Even at 14, Yukiteru “Yuki” Amano strikes a world-weary figure, stuck somewhere on the road to apathy and stopping only to jot down the mundanity. He keeps his thoughts in diary form on his flip phone for no other reason than boredom. “My phone is my life,” Yuki proclaims minutes into the first episode, immediately drawing parallels with our smart phone engrossed culture. But in his instance, it’s god’s honest truth.
His ‘imaginary’ friend, it transpires, is Deus Ex Machina, the god of space and time, who’s spending his final days designing the architecture of his successor’s ascension. Rather than just handing down the mantle of godhood, Deus opts instead for a cosmic battle royale where twelve individuals are pitted against one another until only one remains.
The other eleven are as emotionally invested in their diaries as Yuki is in his. Each is a microcosm, representing the overarching aspect of their user’s personality. The function of each is the same, offering a peek into the future. At first, Yuki plays the opportunist, and uses this ability to pass tests and avoid a pummelling from the school bullies, but after meeting classmate and fellow diary user Yuno Gasai, all becomes clear. As she explains, the future diaries are equal parts weapon and Achilles heel. If yours is damaged, your life is forfeit.
Future Diary quickly sheds the simple last-man-standing set-up, letting its characters drive the drama and, underneath the supernatural and metaphysical elements, it’s the characters that captivate, shock and thrill. Take Yuno, who has been stalking Yuki for the past year. Her obsession is often taken to farcical extremes, but through all that the character remains crucially human.
Yuki, on the other hand, is an unlikely lead, lacking strength and, left to his own devices, cunning. He’s pathetic, and that’s by no means a detriment to his character. His apathy and paranoia somehow ring true with the pain of being a 14 year old in a reality progressively warped by blue light and touch-screens.
Future Diary is a narrative of madness, fuelled by paranoia and obsession. Each of the diary users has one mania or another, which is extenuated by the apparent normality of the supporting characters. Knocking off competitors for a shot at godhood is itself perhaps an act of madness, but the motivations behind the actions demonstrates that these are characters that grow, change and react.
The city setting is oppressive and intimidating, a concrete manifestation of madness, underpinned by the quietly unnerving score and oft creepy animation. There are glimpses of typical teen life and the fanservice that often goes with it, seen in umpteen other anime, but they are fleeting and serve to make the darker parts of these 13 episodes that much more gruelling.
For a relatively young studio, Asread really show off their chops in adapting Sakae Esuno’s psychological source manga. Future Diary’s cautionary tale postures how much information we all pour into our phones and, by extension, the web.
For our review of Collection 2, click here.
English dub; clean opening/closing animation.