Once I had written this review, I noticed I erred a little closer towards spoilers than I usually do. I don’t feel I ruin anything remotely major, but I do touch on some plot elements and other details beyond the basic premise, so if you want to watch Mirai Nikki completely spoiler-free, this is your one and only warning.
You are likely unaware of this, but I’m fairly new to anime. Only been a fan for a little over a couple years, since about mid-2013. As such, there are a lot, and I mean a lot of series out there that I still haven’t seen but plan to, either because they’re very well-received or just too popular to ignore; all manner of anime from Trigun to Toradora to Tatami Galaxy. Chances are, as long something has a positive enough reputation or a sizable enough fanbase, it’s on my radar to some degree. As the thirteenth most popular anime on MAL, Mirai Nikki (or The Future Diary) definitely fits the bill, and at an easy to digest length of 26 episodes, it was looking all the more appealing. Now as we all know, just because something’s popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s, y’know, good, but I’m an optimist, so I came into Mirai Nikki expecting, not a masterpiece of course, but basic entertainment and enjoyment. Did it deliver? Egh, well, that’s why we’re here, aren’t we?
As always, the review is provided in video format and transcribed directly below. I would like to note that my reviews are written first and foremost to be experienced as videos (that is, read aloud), so no guarantees that jokes, grammar, or anything else will transition entirely smoothly to text.
Yukiteru Amano is your standard bland male high school protagonist, whose world will soon be rocked by God, going by the name Deus Ex Machina. You see, Yuki has a habit of jotting down everything he sees, every minute of the day, into his phone’s diary. Apparently, this qualifies him to be a suitable candidate as God’s replacement, because the Almighty isn’t so immortal after all and he’s running low on time. Without someone taking his place, the universe itself will very quickly cease to exist.
Of course, Yuki is not the sole contender for the position, and eleven others in his relative area have also been selected as potential successors (God apparently being very fond of this one particular town in Japan over anywhere else). Every God candidate, like Yukiteru, has their own diary, which has been modified by God to display entries from the future (hence the name The Future Diary). Seeing as there can be only one God, a Survival Game quickly begins among the Diary Keepers. The catch is that no one knows the exact identity of anyone else, so they must make use of their future diaries to first identify, then outsmart and out-kill each other, the last man (or woman) standing receiving the right to take Deus’ place and become the new God.
You can’t question the premise too much, Mirai Nikki for better or worse thrives on its absurdity. And by now, people are probably already wagging their fingers at me for my complete failure to mention Yuno Gasai, so let’s get it out of the way. Everything you think you know about Yuno, is true. She’s a fellow high school student and God candidate who, for reasons unknown, is obsessively in-love with our hero, Yukiteru, such that her future diary actually documents what’s happening to Yuki, not to herself.
Yuki and Yuno team up very early on the series (like Episode 1 early), mostly due to the latter’s unshakable devotion, with Yuno quickly becoming the poster girl for both the Mirai Nikki series and the yandere archetype itself. Yandere, for those of you that are not aware,“refers to a character who is crazy about someone else...often literally and violently” (thank you, TVTropes), which describes Yuno to a T. Like if you go online and just search “yandere”, besides the Yandere Simulator stuff that comes up (which looks hilarious by the way), Yuno is almost the guaranteed first result.
I have to say, there’s a reason Yuno’s so popular: she is by the far the most entertaining character in the entire show, if only for her practically comical flavor of insanity. They make no bones about just how out-there she is, and the violent lengths she’ll go to to keep her precious Yuki close by. Her grip on reality and morality is tenuous at best, and while there is an eventual reason for it that adds a nice slant to her story, I wouldn’t say Yuno is a deep or majestically well-written character. But, she plays her role as the mascot psychopath with such zeal that I found myself looking forward to her next murderous breakdown anyways. (I just realized how bad that might sound, making sport of a mentally broken individual, but Yuno’s so ludicrously over-the-top that it’s hard to see her in any sort of realistic light, which holds true for a lot of the cast, honestly, but we’ll get to that.)
Remembering the premise, besides Yuno and Yuki, there are ten other Diary Keepers, plus (one would assume) a handful of miscellaneous side characters. In terms of numbers, that’s casting a pretty wide net, so the writers would have to be completely incompetent for every one of them to bomb, right? Yeah... well... a few of them are decent-ish. Not all of them, but a few. There’s the Fourth, who - oh, I didn’t mention this, but every Diary Keeper has a number: First, Second, Third, etc. Got it? Good. As I was saying, there’s the Fourth, a cool and collected detective who claims to prioritize protecting the lives of those caught up in this death game, the Sevenths, a pair of star-crossed lovers with issues, and the Ninth, a wanted terrorist who likes to blow things up, but maybe she just needs some friends.
Yes, you heard right, those are the good characters. The bad ones can get pretty bad, as I will touch on later.
But we don’t watch a series like this for great, thoughtful characters, no, we watch it for blood and gore and violence! And let me tell you, you want death? Oh, you’re going to get death. Not just the Diary Keepers, mind you, a whole lot of civilians too. Hell, an early attack on Yuki has an entire classroom full of innocent students blown to smithereens, just because. It’s incredibly basic, I admit, but I can appreciate the simple appeal of wanton brutality, and Mirai Nikki has it in spades. This is not a show for the faint of heart, with neck choppings, dog bitings, people stabbings and worst of all, uncensored nudity. The horror. But all that said, it of course means that if you don’t go in for that kind of thing, you might not find much to like here. At least, for a while.
I say “for a while” because Mirai Nikki does pull itself together to become more than a swath of forgettable characters and gory action in the last third or so, starting right around episode 17ish, when Yuki adopts an attitude of “it doesn’t matter what I do to win, because I can reset it all once I become God”, in the process becoming infinitely more interesting to watch. Being the sweet, naive, generic anime angel that he is, he’s putting on an act to cover his true feelings, but when it’s an act reminiscent of someone like Light Yagami, committing atrocities without a care in the world, I still much prefer it over the usual wide eyes and whining.
But that’s not the main draw to this thing by the end. No, the real reason to get invested is that, despite the writing being a little all over the place up to that point, there is a big twist near the finale, and frankly a pretty good one. Naturally, by nature, it is a twist and me explaining the intricacies of said twist would ruin the twist, but let’s just say I like when things get flipped on their head, and new information is presented that shines a whole new light on everything you’ve experienced thus far. Even better is when they wave it in front of your face the whole time, but you just don’t catch on until it’s all laid out for you.
If I were to summarize the largest of Mirai Nikki’s problems with a single bullet point, it would be “the writing and characters”. Putting aside the four or five people I mentioned earlier, and Yuki himself (who was a boring, standard main character for pretty much the whole time, and warrants no further mention), everyone else kind of sucked, perhaps not inherently, but due to the way they were presented. The approximate first half of the series is characterized by Yuki sitting around waiting for a Diary Keeper to show up, then they do, then Yuno dispatches the threat. In other words, it’s a rapid-fire of introducing and immediately killing off Diary Keepers. They get an episode, dead. An episode, dead. An episode, dead.
No one sticks around long enough to be anything more than a cardboard cutout, with a single token personality trait. It fundamentally fails to make you care about any of these people, they’re all just faces, and often (when it comes to enemy Diary Keepers) faces that have inflicted some kind of horror on civilians at that. To make matters worse, it tries way too hard with the “look how dark and twisted and edgy we can be” factor (I’m looking at you, Fifth). The takeaway from this is that Mirai Nikki gets better once it calms down and stops killing people off as fast as possible, taking a little time to try and actually build character. Unfortunately, it’s too little too late by the time it actually settles into that approach, but the attempt is better than the alternative.
Another big problem I had with Mirai Nikki is how it handled its tone, i.e. it consistently undermined its own attempts at a dark, bloody atmosphere. Chiefly, I blame MurMur. MurMur is Deus Ex Machina’s (a.k.a. God’s) servant, and she looks like this.
Yeah, y’know, when I hear “battle royale deathmatch”, the first thing I think of is a cutesy little creature like that. The issue with MurMur is that they try to use her to lift the mood, and it only comes off as jarring and dissonant. After every episode she has these post-credits skits, which were initially introduced as brief flashbacks explaining how the other Diary Keepers received their Diaries. On paper, that seems like a decent idea, but it immediately squanders all the latent potential by being just a platform for bad, out-of-place comic relief. I don’t know about you, but after a roller coaster of death and destruction, I’m not looking for a slapstick comedy routine, involving characters that had been massacred only minutes ago.
There are certainly other tonal problems too, such as the laughable character design of the Eighth, who looks like something out of a cancelled kid’s show. (Oh, she’s not wearing a costume, that’s the actual size of her head compared to everyone else.) I don’t know if this was some misguided attempt to illustrate the death of innocence or something, but all it managed to do was make me laugh in scenes where I really shouldn’t have.
And I know Mirai Nikki can be an absurd show, I myself characterized it as such, but I still repeatedly ran into problems with suspension of disbelief. Widespread hypnosis? Gee, that’s a convenient way to ramp up tension. Mass school bombings? How did she even plant all of them without people noticing...? A 5 year-old-kid with poison and nerve gas? I wouldn’t even know where to get stuff like that! And this just in, a slit throat isn’t actually fatal... and lots more of that sort of thing. If you question Mirai Nikki’s internal logic too much, things really start to fall apart, which isn’t the mark of a well-constructed piece of entertainment.
Remember at the beginning when I said something to the effect of “popularity does not ensure quality”? For me, Mirai Nikki was that kind of show. I’m not going to be appalled or disgusted if you’re a fan, but I didn’t get much out of it, or at least not much that was worthwhile, with its wealth of character, plotting and tone issues, plus the embarrassing attempts to show off just how grimdark it could get. It wasn’t the worst of the worst, but certainly not an anime I’ll remember all that fondly.
Oh, I just realized I never mentioned the opening. I liked it! Some people love it, and it was good, but I just liked it. It won’t live among my mental shortlist of favorite anime openings, but I wouldn’t tell you to skip it either.
So, after taking everything into account (as well as my own subjective enjoyment), on a scale from F to S, Mirai Nikki is a solid C. I considered D, I did, but there’s maybe a third of a really good show in here, it’s just buried under the sea of mediocrity that is everything else. Ultimately, it’s not something I’d actively recommend or actively tell you to avoid, it just exists, with all its quirks and missteps.
Also, I’m gonna be the odd one out and say that I didn’t much care for the sequel OVA, Redial. It felt contrived, pulling things out of thin air for the sake of a stereotypical “Happily Ever After” to the sort of story that really shouldn’t have one.
Despite my less-than-glowing opinion, if you’re in the market for dumb, edgy pseudo-thriller shows, Mirai Nikki is currently available for legal streaming on Funimation and Hulu. As with most Funimation series, there is a dub available, but I cannot comment on its quality or lack thereof.
For a second (and markedly more positive) opinion, you can always check out the AniTAY review below.
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