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Ambiguous Time Period

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Mallory: What year do you think this is?!
Archer: I... yeah. Exactly. Good question.

An ambiguous time period is where the series takes place at a certain time in the past or future and in the same universe as ours, except for the story elements added by the author, but doesn't state anything specific. This is either because the time period is completely unmentioned, or because it's mentioned but elements of the story or Word of God state that the fiction uses a different calendar than ours.


Sometimes Anachronism Stew will unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) confuse viewers into wondering when the work takes place.

When the ambiguous time period is obviously not long ago, it's an example of Present-Day Past. Could also be an unofficial form of a Retro Universe. This trope is the temporal version of Where the Hell Is Springfield? Contrast Period Piece and Unintentional Period Piece. See also Like Reality Unless Noted.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Gundam takes place in the future, but thanks to their excessive use of Alternate Calendar (several, in fact) how far in the future is impossible to pinpoint.
    • Although we do get a few clues. In Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket it's mentioned January 14th, U.C. 0080 falls on a Monday, while Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ mentions 0088 is a leap year. Apparently somebody once did the math based on this and found 2047 to be the earliest possible date for the changeover (technically, the earliest date would be 2019. The 2047 start date much touted in Fanon is based on some sourcebooks that give 2045 as the last AD date mentioned but don't specify when exactly the switch happened. Sunrise has since declared all timelines that mention the AD era non-canon, though, so now it's anybody's guess).
    • Gundam Wing seems to take place in the mid- to late 23rd century, based off of two pieces of information: the novelization of the series mentions that the circus where Trowa Barton hides out is about to celebrate its 600th anniversary, and the circus' logo (seen in artbooks) has "Since 1667" written on it.
  • Leave it to Akame ga Kill! to get really confusing about this. Most of (non-Teigu-related) technology seen in the series is Industrial Revolution-level at the very most—there are steamships, for example. But then you have the headphones Chelsea wears, Lubbock mentions working at a bookstore that sells manga, and both Seryu and Najenda have cybernetic armor.
  • Inazuma Eleven seems to take place some time in the present to its release, however in the follow up, Inazuma Eleven GO which takes place 10 years later, the technology is still how it would be in 2008. This is especially jarring whenever you see a character use a cell phone, the show's cast using cell phones actually being the theme of one of the show's endings. And they're all using flip-phones you'd expect to find in 2005.
  • It's hard to pin when Michiko & Hatchin takes place. There are vehicles from the 1970s, TV broadcasts with an '80s and '90s style, and every building and infrastructure looks run-down. That said, the show takes place in an undeveloped third-world country, so it makes sense that many of the cars and buildings are outdated.
  • It's not made clear when most of the Angel Beats! cast died. It's implied that you don't have to all be from the same time period in order to be together, nor do you have to be a school kid to appear in Heaven (you automatically just de-age into your younger form). Kanade received Otonashi's heart after he died but it's unknown how long she lasted with it. If she died decades later, the anime could take place 20 Minutes into the Future. On the flip side, Ayato's school uniform (a gakuran and a hat) is outdated by 21st century standards. This implies that he either died decades earlier or that he was an adult when he died.
  • Professor Gerald's diary in Sonic X is signed "20XX". The diary is around 50 years old.
  • It's hard to tell when exactly My Hero Academia takes place, other than it being in the future. Though the level of technological advancement shown seems to place the setting 20 Minutes into the Future, it's been stated that most scientific research has slowed down in order to focus more on the study of Quirks, meaning that the actual year could be centuries ahead of ours. The implication given by the One For All quirk is that the manga takes place in the ninth generation after the quirks have come to existence, but even that gives a rather vague idea of time.
  • Heaven's Design Team seem to exist in a setting completely out of time, as the designs for long-extinct animals sometimes come up after modern animals that still exists today.

    Comic Books 
  • The time period of the The Babysitters Club comics are set in is unclear, in contrast to the explicitly 1980s-1990s source. The fashion is timeless, but the technology level is pre-mid 2000s and children are given more freedom than they usually are in the 2000s and afterwards. The plot of the series relies on it being set pre-2000s because most people wouldn't let 12 year olds babysit afterwards. Dated references from the original books, such as the insult that one of the parents doesn't know what Rainbow Brite (a 80s cartoon) is, are kept.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Far Side tries to avoid pop-culture humor in favor of animal or science jokes and generic satire, with the human characters dressing as if it's some point between the 1930s and the '60s. Adding to the confusion are the "historical" strips set in the Stone Age, medieval times, the Old West or whatever, which are sometimes described in the present tense and sometimes in the (implied) past tense.

    Fan Works 
  • The Hetalia: Axis Powers fanfic The Joyous One.
    A/N: I'd like to remind you that this is a pastiche of (mostly) fake early 1800s/late 1800s/1900-1925ish
  • Don't Haze Me : Kim Possible ended in 2008, but the fanfic takes place during Kim's college years and mentions Netflix. While Netflix's streaming services did exist in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the story could also take place contemporary to when it was written.
  • Love Worth Waiting For combines three films from vastly different time periods: Mulan (206 BC–220 AD), Frozen (1840s), and Peter Pan (1900-1919). This makes it impossible to tell the time period. To make it more confusing, Mulan refers to Captain Hook's crew as "vikings".
  • The flashbacks to 60 years ago in the oneshot Veritas Dolor feature Nat King Cole's version of "When I Fall In Love" from 1956.
  • Fly Me to the Moon is ambiguously dated between 2000 and 2018 due to the past being implied as the 1950s.

    Films — Animation 
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • The Lion King gives no indication of what time the story takes place. There are references that hint it is set in present day and the Timon & Pumbaa cartoon series confirms this, however that show is very dubiously canon. On the other hand, since we never see any humans, it's still plausible to depict the setting as taking place in very ancient or even prehistoric times. Possibly the only clue we have is the appearance of Mount Kilimanjaro, which has more snow than it has lately (due to climate change), meaning it's not set in quite the present day.
    • A lot of the Disney films have this; being fairy tales, they're just set "a long time ago." Sleeping Beauty actually does say "This is the fourteenth century" (though the fashion doesn't match) and newer films tend to aim for more historical accuracy (for example Frozen is set in the 1840s, albeit with some Anachronism Stew here and there), but most of the rest don't even have that.
  • The Incredibles seems to take place in 1960s, but they have computers that function similarly to what we have today. Even the one seen in Bob's office, despite its retro design, would be out of place for that time period. There's also VHS players, which didn't come out until late 70s. Further complicating things, the comics have cell phones and Internet, in line with late Noughties' technology (Violet has her own laptop, for instance) and the sequel having a villain named "Screenslaver". Not to mention that in both films, the technology utilized by the villains far exceeds anything we have today in everything from robotics to matter-manipulation. Brad Bird says that the time period is based more on what people in the '50s and '60s thought the future would be like, so the setting being an Alternate History may justify this.
  • The Peanuts Movie is deliberately vague about when it is taking place, aiming for both nostalgia and sense of timelessness that could (with a few exceptions) pass for any era between the 1940s and today. Among the older elements are Snoopy still using a typewriter (rare since the 1990s at the very latest), Linus still referring to World War I as "The Great War", Westerns still being popular (The Lone Ranger is evoked), and interest in the 1960s space program. Accompanying those are more modern or contemporary tropes, such as karate and 21st-century dance pop (which may or may not be perceptible to the characters).
  • The Madagascar franchise does not make it especially clear when it is set, featuring a somewhat retro aesthetic but dates visible from Freeze-Frame Bonus in multiple movies go back and forth between implying the 80s and implying present day and given that realistic animal ages are used, there can't be that much time between movies.
  • The exact time (and place) in which Wallace & Gromit have their adventures has never been clarified. What we see of the duo's house and surrounding city suggests a roughly late 50s-early 1960s British setting. For example, the truck that Wendolene Ramsbottom drives in A Close Shave strongly resembles a 1951 Guy Otter lorry, but Wallace's beloved Wensleydale Cheese was producing very little cheese in the 1950s and struggled financially throughout much of the latter half of the 20th centurynote . There are also no computers, except that some of the technology appears far too advanced for the 1950s (albeit with a distinctly old-fashioned Diesel Punk aesthetic). One could simply chalk this up to Wallace (and a few others, like Wendolene Ramsbottom's late father) simply being a cracking good inventor, but there are other small touches that suggest such things are more commonplace and not always attributable to Wallace's invention, like the sophisticated Laser Hallway in The Wrong Trousers, the moon robot in A Grand Day Out. The overall setting appears to be something of a minor Retro Universe, but the World Limited to the Plot and the absence of any other humans until A Close Shave doesn't make things any more clear.
  • As an affectionate throwback to the zombie and supernatural horror films of the 1970s, ParaNorman appears very retro, with all the TVs, most of the cars, many of the houses, and the cheesy old horror movies that Norman watches looking very 70s, however there's a number of very modern touches that seem to clash with this:
    • The kids still go to the library rather than the internet to look up info on the witch's curse, but all of them have flip phones, Selma has a laptop, the TVs and movies we see in a store window look very modern, and all the parents at the school play (as in literally all of them) have 90s-2000s era video camcorders.
    • There's also a number of socially progressive attributes to Blythe Hollow that would have been very unlikely in the 70s, like the town's only apparent cop being a black woman and homosexuality being publicly accepted enough for Mitch to casually mention his boyfriend to someone he doesn't know that well.
  • The Australian animated film Epic (1984) is set on the distant past, as it begins with an "In the beginning..." and it features monsters and a dinosaur, alongside present day Australian Aborigines and mammals. It also features The Great Flood which the narrator on the original version implies it to be the Biblical Flood.
  • When Marnie Was There lacks much modern technology, everyone has "timeless" but modern day attire, and is based off a book from the 1960s. It could easily take place in the 1990s, 2000s, or 2010s. Marnie makes it even more confusing as her clothes and name are old-fashioned, though it's justified as she's Dead All Along and from the mid-20th century. An easily missed scene shows a character with a smartphone, implying the movie takes place in the 2010s.
  • 2019's Toy Story 4 takes place 9 years after Toy Story, which took place in the mid-1990s. It's not clarified if Comic-Book Time is in place or not. Everything looks fairly timeless and there's nothing more modern than a car GPS.
  • Intended to be the case in Rise of the Guardians - the town of Burgess in the "present-day" was specifically based off towns from the 80s/90s to give it that timeless feel, and there isn't much in the way of technology like smartphones.
  • The Land Before Time is like this, but with prehistoric life. The main characters are an Apatosaurus, a Triceratops, a Saurolophus, a Pteranodon, and a Stegosaurus, with a Tyrannosaurus rex as the villain. Given the widely different times all of these species lived in note , what time period the movie is set in is anyone's guess. The sequels make it even more ambiguous.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Batman loves this trope. Reporters use very old fashioned cameras and a lot of the film's elements seem to be from The '40s, and yet Batman himself has very modern technology; far better than anything that existed when the movie was made! The closest the franchise comes to explicitly addressing this is in the 1989 original, when a character is shown reading a newspaper from 1947 - but the scene is also set in a newspaper office, where archived newspapers are certainly not uncommon. The costume designers for the Burton/Schumacher films even admitted that, as least as far as the costumes are concerned, the second film, Batman Returns, is set in an alternate 1947 with modern/futuristic technology.
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice attempts a knowing lampshade of the trope by showing young Bruce Wayne and his parents walking home from a movie theater that is showing both 1940's The Mark of Zorro and 1981's Excalibur.
  • The Wizard of Oz could take place in 1899 (when its source material was written) just as easily as it could in 1939 (at least in Oz, where the Emerald City's technology is state-of-the art by 1930s standards and the skirts on the women are shorter than the 1890s would have allowed). The simple costumes, rural setting, and old technology (including a horse-drawn carriage) are all pretty vague. Miss Gulch's outfit in particular evokes more of a turn-of-the-century appearance. Of course, it helps that the state of Kansas (except for Kansas City, of course) is even in the 21st century a fairly sleepy place where things tend to stay the same.
    • One of the farmhands is referred to as wasting his time fooling around with a horseless carriage, and he declares he will get a statue made in his honor in later years because of his inclinations.
  • DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story: Word of God has it that the movie was supposed to take place in the early 1990s, but a number of thing (including Peter renting Mona Lisa Smile on DVD, as well as the existence of digital cable) would suggest it's just in the present day; it pretty much looks as if it could have been set in the present day.
  • Most of the time, The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking seems to be set around the 1940s (when the first books were written). However, the characters are shocked when a local man "invents" a flying machine and Pippi's sailing adventures with her father seem to be out of the 17th century.
  • 10,000 BC appears to be set in prehistoric times, with the main character encountering both a wooly mammoth and a saber tooth tiger. However, he ends up somewhere that appears to be ancient Egypt or at least Mesopotamia (an emperor is having a large pyramid built). Based on the hints in the story, the civilization is meant to be an Atlantis-like place that gets destroyed in the events of the movie, but inspires the later, historical civilizations.
  • Brazil is set "Somewhere In The Twentieth Century"- whilst genre convention would normally dictate a dystopia of this type was set in the future, it's also very Zeerusty and could just as easily be a twisted version of the then present-day world. It's left deliberately ambiguous, and in a way the precise setting isn't meant to be that important.
  • It is hard to pinpoint exactly when Final Girl is supposed to be set. The cars and the dresses the women wear all point out to the late 1950s and the early 1960s, but the television in William and Veronica’s motel room is in color with a digital display and the guns they use are far more modern than that.
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Each character seems to exemplify a different time period in their clothing and demeanor: The Girl, in her striped shirt, short hair, and love of records, seems '60s, Arash loves his '50s clothes and car, Atti looks like she walked out of the 1930s, etc. The actual set looks modern, with oil drills and powerplants in the background.
  • The 1993 film adaptation of The Fugitive plays with this, and not just because it's an updating of a 1960s TV series. The movie does a very good job of not tying the story to any particular time period, partly because the early 1990s (the filming date of The Fugitive and ostensibly its time period) was a fairly conservative era with very few particularly glaring fads or peculiarities and partly because a few subtle retro touches are slipped in, such as a Polish immigrant who can barely speak English and The Dragon of the evil plot being made up to look like a grotesque Film Noir villain. The most specific technology the movie ever calls attention to is computers - specifically, PCs with MS/DOS screens and dot-matrix printers, apparently putting the action sometime between 1980 and 1995.
  • Shakes the Clown: The city of Palookaville appears to be stuck at some blurry point between the 1940s and 1960s, with certain characters in suits and fedoras and clowns still hosting children's TV shows — if not for references to Madonna and the Watergate scandal, and cocaine being a recreational drug.
  • It Follows appears to take place in a world that is a strange blend of various decades between the 1950s and 2010s. The TVs are 70s at least, and play old black-and-white 50s features too often for it to be any sort of marathon or simple showing of classic movies. The cars are largely 60s designs. Our heroine visits a very retro movie theater with a live pianist. One of the main characters reads a book on a strange contraption roughly resembling a Kindle in the shape of a flip-mirror. Only one person is shown to have a cell phone. Not to mention the strange lack of black people in Detroit.
  • Noah is set at some time in the remote past (barring the possibility that what we're seeing is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, of course), but we're not told exactly when. The only compelling clue The Bible offers is that it's definitely taking place before the reign of King David (circa 1000 B.C.); beyond that things get very vague. And given the characters' tribal/hunter-gatherer lifestyle and the fact that agriculture barely exists, it's obviously happening before 3000 B.C. Finally, one animal seen fleetingly in the film appears to be some bizarre prehistoric creature, suggesting that the action is taking place at least several thousand years before the rise of human civilization. So this could be sometime during the late Paleolithic Era, perhaps a few centuries or so before the Western Hemisphere was settled, resulting in a date of, say, 14,000 B.C. (Of course, Jewish tradition — where the story of Noah originated — directly contradicts all of this by holding that the universe was created no earlier than 6,004 years ago.) Making things even more confusing is the level of technology that exists among the other sinful humans - a brief montage at the beginning shows what appear to be skyscrapers, but ones constructed primarily of wooden scaffolding and stone (something that has never existed at any period in human history), while Tubalcain's followers have metal armor and weapons, suggesting a medieval level of technology, but in very modern styles, with helmets that resemble SWAT team gear or welder's masks, and carry rocket-launcher like weapons that fire the glowing combustible rocks we see used as fuel and fire sources throughout the movie.
  • Rob Zombie's 2007 reimagining of Halloween did this on purpose. The early scenes of the movie take place 17 years before the rest of the film, but they don't necessarily depict 1990. The fashions, cars, etc are actually mostly (but not totally) 70s-influenced. However, the present day scenes mix in some 90s technology such as cell phones with (then) contemporary fashion and cars.
  • The London scenes of the earlier Harry Potter films are mostly set in areas of old buildings, so time period can be hard for an average moviegoer to determine, the main clues of then-modern times being the cars shown. A brief appearance of the now-demolished Southwark Towers, however, narrows down the possibilities to between 1976 and 2008. Averted by the books, which explicitly take place between 1991 and 1998.
  • The Roald Dahl book The BFG was released and set in the 1980s, as shown by the Queen being fairly young and brown-haired then. In the film by Steven Spielberg, the cars seen are rather old-fashioned but the Queen is much older and looks like her present day self. Adding to the date clouding is a scene where she calls "Nancy" on the phone and asks if "Ronald" is there.
  • In the 2006 film Penelope (2006), not only do cell/mobile phones and the internet apparently not exist, it's questionable whether answering machines even exist given the fact that several characters are shown surrounded by tons of phones. Notably, said phones are all corded, and Penelope has no trouble finding pay phones to use. Something of a plot point is made of Penelope's dowry, a practice no longer in play in modern-day America (at least officially, though there might still be some cases of a form of Nobility Marries Money quietly happening). The clothing, however, is distinctly 1990s/2000s, credit card use is apparently common, and things such as shatterproof glass exist.
  • Babylon A.D.: The movie takes place sometime in the near future, but it's never exactly stated what year it is or even what decade. Rough estimates based on bits of information present in the film, such as the age of the Soviet submarine, place it roughly somewhere in the early 2030s.
  • The River by Jean Renoir has a very ambiguous setting. It is set in India, apparently during The Raj—the protagonists are the Britons that run a jute factory, and their families—but other than that there's little hint of just when the setting is supposed to be. New American arrival to India Captain John lost his leg in "the war", but there's no hint as to which war. Protagonist Harriet is a tween girl, and the film is narrated by an older Harriet, which may hint to a post-World War I setting (the film was released in 1951), but that's it. (The source novel was set in the 1920s).
  • This Beautiful Fantastic apparently takes place in present-day London, but all the technology is pre-digital and the costumes look vaguely period.
  • The Royal Tenenbaums: Until the final scene has the date on Royal's tombstone being listed as "2001", the movie otherwise seemed to be set somewhere between 1976 and 1984.
  • Se7en could have taken place any time between the 1970s and the movie's 1995 release. Somerset uses a typewriter to type his case notes: this can be justified by the fact that he's about to retire and there isn't any point in or enough time to teach him to use a computer. Index cards are still used to identify books in a library and their borrowers. The library watchmen listen to classical music.

  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories take place sometime between 20,000 B.C. and 9500 B.C. Or as his short story "The Phoenix on the Sword" puts it, "Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas."
  • Warrior Cats appears to take place in the present day. However, nobody knows how long in the "past" the background lore goes back - Word of God has flip-flopped on whether the Clans have been in the forest for 50 years or 30 years, both of which are considered to be too short by fans considering all the leaders and generation gaps we know about. When you go all the way back - before the Clans were formed, before the Tribe was formed, back when their ancestors lived by the lake - there seems to be modern construction equipment; it describes yellow vehicles. Most people accept the series as taking place slightly in the future because of this, but it's not clear exactly when.
  • In Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, the time period is never mentioned. Word of God has said that she knows when it is set, and the location of the island it's set on, but she will not say.
  • Based on the hints, The Quantum Thief seems to take place approximately 300-400 years to the future, but time has become almost irrelevant in a world where most human beings have been uploaded into immortal computer systems that can alter their subjective sense of time by increasing or decreasing processing cycles. The oldest Sobornost Gogols that work in the Deep Time are believed to be at least tens of thousands of subjective years old.
  • It's hard to nail down exactly what period A Series of Unfortunate Events is set in, as "advanced" computers lie alongside telegrams and early mid-19th century automobiles and fashions, as well as practically medieval outlooks on child labour, medicine and the law.
  • It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the stories featuring The Berenstain Bears are taking place. The action never leaves Bear Country, which features very few technologies aside from (early-to-mid-century) cars note  and (pre-1950s) telephones. Shopping malls and color television appear to be fairly new, suggesting an approximate date of 1970; however, one book shows what looks suspiciously like a Rubik's Cube, which was invented around 1980.
  • Diamond Brothers series became this, due to the series schedule slipping a lot. The first book The Falcon's Malteser was released in 1986, so one would think that the series would continue to take place during the 1980s, but then as the books were slowly released, they began to suffer from Time Marches On once the fourth book was released the 2000s. Then when the recent book was released in 2007, one of the brothers had turned an age. It's an '80s/'90s/New Millennium mishmash.
  • It would be easy to assume that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory takes place in the early 20th Century (around the time of the author's childhood) because of the Bucket family's absurdly exaggerated poverty and Charlie's father's horrible factory job, except that Mike Teavee is considered a Spoiled Brat because he's addicted to television. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator confuses the issue even more with all its science fiction elements while being an Immediate Sequel.
  • Vatta's War and Vatta's Peace by Elizabeth Moon take place sometime far in the future. It's indicated in Cold Welcome that nobody knows much about where Earth is or how long ago their area of space began being settled (aside from Slotter Key's date of settlement being about 300 years ago): Ky Vatta's shipwreck survivors encounter technology and wildlife that were probably left behind by Earth-origin terraformers, but the tech is so ancient that nobody has much of an idea how it works.
  • David Drake's series RCN and The Citizen Series both take place roughly a thousand years after Earth was half-destroyed (by Colony Drop in RCN, by biological warfare in Citizen). Beyond that, there's so much Schizo Tech in both settings that the time period relative to the reader is vague at best.
  • Human Resources, when not set in the far future, takes place in some vague time period with bunny-ear t.v. sets, cheap motels and no cell phones.
  • It's never mentioned when Land of Oz takes place. The first book came out in 1900 and the fourth book appears to involve the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (although it is never specified in the text what the year was or if it was that earthquake in particular). The 1925 book The Lost King Of Oz implies the series began in the late 1800s (and that several years have passed since it began). When Dorothy is accidentally sent back to America, the anti-aging spell from Oz stops working and Dorothy turns middle aged.
  • Stray was published in 1987 but takes place in a time period where milk bottles are still left at doors.
  • The A Tale Of... series mixes together several films that are in completely different time periods, making it impossible to pin down the time period of the books.
  • Treasure Island: The year is given as "17—" and the mentioning of King George not clarifying which King George it is, the setting could theoretically be anywhere from 1714 to 1799. Some textual evidence does allow us to narrow it down further, however - the suggestion that England is at war with France would imply a range of 1740-63. Bow Street Runners are mentioned, dating it to after 1749. Stevenson's treasure map includes a date of 1754, and Flint has been dead at least three years, so it must be after 1757. And since they visit a friendly port in Spanish America, it's presumably before Spain entered the Seven Years' War in 1762, so it most likely takes place in the last years of the 1750s or the first two years of the '60s. (The Disney version sets it in 1765, incidentally.)
  • Most stories in the old testament (and, by extension, [[Useful Notes/Judaism the Tanak]]) are set during the reign of unnamed kings and pharaos, making this trope in effect, with a few exceptions. Averted for the new Testament, which is explicitly set during the reign of Emperor Augustus of Rome (27 BC-14 AD).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Pryor's Place falls victim to this: the basic format of the show is Richard Pryor reminiscing about various childhood experiences, however his stories show his childhood friends in obviously 80s attire, not to mention such things as break dancing and arcades exist. It could all be justified, however, in that his stories are fictionalized versions of his life.
  • The U.N.I.T. stories in classic Doctor Who take place sometime in The '70s, or Is it The '80s? Not even The Doctor knows for sure. Not even UNIT itself knows for sure.
  • Similar to the above-mentioned Batman and the below-mentioned Batman: The Animated Series, Gotham's version of its title city has tons of Anachronism Stew going on; the many retro touches include 1950s (and in some cases older!) music still being popular, mild disapproval (from other gangsters) of a woman wielding great power in the underworld, and Oswald Cobblepot's Ambiguously Jewish immigrant mother. Gotham City seems to have progressed faster on social issues than the real world and slower on others - as mentioned before, women holding positions of authority is somewhat looked down on, but homosexuality is rarely worth commenting on, even by the gangsters. Cell phones seem to phase in and out of existence as well, with Bruce and Selina scouring downtown Gotham for a phone booth in a season 1 episode. The intent seems to be that Bruce Wayne is Batman in The Present Day, therefore this is The Past, but making it clear when in the past would tie down how long it's going to take Bruce to become Batman. note 
  • In the early episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series, the writers deliberately avoided mentioning the exact time period the show takes place relative to the present day, but by the time of episodes like "Space Seed" (which involved a group of Human Popsicle superhuman exiles from 1996) it's established the show takes place in the mid-23rd century.
  • Legion has 60s/70s fashions and aesthetics, as well as dialogue implying it takes place in that period, but this is contrasted with modern and at times futuristic technology.
  • On Riverdale, an adaptation of Archie Comics, there are laptops, but old style cars are commonplace. A local gang are referred to as "greasers", and Jughead dresses in an emo style rooted in The '90s. The football uniforms look largely dated, but the students use modern slang, and attitudes towards sexuality and race are modern as well. The dialogue even explicitly states that the timeline takes place in the present day. The Season 2 premiere featured the Riverdale General Hospital, with doctors and nurses wearing 1950's style uniforms. Really, it's a healthy mix of The '50s and the 2010s. Lampshaded when the drive-in is torn down because the times have changed.
  • Pushing Daisies more than likely takes place in the present but has a lot of homes with older television sets and Parisian-style phones, along with very few references to the internet.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events, which, like the above, had Barry Sonnenfeld as one of its directors and producers, is this in spades. But some references to online auctions are used as a joke (in particular, in the first episode when Count Olaf is referring to a defective hourglass).
  • The Good Place, in season 2, after many years spent rebootingnote , celestial beings still make reference to pop culture of the late 2010s. We find out in season 3 that time works a lot differently in the afterlife.
  • Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, like its sister show Riverdale, has modern attitudes mixed with technology, cars, and fashions of The '60s. The characters reference '50s movies as being old, and some have cell phones; however TV's are still '60s models, and Sabrina's aunts still use rotary phones.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Paranoia the year is always 214 since Friend Computer likes the number. This means that the players have no idea how long Alpha Complex has been a hellhole.
  • Monopoly would obviously have to be taking place sometime before about 1890, when monopolies were declared illegal. However, the drawings on the board and the cards are 1930s style, and one of the playing pieces is a sporty roadster.

  • The Rocky Horror Show left the time period unspecified, but the movie has Brad and Janet listening to Richard Nixon's resignation on the radio which would set it in 1974. A lot of the aesthetic of the world outside the castle, and Brad and Janet themselves, seems to be very 1950s.
  • Little Shop of Horrors is similar. The Opening Narration says it set "On the twenty-third day in the month of September, in an early year of a decade not too long before our own". The movie says the same in its Opening Scroll but a radio report later mentions President Kennedy, meaning it must be set between 1961 and '63.

    Video Games 
  • Double Dragon 2 places the game in "19XX".
  • The Mother trilogy indulges in this quite a bit:
    • EarthBound Beginnings was originally set in 1988, but starting from the 1990 English localization and carrying into all later releases, this is changed to an ambiguous point in The '80s. However, since the game doesn't include anything that'd particularly date it specifically to the late 80's in the first place, it feels closer to 1980 or 1981 than to 1988, aiding the ambiguity in later releases.
    • EarthBound is set in "199X", and goes out of its way to avoid any particular trends from the decade in order to feel just as applicable to 1999 as to 1990. Consequently, the game includes not only elements that'd feel contemporaneous to audiences in the game's initial release year of 1994, but also elements indicative of the post-80's cultural hangover that marked the early 90's and even aspects that were phased out by the 1970's, such as rotary phones and elementary school-age girls in bows and dresses.
    • Mother 3 takes things Up to Eleven by outright refusing to give any particular indicators of a range of years, simply being set an ambiguously long point of time after EarthBound, though the modernized Tazmily and New Pork City borrow considerable elements from EarthBound's "199X'' setting as well as a few more additions indicative of the pre-smartphone 2000's, including cell phones with extendable antennae.
  • Nigel from The Lost Crown never does get a straight answer when he asks what year is it in Saxton, a region filled with anachronisms due to its numerous hauntings.
  • Live A Live avoids specifying dates at which chapters occur (although the timeframes are much clearer). Logs in the Science Fiction chapter even go so far as to hide dates with X's (although the "copyright" text in the Captain Square minigame makes it clear it takes place no earlier than 22nd century).
  • The kids at Whispering Rock Summer Camp in Psychonauts talk and act like relatively modern-day kids, but they make references to media and cultural phenomenon from all over the place. The fact that they're all psychic and can, therefore, see things in the future and past, only serves to make it more ambiguous. And if you thought the surprisingly-detailed timeline of Whispering Rock's history you can read in the parking lot will help you, trust us, it won't. According to an official "Friendster" parody website, the game takes place in the early 2000s, but it's unknown how accurate that is to the final game.
  • The Famicom in Madotsuki's room suggests that Yume Nikki could take place as far back as The '80s (though one of the dream worlds is a clear homage to EarthBound Beginnings, which was released in Japan in 1989), but it could otherwise be set anywhere between then and the Turn of the Millennium (when the game was made). Just one of the many ambiguous details this setting has to offer.
  • It's natural to assume that Far Cry 2 takes place in the same year it was released (2008), and no specific date is ever given, however you never see any technology that wasn't around in the 1980's or 1990's (one character, a Western journalist, even uses cassette tape recorders and a black-and-white film camera). The ending also implies the game is a flashback that takes place at some point prior to the present day. A character in Far Cry 4 (which takes place in 2014) is heavily implied to be one of the villains from Far Cry 2 who has undergone a Heel–Face Turn; he looks at least a couple decades older than the character in Far Cry 2 did. Given that the game is loosely based on the Sierra Leone civil war of the 1990's, this timeframe makes sense.
  • As a possible reference to EarthBound, Undertale takes place in 201X. Or rather, the opening scene takes place then; the actual events of the game take place later — implied to be much later. Yet the human world looks more or less in the current day, and technology sometimes seems to be a bit outdated, like the designs of the cellphones and computers. Though this may be justified, considering most of the technology seems to have been pieced together from things Alphys found at the dump.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's:
    • Five Nights at Freddy's 4 unambiguously takes place in The '80s, before the events of the first game, but beyond that, it's unclear as to just what year it takes place in. At first, it would appear to be 1987 due to the teasers prior to the game's release featuring the number, toys of the Toy animatronics from the second game (which happens in '87) appearing, and the entire game building up to what looks like the Bite of 87. However, an Easter Egg reveals a TV advert/program that has a copyright date of 1983 — this, along with Fredbear having a restaurant open (when by 1987 it had been closed for years) seemingly suggests it happens on that year instead. Then the Halloween update added Nightmare BB (whom Scott considered canon unlike the other new animatronics), who looks like his Toy bretheren, seemingly putting it in 1987... only for Sister Location to have an Easter Egg involving the rooms from 4 appearing by typing "1983" on a keypad in the Private Room.
    • Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location takes place after Freddy Fazbear's Pizza closed down, but due to its numerous iterations, it's hard to say which one specifically it refers to. The presence of high tech animatronics and even an A.I. guiding the player, as well as a voiceover from who is implied to be the Greater-Scope Villain suggests it happens in between the first and third games (thus the mid/late 1990s to the early 2020s), though the exact year is still unclear.
  • It's difficult to read exactly when the Devil May Cry series takes place. The models of the cars and Dante's rotary phone imply that it must be the 50s or 60s, but then Dante's boombox (right next to a jukebox, mind you) means that it must be at least the late 60s, then Nero shows up with some very modernized-looking cordless headphones and it really becomes impossible to determine the time period.
  • Grand Theft Auto 2 is set in an impossible time with contradictory hints or statements. The introductory video was filmed in late 90's New York City and looks nothing like the game. The game itself is set in "Anywhere City" where several factions vying for control of the criminal underground, the largest being a company called Zaibatsu Pharmaceuticals. The city is generally has a Cyberpunk Used Future look to it, and the cars are designed with a retro-futuristic look ranging from 30's to 70's style vehicles, and including styles from America, Europe, and even Soviet Europe (exclusive to The Mafiya). More specific clues are:
    • The leader of the Russian Mafiya is a former Red Army Soldier, implying it takes place within a lifetime of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
    • Promotional material for the game lists it as "3 weeks into the future", and a promotional website also references police records from 2013.
    • A DJ on the radio mentions the new millennium is coming, which would put it just before 2000 or just before 3000.
  • Strikers 1945 is specifically set in 1945 (the first game anyway). The planes/tanks resemble those from the World War II era, but they all have futuristic weapons, and the bosses are giant transforming war machines.
  • It's never mentioned when Sonic the Hedgehog takes place. Is it set in the 1990s, contemporary times, 20 Minutes into the Future, or the far future? The characters dress and live in a modern day-esque setting, all while fighting powerful robots and handling very futuristic inventions, and the flashbacks to 50 years ago have a mid-1900s aesthetic (what with the monochrome photographs and the overall fashion). Yet, even 50 years ago they had futuristic advanced technology and science, such as genetic engineering, far beyond early 21st century standards.
  • Narrowly averted in Ace Attorney. While it's made abundantly clear that the series is set Next Sunday A.D. to justify the odd legal system, there is only one explicit mention of what year an event takes place. The DL-6 Incident happened on December 28, 2001, fifteen years to the day before the end of the fourth case in the first game. All other events in the series are dated relative to this event.
  • The Crash Bandicoot series has a habit of time skipping by years every new game, but never specified when the original game took place. However, this is averted with Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, a direct sequel to Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, which specifically dates the game in 1998 (the same year Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped released). The same game plays it straighter with the year for the Bermugula's Orbit world being dated as "???", though the amount of memorabilia found in Oxide's ship implies that it's set sometime after Crash Team Racing.

    Web Comics 
  • Word of God states that the calendar saying that the year is 3031 in Ava's Demon is not the BCE/CE calendar we're familiar with.
  • Alice and the Nightmare is rather ambiguous about its period. On one hand, the fashion is Victorian and there are carriages used; on the other, there are also mini-fridges, plasma screens and Tron-like suits. The closest we get to a clue is Alice and Edith both reading Lewis Carroll's book.
  • It isn't really clear at what time minus. takes place. Background characters often dress like people in the 1890s, but none of the main characters do, and people's attitudes don't seem to be any different from the modern day. It is implied that mid-20th century technology, including automobiles, exists, and city skylines are dominated by modern-looking skyscrapers, but we never see cell phones or even computers. Finally, when one character is sent to the past, she is stuck in what is very clearly Victorian times, yet is able to live long enough to return to the present, albeit as an old woman. Word of God says the comic was designed as a throwback to the old early 1900s newspaper strips, and so the setting could be anywhere between then and the late 2000s, when the comic was made.

    Western Animation 
  • A Running Gag in Archer is the Anachronism Stew, which is lampshaded often. "No Good Deed" shows a gravestone that states the series takes place in the 1900s, but flowers cover up the last two digits. Word of God has stated that it is pretty much a mix between 1960s decor, 1970s cars, and early 1980s computers alongside modern cell phones, the Internet and morals.
  • Batman: The Animated Series has technology and aesthetics from a wide range of era and the few dates shown contradict each other. In the Grey Ghost episode, there is a People magazine cover with him on it that dates the episode in late 1992 and "Joker's Favor" shows a still valid driver's license dated to 1991. But if the dates in Thomas Wayne's yearbook are to be believed, the series' "present day" is in the late 1940s.
  • Hanna-Barbera's series of The Little Rascals is supposedly set in the late 1930s, but they have microcomputers, commercial television and push-button traffic controls.
  • Rugrats could easily be mistaken for perpetually taking place in the early 1990s - especially since the successor series, All Grown Up!, takes place ten years later and was created after the Turn of the Millennium - but later episodes imply the late 1990s due to the Internet playing a large role in the second movie's plot and mentioning later dates.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy was created with this in mind so it can appeal to a varying amount of age groups. The series could take place in The Noughties just as easily as it could take place in The '70s. Small references here and there, especially in later seasons, heavily imply that it takes place in the 2000s, though. The fact that it crossed over with Codename: Kids Next Door and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy further imply it taking place in the 2000s.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball. Most of the appliances have a very 70's/80's aesthetic (and have a lot of inventions from that time, like VHS tapes and video rental stores), but there are a lot of late 20th/early 21st century inventions, like DVD players, social media websites (Elmore Plus, which is a mix between Google Plus and Facebook), a YouTube equivalent website (Stream It), and in "The Refund," Darwin says "Why is it called [the Ripley] 2000 anyway? It's not like it's the future anymore!" One of the writers has jokingly stated that he can't remember if the series takes place in 1950, 1985, 2012, or 2098. Also, sentient A.I.s are a commonplace occurrence, and dinosaurs haven't gone extinct yet. Meanwhile, dates seen in the show usually place episodes in the year they were written, usually the one before the episode premiered note .
  • The Simpsons achieves this largely by virtue of being a Long Runner where the characters are Not Allowed to Grow Up — the earlier seasons in particular had deliberate elements of Retro Universe, but the show has been on so long and is such a venerable property that the established continuity often doesn't fit with the generally present-day setting. So, for example, flashbacks to Marge and Homer's high school days are still set in The '70s (except for one widely-disliked episode that had them as college students in The '90s and another episode set in the 2000s) but flashbacks with Bart and Lisa as little kids are generally set in the Present-Day Past — although earlier episodes established their birth years as 1980 and 1984 respectively ("present day" Bart and Lisa are ten and eight, so that gap doesn't make sense either). It's probably best not to think too hard about it. This gets lampshaded in an episode where Homer's first kiss is revealed to have happened when he was Bart's age. It may have been in The '60s, The '70s, or even The '50s, as he puts it.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender: Given most of the show is set far away from Earth, with the exception of a few scenes in the pilot along with the occasional flashback, it's hard to pinpoint the exact time period. Most of the worlds shown are far more technologically advanced than Earth, but even Earth is further than it is today: There's a Space Cadet Academy for 14/20-year-olds, and space travel has advanced to the point of going on missions to the edge of the solar system. These facts suggest that the show is actually set several decades into the future. Eventually confirmed when "World War III" is mentioned.
  • Summer Camp Island takes place mostly on a camp so technology is limited. From the amount that's seen, the cartoon seems to take place in the 1990s or early-to-mid 2000s.
  • When Over the Garden Wall finally has a Whole Episode Flashback to our world, we don't see any modern technology; also, Wirt owns a tape recorder and a tape of "3 Non-Blondes," referencing a band most popular in the 1990s. Word of God says that the aesthetic was meant to be anywhere from the 1970s to 1990s. The Unknown, for that matter, is an Anachronism Stew, featuring Americana from the Puritan days to the early 1900s. Justified, however, in being Another World (and possibly the afterlife).
  • Samurai Jack: both Jack's home time period and the Bad Future he's sent to at the start of the series are pretty ambiguous. In his original time, Jack was apparently a contemporary of numerous different, conflicting cultures—for example, he trained in Ancient Egypt with the original Egyptian polytheist gods apparently still being worshipped while also being trained by Robin Hood, who lived many, many centuries after Ancient Egypt stopped practicing that religion. Then when he goes to the future, there's advanced technology and robots everywhere but many times Jack comes across villages which are essentially medieval with no modern trappings whatsoever.
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot looks futuristic but still similar to the 2000s. One episode mentions that Jenny actually being five years old means she missed the 100th Super Bowl, implying that the show takes place at least in the year 2072.


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