Mirai Nikki (2011) Review: A Twisted Bloodbath of a Love Story
Adapted from Sakae Esuno’s manga series, Mirai Nikki (Future Diary) tells the story of two middle school students, their love for one another, and their participation in a survival game to become the new God of Time and Space. For 26 episodes, plus an OVA (a special episode) that serves as an epilogue, viewers are treated to scenes discussing rape, scenes where rape is committed, bloody murders of children, fan service (material, usually of a lewd nature, added to a series with the intention of pleasing the audience) featuring 14 year old girls, a sex scene, and lots and lots of blood.
Interesting? Uh, well… let’s talk about it.
The show definitely does a few things right: as a psychological, supernatural, action, suspense/thriller romance, it makes itself appealing to a very broad audience. It also has a very strong female lead (Yuno Gasai) who, in addition to harboring multiple dark secrets, turns into a psychopathic killer at any moment—a character concept which, as Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight proves, tends to captivate viewers and provide much of the incentive behind watching films or shows that feature such people.
Especially considering the fact that the depiction of Yuno jumps back and forth between “just your average adorable middle schooler” to “raging, calculated, cold-blooded killer,” the juxtaposition is all the more striking and all the more interesting to observe. And with twist after twist flying at the audience, its use of the suspense/thriller genre keeps the show from ever having a “dull” moment.
However, Mirai Nikki’s emphasis on entertainment is exactly what creates a slew of multiple problems that lead the show to its own undoing.
Below is the opening sequence for the show:
Story and Structure
During the opening moments of the show, a young girl is seen trapped inside a cage while someone in the dark murders her with an axe. Shortly afterwards, the setting switches to a middle school classroom where the teacher warns his students to be careful on their way home as it has been “dangerous lately.” As the main character, Yuki, leaves for home, viewers learn that his classmates see him as a loner. Instead of hanging out with other people, he gives all of his attention to typing observations of the things going on around him in a diary entry on his phone, thinking to himself that he has friends though they only exist in his imagination.
Once Yuki gets home, he enters his imagination and speaks with his friends Deus (the God of Time and Space) and his servant Murmur. Yuki observes that Deus is creating a new game and Deus promises Yuki that he will give him a future where he is not lonely—Yuki of course gives this little thought since he believes it is all in his head. The next morning, however, Yuki receives a new entry in his phone diary, telling him the future events of the day, all of which prove to be true.
Within the first episode, all the little details of the survival game are revealed: 12 participants, ranging from young to old, and holding very different statuses in society, all aiming to kill one another until one person is left to succeed Deus’ position of God of Time and Space. Participants each have a cell phone with a unique ability dealing with their futures (a.k.a. a “future diary”), and destruction of the phone, or otherwise death of the owner, means they are out of the game.
The premise certainly entails a great deal of action and suspense: identities of the diary owners remain hidden until they decide to reveal themselves, a diary owner can form alliances and subsequently betray their partners, and creativity in terms of forming a strategy to survive and kill the opposing party is a must. All of these elements are able to keep audience members at the edge of their seats because even though someone will inevitably die, what draws the most attention is not if but how the diary owners will reach their end.
However, because the show is so heavily invested in thrilling its audience, the idea that everything must be entertaining becomes a crutch. By this I mean that because the show spends little time on gradually forming its characters into realistic, complex people—which in doing so would most likely slow down the pacing—emphasis is instead placed on creating twists, making confrontation sequences fast-paced and detailed, and including fan service. And since the show decides to go on the latter track from the very beginning, Mirai Nikki eventually reaches a point where deciding to fully mold its characters is too late due to the plot being as far along as it is. Having little substance to work with, the show relies on prolonging conflicts and sexual situations in order to keep viewers’ attention.
An example of how conflicts are prolonged can be observed in the way characters at times agree to participate in games that they have no incentive to take part in. For example, in a gambling scene between one of the supporting characters, Akise Aru, and an opposing diary owner, the diary owner does not have to agree with Aru’s proposition because they hold the very thing that Aru wants while Aru has absolutely nothing to offer in exchange. However, instead of simply killing Aru as the diary owner wishes to do, they agree to participate in Aru’s mind game, and while mind games are interesting for viewers to observe, in this case, there was no reason for the opposing diary owner to agree. This is one of the most glaring examples where the show adds material for the sake of extending a conflict rather than being logically consistent, and unfortunately, there are quite a few moments that are even worse than this.
In terms of holding the audience’s attention, the show is definitely entertaining, but only to a certain extent. Eventually it reaches a point where the plot becomes so muddled with fantastical twists that it becomes impossible to take the show seriously. This is especially a disappointment since the show deals with such dark subjects like rape and murder; despite both being a part of our world’s reality, their seriousness becomes trivialized—or the viewer becomes desensitized—by the fact that rape occurs, or almost occurs, on screen for several different characters at multiple times, while blood is splattered all over the show in practically every episode. Granted, the fact that the show’s premise requires the killing of other characters does make the appearance of blood an inevitability, but to depict the deaths as brutally and graphically as they are, and to involve the slaughter of so many people outside the diary owners themselves, seems to be more for “shock factor” rather than to heighten the seriousness of the act itself.
With regards to pacing, it picks up within the first couple episodes, but towards the end becomes so dragged out as the show continuously brings back or prolongs the lives of earlier characters either for the sake of introducing new twists, or in order to hash out any previously unexplained plot points that happened along the way. The structure of the show is thus very generic for a thriller, and the subjects it deals with are not treated with the amount of tact necessary to take them seriously. Ultimately, Mirai Nikki has little else going for it other than keeping the viewers in suspense.
Characters and their Development
The main characters of the show are introduced within the first episode: Yukiteru “Yuki” Amano—the hopelessly naïve, cowardly, loner middle school boy who views himself as a failure and depends on others to protect him; and Yuno Gasai—the calculative, twisted, murderous middle school “beauty” who does literally anything to protect the boy she loves more than life: Yuki. While these two characters certainly do not comprise the entire cast, the remaining members receive so little development that most of them only appear as crazed murderers and hardly much else.
In fact, almost all of the other diary owners seem to follow a set formula: introduction, attempt(s) at murder, their backgrounds are shared, and finally they die. And even when viewers learn about what made the diary owners become willing killers, the show delves far into their past and refers to a single event as the thing that forever changed them. The issue with this is that it takes a very simplistic cause-and-effect perspective of people, and viewers who are looking for a more realistic depiction may point to this as a fault of the show. And as sad as it is to say, neither of the two main characters are significantly different in terms of their portrayal.
Part of the reason for this is because instead of using the time in between confrontations with the other diary owners to add to the characters’ development, the show devotes that time to sexualizing its young female characters, and when they do it, the situations are so ridiculous that it is blaringly obvious the staff of the show is aiming to hook male viewers rather than take the time to create a well-developed story.
If you add this to the fact that characters who were previously committing horrific acts perform sudden 180s and appear far more humane than in their prior crazed depictions, as well as moments where characters just pull down their pants out of nowhere and start urinating nearby others, you realize just how hopeless it is to expect any realistic “depth” from the show. And most of the time, even the characters they do decide to keep around only end up being exploited more for the sake of titillating the audience or providing another cheap twist.
If there is one redeeming part about the characters in this show, it would probably have to be watching Yuno, not only for her unpredictability, but because underneath how obsessive and insane she is portrayed, there is still that one remaining fragment of her that showcases at some point in her life, she was far more human than what she has become. And while other characters certainly realize what was most important to them during their dying moments, Yuno is one of the rare few who seems to realize the metamorphosis she has personally undergone before she has to make the choice between life and death. One significant drawback to mention about her character, however, is that her “love” for Yuki seems to stem out of nowhere; she simply develops a crush on him that grows into a dangerously obsessive yearning without any explanation as to what exactly it is about him that makes him so different from everyone else.
Moreover, her character seems to lack a personality for almost the entire show. By this I mean that whenever she appears on screen, she is either warning Yuki that danger lies ahead for them, or murdering everything within sight, or trying to tell Yuki how much she loves him and will do anything to protect him. It is actually almost hard to believe that she is human because she seems to represent more of an impulse rather than an actual person. Occasionally there are moments when it seems like there is more to her than simply being a killer, as she can be embarrassed, happy, sad, or frightened, but these are emotions that anyone can experience, and the only thing she has that is truly unique to herself is her undying love for Yuki.
In terms of Yuki’s character, while certainly more human-like than Yuno, he may be the most frustrating to watch for viewers because of how dependent he is on others to save him every time his life is in danger. And while he later begins to take more risks, even other characters acknowledge how useless he is on his own. The use of static characters is certainly not always a bad thing, but especially when the main hero is portrayed as cowardly and indecisive as Yuki, it is very likely to deter viewers from enjoying the show. Furthermore, since Yuki is an idealist who struggles to cling to the belief that people are not just robotic killers but are humane somewhere deep down, it makes him seem incredibly out of place among a cast of ruthless killers. This aspect of his character, however, may divide a lot of viewers’ opinions since having a character with a greater sense of humanity than the others may be viewed as a positive thing. But one thing to consider is that when the vast majority of the show is filled with bloody, graphic, inhuman acts, having a “voice of reason” may come across more as shallow rather than having the moral depth that viewers might expect.
In short, the characters in Mirai Nikki are portrayed far more simplistically than actual people, so expecting any realistic depiction or development from any one of them is pointless. And whatever depth the show does attempt to convey comes across more as a wasted effort than a successful execution.
Aesthetics and Conclusion
Overall, the animation quality is decent enough that the action sequences are fluid and entertaining, and even though the color palette for the show is highly varied, the most memorable ones of the show are probably Yuno’s bubble-gum pink hair and the amount of blood-red that appears in each episode, let alone the show as a whole. It is also a bit unfortunate that the most frequent expression to appear on most characters’ faces is that of a crazed lunatic, but if you are a fan of bloody suspense thrillers, then you will get exactly what you asked for.
In terms of music, it is practically all some electronic blend, occasionally employing orchestral instruments for eerie moments or “pump-up” action sequences. And as a general warning for people who are squeamish about mature material, this show features vulgar language, sexual situations, as well as dark/disturbing themes.
For veteran anime watchers: If you are looking for a show that is character-driven or within the bounds of realism, then steer clear of this one. However, if you are a die-hard anime fan who is just looking for some mindless entertainment, then you will probably enjoy this show.
For non-anime watchers: You really do not need to have any prior experience of watching anime to understand this one. If you are a fan of horror or the suspense/thriller genre in general, you will probably enjoy the show, but do not expect anything really intellectually stimulating or spectacular from it.
What do you think? Leave a comment.