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We've all seen it. When the main character is put in a bind, he/she always has some "emotional" flashback, some of which are flashbacks of things we never saw happen in the series.

The existence of time itself seems to vanish during a character's flashback, and more often than not these aren't necessary (well, to me at least). This is especially common in Naruto.

So why do anime characters tend to randomly have "emotional" flashbacks? What does this even accomplish?

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    "This is especially common in Naruto" -> I think I fast-forwarded the same flashback like 100 times during the Kakashi vs Obito battle >.> Jun 9 at 15:52
  • You can find good information here: Opinions on flashbacks: reddit post Jun 10 at 2:48
  • @Wondercricket Tbh, the flashbacks during Pain arc were some good flashbacks. We actually got to know the backstory and the motive. Some flashback were just poor: "Naruto saying 'I am going to be the hokage' for the 1000th time". Jun 10 at 3:22
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Flashbacks are pretty common literary devices that can accomplish several things:

  • Provide context into the mindset of the character as they encounter a situation
  • Provide often-valuable character development
  • Explain in context why a character would have an unconventional (insofar as what the audience has seen) reaction to a big event

Depending on the work, the purpose and the scope of the flashback depends with what the author wanted to convey.

  • In Bleach, there were negatively-numbered chapters to indicate events that happened in the older Soul Society. This would often be invoked by a flashback or be used as way of explaining what happened in the past to catch the reader/watcher up with current events (e.g. the Visored + Fake Karakura Town arc).
  • In Naruto, flashbacks were used to explain the events of the past, and color in details about the entire world of Naruto, from the last great Shinobi war, to interpersonal details about each character (some event coloring their past), and as a means to explain the story (e.g. the eternal cycle of Indra and Asuka's chakra being reborn and their rivalry playing out over and over again).

Something to note is that these aren't meant to be random, but their placement during the pacing of a story can make it seem random.

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    In Naruto, they were often used to introduce filler content too. Such as all that Yota stuff starting in episode 313. Included in what you said: "used to explain events of the past", but for a specific narration purpose. Jun 9 at 19:20
  • I don't mind flashbacks but the "long" flashbacks in Naruto somewhat bothers me. Imagine, you are in a middle of good fight scene and a character is having a flashback that lasts for a good 10-15 episodes. You instantly think that the character is going to die. So, the scenario is like this: Villain landing a punch -> Character having flashback -> Villain still landing a punch -> Character saying goodbye -> Villain ultimately lands the punch -> Character dies Jun 10 at 2:55
  • @FumikageTokoyami precisely why I said time itself vanishes during flashbacks. This is honestly stupid how the villain freezes when they had a good chance to accomplish their goal. Quite the piss-me-off trope. It's like the villain says "lemme use an OP attack on u real quick" and the mc goes "aight first lemme recall my entire childhood, one sec" Jun 10 at 3:25

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