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Flashback Within a Flashback

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"I don't know if that was a flashback, or a flash-forwards, or a flash-sideways...but I think I was flashed."

Also known as an "Inception Flashback", a flashback within a flashback occurs when a character recounts an event in which he/she also flashbacks into an even earlier event within the flashback. Yep, it's confusing.

These types of flashbacks are used primarily in popular anime/manga to build suspense or burn episode time. Bleach, in particular, uses this trope almost religiously. Do this a lot of times in a row, and you have a Nested Story.

Can be used in Whole Episode Flashbacks, as a character may recount an earlier episode in which he had an Epiphany Comeback or Heel Realization, usually leading to a scene of Fridge Horror. Can also be used to clarify certain instances of Offscreen Inertia scenes that were skipped in previous episodes.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun: Chapter 48 is a Whole Episode Flashback, taking place before the beginning of the series. During that chapter, Sakura recalls her first meeting with Nozaki about a year before that.
  • Invoked in Naruto, which had flashbacks happen every so often between characters. Occasionally, the characters will overlap flashbacks, causing this to occur.
  • Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: Episode 4/chapter 21 starts the second half with Kobayashi viewing the aftermath of an incredibly violent dodgeball game before she flashes back to how they got to that point. During the flashback Kanna tells everybody how Saikawa had challenged a group of boys to a game of dodgeball even earlier in the day.
  • Fairy Tail: Played for drama when Erza recalls her time as a slave in the R-System. She has another flashback of her sole parental figure Grandpa Rob explaining magic to her just as he dies protecting her from a magic barrage.

    Comic Books 
  • Issue three of Gargoyles: Bad Guys revisits the team's training period. During then, Hunter has several flashbacks to her own past. The artist uses a different style for Hunter's flashbacks to indicate which flashback is which.
  • Batman Odyssey: The whole story starts as a flashback of Batman recounting another flashback to Robin and it just keeps going from there. At one point there's near five flashbacks stacked on top of each other. If not for the fact that it's all presented as serious you'd be forgiven for mistaking it as a parody of this trope.
  • Supergirl:
    • In "The Untold Story of Argo City", Allura recalls Supergirl's childhood, which includes a scene Allura where recalls Krypton's destruction.
    • "The Unknown Legionnaire": Superboy's flashback where he narrates the Legion's past adventure includes Supergirl's own flashback where she explains how she lost her memories and created a second secret identity.

    Comic Strips 
  • A variant occurs in a Crankshaft arc: A flash-forward shows Crankshaft as catatonic, confined to a wheelchair, and living in a nursing home. His nurse takes him to see a ballgame, though it was rained out. A flashback occurs within the flash-forward and showed a much younger Crankshaft watching a ballgame, suggesting that he retreated to memories of happy times and was unaware of what is going on now. Later on, the creator would reveal future!Crankshaft to be someone else entirely, leaving readers wondering whether there was misdirection or a retcon. And later still, he was revealednote  to be future!Crankshaft after all, leaving readers totally confused.

    Fan Works 

  • Julia, which is based on a memoir by Lillian Hellman, thus making it a Whole Episode Flashback, has used flashbacks to illustrate the long friendship between Lillian and Julia.
  • In Last Orders, Ray frequently remembers a conversation with Amy while they sat on a bench. During this flashback, the two would have flashbacks of their own during their conversation.
  • Passage to Marseille: The Framing Device has a reporter vising a Free French bomber squadron, whereupon Capt. Freycinet tells him about some escaped convicts who are part of the squadron. The first flashback leaves the Framing Device, as Freycinet tells the story of how the escaped convicts were plucked from a raft. Within that there's a flashback to Matrac and the other convicts escaping from Devil's Island. Within that there's a flashback to how Matrac went to Devil's Island in the first place, namely, framed for murder due to his inconvenient newspaper reporting.
  • In the remake of The Anthropophagus Beast, Nikos, in his journal recalled being lost at sea with his wife, and his dead daughter.
  • Ghosts of Mars: The movie opens with the lone survivor of a mission to transport a dangerous prisoner from a mining colony being found by Mars authorities, then she tells what happened to the government council in flashback. During the mission, after splitting up to investigate, one of her comrades suddenly shows up with three survivors from the colony, and he explains how he found them in another flashback. When he asks them what happened to the colony, this triggers another flashback where they explain how they inadvertently dug up the Martian ghosts.
  • Homecoming is structured as a Whole Episode Flashback from Lee's perspective as his troop transport approaches New York harbor after returning from World War II. Yet somehow we still get a flashback-within-a-flashback from his wife Penny, as she remembers how they first met.
  • The Phantom Carriage has three narrative layers. The main story surrounding Sister Edit and David Holm, the story David Holm tells his two follow drunkards in the cemetery about Georges and within that frame there's Georges' tale about The Grim Reaper.
  • In The Revenant, the hero's Dark and Troubled Past of his wife being killed by military officers and his son being badly burned during the raid, is explored in flashbacks and dream sequences.
  • Saw:
    • In Saw, a flashback occurs when Lawrence recalls being taken in for questioning by the police. While in the station, he watches Amanda, the only known survivor of one of Jigsaw's traps, tell the police about her kidnapping and torture. This in turn leads to a flashback from her perspective, after which we return to Lawrence in the present.
    • In Saw V, the second flashback montage spawned from Strahm's solo investigation on Hoffman (specifically, during the Shotgun Chair scene) is juxtaposed with a series of brief scenes that visually detail how Hoffman's period of depression and Seth's murder went down (including a flashback from the previous montage).
  • The Sin of Nora Moran: The Framing Device has John telling Edith about Nora Moran, who just that night was executed for murder. Those are accompanied with flashbacks to Nora on death row. Within those are further flashbacks and dreams, which is how the bulk of the story is told.
  • Dead of Night: "The Ventriloquist's Dummy" has Dr. Van Straaten tell the story of his consultation in the Maxwell Frere case. In his flashback Van Straaten reads the statement of witness Sylvester Kee...and the bulk of the story then unfolds from Kee's narrative as a second flashback.
  • In Sorry, Wrong Number, Dr. Alexander's flashback about his conversation with Henry about Leona's heart condition segues into a flashback of Henry discussing his marriage.
  • Summerland (2020): The whole film is Alice reflecting on her life. Alice's past relationship with Vera is also shown by several of these within the first.
  • Ryan's Babe, to the point that the flashbacks within flashbacks themselves have flashbacks.
  • Deep River: Kiguchi's flashback to World War II shows his old CO, Captain Minagawa, looking at pictures of his family. Within that, there's a brief flashback of Minagawa's, where he's having fun with his wife and child in happier pre-war days.
  • The Fat Man: Among the film’s numerous flashbacks, Ed Deets is recalling his prison time with Roy when Roy reminisces about how the robbery went down.
  • Kuroido Goroshi: The first 3/5 of this movie is presented as a single extended flashback within a Framing Device, as Dr. Shiba gives Suguro the detective his manuscript account of the case, and Suguro reads. So all the flashbacks within that part of the film, like when Dr. Shiba remembers his last meeting with Mrs. Karatsu before she committed suicide, are flashbacks within a flashback.

  • Octopussy and The Living Daylights, the Ian Fleming James Bond short story, opens with the central character reflecting on events earlier that day, when Bond came to his Jamaica home to arrest him for murder, where he recalls the circumstances in the last days of WWII where he did the deed.
  • Most of Black Legion is Khayon telling the tale of the eponymous warband to his captors, so when he dwells on what happened earlier, this is the result.
  • In Malodrax, Lysander's flashbacks about his first time on the eponymous planet are interwined with accounts of Inquisitor Corvin, who's been there even earlier.
  • In Halo: New Blood, Buck spends most of the novella telling stories of past events. He occasionally goes off on tangents; in one case, he recalls meeting Spartan-IVs led by Sarah Palmer at the end of one chapter, while the very next chapter begins with another flashback to an even earlier mission where he met Palmer when she was still an ODST.
  • It alternates between scenes of the protagonists as adults in 1985 and flashbacks to their childhoods in 1958, but these flashbacks contain many additional flashbacks to earlier events. For instance, Ben recalls being attacked by a trio of bullies on the last day of school, and during that memory the younger Ben recalls the first time he encountered Pennywise the Clown months before.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the House of Fools episode "The Wig Affair", Beef mentions how a "rat beaver thing" that stole Bob's wig has lived in the house since their fathers lived there. The show then flashbacks to the seventies, where the "rat beaver thing" steals Bob's father's caramel wafer. Then it flashbacks again to the fifties, with almost identical dialogue, and the rodent steals Vic's grandfather's brisket.
  • Lupin: Every episode has flashbacks dramatizing Assane's backstory and troubled childhood. In the first episode of the third season a flashback to the 90s shows Assane, a teenager in boarding school, going back to his family's old apartment to retrieve some letters. Within that flashback teenaged Assane has another flashback, of his life with his father in the cramped apartment, before his father was arrested and everything went wrong.
  • In the Person of Interest episode "Many Happy Returns", a flashback scene of John watching videos of Jessica and Peter flashes back to Peter's encounter with Jessica at the airport in 2006. Because John did not ask her to wait for him, she ends up marrying Peter instead.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Flashback", Tuvok's first flashback to the Excelsior occurs in the middle of the battle with the Klingons and Valtane's death. It then flashes back further to show how the whole mess started.
  • The Following used flashbacks constantly during the first season. In an episode from that season, "The Fall", Debra's past is revealed in this manner.
  • Once Upon a Time featured a flashback within a flashback in Season 4 episode Heart of Gold
  • How I Met Your Mother is full of these. The whole series is a flashback to begin with, so any episode containing a flashback is this.
  • Memories of the Alhambra: Episode 13 has a flashback to the death of Marco. In the flashback Cha, a character who was killed off in Episode 3 picks up Marco's phone and Su-jin answers, and we have a flashback within a flashback from Cha's POV where Marco tells Cha that he has an assistant. So a flashback, within a flashback, from a character that has been dead for ten episodes.
  • Good Luck Charlie: In the episode "Sister, Sister", Gabe uses a flashback to remind Jake of how they use Toby's face for advertising to get some extra money. In that flashback, Gabe has another flashback to the events of "Take Mel Out to the Ball Game", where PJ and Gabe secretly had Charlie be a baby model for money. This was noticed, as Jake lampshades how high his voice was back then.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • After Cody Rhodes played The Big Show's embarrassing WrestleMania moments on the Titantron for weeks, Big Show defeats Rhodes at WrestleMania XXVIII. On a subsequent RAW, Big Show, comes out to play a highlight of that match. The next week, he shows a clip of himself showing that clip from last week.

  • A Soldier's Play: Capt. Peterson asks Captain Taylor about Taylor's interrogation of the white officers, Byrd and Wilcox, that confronted Waters just before Waters was murdered. That interrogation then plays out in a flashback, with Taylor questioning Byrd and Wilcox. Within that flashback there's another flashback in which the actual confrontation between Byrd, Wilcox, and Waters is shown.

    Video Games 
  • In Always Sometimes Monsters, flashbacks fill in what happened in the past. If the Mysterious Stranger relates to these, this trope occurs.
  • The first chapter of Final Fantasy Tactics is a flashback relating Ramza's life in the nobility before becoming a mercenary; and within this flashback are multiple flashbacks to Ramza's childhood and friendship with Delita.
  • In What Remains of Edith Finch, the main story is a flashback to Edith exploring her family's old house, framed as her son reading her journal about it. While she's in there, she picks up multiple documents that initiate flashbacks into the lives of her other family members, showing how they died.

    Visual Novels 
  • The events of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth all take place in little more than a day: I-1 and I-5 are the only ones happening story wise. Cases I-2 and I-3 are flashbacks, but case I-4 takes place in a flashback within I-3's flashback.
  • In chapter 5 of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Nagito's undying faith in his own luck is brought up, prompting a flashback to the end of chapter 1 when Nagito is explaining how he pulled off his Gambit Roulette... a scene which itself contained a flashback to the beginning of said plan.

  • In One Piece: Grand Line 3.5, Cory makes a quick recap of the comic's "Island of Rare Animals" arc. It occurs twice: the first time, Cory summarizes Phil's recap of everything he missed, and the second time, it turns out a friend is retelling the whole story to Johnny and Yosaku's future players.
  • In chapter 7 of Unsounded, which is a Whole Episode Flashback, a Flashback Cut is used to show Duane's No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • In Darths & Droids, when Luke asks Bobba Fett why he seeks revenge on Han Solo, Fett has a flashback to meeting Solo on Cloud City, at which time he had a flashback to his father's death in Episode 2.
    Luke: Oh, lord, it's one of these. I'm getting outta here.
  • In the El Goonish Shive storyline "Balance, Part 3", Tedd has a flashback to when he met Arthur about getting a lab. In the middle of it, something his dad says triggers a one-panel flashback to their first meeting in the "Sister 3: Catspaws, Part 23: The Fate of Magic" storyline.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Dan Vs. episode "Dan Vs. Summer Camp", Chris and Dan recall their time spent in Camp Atrocious, run by the corrupt Mr. Tedesco. During that Whole Episode Flashback, another occurs as Mr. Tedesco explains the camp traditions.
  • During the main flashback of Transformers: Prime's episode "Out of the Past", a flashback to the one from "Predatory" plays, in which Airachnid kills Tailgate.
  • In the Uncle Grandpa episode "Shower Party", Mr. Gus and Pizza Steve flashback to a previous flashback they had of Uncle Grandpa making a bunch of partygoers leave by accidentally exposing himself in front of them.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Saddle Row Review" is an Whole Episode Flashback of each of the main characters being interviewed for a newspaper article, and the events they describe during the interview are also shown as flashbacks.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: Exaggerated in the episode "Every Which Way But Ed"; each flashback eventually starts yet another flashback, until the Eds themselves are wondering just where they started.