Yuki, a middle school student obsessed with observing the world through his cellphone diary, is thrust into a paranormal game with deadly consequences. Twelve people from all over Japan have received special phone diaries allowing them to see into the future. The last surviving user will become the new God of the world, able to create their own games if they choose. By chance, a girl in Yuki's class, Yuno, also receives a diary, and together they can keep themselves safe. Yuki's diary tells the future about the world around him and Yuno's tells the future about Yuki. The first thing you will notice about Future Diary is the style. It's a beautifully animated series. The colors aren't quite like anything else you'll see in animation, either. Unlike a traditional anime/manga technique of establishing power and psychological state through exaggerated body proportions and camera angles, Future Diary establishes tone and character relationships with color palettes.
The screen saturates and fades as the battles progress. When Yuki and Yuno are in physical danger, the colors of the environment overwhelm them. A sunset becomes more powerful than any force onscreen, for example, when Yuki is targeted by the serial killer with the Murder Diary.
However, emotional distress is faded like paint in the sun. As characters become anxious, the screen gets dangerously close to monochromatic art. The screen also goes monochromatic when a character becomes too confident, but it becomes so heavily pigmented that the world begins to lose detail.
The entire concept of Future Diary is a balancing act. Each of the twelve diaries is strong and weak against at least one of the other diaries. The terrorist with the Escape Diary is weak against the police captain with the Criminal Investigation Diary but strong against any other single-purpose diary. The psychic with the Clairvoyance Diary weakens with each additional diary user in her presence. It genuinely feels like anyone on any given day could rise to the role of God, even if this story is clearly centered around Yuki's self-actualization.
There are two mechanisms put into place by the God himself makes it an even more dynamic series. First, when a future diary reveals its user will die, it triggers a Dead End warning. That gives the user a chance to reshape the future and save their life. The best encounters in the series often come from these Dead Ends and watching the characters scramble for their survival.
The second mechanism is downright devious. When the contestants meet, the God hides their identity. They only see each other in silhouette. They literally have no idea who anyone else is in the contest. These people could pass each other every day (and they do) and never realize that another user is stalking them until a Dead End is triggered. It's even more devious when the Murder Diary user is eliminated before the contestants even meet for the first time and the God puts a target on Yuki's back.
There are other story elements that aren't as successful. Yuno is portrayed as a psychopath. The diaries are all a reflection of the user's worldview and Yuno's diary is literally the Yuki Diary, telling her everything Yuki does in the future. Yuki treats Yuno horribly because of her crush, calling her a stalker even when she puts her life on the line again and again to protect the one person she loves more than anyone else in the world.
Then there are the actual psychological issues at play that really make Yuno a problematic character. She's given this almost-split personality that is never resolved or explained in a meaningful or satisfactory way. The final arc of the series hints at an answer, but it's not a good one. Essentially, the strongest female character in the series is reduced to female hysterics, perfect girlfriend tropes, and ultraviolence with no real depth.
The structure of the series makes it so some of the more interesting characters do not get a whole lot of screen time. It does add a good sense of mystery to the anime, but it doesn't shake away the missed opportunities with some of the late arrivals or one/two episode contestants. Apparently, with the manga, alternate scenarios are explored that give these characters more focus, but they're unlikely to be adapted into future anime series at this point.
Still, Future Diary is a very intriguing exploration of power dynamics in a very grounded fantasy universe. We may not be able to use our phones to read the future, but we do rely on them more often than not for information now. You can download specialized apps to keep track of things almost as specific as the focuses of the Future Diaries and you can't go anywhere without seeing someone's face buried in their phone like Yuki is at the start of the show. We're so connected to the technology that it becomes hard to imagine how we survived without it. For the twelve contestants in Future Diary, they literally can't.
This post was part of AniMAY 2014. Click through for more great content.