Mirai Nikki

Almost one year ago I blogged about Mirai Nikki (hard to imagine Fate/Zero was back then too), and while I was enthusiastic about it, never got past episode six (only Fate/Zero made it through). Well, I recently decided that I wanted to see the story through, and am very glad I did.

Mirai Nikki follows a similar framework to Basilisk, Fate, and Fate/Zero – the “survival game” where a number of characters fight to the death, some reluctant, some eager, each trying to discover the others’ identities and powers. In this setting, information is the most powerful weapon of all, like in Death Note or Code Geass.

Early spoilers follow.

The protagonist is Amano Yukiteru, an anti-social loner who takes notes  on his phone about random things around him – his diary. Yukiteru has two imaginary friends: the god of time and space Deus Ex Machina, and the god’s servant, the annoying/cute Muru Muru – except that they stop seeming imaginary when entries start appearing his diary from the future, and he finds himself in a survival game, where 11 other diary owners try to kill each other for the right to succeed Deus.

Yukiteru soon finds out that the clever, pretty, athletic girl in his class Gasai Yuno wants to help him, and is a diary owner too. The only problem is that she is mentally unstable and obsessed with him…

Mirai Nikki is gory, tension-filled, and incredibly fast paced; there’s no filler or messing around, and even the eps with a zero body count push the emotional narrative forwards. There are clever twists in every episode, satisfying connections, and genuine surprises – I found myself compulsively watching episode after episode, a rollercoaster of “oh my god”. For someone as jaded in tastes as I am, this is an amazing ride.

The core of the series is Yukiteru’s ambivalent relationship with Yuno: she is sociopathically infatuated with him, and he is caught between wanting to use her, to flee from her, and to return her affection. It’s a high-stakes version of deciding whether to break up with someone or to progress the relationship. To the credit of the manga author Esuno Sakae, Mirai Nikki portrays the complexity of the issue, structuring the story around developments in the relationship, and keeping its tension taut throughout.

Mirai Nikki does have plausibility problems: characters acquire and wield nasty weapons, construct lethal traps, set up elaborate deceits, and manage to evade the complications that modern society would inevitably inflict upon kids caught up in successive waves of carnage. Additionally, the plot employs some important coincidences (eg significant characters bumping into each other), and fairly extreme backstories. However, these keep the plot moving (usually disadvantaging the protagonists), raise the stakes, heighten the tension, and set the stage for clever tricks. And Mirai Nikki is full of clever tricks – defeating seemingly invincible powers, mind games and bluffs, hostage-taking, secret agendas and betrayals, and deception after deception. The anime appears to add a little bit more on top of the manga.

Top seiyuu populate cameo roles – Norio is perfect as Deus Ex Machina, and for once Ishida Akira isn’t completely annoying; Yuno’s seiyuu does the sickly sweet “Yukki!” perfectly. There are some great touches to the series – the troubled, interconnected lives of the characters, the uniquely Japanese religious sect, the bubble-era towns full of abandoned buildings, and Yukiteru’s juvenile dreams of getting his parents back together. I also enjoyed the way Yuno slumps and pants after each episode of manic exertion (yandere power!), and the way her childish diary is peppered with double exclamation marks.

The names of the characters are pretty jokey – the standout being Yuno’s last name, which roughly translates to “my wife”. With both lyrics and animation, the OP and ED sequences reference all the diary owners and foreshadow the plot.

I liked the ending arc – I actually managed to guess the core reveal a few episodes early, and was pleased to discover that the finale developed the issue at length, rather quickly ending the series. The ending itself is much more ambiguous than the in manga, so I recommend reading the last couple of pages to find out what happened in the last seconds of the TV series.

Mirai Nikki is now one of my favourite anime, and if you can deal with the gore and dark themes, it’s a real masterpiece of a thriller.

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