Every now and then, an anime comes along that you don’t so much watch, as get bludgeoned to the ground by while it whispers obscene things about your mother in your ear.
Mirai Nikki is one of those kinds of animes.
Before I start on all this, I do want to say that the shows description does not a damn thing to sell it. If you passed on it because the description sounded kinda dull, then trust me, dive in with both feet. It is so much more complex than can be explained in a brief way.
By which I mean it is balls out insane.
Mirai Nikki is the brain child of maganka Sakae Esuno, the same crazy person who created Big Order. I call him a crazy person, because as writer myself, I am in utter awe of this guy. What he can do with a story is just plain nuts.
It was adapted into a 26 episode anime in 2011 by studio Asread, the same guys behind Shuffle!, Ga-Rei: Zero, Corpse Party, Big Order, and I Couldn’t Become A Hero, So I Reluctantly Decided To Get A Job.
I think Japan needs to do something about how they title stuff.
That aside, while Asread hasn’t put out a ton of work, what they have done has all been pretty solid, so handing them a project like Mirai Nikki seems a no brainer. The only thing that really surprises me about them landing this project, what with Ga-Rei: Zero on their list, is that somehow Madhouse didn’t beat them to it. This is straight up those guys alley, after all.
Mirai Nikki follows 14 year old Yukiteru Amano, or just Yuki for short, as he goes about his daily life. Which is to say he watches life go on around him. After his parents split up, Yuki has become so completely withdrawn, he can go days without speaking to anyone, and has become almost invisible to those around him. His only hobby is noting everything he sees on a diary in his cell phone.
And I do mean everything. That pile of dog poop? Noted. That funny shaped blade of grass? Noted. Every single bloody damn thing he sees? Noted.
Yuki does have an imaginary friend he likes to talk to, however. Dues Ex Machina, the God of all space and time, as well as Dues Ex’s assistant, Mura Mura. Outside of them, he has no real contact with anyone, and barely even speaks with his own mother, who is usually so busy working in order to provide him a home to sulk in and food to sulk over, he rarely sees her.
Everything promptly goes to shit for Yuki, however, when he discovers that Dues Ex is not imaginary, but a very real and extremely powerful God who actually does control all of space and time. It seems Dues Ex is dying, and has decided to chose his successor by way of a death game. Ya know, the way Gods do.
Personally, I really hate it when Gods draw me into a death game. It gets old after the third or fourth time.
Yuki’s first clue something is up is when his cell phone diary begins detailing things before they happen. Entries he would write in the immediate future just start showing up on their own. Before he knows what’s happening, he’s being stalked by a serial killer who also has a future predicting phone, and even with his own, he can’t seem to escape the psycho.
Enter Yuno Gasai, a girl in Yuki’s clase, and owner of a third future diary phone. She helps Yuki defeat the serial killer, and then confesses that she is utterly and completely in love with him, to the point her own future diary is the Yuki Diary, and predict everything that will happen to Yuki, because she’s his stalker, and completely bugnuts insane.
No, really. Yuno is so totally binky bonkers, the bad guys from SAO could take notes on how to be loopy from her. She isn’t just off her rocker, she picked that rocker up and stabbed somebody in the eye with it while asking Yuki what he’d like for dinner in a totally calm voice.
Next thing Yuki knows, he’s getting the low down. Thirteen players have been chosen for the Future Diary death game, and one is already down. The last one standing will get to become the new Dues Ex. With eleven other people now gunning for his life, Yuki finds he has no choice but to trust Yuno, even though she’s got the mental stability of a typhoon.
Which is where Mirai Nikki gets really interesting.
As a protagonist, Yuki starts off as less than sympathetic, and spends most of his time running, hiding, crying, or doing all three at once. Without Yuno, he wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. Later on, he becomes more confident and assertive, but in utterly terrible ways, making him even less sympathetic, and ultimately down right detestable.
Which is kind of the point. This is a death game. You don’t survive it by being nice. More importantly, the constant near death experiences, and soul destroying choices he must make begin to take a toll on him, as he steadily grows less concerned with anything but winning, and getting to become God so he can fix all the horrible things he’s doing.
He believes he can because Yuno told him as much, except that Yuno is insane, and despite her giving him ample reason not to trust her, he keeps deciding to do it. Which ultimately leads to Yuki getting exactly what he deserves in the end.
As for Yuno, yes, she really is totally cracker jacks. It’s not an act, or a show, or something she’s using to get ahead. She is genuinely out of her gourd. Her elevator is in the bottom most basement of Cheyenne Mountain, and it ain’t ever going up again. That girl is so nutso, she’s actually the most terrifying thing is a series filled with terrorists, sadomasochists, and world ending consequences.
All of which is explained at one point in such a way as to make her the most sympathetic character in the entire series. Once you know why Yuno went crazy, you can’t help but feel for her, because as nuts as she is, that she still has it together enough to dress herself is pretty dam impressive.
She’s still scary as shit, though. I mean, like, chopping off somebody’s head while asking Yuki where he’d like to go on their date crazy scary.
Both of these characters somewhat pale in comparison to the brightest star in the show, however. Minene Uryu, a wanted terrorist, cold blooded killer, and lover of making things explode. When we first meet her, she is literally blowing up parts of Yuki’s school, and slaughters teenagers wholesale in her attempts to take him out of the game. Over the rest of the series, however, we learn more about her, and as we do, she becomes the real star. Yuki may be the protagonist, but Minene is the damn star, with her compelling backstory, conflicted morals, and just the way her character progresses from a two dimensional villain, to the real hero of the story.
Like Yuki, she does get exactly what she deserves in the end.
Actually, pretty much everyone does, which is interesting in and of itself. Even the characters who died, thanks to an aspect of the story, end up getting what they deserve. It’s weird, and I won’t spoil it, but it’s really damn cool.
Probably the most interesting aspect of Mirai Nikki, besides the excellently executed character arcs, is just how intense the show is. Game changing plot twists come pretty much every episode. For real game changing plot twists, too, not the fake out kind. How they do that, I have no idea, but they do it, and it is amazing. Just trying to keep up with the way the story keeps twisting and turning is half the fun of watching.
Mirai Nikki was directed by Naoto Hosoda, who was also the director on The Devil Is A Part Timer, and Shuffle, as well as having done story boards and key animation for a wide variety of shows, like Boogiepop Phantom, and Jinki: Extend.
With Mirai Nikki, I can’t help but feel like we get to see exactly what Hosoda is really able to do, as he keeps the action intense, the angles sharps, the lighting perfect, and really just knows how to sell a scene. There is no point in Mirai Nikki where it feels like anything lags, and Hosoda really deserves a mountain of credit for that. This is one of those shows that could have gone wrong really easy, and that it never does is thanks to Hosoda handling every aspect with tremendous skill.
The script writing was done by Katsuhiko Takayama, who did work on shows like Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu, Big Order, ef: A Tale of Memories, Ga-Rei: Zero, and a ton of others. As well done as the scripts for Mirai Nikki are, Takayama had a bit of an easy job, thanks to Esuno, the original mangaka, crafting the story as well as he did. From what I’ve seen of the original manga, it’s pretty much a straight adaptation, which was pretty smart. While Takayama is a solid scriptwriter, and I admit that Ga-Rei: Zero is one of my favorite animes ever, he really didn’t have to work to hard on this one.
Still, that said, I do want to give him credit for seeing how well crafted the story was, and not trying to put his own spin on it. Most scriptwriters will do that, but Takayama chose not to, and Mirai Nikki as a anime is better for it. Believe it or not, it takes more confidence as a writer to do that, so I give big props to Takayama for not being an egotist.
Sad days when that’s something we feel the need to praise somebody over, I know.
The music was arranged by Tatsuya Kato, who has an amazing body of work on his list. Kampfer, Requiem for the Phantom, Free!, Food Wars, and Comet Lucifer are just a small sampling of the shows he’s done composition for. No matter how good or bad those shows were, the music was always stellar, and Mirai Nikki is no different. It’s strong, but never overwhelming, adding depth and nuance to a scene without drowning it out. It’s an excellent soundtrack that perfectly fits the show, and another major notch in Kato’s belt.
As for the quality of the animation, I’m just gonna say this. Holy hell. Take that however you want, but if all the praise I’ve already heaped on this show should be a clue as to what I mean by that. From the backgrounds to the character designs, to the action, Mirai Nikki is damn near flawless from start to finish. Even the character designs just sparkle, each one unique and unlike any other character we’ve seen in any other anime. They move with a fluidity that is gorgeous, and no matter how crazy things get, stay sharp and crisp.
As a series, Mirai Nikki may be just another entry into the death game genre, but as a total package, it blows most of the other offerings out of the water with a crazy complex plot that is always driven by the endlessly engaging characters, all of whom grow through their story arcs so naturally and so easily you never doubt their choices as being anything other than just what they would do.
You don’t so much watch Mirai Nikki, as you experience it, and that’s a pretty high bar to set for a genre that’s known more for going after shock value than quality storytelling.