The mobile phone has become an unlikely accessory of emancipation, with charities like WITNESS adopting it as a powerful tool in its ongoing engine of social change. Elsewhere, it’s become knitted into our culture at almost every level, something synonymous with experience and self. In Future Diary, the mobile is venerated to the divine.
It’s been a long wait since the frenzied climax of the first collection, where Yukiteru Amano, the first diary user, remains the captive of the second, Yuno Gasai. She spoon-feeds the emaciated, near catatonic Yuki, attentive like a mother and with all the intimacy of first love, while the grinning skulls of her parents stare. The blue light of their mobile phones sometimes shine off the bone, a repeating motif of death and technology. Although Yuno drugged him to “preserve the happiness”, their connection is at first antiseptic and artifice.
Whether it’s Stockholm syndrome or the conspiracies of fate, Yuki starts falling for Yuno. He saved face by playing the part of her boyfriend, but as events unfold he discovers, in the complex lock-box of his heart, that he does love her. Shedding the cosmic shuffle, Future Diary is a romance, familiar yet metaphysical. But Yuno, whose fragile mental state rewrites her actions and experiences, thus justifying every wrongdoing, is both the relationship’s enabler and its downfall.
As well as catching up with the diary users we’re familiar with, this collection unveils the hidden few to each other as much as to the viewer. Kamado Ueshita, the eighth, is the most benign, having run an orphanage for the last fourteen years. Her motherly instinct is personified by her power, the ‘Propagation Diary’. As a blogging server, it’s able to give those not directly involved in the battle royale their own diaries, and these secondary users are what make Kamado an impressive adversary. Unlike the twelve main users vying for godhood, if their phones are destroyed, they do not die themselves.
The cell tower, always in the periphery of the action and drama, blinking red in the darkness, is central to this second collection. Shutting off the tower, for example, means the secondary users can no longer receive their future from Kamado’s server. That’s the theory, at least. The tower is also emblematic of the two lovers who together make up the seventh user. Ai Mikami and Marco Ikusaba echo the celestial pull of Yuki and Yuno’s relationship, or perhaps its evolution. The each have an exchange diary, allowing them to monitor the other so that they might “protect them”.
Flashbacks help fill in the blanks and add empathy to characters, either expanding on what we know or helping introduce those we’ve only just met. Fourteen years ago, Ai was abandoned at the cell tower where she first met Marco, an orphan in Kamado’s care. The defining moment in their relationship is Ai’s rape, which Marco was too late in preventing. Yet, it somehow makes him the victim, and is lazy offhand in furthering their characters, something symptomatic of Sakae Esuno’s original manga as much as its anime adaptation.
Minene Uryuu, the ninth diary user, grew up in the Middle East, with flashbacks revealing her stealing bread to survive. It’s inferred she became radicalised to one degree or another. Ipso facto, she’s a terrorist. In a series so fresh in many of its ideas and images, it’s maddening that it relies on some of these tired clichés and character beats. Yuno’s flashbacks might be the most illuminating in peeling back her pathology, though even these fail to ignite in perhaps the way they could have.
For Yuki, though, the strain of the game and personal tragedy put him among the likes of Light Yagami and Lelouch Lamperouge as pragmatic strategists willing to make the hard calls to further their respective crusades. In so doing, he sheds much of his earlier innocence, making him more difficult to like and providing one of the strengths of this collection. It’s confrontational, challenging and complex as much in its often ludicrously convoluted plot as its rich cast of characters.
Future Diary is a two-handed take on mental illness, with something recognisable to anyone who’s felt the cloying grip of anxiety. These themes, the teenage love story and convoluted climax paint a story that’s up there with Death Note for cosmic intrigue, noir suspense and complex plotting, with just enough humour to offset the darkness.
For our review of Collection 1, click here.
English dub; clean opening/closing animation.