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The characters take a recommended short cut or are traveling through uncharted territory. After a while a character will see a notable marking, and point out that they passed one just like it half an hour ago, and an hour before that...
When normal people get lost, it tends to be a gradual realization. But having a group suddenly realize they're at a landmark they passed earlier allows one moment of despair at being lost, and quite definitely no closer to their goal. It can also imply that something weird is going on.
Occasionally it won't be a landmark, but a set of footprints. Either the presence of footprints where you wouldn't expect anyone else, or the revelation that a character is following his own trail.
Anime and Manga
- Naruto has a variation where recognizing a tree makes the group realize that they are in a genjutsu (illusion).
- One Piece: During the Skypiea arc, "it was on the right side of the map" Zoro ends up right back where he started at the sacrificial altar. After a bit of back and forth regarding whether he's been there before, he finally decides that this "new place" just looks the same as the old one and shrugs it off.
- In the Lucky Star OVA, while the main four are on a school camp, Konata forgets the compass and takes the gang on a detour, levaing them lost and causing Miyuki to remark that they seem to be Going in Circles.
- In Uzumaki, when Kirie and the others escape from Kurozu-Cho and head into the spiral infested forest, they find themselves face to face another group that had escaped as well, but had gone a different way. They soon realize that they've gone in circles.
- In Land of Black Gold, Thompson and Thomson end up going in circles in the desert when they decide to follow the tracks of a jeep not knowing they're following their own tracks. When they notice an increasing number of tracks, they just assume more jeeps joined the original one. They only break the cycle when they find a "lost" can of gas and notice they "also" lost their can and decide to go back and get it.
- They do this again in Explorers on the Moon, finding their own footprints and assuming there are more people. Keep in mind, the Tintin universe, this is the first time anyone has ever set foot on the Moon. They even mention doing it before in the desert. Yep.
- The Blair Witch Project pulls this off nicely. The three kids start to worry that something has them going in complete circles despite the fact that they've been heading south all day.
- In The Avengers 1998, a drugged Emma Peel was running through the Big Bad's mansion and noticed that she had run through the same room twice. She threw down a vase, breaking it, and continued running. When she ran into the room again and saw the broken vase on the floor, she knew she was trapped inside a tesseract. A variation on the original The Avengers episode "The House that Jack Built".
- On Open Season, Boog realizes the Elliot has been leading him around in circles when he sees the same animals he met before. Elliot corrects him: "Circle. One time around."
- Finding Nemo: "Okay, I've definitely seen this speck of dust before."
- And He Built a Crooked House: The tesseract case was born in Robert A. Heinlein's story. In this case, one of the main characters winds up chasing himself around the entire tesseract several times before retrieving his own dropped hat and realizing what's happened.
- In Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies Granny Weatherwax and Archancellor Ridcully end up passing the same tree with a bit of his robe snagged on it three times, despite her having lived in the woods her entire life. The Queen is getting past her mental defenses and disorienting them.
- Winnie the Pooh
- Pooh and Piglet follow their own tracks around a tree and decide that the footprints were made by woozles.
- Rabbit's plan to lose Tigger in the mist results in Rabbit, Pooh, and Piglet getting lost and repeatedly finding a pit.
- Franklin: In "Franklin is Lost,", Franklin and Fox get lost in a forest. They try to get out, only to end up circling right back to where they started. They then decide it's best to stay right where they are until someone comes looking for them.
- Zigby: Happens to Zigby the zebra and his friends in "Zigby's Kite".
- The Monkees episode "Monkees Marooned":
Micky: Wait! Our footprints. Great Scott, that means we're lost, we've been going around in circles!
- The X-Files: Used in a Christmas episode. Mulder and Scully are investigating a haunted mansion and find themselves in a room where the only door leads into the same room.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: An entity called Nagilum has Worf and Riker going in circles from one bridge on a phantom Enterprise into the same bridge.
- In the Lunar Diplomacy quest in RuneScape, the ship is jinxed so that it will sail in circles. Cleaning off the symbol removes the curse.
- Worlds 4-4 and 7-4 in Super Mario Bros. will keep repeating unless Mario finds the correct route.
- In Eight Bit Theater, Fighter insists that they can't be lost, as he's been following the tracks of two guys, a big guy in armor and a small guy in a robe. Black Mage quickly points out the problem with this logic.
- Nyx Crossing has the characters notice it in episode 2.
- Happens in the camping episode of Jimmy Neutron.
- Lampshaded in a Cartoon Network music video featuring Fred and Barney going past the same scenery multiple times (and commenting on it in subtitles). The song? "Circles" by Soul Coughing.
I don't need to walk around in circles
- Happened in the Futurama episode Neutopia.
Hermes: Uh oh, I think we're going in circles. I recognize that pattern of striations on that gypsum formation.
- Wilderness survival experts know this is a very real risk when traveling without a compass.