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His Story Repeats Itself

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Top: the night of the Zombie Apocalypse.
Bottom: 20 years later.

When it comes to a character's Backstory, there is usually one event that stands out among all the rest and made the character what that character is. These characters watched their parents die. They killed someone... or failed to. They let someone down. They ran away from something. This event will surely be the core of these characters’ Dark and Troubled Past, something that they have been spending the rest of their life coping with, living in the shadow of, accepting, or just trying to put out of memory...

Simply put, backstory is a theme. And themes need resolutions. Thanks to the Law of Conservation of Detail , you can probably bet that the resolution to characters’ backstory will involve them facing the exact same or similar event that haunted their past, allowing them to conquer their demons once and for all... or die by them. Such an event is guaranteed to be a climax of some sort and is often highly cathartic.

History tends to repeat itself in the following ways:

  • Characters find themselves faced with the same decision as before. They'll either make the right decision this time or fail the same way again.
  • Characters find themselves faced with a danger, obstacle, or enemy from their past, something they have a very strong, personal grudge against. If they failed the first time, or perhaps succeeded out of pure luck, they'll be able to stand up to it with their own skill this time... or fail again.
  • Characters find themselves faced with the same type of tragedy from their past. This time, they'll be emotionally mature enough to handle it.
  • Characters see someone else going through the same series of events they did. They'll have a chance to help... or use it against them.

Note that a simple Chekhov's Gun cannot qualify. It's also not a realization, symbolic or otherwise, that they've failed or accomplished some life's goal or made some dead person happy. This needs to be a full-blown parallelism between what happened before the story started and what happened during the story.

Compare with Bookends, My Greatest Second Chance and Here We Go Again!.

Has nothing to do with putting your Michael Jackson album on repeat all night. Not to be confused with History Repeats.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • For some students of the Afterlife High School in Angel Beats!, one of the reasons you are there is to repeat your life's story, and making the right choice this time around. That, or simply having a good enough time.
  • Aruosumente has an intergenerational example. Oracle Kian had to die because he got too involved with matters of the military, after which a rule was established that the Oracle may not have any connections to the military. His son Legna's quest to find the source of the killing intent he dreamed of, however, forces him to investigate more than the Senate would ever approve, and he becomes friends with Lante — the commander of the White Knights — threatening him to unwittingly repeat what his father did.
  • Following the Eclipse in Berserk, Guts went on a two-year-long vendetta against Griffith, his ex-commander who condemned him and every one of his comrades to die at the hands of ravening monsters from hell, and drove his lover Casca to insanity in one of the most horrible ways possible as his first act upon becoming a demon god. But in so doing, he left Casca behind, a decision that would cost him dearly. When Guts learns how he fucked up in leaving her behind, he goes through hell and high water to save her, a situation made even more complicated by an event similar to the Eclipse going down, culminating in Griffith's rebirth into the mortal realm. With his chance for vengeance finally at hand, Guts is only stopped by Casca as he realizes that he has to choose, once again, between his hatred and his love. He chooses his love.
  • Daphne in the Brilliant Blue ends with Maia applying for the Oceans Academy again, like in the first episode (in which she failed)... Or does it?
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Scar starts out a member of an oppressed ethnic group, the Ishvalans, wanting revenge on those who nearly wiped out his people, namely Amestris. By the end of the story, he plays an instrumental role in saving Amestris...from the same cabal that manipulated Amestris into its war with Ishval.
  • Juri in Revolutionary Girl Utena has in her backstory been in a romantic triangle with Shiori and another nameless boy from the duelling club. The boy was interested in her, Juri was in love with Shiori, and Shiori was uninterested in the boy but interested in hurting Juri and so convinced the boy to go out with her instead. During the Akio Ohtori Arc, Ruka, the former captain of the Duelist club appears and starts going out with Shiori, although he's really interested in Juri and is trying to make Juri forget her infatuation with Shiori.
  • Sword Art Online: during the Gun Gale Online arc, Kirito is faced with a player who had survived being trapped in SAO with him who was a member of a player-killer guild, who is now killing players in the real world from within GGO.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Jack Atlas and Dragan fought a turbo duel that the latter was forced to throw in order to save his father's life. Years later, when they fought another duel, they both drew the exact same cards they had drawn last time. Both realized that Fate itself wanted them to replay the duel to see who should've won.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Bruce seeing Dick Grayson have to watch as his parents are murdered in front of him like what happened to Bruce many years before means that Bruce takes an interest in the new orphan's well being. When Gotham's Department of Child Disservices utterly fails Dick he takes him in to try and provide a family for someone whose pain he's in a unique position to understand, in the hopes that he can help Dick cope in a more healthy manner than he himself did.
  • One Spider-Man story has MJ tossed off a bridge, exactly the way Gwen Stacy was. Spidey performs the equivalent of More Dakka with his webslingers to ensure the shock is distributed over her body and not just her neck.

    Film - Animated 
  • In Kung Fu Panda, Master Shifu fights a rematch against Tai Lung, his old apprentice-turned-evil, but loses again.
    • You could also say Tai Lung's story repeats itself too — after being denied the Dragon Scroll, he is defeated, paralyzed, and imprisoned; twenty years later he escapes, tries to claim it again, and is again defeated, even when he attempts to use on Po the same move which had defeated him the first time.
    • Perhaps, more importantly, the parallels between Tai Lung's and Tigress' training, and Shifu's differing reactions.
  • Toy Story 4: In the previous three films, Woody had a chance to confront the main antagonist, which he did by either scaring the crap out of them and possibly traumatizing them for life (Sid), throwing them into a little girl's backpack to prove a point (Stinky Pete), and giving them a harsh "The Reason You Suck" Speech about how a Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse (Lotso)—all at the lowest point in their lives. When he does get the chance with Gabby-Gabby in this film, who herself is at her lowest point when the girl she's been trying to get to take home with her rejects her, he comforts her, giving her a You Are Better Than You Think You Are speech and reminding her there's plenty of other kids out there for her to be with.
  • In Turning Red, Mei discovers that her mother, Ming, went through the same experience of dealing with a mother that expected perfection from her daughter and realizes that, despite Ming's best intentions, she has repeated that with her. Mei decides to try to break the cycle of Generational Trauma.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): In the ending, Mark and Madison have to go through losing another one of their family in the destruction of a city where they lived by a Kaiju battle.
  • In Hook, Hook gets eaten by the (apparently not dead) crocodile that bit his hand off.
  • The Rise of Skywalker: The galaxy at large is forced to suffer another war between La Résistance and The Empire—one a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits and the other A Nazi by Any Other Name—which results in the destruction of a corrupt and ignorant Galactic Republic who had fallen to decadence and the subsequent slaughter of millions who dared to defy the bad guys, a member of the Skywalker family falling to the Dark Side and slaughtering the Jedi Order because his teachers feared the worst in him, and a young force-sensitive with a troubled lineage struggling between the light and dark side standing up to challenge his evil...all because everything had transpired according to Palpatine's design.
  • Spider-Man 3: Peter Parker gets a chance to confront his Uncle's killer, as he did in the first film, only it's not the previously-suspected Dennis Carradine, but Flint Marko. In his encounter with Carradine, he startled him and caused the thief to trip over himself and fall to his death. When he encounters Flint, he tries killing him, apparently succeeding (though he's not really dead). When he encounters him again, he lets Flint explain what happened, and properly forgives him this time, allowing both men to move on.
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home: In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man failed to save Gwen Stacy when she fell to her doom during a battle against the Green Goblin. This time, against an entirely different Gobby, Michelle Jones, the Gwen to Tom Holland's Spider-Man, is placed in a similar situation. This time, Garfield's Spider-Man saves her by avoiding the same mistake he made the last time, and is able to find the redemption he sought. He even breaks down in tears when he realizes what happened.
  • Top Gun: The main character's co-pilot is killed in a freak accident after their plane stalls because they flew through another plane's "jet wash." In the final battle, the same thing happens, with a number of implications played out (Maverick keeps his plane in the air this time, but loses his nerve, and starts to flee before having an Underdog Comeback moment and saving the day).

  • The entire Harry Potter series revolves around how Harry miraculously survived a death spell from Voldemort ( thanks to his mother sacrificing herself to protect him) and chronicles how he gets strong enough to finally face him in a rematch. Which he wins by being willing to sacrifice himself and miraculously surviving exactly the same spell.
  • At the very beginning of Warchild, Jos is abducted by pirates and abused by their captain Falcone. He escapes. Much of the rest of the book is spent showing him coping with that experience and the difficulties he has in trusting people because of it. But you know Falcone will be showing up again. Sure enough, in the climax, he captures Jos yet again and repeats the same pattern of abuse. And this time Jos can't even repress the memory. Unusually, Jos isn't able to face his demon or die by them. He's rescued. Not that it stops him from killing Falcone the third time they meet when it's Falcone who's been captured.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • In Moonrise, Crowfeather watched the she-cat he loved die before his eyes. In Starlight, the same nearly happens again when Leafpool is in a Literal Cliffhanger, but this time he's able to save her.
    • In Tree's Roots, Tree's father dies when the two of them fight a fox. Several moons later, a fox attacks Tree and Pebbleshine, and he fears that either he'll die (since the fox would have killed him if his father hadn't taken the hit) or that it'll kill Pebbleshine like the last one killed his father. This time, the two of them are able to fight it off.
    • In Mothwing's Secret, Mothwing's brother Tadpole drowned when they were young. Later on, one of her Clanmates gets caught in deep mud, and her mind flashes back to another black cat looking at her desperately. Their Clanmates are able to rescue him, and their care for him inspires her to take the path of a medicine cat.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Birds of Prey (2002) did it with Black Canary, recreating her traumatic kidnapping in order to allow her to come out ahead and prove to herself that she was stronger. Or something.
  • Doctor Who: In the first season of the Revival Series, it's established that the Doctor was forced to commit double-genocide against both the Daleks and the Time Lords to end the Last Great Time War, leaving him with a massive amount of trauma and guilt. Over the course of the season, he comes to terms with this with Rose's help, and when given the chance to wipe out a reborn Dalek empire at the cost of humanity in "The Parting of the Ways", he chooses not to, emphasizing how much he's grown. Later, in "The Day of the Doctor", the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors choose to stand by the War Doctor on the day he ended the war, at which point Eleven realizes that they can instead trap the Time Lords in a pocket universe instead of killing them off, emphasizing the Doctor's further growth since Nine.
  • This is often used in Highlander: The Series. In the past, an Immortal enemy killed someone Duncan cared about. In the present, Duncan must face him again and this time stop him from killing Duncan's friends and/or lover.
  • The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Obsession", where Captain Kirk couldn't save people from a monster.
  • This is used in Teen Wolf. Derek has first-hand experience and reasoning as to why he thinks Scott shouldn't date an Argent.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • CM Punk's blood feud with MJF is a retread of his star-making feud with Raven, except with Punk as Raven and MJF as a younger Punk. Years and years ago, Raven arrived to Ring of Honor a different man, clean and ready to help the younger talent, only to be viciously antagonized by a young Punk, who resented and hated Raven for personifying everything Punk hated about his alcoholic father. Fast forward almost two decades later, where a much older, wiser, and overall more humble Punk arrives to All Elite Wrestling after walking out of WWE and professional wrestling in general seven years prior, seeking to do the same thing Raven wanted to do, only to be viciously antagonized by MJF, who initially acted like he hated Punk because he had become a "corporate product" not unlike John Cena, but in truth despises Punk for leaving wrestling for seven years and abandoning his fans (or, to be more specific, MJF himself). Punk openly acknowledged the similarities after learning about MJF's Start of Darkness and tried to make some sort of reconciliation between them before it became clear that, just like a young Punk, MJF wasn't ready to accept the faults of his heroes and make peace with them, ensuring that the two could only settle their feud with violence — in this case, an insane dog collar match, similar to the one Punk had with Raven all those years ago.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: Tex is an incredibly skilled mercenary, but every time the goal she's after really matters to her she fails at the last minute. Church later explains this is because she's an AI based on the Director's memory of his dead wife. The Director has spent years thinking about the mistake Allison made which led to her death, which carried over to Tex by making her always fail.

  • A Broken Winter: After failing to save his son's life, Kuroda is given the chance to save his best friend's son, Kokkan, which he does eventually. He then raises the child in his son's place, even going so far as to alter public records to keep Kokkan's true identity (wanted son of a terrorist) a secret.
  • MAG ISA — the entire comic is all about the recurring theme of being alone. Both among the protagonists and antagonists.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Happened over and over again with Zuko. Most notably was his final showdown with his father where he was about to get burned once more, but instead deflected his father's lightning.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Princess Luna suffers from an unusually-literal version of this trope when she inflicts recurring nightmares on herself in which she turns into Nightmare Moon and defeats the Mane Six, just to remind herself never again to give way to the Nightmare.