Reviewby Jacob Hope Chapman, Oct 8th 2013
The Future Diary
DVD - Complete Series
Yukiteru Amano is terminally bored. He's bored because he himself is boring, and he knows it. He has no real friends or productive hobbies, and spends all his time playing darts in his room and tooling around with his phone, recording life's minutiae. But everything changes when the "imaginary" deity in his brain, Deus ex Machina, turns out to be the real god of all space and time and chooses Yuki to be his champion in a survival game to choose the universe's new overlord. He is designated the "First" of twelve combatants, each with a cell phone that tells their future in some way: a future diary. Yuki's is indiscriminate, recording every event around him before it happens, giving him the greatest advantage and making him the greatest threat. He may not have an interest in becoming god, but his rivals in the death-game are willing to do anything for the throne, painting a bulls-eye on Yuki's head as the first to be blown clean off.
His only defense against the other ten combatants is fellow player "Second," actually his creepy classmate Yuno, a girl with a lust for homicide whose only condition for carrying Yuki to victory is that he make her his bride. Terrified, Yuki agrees to go along with the charade, unsure if every phony kiss and false "I love you" plants him further from death or closer to a far worse fate. The world's most boring boy finally has more attention than he could ever ask for, but it just might get him killed.
It's unusual for a TV show to have content unsuitable for the age of its own main character, but therein lies one of the most shocking aspects of Future Diary: its lead characters are in middle school, not high school like in so many other anime. That said, it's hard to imagine sharing Future Diary with a 14-year old. The anime features, (but is not limited to) torture through starvation, torture through mutilation, multiple scenes of child abuse, multiple scenes of graphic gangrape, multiple scenes of terrorist bombings and middle-east war imagery, visceral gunshot wounds, arrow wounds, poisonings, electrocutions, decapitations, and a particular love for hearty stabbings. More often this affects children than adults, (not just the middle schoolers, but many smaller fries too,) and if women are horribly dismembered, they're often partially naked as well. This isn't to shame Future Diary, framing it solely through its explicit content like this, but instead to make clear that despite its juvenile appearance, this is not The Hunger Games with mild death and mayhem for the YA crowd. It slants darker from the beginning and only gets more gruesome as it spirals downward.
Unfortunately, Future Diary, as an anime, does not understand this, or even seem to understand what it's trying to accomplish at all. Imagine a killing game run by an omniscient deity. His is a commanding authority combing through tragedy and terror with a knowing, deliberate hand, unveiling shock and consequence at all the right times, trapping his pawns with their own vices, whittling them down until one broken victor remains. He is the professor, and the survival game is his macabre lesson plan. And then, one day, he brings in a clueless substitute who doesn't really understand the subject or the lesson plan, but sure wants to prove that he's the coolest teacher around, boys n' girls!
That's Future Diary. It is the incompetent and cavalier student teacher desperately catering to children to think he's really cool while getting nothing of value accomplished. That's not to imply that Future Diary gets nothing done (See the list of striking atrocities listed at the top of the review!) From beginning to end there are murders upon conspiracies upon manipulations of time and space. So what are the things of "value" so sorely missing from it all?
Primary among these are relatable, human characters. The issue isn't even "sympathetic" characters, (which the series also lacks) as even pitiless cruelty has its familiar human faces, but just "believable" ones. Due to its large female cast being haunted by uniquely fetishized misery, a condemnation of Future Diary could be made based on its juvenile misogyny alone, but it's probably more accurate to call this anime misanthropic, both egocentrically ignorant of basic human psychology and hateful to that which it doesn't understand. Yuki and Yu-No are a self-insert harem lead and a slavering yandere taken to their greatest extremes, too inconsistently swinging from stupid to crafty, from childlike to robotic, to play as anything but pieces in a story with traits to stick on and peel off as each episode dictates. In episode 18, Yuki in particular undergoes a character transformation so ridiculous it can only be justified as "something that had to happen to move the story along," lest we assume he is the most horrible, braindead monster in human skin ever conceived. The rest of the cast is much the same way, motivated by hammer blows of contrived tragedy to change their character completely, but never in a way that rings true thematically or seems to give them any human agency. "When something bad happens to you, it makes you pure evil!" almost comes across as a theme of the series, albeit a poorly executed one. The only thing notable about our two leads is that they are the most despicable of all these wet cardboard checkers, and possibly the most loathsome anime protagonists in years, if not decades.
Second among the holes in Future Diary's soul is its blindness to tone. If we can assume tone deafness is jumping from one powerful emotion to another clumsily, Future Diary's tone blindness is jumping between divorced emotions that it never fully achieves in the first place. Because of its puzzle-piece characters, drama never plays on a deeper level than shock and revulsion, (the chief currency of Future Diary) but the humor isn't really any better. Standard big-ole-boobies gags coupled with cool-mom-tries-to-get-her-son-laid bits squared with wacky-times-at-amusement-park scenes add up to little more than tepid sitcom humor, both unfunny and baffling alongside scenes of dismemberment and sexual assault. The only funny part of Future Diary, and probably the most emotionally successful, are the after-episode cartoons starring Murmur, Deus ex Machina's impish minion. They succeed where the main show fails in putting a wry smile on the macabre, and achieve a range of tones from cute to absurd. They're not great, but they're a significant step up from the misery of Future Diary attempting to take itself super-seriously alongside the lamest jokes possible.
Finally, there's the plot. The story was adapted from a concluded manga, and so the anime adaptation has its own "gift of future sight" in making the mess of events in play more cohesively, but even moderate clairvoyance can't disguise the ramshackle construction of mean-spirited twists, impactless filler, and all-around poor writing that makes Future Diary seem as though it was being made up as it went. That's not to say the story isn't building to something (it most certainly is) and that main doozy clearly forms the backbone for the premise from the very beginning, but it's the journey that's the problem. Things that are initially shocking become trivialized and even infantilized with graceless, tone-blind repetition, and with such a large cast of unrealistic characters being shuffled through aimlessly, it's impossible to tell what to focus on, or what the author thinks is important or supposed to make the greatest impact. If there is a master plan, it's lost in the unrelenting flood of new devices, characters and switchback after switchback between them resulting in diminishing returns. Future Diary has to raise the bar of gruesome spectacle constantly because it's lost all other appeals to audience attention. Ultimately, large swaths of the series are violent white noise interrupted by infodumps, devoid of any feeling but the addictive compulsion to see what the next bizarre shock will be. It's unfortunate to churn through so many words just to say that the best adjective for Future Diary's journey is "stupid," but... Future Diary is stupid.
It is important to note that Future Diary's "mastery" of relentless gruesome spectacle applies only to its content, and not its technical presentation. This anime has more scrambled production credits than most, having been hacky-sacked back and forth between well over 30 animation houses for key work, inbetweens, finishing, and as a result the show seems static and limited. At the same time, rarely is anything on-model for long. The base aesthetic is the most generic of the generic, but if you flip from episode to episode, you can see a remarkable shift in Yu-No's facial features that seems to age her up and down even within the confines of such a standard style. It's not a notably bad-looking anime, but it is fairly ugly and inconsistent, and worse, never really impressive. Action scenes are flat and simple, full of the same old anime tricks, so much so that by the time the first sequences of nice-looking animation arrive, in the last couple episodes, it feels mind-blowing, as if you'd never noticed how cruddy the show looked until it stopped looking cruddy moments before the end.
The voice track for Future Diary is competent in Japanese, standard archetypal seiyuu performances carrying the show well. For as much fanfare has been made about Yu-No's uniquely outrageous character, greenhorn VA Tomosa Murata is not uniquely outrageous in performance, delivering every line with the same stepford-wife cadence, which is probably the point, and meant to be scary for its emotionlessness. By that token, there shouldn't be any issue with Brina Palencia's English performance of the character, which is likewise emotionless and babyish to the point of discomfort. Yu-No fanatics eager to compare the two should note that the English dub makes her slightly more emotional than the Japanese, so if there is any issue with the gentle childlike voice not matching Yu-No's twisted demonic expressions, bear in mind that both voice tracks take an android delivery to those fiendish faces, making a complete disjunct the intention on both tracks. Anyhow, Yu-No's popularity aside, the real star of the show vocally is Minene Uryu, "Ninth," played by Mai Aizawa in Japanese and Emily Neves in English. While the character model doesn't look particularly older or more womanly than any of the others, successful casting on both sides results in the voice of a woman scarred by years of wartime, refined, cruel, a strange aural combination of sandpaper and silk that makes her both threatening and fun. The writing may not support complex characterization for Ninth, but the acting by both Aizawa and Neves gives her a fuller heart than any of the other characters by miles. (She also has the most successful attempts at humor, yielding the only good in-show laughs.)
Normally, this would be all that needs be said about the English dub: competently directed and performed equivalent to the Japanese, a solid Funimation effort. Unfortunately, the devil is in the adaptive writing on Future Diary, with altered dialogue so obnoxious it threatens to sink the otherwise enjoyable dub outright. Funimation has been accused of liberal rewrites in the past, but these efforts are usually exaggerated by sub purists who don't realize the need for naturalistic re-wording to better illustrate the original intent in English. (Example: Cowboy Bebop's oft-lauded dub is heavily re-interpreted for naturalism without changing the intent.) Typically, Funimation "reversionings" have left the intent intact, or even embellished it to the extent that the dub has more resonance than the original track. Future Diary's dub script, however, is dreadful, seeming like self-parody at points in its junkpiling of outdated slang and trite idioms as if it was a poorly written young adult novel...which Future Diary sort of is, but this coincidence does not make the dub script appropriate.
However, the problem is not that Future Diary's intent has been changed, largely the same information and ideas are conveyed, but that the carriage is overworked. Every character says 12 words where 4 will do, and all in the same voice: a strange combination of grandiose, literary, grandfatherly aphorisms and dumb words no real teen has used in eons like "friggin'" and "emo." The unnatural juxtaposition reveals the man behind the keyboard and we can no longer focus on Future Diary's characters, only the singular verbose Texan speaking through them. Given the unfavorable reactions to the dub by fans, it would behoove Funimation to pare back in the future. More matter with less art, especially if you can't pull it off. "I'm ready to cash in!" (dub) means less, not more than "I will die for you." (sub) "Time to face the music" (dub) means less, not more than "I have to atone for my sins." (sub) I'm not entirely sure what "no eggs and no omelet" was supposed to mean, but it and all its weird little relatives in the dub script made the entire effort comical. (The line's twisting another trite idiom, but by the time you figure that out, the scene's ruined with a groan.) At its worst, this overworked parlance is so distracting that it eliminates what little emotion scenes are supposed to have, as when one character remarks offhand that Yuki's probably "punched his ticket," causing a girl who likes him to leave the table, upset. "He's probably dead" is not only more blunt and effective, but "punched his ticket" is more commonly a phrase implying career success than it is a euphemism for being killed. A good dub disappears into the material so much it feels like the only version. Future Diary's dub stands out painfully. Stick to the sub on this one if you don't want to be horribly distracted.
Despite its terrible construction, there is a kind of nauseous magic to Future Diary. It's never boring, and it never truly slows down. It only snowballs from one bad decision to another, not content to be only merely bad but really most sincerely bad, and by the end, it is irrevocably memorable. Even with each atrocity having less and less effect due to tasteless storytelling, Future Diary plows forward and successfully accomplishes depths of depravity unforeseen in its last five episodes, meriting a kind of simultaneous slow-clap-head-shake that's rare to accomplish even in the truly terrible. In a market overflowing with a glut of teen murder stories, leaving an indelible stain in the way Future Diary does is hard-won and fully earned. It cannot be justifiably "recommended," as there's nothing worthwhile absorbed once the fracas is over, but merely suggested, left to lay in the dust and be dug back up under cover of darkness by those curious "just to see."
A word of warning, however: if you're going to start watching it at all, there's no point unless you get to the ghastly end. (Or unless you feel forced to stop by some disgusting moment or another, which is entirely understandable.) The satisfaction Future Diary grants is unique and it is rare, an annual chocolate Easter bunny you consume from the ears down, the sin of empty sugar and critter carnage combined emptily as you make your way down to its empty center. Hollow satisfaction is still a kind of satisfaction, and at the least of the least, Future Diary can be applauded for being stupid enough to be remembered.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : D+
Animation : C+
Art : C
Music : B
+ Perpetually deepening maelstrom of violence and discomfort is extremely watchable and always changing direction. Murmur after-show segments are funny.
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