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Time loop

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The time loop or temporal loop is a plot device in fiction whereby characters re-experience a span of time which is repeated, sometimes more than once, with some hope of breaking out of the cycle of repetition.[1] Time loops are constantly resetting; when a certain condition is met, such as a death of a character or a certain point in time, the loop starts again, possibly with one or more characters retaining the memories from the previous loop.[2]

The term "time loop" is also sometimes used to refer to a sequence of events involving travel back in time, in which the chain of causality is circular.[1]


An early example of a time loop is the 1915 Russian novel Strange Life of Ivan Osokin, where the main character gets to live his life over again but struggles to change it the second time around.[3] The episode "The Man Who Murdered Time" in the radio drama The Shadow was broadcast on 1 January 1939, about a dying scientist who invents a time machine stuck on 31 December.[4][5] The short story "Doubled and Redoubled" by Malcolm Jameson that appeared in the February 1941 Unknown tells of a person accidentally cursed to repeat a "perfect" day, including a lucky bet, a promotion, a heroically foiled bank robbery, and a successful wedding proposal.[6] More recent examples include the 1973 short story "12:01 PM" and its 1990 and 1993 film adaptations, the Soviet film Mirror for a Hero (1988),[7] the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Cause And Effect" (1992),[8] the American films Groundhog Day (1993), Naked (2017), Happy Death Day (2017), Happy Death Day 2U (2019), and Palm Springs (2020),[9] the British, found footage, psychological, analog horror web series No Through Road (2009–2012),[10][11] and the Indian, Tamil-language, science fiction, political action thriller film Maanaadu.[12] [13] Time loops have been used as a recurring theme in Doctor Who, with the episode "Heaven Sent" being described as "Doctor Who's definitive loop-based story".[14]

Japanese popular culture[edit]

The time loop is a popular trope in Japanese pop culture media, especially anime.[15] Its use in Japanese fiction dates back to Yasutaka Tsutsui's science fiction novel, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (1965), one of the earliest works to feature a time loop, about a high school girl who repeatedly relives the same day. It was later adapted into a 1972 live-action Japanese television series, a hit 1983 live-action film, a 2006 anime film, and a 2010 live-action film.[16][17][18] The 1983 live-action film adaptation of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was a major box office success in Japan,[18] where it was the second highest-grossing Japanese film of 1983.[19] Its success was soon followed by numerous anime and manga using the time loop concept, starting with Mamoru Oshii's anime film Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984), and then the manga and anime series Kimagure Orange Road (1984–1988).[20]

The time loop has since become a familiar anime trope.[15] Other popular Japanese works that use the time loop concept include Hiroyuki Kanno's science fiction visual novel YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World (1996),[21] the visual novel and anime franchise Higurashi When They Cry (2002), the light novel and anime franchise Haruhi Suzumiya (2003), Mamoru Oshii's Japanese cyberpunk anime film Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), Hiroshi Sakurazaka's sci-fi light novel All You Need is Kill (2004) which was adapted into the Tom Cruise starring Hollywood film Edge of Tomorrow (2014),[20] and the sci-fi visual novel and anime franchise Steins;Gate (2009).[22]

As a puzzle[edit]

Stories with time loops commonly center on the character learning from each successive loop through time.[1] Jeremy Douglass, Janet Murray, Noah Falstein and others compare time loops with video games and other interactive media, where a character in a loop learns about their environment more and more with each passing loop, and the loop ends with complete mastery of the character's environment.[23] Shaila Garcia-Catalán et al. provide a similar analysis, saying that the usual way for the protagonist out of a time loop is acquiring knowledge, using retained memories to progress and eventually exit the loop. The time loop is then a problem-solving process, and the narrative becomes akin to an interactive puzzle.[24]

The presentation of a time loop as a puzzle has subsequently led to video games that are centered on the time loop mechanic, giving the player the ability to learn and figure out the rules themselves. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Minit, The Sexy Brutale, Outer Wilds, 12 Minutes, Returnal and Deathloop were all designed to allow the player to figure out the loop's sequences of events and then navigate their character through a loop a final time to successfully complete the game. According to Raul Rubio, the CEO of Tequila Works that created The Sexy Brutale, "Time loops allow players to train to get better at the game, faster, smarter, by experimenting from a fixed starting situation, and seeing what it works to move 'forward' within the loop and adding something else to that structure to build a solid process."[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Langford, David (13 June 2017). "Themes: Time Loop". In Clute, John; Langford, David; Nicholls, Peter; Sleight, Graham (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. London: Gollancz. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  2. ^ García-Catalán, Shaila; Navarro-Remesal, Victor (2015). "Try Again: The Time Loop as a Problem-Solving Process in Save the Date and Source Code". In Matthew Jones; Joan Ormrod (eds.). Time Travel in Popular Media: Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 207. ISBN 9781476620084. OCLC 908600039.
  3. ^ "Books: Life as a Trap". Time Magazine. 17 November 1947. Archived from the original on 3 February 2011.
  4. ^ Smith, Ronald L. (8 March 2010). Horror Stars on Radio: The Broadcast Histories of 29 Chilling Hollywood Voices. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-5729-8 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ "The Old Time Radio Club - The Illustrated Press (page 11)" (PDF).
  6. ^ "Unknown v04n05 (1941 02) p.87". Internet Archive. February 1941. Retrieved 16 December 2023.
  7. ^ Keller, Bill (23 April 1988). "A Movie Tribute for Stalin Generation". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  8. ^ Paula M. Block, Terry J. Erdmann, Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 (2012), §248.
  9. ^ Stockwell, Peter (2000). The Poetics of Science Fiction (1st ed.). Harlow, England: Longman. pp. 131–133. ISBN 9780582369931.
  10. ^ Peters, Lucia (16 November 2020). "The Weird Part Of YouTube: The Making Of "No Through Road" And The Power Of Unanswered Questions". The Ghost in My Machine. Archived from the original on 16 November 2020. Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  11. ^ Kok, Nestor (18 March 2022). "Ghosts in the Machine: Trick-Editing, Time Loops, and Terror in "No Through Road"". F Newsmagazine. Retrieved 18 March 2022.
  12. ^ S, Srivatsan (25 November 2021). "'Maanaadu' movie review: Simbu and SJ Suryah have a go at each other in this smartly-written film". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 5 June 2024.
  13. ^ Suryawanshi, Sudhir (27 November 2021). "Maanaadu movie review: Riveting take on time loop underlined by clever writing". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 5 June 2024.
  14. ^ Meegan, Danny (21 January 2022). "10 Craziest Doctor Who Time Loops". WhatCulture.com.
  15. ^ a b Jones, Steve (26 August 2018). "Revue Starlight ‒ Episode 7". Anime News Network. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  16. ^ "THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME (2006)". Deptford Cinema. 9 August 2017. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  17. ^ "THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME (2006) at Deptford Cinema". TicketSource. 9 August 2017. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  18. ^ a b Walkov, Marc (2016). "The Girl Who Leapt through Time". Far East Film Festival. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  19. ^ "過去興行収入上位作品 一般社団法人日本映画製作者連盟". Eiren. Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan. 1983. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  20. ^ a b Osmond, Andrew (29 November 2017) [30 September 2012]. "Edge of Tomorrow, and Kill Is All You Need". Manga UK. Archived from the original on 1 October 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  21. ^ Kalata, Kurt (2019). "1996 – YU-NO: Kono Yo no Hate de Koi o Utau Shōjo". Hardcore Gaming 101 Presents: Japanese Video Game Obscurities. Unbound Publishing. pp. 108–109 (108). ISBN 978-1-78352-765-6.
  22. ^ Eisenbeis, Richard (19 April 2013). "Steins;Gate Might Be the Best Anime I Have Ever Seen". Kotaku. Gawker Media. Archived from the original on 24 August 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  23. ^ Douglass, Jeremy (2007). Command Lines: Aesthetics and Technique in Interactive Fiction and New Media. Santa Barbara, Cal.: University of California, Santa Barbara. pp. 333–335, 358. ISBN 978-0549363354. Retrieved 29 November 2015.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ García-Catalán, Shaila; Navarro-Remesal, Victor (2015). "Try Again: The Time Loop as a Problem-Solving Process in Save the Date and Source Code". In Matthew Jones; Joan Ormrod (eds.). Time Travel in Popular Media: Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. pp. 206–209. ISBN 9781476620084. OCLC 908600039.
  25. ^ Batchelor, James (31 July 2019). "Learn, reset, repeat: The intricacy of time loop games". GamesIndustry.biz. Retrieved 31 July 2019.