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Troubled Backstory Flashback

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Wanda: I don't want to go back there.
Agatha: I know you don't. But it's good medicine, angel. The only way forward is back.

A specific Sub-Trope of Dark and Troubled Past, Flash Back, and Tragic Hero.

When a movie starts after The Hero suffers a great personal tragedy that motivates them to go on a quest for justice or revenge, the audience will be curious about what exactly happened to this guy or gal to make them such a nigh unstoppable badass. An Opening Scroll may work for a Space Opera, but not here, where it would trivialize such a personal hurt. So directors instead use a Flash Back to deliver this Exposition.

It'll begin with a Happy Flashback, a snapshot of a happier time with the people who have since been killed. The flashback will be bright, much brighter than the drowning-in-dark main cinematography, and use a non-desaturated (or even super saturated) lively color palette. It will sometimes use softened edges and warm gold tones, when not in sepia, and have a sweet but slightly jarring melody (preferably a music box) or obviously sad fare. Then the disastrously happy loved ones will be killed as the happy flashback suffers a Sugar Apocalypse into a gory bloodfest. For extra pathos, the hero will be helpless to save them or Forced to Watch.

We aren't being over-dramatic here; these flashbacks run the risk of portraying the hero's pre-tragedy life as more nauseatingly happy than a Norman Rockwell painting on distilled Glurge. This may be intentional, since the net effect is the hero's life effectively goes from living in a Sugar Bowl to a Crapsack World.

Not all Troubled Backstory Flashbacks are given all at once though. A director may space out the flashback in order to keep the exact nature of the tragedy a suspenseful secret. To this end it will be be shown in snippets that get progressively longer, until near the end of the movie when the hero breaks down and narrates the entire flashback to a friend or Love Interest. For extra creepy factor the flashback will be a garbled mess mixing the happy memory and the bloody aftermath.

See also Happier Home Movie and You Remind Me of X.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Angel Beats! does this frequently, with Yuri, Iwazawa, Yui, and Otonashi all getting flashbacks explaining their often Dark And Troubled Pasts and the circumstances of their deaths. Justified in Otonashi's case, as he begins the series as an Amnesiac Hero and only remembers his past later.
  • Bleach:
    • There's one of these early in the story when we see how happy Ichigo was with his mother, and then her death at the hands of Grand Fisher.
    • Turn Back the Pendulum went into Urahara's backstory as a captain and how he turned into an exile, as well as those of the Visoreds.
    • Everything but the Rain goes into the back story of Isshin and Masaki. Being quirky, bubbly personalities, the back story was anticipated to be a Meet Cute tale. It wasn't. While Isshin and Masaki have their Meet Cute and heroic tale, Ryuuken not only has a Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl deal with Kanae, it's also shown why he's so determined to be Heroic Neutral in the current storyline.
  • Berserk - The Golden Age arc. It portrays Guts' crappy origin, how it got better and how in the end things went From Bad to Worse.
  • This trope is used and justified in Death Parade. The episodic characters we meet have just died, but due to “the shock of dying,” have forgotten core memories that led to their deaths. Their (usually traumatic) memories are uncovered by flashbacks that are triggered during a Secret Test of Character.
    • The Dark-Haired Woman’s Mysterious Past is finally revealed in full in episode 11. Her flashback sequence is shown chronologically and it seems she lived a happy life until a serious injury during a figure skating performance rendered her unable to skate anymore, leading to a deep depression that led to her being isolated from everyone she cared about, culminating in her suicide. Notably, her memories become very desaturated during this period, and she’s constantly framed in shadow.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, there are flashbacks of happy, young Ed and Alphonse with their mother. There's then a flashback of her dying right before their eyes.
    • And the flashbacks of the Ishval Genocide, to most of the soldier main characters.
    • And all the flashbacks of the failed human transmutation.
  • Black Butler has flashbacks of Ciel when he's a happy little boy, laughing and smiling. Then one sees bits and pieces of the horrors he went through and witnessed (one of which actually causes him to vomit at the memory). This is more prominent in the manga.
  • The entire episode/s of Trigun that flashback to REM and show what happened with Vash and Knives aboard the SEED ship on their way to Gunsmoke.
  • It's best not to make a Drinking Game out how many times these sorts of flashbacks appear in Naruto. It'll probably kill you.
  • Crona's past in Soul Eater. Made worse by the simple, child-like style in which it is drawn/animated. Crona's is the stand-out example for known backstories in the series; the main cast has far more mundane, and (generally) less violent pasts.
  • Almost every character that's shown somewhat often in Fruits Basket gets one of these, even more minor characters like Kakeru and Machi. Subverted by Kimi, whose "troubled backstory flashback" wasn't so troubled.
  • Mandatory for a character to join the main crew of One Piece. Most of the flashbacks took up one episode, others took three. Luffy's past, after nearly 500 episodes, actually gets expanded upon - which the anime is using to to fill up as much time as possible.
    • Even some of the villains have these, as Charlotte Pudding shows in 862.
  • Tiger & Bunny's Barnaby has a considerable number of these — usually in the form of his own nightmares or frequently recalled and re-analyzed memories. The number of inconsistencies that turn up during each repetition of a particular memory are a clue that they are, in fact, Fake Memories planted by his Parental Substitute, Albert Maverick.
    • Episode 16 reveals Lunatic's past through these.
  • Inuyasha: There are some flashbacks to Inuyasha's childhood (mostly anime filler). His memories aren't happy, including remembering how sad his mother was when he first heard the term "half-breed" and how he was forced to flee for his life from youkai. He was orphaned at an early age so raised himself and made his own place in the world so that the world could no longer hurt him. The canon mostly focuses on his tragic backstory with his first love, Kikyou, which was ruined by the Big Bad and led to them trying to kill each other in hatred. Anime filler also expands upon this.
  • Elfen Lied at times is all but made up of this trope.
  • The first six books of A Cruel God Reigns are a flashback to the six months prior to Greg and Sandra's funerals.
  • Code Geass has a few, most notably for Lelouch, C. C., and even the Emperor and V. V..
  • Lupin III: Crisis in Tokyo: Maria keeps having these. They involve scientists, and experiments, and promises that "Daddy will protect you".
  • Hell Girl has one for Ai and each of her minions except for Kikuri.
  • Subverted in Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, where the title character asks the villain Halekulani why he's so obsessed with money. One of these begins as Halekulkani starts to explain his backstory... only for BoBoBo to interrupt it by punching him in the face.
  • In Heat Guy J, Clair has one of these in an early episode, triggered by a robot boy who was programmed to say "yes" to just about any command and ask if it was alright. It doesn't start with a happy memory, just a montage of Clair being pressured by his father, and being too afraid of him to disagree. He has another one later, when Daisuke calls him out on his Inferiority Superiority Complex (this time to being beaten by his father) and another when he's worried about his friend/bodyguard, Giovanni, who has been attacked by a rogue J. This flashback is to the deaths of his two other bodyguards, and the time he killed his father.
    • Kia Freeborn has one of these, too. He flashes back to a happy life with his parents, but it quickly turns sour as his father lets fame go to his head and starts drinking, using drugs, cheating on his wife, and beating her while Kia cries in the other room. It ends with him going to inform his dad that his mom died, only for him to see how happy his father is with his new family.
  • In Endride, most of the Ignauts get one, but Demetrio's is particularly textbook, showing his growing friendship with Lucio until Lucio's murder, which prompts him to form the rebel army.
  • Episode 10 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an episode-long Troubled Flashback for Homura Akemi. To this point the viewer has mainly seen her as a ruthless, cynical Dark Magical Girl who seems to only antagonize the other characters; the revelation that she was once a meek, sickly, self-hating Meganekko who had learned the Awful Truth about the Magical Girl shtick through repeatedly trying and failing to save Madoka puts her in a significantly more sympathetic light, to say the least.
  • Attack on Titan likes using this trope for the few characters who weren't already born into a terrible situation. Some examples of more prevalent characters that get this treatment are Mikasa, Reiner, Grisha Yeager, Eren's father and, by extension, his son Zeke (although only partially).
  • In Great Pretender, each of the four arcs is interspersed with flashbacks to each of the four main members of Team Confidence, and shows what motivated them to turn to conning.
    • The first arc focuses on protagonist Makoto: His father was arrested for human trafficking, leaving him unable to get a good job. His mother died shortly after. He turned to crime because he had no chance to make an honest life.
    • The second arc focuses on Abbie: She was a survivor of the 2003 bombing of Baghdad and became a Child Soldier. She's less of a conwoman and more a Death Seeker doing dangerous things in the hope one kills her.
    • The third arc focuses on Team Mom Cynthia: She was a stage actress living in London with her artist boyfriend Thomas. However, an art critic discovered that Thomas had a talent for forgery and corrupted him into working for him, driving them apart. Unsure of what to do, she started using her acting talents for conning.
    • The fourth and final arc finally goes in depth on The Chessmaster of the team, Laurent: A poor kid from Brussels, he was recruited by the original leader of Team Confidence, Dorothy, and fell in love with her. Unfortunately, she was captured by Yakuza boss Suzaku and murdered in front of him, leading him to start an extremely long con, masterminded by Makoto's father Ozaki, to get his revenge.
  • Moriarty the Patriot Moran gets one in his Day In The Lime Light arc The Mañana with the Golden Army. While his life hadn't been perfect, he had been quite happy with his squad in the army until they were betrayed, ambushed, and murdered—and even he was declared legally dead—which motivated him to work for William promoting equality in Britain as well as getting his own revenge before devoting himself to William's cause fully.
  • In Knight Hunters, Aya Fujimiya's flashback to his younger sister's sixteenth birthday is all bright, cheerful images of the smiling girl having fun at a shrine festival - but then it starts raining on the way home. You can probably guess what happens to his happy, loving family next.
  • Holoearth Chronicles Side:E ~Yamato Phantasia~: Mio is asked if she can use her divination for tracing a missing person. It's not shown who scared her when she tried that as a child, but she denies knowing such ability.
  • Shimeji Simulation: A flashback of Big Sis' elementary years in Chapter 30 showed a glimpse of her tragic past as a victim of bullying from her peers due to her conflicting interests. Then a panel of what looked like her talking to her teacher, before he coldly told her to be (presumably) more social towards others]]. After the flashback she and Shijima are seen at a playground, with Big Sis claiming that they have no parents and how their town is "not for them".

    Asian Animation 
  • Mechamato: When Mara hears that fire incidents are increasing around town, she recalls the incident when she rescued a child from a fire, a Heroic Sacrifice which paralysed her from the waist down. The flashback has two parts, and Mara zones out upon remembering each time.

    Comic Books 
  • Godzilla x Kong: The Hunted: Raymond Martin's backstory as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds is revealed when he flashes back to it just before receiving news of Scylla's attack on the Indian nuclear power plant.
  • Certain issues/chapters of Watchmen are devoted to the backstories of specific characters:
    • Issue #2: The Comedian
    • Issue #4: Doctor Manhattan
    • Issue #6: Rorschach
    • Issue #9: Silk Spectre
    • Issue #11: Ozymandias
    • Doomsday Clock continues the tradition by devoting Issue #4 to Rorschach II.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • A How We Got Here narrated flashback that takes up half of The Emperor's New Groove.
  • Po has a few of these regarding his biological family throughout Kung Fu Panda 2, starting with brief visions and culminating in an extended flashback, all shown in 2D animation.
  • Song of the Sea: While leaving The Great Seanchaí‘s cave, Ben uses his mother’s life hair to see the night of Saoirse’s birth and her disappearance from her perspective. The truth is that she was running out of time to stay on the surface and had to transform to give birth to Saoirse safely. Their father’s grief and confusion left him unable to properly explain what happened to his son, which resulted in Ben blaming Saoirse for what happened for the next six years.
  • Wreck-It Ralph plays this for laughs, explaining Sergeant Calhoun's 'dark past' through a quick flashback of her wedding day when her husband-to-be is unexpectedly eaten by a Cy-Bug that came out of nowhere, and Calhoun responds to this by pulling a minigun out from her wedding skirt. Fitting with the film's video game setting, Calhoun's backstory was just 'preprogrammed' into the game and never strictly happened in her arcade game itself.
  • Manny has one in the first Ice Age movie, in the form of an animated cave painting showing a tribe of humans killing his family.
  • In Turning Red, Ming regressing to her childhood self in the astral realm effectively serves as an interactive flashback to her Dark and Troubled Past.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010) has one of these flashbacks.
  • In the 2005 adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka has several flashbacks to his youth when he was disowned by his candy-hating dentist father for wanting to be a chocolatier. After one of these, he even admits "I'm sorry, I was having a flashback," much to the concern of Mr. Salt and Mr. Teavee.
  • This is all over the place in Max Payne, where it takes the better part of the movie to fully reveal how Max's wife died.
  • Sam Raimi's The Quick and the Dead has repeated flashbacks of the heroine's childhood that reveal slightly more each time, meaning that some iterations are misleading (one early flashback shows her being chased by a man, who is revealed in a later flashback to be a friend shepherding her to safety because the real villain is coming).
    • This was probably based on a similar use of flashbacks in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, where Harmonica was relentlessly pursuing the villain Frank (played ironically by Henry Fonda), with a few flashbacks showing a blurred figure. In the final showdown, we get a full flashback which reveals the blurred figure is Frank, who had Harmonica's brother hung from a bell and standing on his shoulders.
      • A lot of Sergio Leone's Westerns had these. For a Few Dollars More had a flashback involving a young woman being raped by the villain. It turns out she was Colonel Mortimer's sister, who had killed herself to keep El Indio from getting the satisfaction of raping her, and Mortimer is after revenge. Duck, You Sucker! also had a similar series of flashbacks to John Mallory's life in Ireland with a friend and a woman they both loved. It turns out Mallory killed his friend after he was forced to turn him into the authorities, which ends up influencing him in the present when he faces a similar situation but spares the man responsible.
  • Home Sweet Home (2005) has the flashback scene for Yim-Hung, the supposed "monster" lurking in a high-rise apartment's basement. Set in the late 90s, Yim Hung's entire family, living in the slums, gets evicted because of the new Hong Kong high-rise apartment construction project, and subsequently lost her husband and son in an accident, turning her into the deranged child-abducting monster she is.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street gives us one of these in the flashback/musical number "A Barber And His Wife," which shows Sweeney and his beautiful wife as they used to be before Judge Turpin came along.
  • Give My Regards to Broad Street has one during "Wanderlust" and another on the car ride between that recording session and the EMI Thorn music video production lot. These are much closer in tone to the film's "present" than usually happens because the crisis itself is less visceral than usually happens.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 features a lot of flashbacks spread throughout the movie featuring a younger Rocket and the High Evolutionary, making up some of the most traumatic and saddest scenes in the film.
  • In The Country Girl, the protagonist has a flashback to the day his son was run over.
  • Kainen's backstory in Outlander is spread over several flashbacks. His family's death (or rather, Kainan's discovery of their death) is shown before the scenes of Kainan and his family, happy together.
  • The various flashbacks from Eric and Shelly's life together before it was all ripped apart in The Crow (1994). May well be the codifier for the trope's use in horror movies.
  • In Airplane!, pilot Ted Striker is haunted by horrific (and increasingly absurd) images of the tragedy he endured.
  • In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Thorin's Dark and Troubled Past is shown twice: once in the Action Prologue that depicts the fall of Erebor and the exile of Thorin and his people, and again in the Battle of Azanulbizar when Thorin's grandfather Thrór is killed by Azog the Defiler. The flashbacks are used to explain Thorin's proud nature and his commitment to retake Erebor from Smaug, as well as his bitterness towards the elves who abandoned the dwarves at the fall of Erebor.
  • Many are provided throughout After Earth, all involving Senshi.
  • Killer's motivation to kill promiscuous teens in Death Screams is vaguely explained by two short flashbacks to his childhood.
  • In Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker (1964), the main character is traumatized by what happened to him and his family in a WWII Nazi concentration camp. The movie is full of split-second flashbacks that depict scenes from that time and which the character can't seem to suppress any longer.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs, we see glimpses into Clarice Starling's past, twice. Once where she greets her father after his long day at work, and another when we see her at her father's funeral. The rest of her back story is explained on screen in conversation. It's also where the title comes from.
  • Tell No One has an interesting combination of this trope and a Happy Flashback; when Alexandre is drunk early in the film, we see his memories of his First Kiss with Margot, their wedding, and her funeral.
  • Black Narcissus shows Sister Clodagh flashing back to her pre-vocational life in Ireland. We discover that the reason she became a nun in the first place was because she became the Unlucky Childhood Friend to a man called Conn. When the village expected them to marry, he instead took off for a new life in America.
  • Sunshine Cleaning has a scene where Norah goes trestlingnote  and her initial euphoria segues into a flashback. When she was just a child, their mother committed suicide, and her two daughters found the body.
  • The Yellow Handkerchief has Brett flashing back to his life before prison - where he had a relationship with a woman called May. These are spaced out over the film - showing how they met, fell in love and the reason Brett went to prison in the first place.
  • Scream 3 features a scene where Sidney enters a movie set that's a reconstruction of her bedroom. As she sits down on the bed, audio from a conversation she had with Billy in the first movie plays.
  • Arrival has Louise regularly flash on memories of her daughter, who died from cancer as a teenager. Sometimes they're general happy times, sometimes they're part of her thinking about the main plot, as when she remembers her daughter asking what "a zero-sum game" means at the opportunity. The Reveal is that these are not flashbacks.
    Louise: I don't understand. Who is this child?
  • Towards the end of The Phantom of the Opera (1962), there is a flashback that explains how Professor Petrie became the titular Phantom. He was a composer who came to Lord Ambrose D'Arcy for help with publishing his music, only to be betrayed when D'Arcy claimed it as his own work. The furious Petrie broke into the publisher's building one night to destroy the freshly printed copies of the music. A fire broke out, and his face was horribly scarred when he tried to extinguish it with nitric acid he mistook for water.
  • In I Dream In Another Language, Isauro and Evaristo's severed friendship is detailed in a flashback that goes back 50 years. One afternoon, Evaristo goes to Isauro's Sunday class and tries to persuade him into hanging out at the beach with him. Eventually, it works and upon reaching the shore, they fall in love with Maria. As the days go by, however, the Love Triangle turns deadly and Evaristo almost murders his friend for it. From that moment, nothing is ever the same for the two men.
  • No Time to Die opens on a flashback of Madeleine Swann's youth (which was hinted at in Spectre), hiding in Norway with her mother while waiting for the return of her father, Spectre agent Mr. White. Lyutsifer Safin, who brewed his own revenge against Spectre for killing his family, comes to them, kills Madeleine's mother, gets shot at by Madeleine and spares the life of the little girl (though not until after she gets a cold bath under the ice on a lake). Then the film cuts to present day with James Bond and Madeleine enjoying life in Italy.
  • Jason's Lyric: The main protagonist, Jason, is still haunted by the nightmares of the night his father was shot dead, despite he also remembers the times when his father used to be a loving father and husband to his mom before turning abusive after coming home from Vietnam War as a veteran. Later, it is revealed that it was Jason himself, who accidentally shot him when intended to stop his old man from potentially killing him and his family, when the latter came home drunk and attacked them.

  • Old Scores: Simon recounts the demise of his friendship with Salem to Anita. Earlier in the novel, his mind briefly drifts to the fire in the gym.
  • Talion: Revenant: An extensive flashback is shown of how Nolan's family were murdered, which caused him to become a Talion in hopes of getting revenge.

    Live Action TV 
  • Andromeda includes one of these in the Season 2 opener. Andromeda shows Beka the classified mission she was attempting to reenact. Under orders to find the source of the Magog invasion, they found the World-ship and her entire crew was killed.
  • The Season 9 Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic The Hero Of His Own Story.
  • In the Fantasy Island episode "Photographs," a woman remembers watching her eleven-year-old son riding around a field on horseback before being thrown off and killed.
  • Fantasy Island (2021): Christine Collins' childhood as Crystal Jo is revealed this way in the pilot - her abusive stepfather played a big part in her behavior as an adult.
  • House does this in the episode "Three Stories", where House is holding a class and presents three cases of patients with various maladies to their legs. One of those cases is actually Dr. House's, showing the chain of events that ultimately resulted in in his chronic leg pain and compromised mobility.
  • In the pilot episode of JAG we get to see the accident where Harm five years earlier crashed an F-14 on an aircraft carrier, which killed his RIO, grounded him as an aviator and put him on a different career track as a lawyer.
  • Leverage did this for the first season or two for most characters. Parker's flashbacks were the most traumatic, disturbing and nonsensical.
  • Lost has such a flashback for each character during their character spotlight episode.
  • Several times in The Mandalorian, the Armorer's forge seems to trigger flashbacks in both Din Djarin and Grogu. For Djarin, it's when his family was killed by Separatist battle droids during the Clone Wars; for Grogu, it's when he witnessed Order 66 and saw his fellow Jedi massacred by Clone Soldiers.
  • The pilot of The Mentalist contains a series of brief flashbacks showing Jane in his previous career as a TV psychic, first doing a "reading" for a studio audience member and then offering a psychic profile on a serial killer named Red John. The final flashback shows why and how things changed for Jane; Red John took offense to the way Jane spoke about him and killed Jane's wife and daughter to teach him a lesson.
  • Monarch: Legacy of Monsters: The first episode introduces Bill Randa's granddaughter Cate Randa, a jaded and surly young woman with daddy issues who comes to Tokyo looking into her presumed-dead father's overseas office, only to discover that her father had a Secret Other Family which includes her half-brother Kentaro, much to her disgust. Flashbacks over the first episode reveal that Cate is the way that she is because she was a schoolteacher who was caught up in the Kaiju's citywide destruction in Godzilla (2014), where she saw all but a couple of her students (whom a later flashback in Episode 5 shows she was a Cool Teacher towards) fall to their deaths in front of her, and where her father abandoned both her and her mother to go to his presumed death on work when she was freshly traumatized.
  • NCIS: We occasionally see flashbacks of Gibb's deceased wife and daughter. Usually they are of the happy orange-and-yellow-washed picnic variety, but just once we see glimpses of blood and broken glass and an implied bloodbath.
  • Medici zig-zags. Cosimo's flashbacks generally show a happier, more innocent time but one still tinged with serious regret as he betrayed several friendships, ruined lives, lost love and never wanted to become the family patriarch anyway.
  • Parodied in the Seinfeld episode "The Fatigues" with Frank Costanzas flashback to making his men sick as an army cook.
  • Stranger Things: In "The Upside Down", as Hopper goes into The Upside Down with Joyce to save Will, he’s struck with flashbacks to his past: he was married and a loving father to a little girl named Sara, but then she had cancer and later died.
    • Much later, in Season 4, Eleven revisits forgotten memories of her time in Hawkins Lab, in which she is mercilessly bullied by the other subjects, with her only ally being a character known as the Friendly Orderly, who stands up for her and offers to help her escape. He is actually Dr Brenner's first test subject, the murderous telekinetic Henry Creel, aka One, and after tricking Eleven into removing an implant that was suppressing his powers he massacres everyone he can find in the lab. When a horrified Eleven confronts him and declines his offer that We Can Rule Together, she battles him in a psychic duel that ends with him being hurled into the Upside Down (where he is transformed by the Mind Flayer into the season's Big Bad, Vecna) and Eleven overloading her powers, falling into a coma, and losing her memories of the incident. Regaining these memories is key to her re-powering, allowing her to aid her friends in their showdown against Henry/One/Vecna.
  • The Walking Dead (2010) has a set of this showing Michonne's backstory- but her husband and friend gradually transform into walkers over time while supposedly sitting around the kitchen table.
  • Yellowjackets The spotlight episodes for Taissa and Natalie feature one for each.
    • "The Dollhouse" has the death of Taissa's grandma. The woman, who had been at peace with death, ends up screaming in her deathbed about a man with no eyes who wants to take hers.
    • “Bear Down" has Natalie's abusive father accidentally shooting himself in from on her. Ironically, he did this right after saying that guns were safe in the home if children were too stupid to use them.

  • Priest has Ivan's flashback, starting in Volume 4 and continuing in Volume 6. It starts out rather sugary (complete with a tsundere Love Interest), which is jarring, but it quickly goes to hell in Volume 6.
  • Crops up quite a lot in The Tarot Cafe, since Pamela needs to know about her clients' pasts before she can tell their futures. Thus, everyone who stops by her shop must explain the traumatic circumstances that lead to them seeking out her help. Pamela herself gets several, which show how she met a disguised Bellial as a child, how she was accused of being a witch because she could foresee the future, how her mother made a Deal with the Devil and was burned at the stake in her place, how she was abandoned in the woods, how a creepy priest tried to rape her when she grew up, and went on to kill the dragon she was in love with when she escaped, and how she ended up becoming immortal when she wanted nothing more than to join her lover in death.

  • Parodied Once an Episode in Another Case of Milton Jones, with the reasons why his far-more-talented assistant Anton isn't the famous [insert occupation of the week here] instead of Milton. Cue the sad music, Anton's serious voice, and a ridiculous, pun-laden description of his 'tragic' past mistake.

    Video Games 
  • While Dread Templar throws you right into gameplay kicking demon ass, there are cutscenes in-between levels that details your past after completing stages - namely, how you witnessed your grandfather, the previous Dread Templar, killed by demons as a child, how you're recruited by the Templars, and so on. The last cutscene flashback is one that sheds light to the truth, that it was the demon lord Beelsebur II who killed your grandpa to awaken your latent Dread powers, and intends to devour you as you reach adulthood to empower himself.
  • OMORI shows only bits and pieces of the bad part of the backstory (beginning with the opening cutscene) to draw out the mystery. Almost all of these are presented in Deliberately Monochrome styles far removed from the game's brightly-lit Happy Flashback scenes.
  • In Resident Evil 6, Chris's campaign has this, but they're even more powerful because they're really not just flashbacks, but also Chris's memories about how his last unit died coming back to him after blocking them out.
    • Chris has it again in Resident Evil 5, showing how Jill supposedly (but not really, because she lived) died saving him.
  • Interlude 4 in The Reconstruction. It centers around Dehl, and starts off innocuously enough, with peaceful humans arriving on Dehl's island, and Dehl then going off to find his father. In the process, he discovers his father's secret 'laboratory', which is swathed in blood and has bloody Sikohlon corpses chained to the walls. Dehl's father rambles about how he killed everyone to try and isolate a cure for the Blue Plague, and Dehl is just barely able to come out alive through the manifestation of his pseudo-magic powers — which causes his father to be graphically impaled by a sword and die. Yeah.
  • Present in the prologue of Max Payne, as well as the start of the first major nightmare sequence which brings you back to the place where it all went to hell.
  • A good chunk of Shadow's backstory in Sonic Adventure 2 is revealed in this way.
  • Xenogears has Fei's backstory including his happy early life, his mother turning into Miang and abusing him, and him eventually snapping and killing her, causing him to develop multiple personalities.
  • Used frequently in Silent Hill: Homecoming, usually to demonstrate all of the tender moments that Alex and Josh shared. They eventually culminate in a flashback to the latter's accidental death.
  • The first chapter of Final Fantasy Tactics named "The meager" is a flashback thrown to explain the Start of Darkness of both Delita and Wiegraf.
  • In Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, Chloe has a recurring dream of being in a car with her father driving. Each time it ends with them being hit by a truck. It refers to her father dying in a car accident a few years before (in reality, she was not personally involved).
  • At several points in Vagrant Story, Ashley Riot is made to watch a flashback of him and his family going for a picnic in a meadow, only for a group of thugs to interrupt the picnic and stab his wife and son to death. Things get more complicated when Sydney shows him an alternate version of the flashback in which he is the killer of an innocent woman and her child, and suggests that Ashley reimagined the incident to paint himself in a better light and deal with his grief, and started Believing His Own Lies.

    Visual Novels 
  • Narrated by the protagonist of Daughter for Dessert about his relationship with Lainie and the events leading up to her death.
  • In Double Homework, the protagonist and Tamara have this together when recalling how the avalanche started.

  • In Unsounded, glimpses of Sette's life at home are occasionally shown in dark, damaged, and obscured panels, suggesting that her dear ol' Da is not a great guy, contrary to what she claims him to be.
  • Lance from Gold Coin Comics has a flashback showcasing what happened to his hometown.
  • In Goblins, Thaco has this every time he thinks of Goblinslayer.
  • Several characters in But I'm a Cat Person. Chapter 4 is an extended one for Timothy and Reseda. Jany and Kara Lynn get a cute little one. As of chapter 8, one for Bennett is just starting to be touched on.
  • In Blue Yonder, as well as a Happy Flashback to a straightforward fight ending in So Proud of You, we get one to the fight gone very wrong, culminating in the opening scene where Blue Yonder and Maiden Flight are desperately fleeing without their parents.
  • Faye from Questionable Content gives us one of these that extends over several strips.
  • There's a specific instance in Newheimburg, where it's revealed that Mort is a suicide attempt survivor.
  • In the "Light in the Black" arc of Dasien, while Michelle mourns the death of Energize, Parker confesses that her father was murdered in an alley, the police Never Found the Body of her brother, and her mother died during radiation treatments.
  • Guilded Age: Byron, upon seeing the ruins of Leafport.
  • Leif & Thorn: Rowan's teenage traumas are explored in the Time and Tides storyline.
  • Whale Star: The Gyeongseong Mermaid: After the rebels' hideout is raided by cops and the rebels themselves scattered, Su-a finds herself nursing Haesu back to health in a Buddhist temple. As the latter recovers, we see several flashbacks of his life in Yeonhaeju growing up with his parents and brother... at least until the Japanese decided to massacre the village. His father was executed and his brother killed himself after being forced to kill their mother, leaving Haesu as the only survivor of his family.
  • In Yokoka's Quest, Mao has a dream flashback, which details the events immediately following the prologue. This shows Mao and Yokoka turned into cats, Mao worrying over the unconscious Yokoka, Yokoka's continual disregard for Mao, Mao realizing that he's suffering from Identity Amnesia, Mao escaping from Betel's Forest, and Mao returning so as not to abandon Yokoka.
  • In the VilAnon arc of Everyday Heroes, Jane describes her past as a villainous henchwoman and her decision to leave that life after her boss murdered her best friend and tried to murder her, and the superhero who rescued/captured her befriended (and eventually married) her.
  • NEXT!!! Sound of the Future: Chapter 3's flashback to main protagonist Shine's backstory starts out with her goofing around with her classmates and expecting to become a famous Idol Singer. She then develops a fault in her voicebox that causes her singing ability to slowly worsen, until she's failing her classes and annoying everyone around her. The rejection she receives from her teacher and former friends makes her decide to give up on being an idol, which is why she works as a paparazzi in the present.
  • Muted: Episode 47 has a flashback to the night Camille's family died. Justified, as Strix was forcing her to relive it as torture.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Prince Zuko gets two of these that show his life before he became angry, bitter, and obsessed with catching Aang. The first consists of Iroh telling the ship's crew how Zuko got his scar and was banished, and the second comes in the form of Zuko reminiscing about his family when he was a kid... and then his mom mysteriously disappears, and his dad becomes Fire Lord. And it kind of went downhill from there.
    • Aang's flashbacks about being revealed as the Avatar early, being pretty much shunned by his friends because of it, and his eventual running away from the Air Temple.
    • Jet's flashback to seeing his family burned in front of his eyes.
    • Katara's flashback to her mother's death.
  • Kaeloo:
    • Mr. Cat frequently gives flashbacks to his horribly abusive childhood to Kaeloo or the audience.
    • Kaeloo explains Quack Quack's troubled backstory to Stumpy in the Harry Potter Parody Episode, which also explains how he got superpowers. Quack Quack's parents were shot and killed by a hunter when he was still in an egg. Afterwards, when he hatched, he was sent to a laboratory and had experiments performed on him. Stumpy being Stumpy, he misses the point and says he wishes something like that would happen to him too.
    • Episode 104 has a flashback that reveals Olaf's backstory, narrated by Olaf to Kaeloo and Mr. Cat, in which he was exiled from the ice caps by his fellow emperor penguins and left to drift at sea for days on a piece of ice before finally washing ashore at Smileyland.
  • When Mad Scientist Heinz Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb captures his secret agent nemesis and starts monologuing about his latest evil scheme, he often explains his motives with a troubled backstory flashback. (For example, "Back in Gimmelschtump in the days of my youth, the Doofenshmirtzes were a proud family. But those were lean times for my father, and our beloved lawn gnome was repossessed. Who would protect our ancient garden from witches, spells, and wood trolls? From a tender age, my father decided that it will be me. While the other kids played kick the schumptel and ate doonkelberries, I would stand for hours. All through the cold night, as the spitzenhounds howled... My only companion was the moon. And my neighbor Kenny. So, since my lawn gnome was taken from me, I will destroy every lawn gnome in the entire Tri-State Area!")
  • Asajj Ventress was given one in the Season 3 episode "Nightsisters" of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
  • Quite a few Transformers characters have backstories like this owing to the 4 million war that frames the series' setting. Omega Supreme from The Transformers, Optimus Prime from Transformers: Animated, and Arcee from Transformers: Prime are among the best examples.


Video Example(s):


Ophelia embraces the succubus

"Salvadori". After matriculating to Kimberly Magic Academy, Ophelia Salvadori endured over a year of sexual harassment over her succubus ancestry. Despite the efforts of friends to include her and keep her sane, one day she snapped: believing she'd never be accepted as a human, she embraced the succubus and began feeding off of male students as her mother had taught her.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / ThenLetMeBeEvil

Media sources: