If there is one thing I can give The Future Diary credit for, it is being memorable. Unfortunately, I can only call it memorable for the wrong reasons in almost all cases, as the series wound up becoming a incoherent mess.
The Future Diary was once better known as its Japanese title, Mirai Nikki, for a long time here in the United States, where the manga became a cult hit before its officially sanctioned translated release due to the then-unique psychotic actions and behavior of our “heroine” Yuno Gasai, who is obsessed with our “hero”, Yukiteru Amano, to the point of madness. Or, perhaps, beyond madness. The pair are drawn into a horrible game by our world’s “God” (known as “Deux Ex Machina”, honest), where all the participants possess a diary providing superlative strengths based on their professions, but also giving potentially lethal drawbacks based on their personalities. The ultimate goal is to avoid the “Dead End”, which should be fairly self-explanatory. Yuki and Yuno must confront and defeat all of the other diary holders in order for one of them to become God themselves. And, of course, that will be Yuki, as Yuno is in this solely to help Yuki out.
Yuki and Yuno are young. They’re 14-year-old middle schoolers. Despite this, this anime is certainly R-rated, and many of the supporting cast are adults trying to manipulate their way through the game and kill our protagonists (and, of course, each other). And, let me tell you, nearly all of the diary holders are possessed by madness. Even the youngest diary holder featured in the series, a 5-year-old, winds up being off his rocker. But the main psycho of them all is Yuno. Her presence swallows everyone else up as she eclipses them in complete, utter, insanity. Her entire personality and story revolves around her love for Yuki, which is clearly unhealthy when we first meet her. It’s not long before she has taken her love beyond extremes: her entire existence revolves solely around Yuki and his own survival. Her many acts of violence are shocking and stunning, and the way her behavior shifts from a cute little mask to her true identity as a cold-blooded maniac is perhaps one of the most stark two-faced transformations you’ll ever see.
Even a strong, charismatic protagonist would have trouble standing out next to Yuno, but unfortunately, Yuki doesn’t even attempt to fight. He is a whining, introverted sad sack with clear emotional problems of his own, and his behavior only worsens as he finds himself being roped into Yuno’s madness instead of becoming strong and heroic in his own right. I have not seen such an unsympathetically whiny and angst-ridden protagonist in anime since Shinji Ikari, and even Shinji had reasons for being the way he is. Yuki’s similar reactions to what happens fails to register with the viewer, as we can’t emphasize with him, as Yuki doesn’t even try to fight what he feels is wrong. All he does is get swept up in the tide of Yuno and her blood-red river of carnage and psychopathic obsession.
If the story revolved solely around a weak-kneed protagonist trying to deal with being stuck in the clutches of a crazy girlfriend, The Future Diary would have had potential. But no, The Future Diary has a plot, and the story is one of the thinnest I have seen for a media property that purportedly has grandiose ambitions. The whole story feels like it is being made up as it goes along, and all of the characters are mere plot devices, changing because the plot orders them to. Otherwise, the story would go into a corner and remain stuck there. Many, many times the story winds up cornering itself, and, fittingly enough, there is a “deus ex machina” happenstance that yanks the story out of the corner like a rusty chain and slams it right on the gory path that leads us to its final destination. That final destination has even more out-of-nowhere plot contrivances, and feels like it’s only a conclusion because there was no way to end it, with a bunch of stuff getting made up at the last second to pull off the wretched, nonsensical ending we see.
It is even worse in the manga, by the way. This animated adaptation did not begin until after the manga finished serialization, and does attempt to foreshadow the manga’s conclusion throughout the run. The fact that the revisions do not help is a testament to how convoluted yet stunningly simple the story really is.
Asread is a studio not accustomed to taking on animation production, but they got tapped here, and by all accounts quickly became overloaded. The number of studios contracted for key, 2nd key, and in-between animation ballooned in a hurry. Despite this, the first moments of truly impressive animation do not begin until the conclusion begins in earnest in the final episodes. Up until then, series director Naota Hosoda (best known for directing Shuffle!) uses all of the typical shortcuts and overly dramatic camera angles to provide the illusion of movement and excitement, and all vehicles are animated in mediocre-to-terrible CGI depending on the episode.
The background music, provided by Tetsuya Katou, does everything it can to propel the series along, but like the visuals and the story, the music is flashy but lacks any sort of meaning or emotion. But it certainly tries, with strings shrieking, bass pummeling, guitars thrashing, beats pulsing, and live percussion clattering, to provide the emotion and rage expressed by so many of the characters. But that’s all it can do.
Our four pieces of opening and closing theme music are provided by Yousei Teikoku and veteran J-pop star Faylan. The first set: frantic, schizophrenic opener “Kusou Mesorogiwi” by Ms. Teikoku and professional, slick metal-pop closer “Blood teller” by Faylan, make a much stronger impression than the second set. The artists are inverted with Faylan garbling otherwise fairly decent English for opener “DEAD END” and Ms. Teikoku providing a less effectively manic offering in “Filament.” The 1st OP and ED are also more distinctive visually than the second set, doing a better job of manufacturing the urgency and, in the case of “Blood Teller,” the coherence that should be in the episodes themselves.
The story gets even cheesier in the English dub thanks to one of the worst scriptwriting efforts I have seen out of a modern English dub. I do not what possessed J. Michael Tatum to attempt such a dramatic revision. Perhaps he felt the material was lackluster himself, but he goes far, far beyond a “re-visioning”. Characters become drastically different due to the script changes, and a great many scenes lose any chance they have at an impact because Tatum comes up with an unnecessarily convoluted, barely coherent substitute that falls flat. This goes right down to Tatum going out of his way to erase almost every single instance Yuno calls Yuki by his own name (which honestly she says a lot in the original version, but that was precisely the point). Instead, Tatum has Yuno call Yuki a bunch of outdated pet names (the worst offenders being “pookie” and “sugar bear”). As a result, Yuno’s macabre obsession (one of the few reasons to watch The Future Diary) loses much of its impact because Yuno is saying things no middle schooler would ever say. When Patrick Seitz guest-scripts for a few episodes in the second half of the series, we do manage to lurch back to preserving the meaning of the original dialogue (though Seitz maintains much of Tatum’s horrific usage of slang). I have always supported FUNimation’s style of scripting, which usually results in natural-sounding dialogue and performances, but when you lose the original intent, you have gone too far.
There is nothing wrong with Zack Bolton’s English dub from an acting or directing standpoint. Josh Grelle is actually a superior choice for Yuki compared to Misuzu Togashi as Yukiteru, as Grelle’s clearly masculine yet youthful voice tones down some of Yuki’s whinier moments, making Yuki and his navel-gazing more bearable. Brina Palencia is absolutely chilling as Yuno, whether she places her voice up an octave to seem naive and adorable, or deeper and completely out of her mind when Yuno is preparing to murder for her beloved. The rest of the cast is competent, although Kent Williams fails to provide the presence of Norio Wakamoto as our “god” figure, Deus Ex Machina. However, Emily Neves as Minene is outstanding, completely devouring the scenery in a wild yet bitter torrent of rage, disgust, and an unhealthy love of explosions, all delivered with clear relish. In fact, Neves chews the scenery better than anyone else in either dub, though Mai Aizawa (the Japanese voice for Minene), certainly does her best. It is difficult to recommend the English dub, however, because of J. Michael Tatum’s horrific scripting.
The extras aren’t anything special, with your usual array of American voice actor commentaries and clean opening and closing themes. The cheesy pun-tastic Valentine’s Day cards are memorable, for the same reasons as the series itself.
I can’t recommend this series, even in subtitled form. The sole reason to watch is because of Yuno. The entire series exists just for her, and that is true in more ways than one. But I can’t say that is enough reason to watch 26 episodes of this.