Writing a flashback scene isn’t easy. They interrupt the flow of the current storyline, so they can come off as clunky and unnecessary if a few lines from one character could get the point across much more quickly, or if the same flashback is shown multiple times for no real reason. Likewise, the contents of the flashback must have some important effect on the main storyline (referred to as “reincorporation”) or else the entire thing feels useless.
That said, the medium of anime features some amazing flashback scenes that feature breathtakingly creative reincorporation. These can last multiple episodes or even just a few seconds, but they all show how a character’s past experiences affected who they are today. Let’s check out our five favorites!
5. Yuki’s Confinement with Akito from Fruits Basket 2019 – Episode 21
We’ve seen bits and pieces of Yuki’s past in previous episodes, showing how his own family essentially sold him to Akito as a plaything, but episode 21 is where it all comes together. Yuki recalls how Akito convinced him that he was worthless, drove him away from anyone who ever cared about him, and turned the other Soumas against him based on nothing more than his position as the Rat of the Zodiac. Then we find out that the unknown boy who helped Tooru when she got lost as a child was actually Yuki all along, and that Tooru’s presence has made him realize that needing others, and being needed in return, gives him fulfillment in life. When we flash forward to the present, he’s sitting on a bench with his friend Kakeru – his first real friend he made on his own. With the lessons he’s learned from Tooru, he can escape that mental confinement and forge his own path in life!
4. Lily’s Relationship with Her Father from Zombieland Saga – Episode 8
Episode 8 of Zombieland Saga gives us the backstory for Lily, the young transgender TV star who died at a young age and became a member of the zombie idol group Franchouchou. Her father loved watching TV, so she worked hard to become an actor as a way to get closer to him. He eventually became obsessed with her career and stopped seeing her as a person, even suggesting that she would need to start living as a man once she started puberty. Lily died of shock when she noticed her first chest hair, and her father spiraled into depression and regret.
Lily can’t directly reach out to her father since she’s a zombie, but once he started coming to Franchouchou’s concerts (because one of the members resembles his daughter), she and the other girls create a performance about how she forgives him and still loves him dearly. It’s unclear whether or not he recognizes Lily onstage, but the song heals his broken heart and he becomes one of the group’s most devoted fans. It’s one of the biggest tearjerking moments in the whole show!
3. Kayo’s First Real Breakfast from Boku dake ga Inai Machi (Erased) – Episode 8
Flashbacks don’t have to be long to be effective. Kayo grew up in an abusive, neglectful household where her parents treated her life nothing more than a nuisance. So, when Satoru and his mother take her in and feed her a home-cooked breakfast, it’s the first act of genuine familial love that she’s ever experienced in her life. We see brief flashes of plain toast, cup ramen, and a pile of change on the counter, and then the eggs and bacon with miso soup that Satoru’s mother lovingly prepared for her. Kayo breaks down in tears at the humble meal, and just from those few glances at her previous life experiences, we do too.
2. Onna’s Cause of Death from Death Parade – Episodes 11 and 12
The unnamed woman (referred to as “Onna”, or woman, in Japanese) who follows Decim around for the entire series serves as the point of view character for the viewer, but she doesn’t get a proper backstory until the final episodes. Her story turns out to be much like those of the other people whose souls are judged in Decim’s bar – she was a figure skater who suffered a career-ending injury and committed suicide out of despair that her life now had no purpose. However, since she arrived in the afterlife with her memories intact, the arbiters couldn’t provoke her into playing a Death Game and she became Decim’s assistant instead.
It’s impossible for her to stay with Decim forever, though. Her soul wants to move on, but now she can’t bear to leave her new purpose in (after)life... being with him. In a meaningful echo of the past, they share a heart-wrenching goodbye as they’re torn apart from each other. At least this time she’s able to carry Decim’s love with her to wherever she goes next...
1. Nanachi and Mitty’s Terrible Fate from Made in Abyss – Episode 13
Our favorite flashback scene in anime has to be Nanachi and Mitty’s torture at the hands of Bondrewd from Made in Abyss. Nanachi is a human warped by the curse of the Abyss into a bunny-like form, but their friend Mitty has it far worse – she’s a blob creature who’s in constant pain and can’t speak, cursed with immortality so that she can never be released from her suffering. The mad scientist Bondrewd’s experiments forced most of the adverse effects of the Abyss to shift from Nanachi onto Mitty, so Nanachi is burdened with guilt and just wants to find a way to end her life painlessly.
When Riko and Reg enter the picture, Nanachi realizes that Reg’s incinerator beam is the solution they’ve been looking for. They create a comfortable place for Mitty strewn with flowers, sob indelicately, and almost stop Reg at the last minute from killing her, but finally walk away and allow Reg to finish the job. Nanachi’s complicated mess of emotions, combined with their checkered past and Riko and Reg’s own struggles with the Abyss, make for a moment that won’t leave a dry eye in the house by the time it’s over.
Here are some other flashback scenes we thought worked really well: Towa and Kanata’s violin duet from Go Princess Precure, Hanako giving up on his dreams from Toilet Bound Hanako-kun, and Thorfinn’s past reflecting in the dagger from Vinland Saga. But what are your favorite flashbacks in anime? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!