travel TO the 80s is involved), but things generally have an 80s-to-early-90s atmosphere. All video games are Atari 2600-level, VHS is the only video format, casette tapes are still in use alongside CDs, and computers are boxy with CRT monitors and multiple peripherals. Even the most modern cellphones are circa 2004. Going by the episode "The Real Thomas", the USSR may not have collapsed (dialogue only mentions "Russia", but "CCCP" appears in a number of background texts). In the episode "format wars II" the gang even goes in a battle with VCR, DVD, and other old videos formats, against the internet.
- Thomas the Tank Engine is ambiguous in its setting - the fashions suggest 1940s/50s, but locomotives from the 1820s through to the 1970s appear. Modern architecture exists, but at the same time there seem to be steam locomotives working the railways of wherever-the-Mainland-is. A flashback to Duck's younger days depicts people in Victorian costume standing in front of a building from the 1940s and one to Hiro's past puts him in Tokugawa-era Japan, even though his class of locomotive was built during the Second World War.
- Fat Albert is supposed to be based on Bill Cosby's childhood and thus should be set around the early to mid 1950s. This is reinforced by one of the Junkyard gang actually being the young Bill himself. However, the show has aspects of The '70s and The '80s (color television, video games) and also occasionally handles issues that weren't around, or prominent during Cosby's youth.
- Invoked heavily in Ed, Edd n Eddy. It was designed to seem like it could take place in a multitude of eras in order to appeal to a broader audience. It mostly looks 70s but is heavily implied to take place in the 2000s.
- The world of My Life as a Teenage Robot, which appears to be set somewhere late in the 21st century, is a mix of modern and what people thought the future would be like in the 50s and 60s: Fashion and architecture readily mix Art Deco and contemporary design elements. Technology has advanced to the point that other planets have been visited or even colonized by humans, and Ridiculously Human Robots are not widespread, but aren't considered especially notable. Despite this, everyday suburban life is mostly indistinguishable the modern day. The show itself has a somewhat retraux style, including Thick-Line Animation and Pie-Eyed characters.
- Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is set in the 2010s, but everything has a retro aesthetic. It's common in modern day Scooby-Doo series for the Mystery Inc gang to be the only characters dressed in 60s fashion, but everyone here dresses as if The '60s never ended. This even extends to their technology. Computers and the internet exist, but they use older style monitors and the cellphones are 'brick' looking.
- The home of The Berenstain Bears doesn't even look like it's from the 20th century, never mind the 21st, though the cubs are somewhat more modern looking than their parents. The rest of the town looks considerably more modern. This becomes obvious when you compare most cubs to Sister and Brother. Some things are still perpetually retro though, such as the trains.
- Max and Ruby originally took place 20 Minutes into the Past however the cartoon adaptation places it here. For example, video games exist despite everything else looking more like they're in the mid-1900s
- The Amish (and other similar groups such as the Mennonites) are a perfect example as different groups have different standards to what technology they'll accept (typically, they'll accept technologies that help them do their work or are absolutely required by their limited interactions with the outside world, while avoiding things that would undermine their culture). It's possible to see a Mennonite farm with a modern tractor using GPS tracking for computerized crop planning, and no phone or TV in the house.
- Large part of what you might call the Third World still uses technology from decades or even centuries ago as part of their infrastructure because it is that hard to change, but that doesn't stop locals who can afford it to get imported tech, usually of the portable kind. There's nothing strange, really, about a shepherd boy that looks like he stepped out of Biblical times playing his Gameboy while keeping an eye on the family's sheep.
- Sometimes the tech that is used comes in because it makes more sense to skip a tech-generation or two. Cell phones are a good example as in many countries they've gone directly from no long-distance communication straight to cells/smartphones because it's easier to set up some towers to provide coverage around a village and link it by satellite to other systems than it is to string copper for landlines.
- One somewhat amusing example is Cuba, where due to trade embargoes, the streets are full of lovingly maintained classic 1950s American automobiles. Many cars have had nearly every part replaced by exact, locally made duplicates a number of times. Cuba's auto mechanics are renowned as some of the best in the world, simply by sheer necessity.
- Brazil's Tectoy company is known for continuing to produce the Sega Genesis well into the 2000s, about 10 years after it disappeared from other markets. The system remains popular amongst poorer communities because of its cheap cost, and easily pirated games. In recent years, it's not uncommon to find stores full of new Genesis games, even if they were pirated.
- PJ O'Rourke noticed while visiting Somalia in the early 90s that everyone was wearing bell-bottoms - a natural consequence of first-world residents donating their out-of-style clothes to aid groups.
- This can also apply to cases of foreigners speaking English. In some countries that have been cut off from most of the rest of the modern world for decades - specifically, former totalitarian states or countries just making the transition to democracy - people learn American English by practicing from American grammar books; problem is, often these textbooks are enormously outdated, containing idioms and slang from, say, the '50s. Americans in foreign lands in recent years have sometimes reported natives striking up conversations with them and mentioning that something is "peachy keen" and the like. In Yangon, Myanmar (possibly better known as Rangoon, Burma), if you eavesdrop on enough people out on the streets in the early evening, you'll hear them talking in just this fashion. One reporter also noted that the Burmese have recently been exposed to American classic rock, and enjoy discussing lyrics that are pretty obtuse even for native English speakers: "What does it mean when they say, 'We are all just prisoners of our own device'?"
- 20th Century Castles - a real estate company specializing in decommissioned Cold War-era bunkers and missile silos.
- As noted above in the entries on Napoleon Dynamite and Dead Rising, this effect can also happen on a smaller scale in rural towns in the US. A combination of cultural conservatism and distance from major media markets can often mean that the local popular culture resembles that of the '80s or '90s with modern technology thrown in.