Nailing a good thriller anime can be difficult. Since it’s a series and not a movie, the show has to keep things interesting by maintaining a careful balance of suspense, action, and softer character-focused moments that let viewers get to know the cast while recovering from all the tension. The Future Diary not only manages this balance with stunning dexterity, but it does so for a staggering 26 episodes.
Yukiteru Amano is a 14-year-old boy who suffers from severe loneliness. A social outcast, he spends most of his time keeping a diary about his surroundings in his cell phone. One day, while talking to his imaginary friends in his room, he expresses that he wishes that he wouldn’t have to be alone any longer. It’s at this point that one of Yuki’s imaginary friends reveals himself to be the actual God of Space and Time, Deus Ex Machina, and selects Yuki to be one of 12 participants in a battle royale to select the next god. Each participant is granted a diary imbued with unique future-telling powers that can aid them in either killing the other participants directly or destroying their diaries (which also kills them). Once a Dead End is triggered in someone’s diary, they’re almost certainly doomed.
Though using a tournament as a plot device is a somewhat common premise in anime, The Future Diary is just as much about Yuki and his stalker-turned-protector Yuno Gasai as it is about the actual survival game. Yuno is a cold-blooded yandere, someone who has no qualms about killing anyone as long as it means Yuki can live. She’s often portrayed as incredibly sweet, innocent and girlish in one scene before mercilessly cutting down enemies in the next. The show does a brilliant job of making the viewer as torn over her as Yuki is; she’s cute yet obsessive, unstable but a definite survival advantage. Her split personality, viciousness, and sharp-yet-demented mind make Yuno one of the most horrifying characters I’ve ever witnessed in any show. Yuki is acutely aware of how dangerous she is and constantly struggles with how he feels about her and how to handle her, something he does perhaps a bit too often throughout the show.
In fact, that’s my biggest gripe with The Future Diary: the protagonist. Yuki is undoubtedly one of the weakest, most completely incompetent main characters I’ve ever witnessed. He spends the better half of the story cowering in fear, crying, or running away while he lets Yuno protect him from harm. This makes for some truly spectacular showdowns involving Yuno, but it nevertheless makes Yuki feel nearly worthless by comparison. Yuki and Yuno are later exposed to what a true team dynamic is supposed to look like in terms of fighting and supporting each other, and the difference is night and day. He doesn’t fare much better outside of combat, either; whenever faced with a difficult decision or judgement call, Yuki’s inability to keep from tearing up or hesitating is nothing short of disappointing.
Aside from the odd misstep with Yuki, however, the rest of the cast absolutely shines with unique personalities, gripping motives and great character designs. The telling of every diary holder’s backstory is so well done that it’s hard not to sympathize with them despite their heinous acts in the present. The depth of characterization that’s developed within this single season is astounding no matter the number of episodes, and each participant’s story is genuinely worth experiencing for yourself firsthand.
The Future Diary excels in discussing key questions about the nature of humankind. Just how much do our past traumas shape our future selves? How far are you willing to go for someone you love unconditionally? What makes us care about a person? When is it time to let go? The show navigates these topics in depth and, despite its intensely graphic and unsettling nature, manages to give a little hope to those of us seeking a happy end. If you’re looking for something with an engaging plot, memorable characters and a truly terrifying look at what mental deterioration can look like, give this one a watch.
You can find The Future Diary on Crunchyroll here.