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"This is the past, and the past is in black and white. Get it?"

Ever since black and white photography, the past has been depicted as in black and white, sepia tone, or muted colors. Usually invoked for a Flash Back. Sometimes made fun of by claiming that the real world was, in fact, black and white prior to the invention of color.

Subtrope of Flashback Effects. See also Deliberately Monochrome, for when the entire work is this way.

Examples of Monochrome Past include:


  • A Geico commercial, presenting the scenario of Abraham Lincoln's wife asking him whether a dress makes her look fat, was done in heavy sepia with conspicuous film grain, as though it were filmed in the 1930s.

Anime & Manga

  • Done in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood during one Scar's flashbacks. They mix it with Splash of Color to contrast both the blue eyes of the Amestrian Soldiers invading Ishval and Winry's parents with the red eyes of the Ishvallans and Envy in disguise, just before he shoots the young girl to start the war.
  • Most of the flashbacks in Season 1 of Tower of God are various shades of sepia and brown.

Comic Strips

  • In one Sunday Strip of Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin asks his dad why old photos are in black and white, and Dad explains that the world used to be in black and white. As to why the photos didn't turn to color with everything else, Dad explains that they're color photos of a black-and-white world.

Fan Works


 GL@DDA Magnet: I KNEW it. In this time the world was BLACK AND WHITE.


Films — Live-Action

Live-Action TV

  • Heroes
    • Done for flashbacks in the episode "Company Man". With an excellent Lampshade Hanging/pun in the first such flashback:

 Bennet: I'm comfortable with morally gray.

    • And again in flashbacks during the Volume 4 episode "Cold Wars". Complete with a reprisal of above line.
  • Supernatural: When Castiel sends Sam & Dean back to 1861, it's brown and sepia.
  • Cold Case: If flashback is set in period where monochrome footage was widespread, flashback will be monochrome. One episode subvert this, by beginning in full old-photo sepia and appearing to take place in the early 1800s. Then a car full of people pull up. It is 2006, in Amish country.
  • In Eureka's season 4 time-travel episodes, the 1940s are sepia-toned.
  • Hustle has an episode centered on the grandson of a legendary American grifter. It includes a number of flashbacks and Imagine Spots featuring the grandfather, played by Mickey as a Chaplinesque silent film hero.
  • All flashbacks in Babylon 5.
  • In the War of the Worlds episode "A Time to Reap", the scenes set in 1953 are in black and white — despite the fact that the 1953 film whose time they are visiting was originally filmed in color.
  • The opening flashback scene of Toby's father being a gangster in 1952 in one of The West Wing Christmas episodes ("Noel").
  • Angel has a flashback to 1950s Italy, lasting some three seconds or so, in black and white, with Angel and his pals in black turtlenecks looking like they were in a mid-century cool movie.

Video Games

  • Flashbacks from the Pensieve in the Harry Potter video games are like this.
  • The hero's recovered memories in Sanitarium are shown as either black-and-white or sepia-toned grainy-textured films.
  • Weirdly inverted in Vagrant Story. Most of the game takes place in a Deliberately Monochrome setting (mostly brown). When Ashley flashes back to his past, he sees a gorgeous blue sky and a green grassy hill.
  • Parodied in one of the vaults in Fallout 3.
  • Plok has a dream flashback where you play as Grand Pappy Plok, with monochrome graphics and silent film-style text and piano music.
  • The flashback sequences in XIII are monochrome.
  • In Super Smash Bros Brawl, flashbacks in the Adventure mode cutscenes are black and white.
  • Flashbacks in Chibi-Robo! are in sepia. Additionally, when the titular robot and his sidekick go back in time, everything is sepia except for them. Lampshaded by the sidekick, who says that they must be in the past since everything's all sepia.

Visual Novels

  • Flashbacks in Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney always do this (except in cases 1-4 of the first game). The one in case 3-4 is even shown with lines running down it like errors on an old film reel. The fifth case is different because it was not in the original release of the first game.
  • Shiki's memories in Tsukihime are often in black and white; in one case to deliberately hide the fact that the girl in the window was Kohaku and the girl that was outside was Hisui; twins other than their eye color.

Web Animation

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Parodied in one episode of Sheep in The Big City in a line sort of like, "A long time ago, when the world was black and white..."
  • One House of Mouse short showed a flashback involving Mickey Mouse and Goofy being animated in black and white while everything else is done in color.
  • Played straight in the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "A Friend in Deed".
  • In one episode of Kim Possible, the picture turns sepia when we are shown in flashback (sort of) how Ron invented the Naco (a nacho/taco hybrid).
  • In Code Lyoko, some flashbacks of Aelita's previous life are sepia-colored — including in the usually brightly-colored world of Lyoko during her first virtualization. And the final episode consists entirely of flashbacks done in this manner. The sepia-toned tower deactivated sequence in particular invoked many Manly Tears.
  • The Simpsons, Treehouse of Horror XVII segement, "The Day the Earth Looked Stupid" was done this way since it took place in Springfield 1938. It was even Lampshaded by Lenny.

 Lenny: I like that everything's sepia-toned; makes me feel all nostalgic.