By Andrew Osmond.
Mirai Nikki (The Future Diary) is a death game anime, in which the gamemaster is God Himself. Well, he calls himself Deus Ex Machina, and he looks like a giant-sized skeleton, but he still seems to be the right chap. He oversees a wild tournament, involving murder, torture, explosions, severed heads, decayed bodies – in short, this isn’t Ludo. You win or you die, probably very painfully and messily.
Of the game’s dozen mortal players, the one who’s our viewpoint is Yuki, short for Yukiteru. He starts as a perfectly ordinary Japanese schoolboy, though he’s withdrawn from his surroundings. He’s not a physical shut-in, but he’s cast himself as a passive outsider, making random notes about his daily life on his mobile phone diary. At home, he occasionally unwinds by chatting to his “imaginary” friend Deus and His cutesy imp servant, Muru Muru. Then, one morning, Yuki finds diary entries on his phone that he doesn’t recall making. Even weirder, the diary entries relate to the day to come.
Before long, the shocked Yuki will have proof that Deus is real, and that the god has just entered him in a game of his devising. Yuki is one of twelve divinely-selected players. Each of them has a “future diary” that gives information about what will happen a few minutes or hours ahead – Yuki getting offed by a serial killer, for example. Each diary is a different type, and some are especially good at showing what other players are up too. The future is not set by the diaries – players can opt to do something different from what the diary says, in which case the predictions will change to something else.
The purpose of the game is like most death games – the players must kill each other until only one person’s standing. That winner will replace Deus as the new god. Now, it’s time to play…
Even before learning all the rules, Yuki already knows who one of the other players is. It’s his beautiful, sweet-looking classmate Yuno, who’s obsessed with Yuki to a very worrying degree. It’s clear very fast that Yuno isn’t your normal girl, but rather someone who’s very scary and very, very dangerous. Luckily, she says that she’ll support Yuki through everything… but is that so lucky for the quailing boy? If you wanted an alternative title for the show, you could call it My Psycho Head-Chopping Girlfriend Can’t Be This Cute.
Given this is a 26-part show, plus an extra made-for video episode at the end, you’d think Mirai Nikki would start small, working its way towards the big set-pieces. Instead, the show goes bloodily bananas in part two, a “bomber in high school” story throwing sanity to the wind. Before long, we’re getting the kind of bodily damage that you’d expect in Perfect Blue. Mind where you’re throwing that dart, Yuki; you’ll have someone’s eye out.
Then before long we’ve moved on to axes, and then to a sweet ’ickle toddler psycho out of Child’s Play. Even the tonal whiplash feels lethal. This is a show that can have a girl running around in a bunny suit; then a heap of bloody corpses; and then a Shonen Jump-ish inspirational speech being delivered by a mass-murdering terrorist. Actually, the source strip isn’t from Shonen Jump but Shonen Ace, which also ran the gory Deadman World strip.
Mirai Nikki’s premise and English name – The Future Diary – may remind viewers of Death Note, which also played out like a death game with godlike power as the prize. On that basis, Yuno corresponds to Death Note’s Misa Amane, only she’s a hundred times as deadly. Later on, there’s also a handsome white-haired boy detective character. Still, Yuki himself is definitely no Light. With his weakness and his whimpering, he’s far closer to a certain Shinji Ikari.
This blog has talked about death games before in an article on King’s Game, which also made heavy use of mobile phones. Not that games with phones are necessarily about murder. A couple of years before Future Diary was broadcast, Kenji Kamiyama made the comedy-thriller Eden of the East. Animated by Production I.G, it was about another dozen competitors in a world-changing game, competing to be the saviour of modern Japan with the help of their trusty super-phones.