CONTENT WARNING: Discussions of sexual assault, violence, child abuse, and negative stereotyping of mental illness; NSFW screenshots. SPOILERS for the major plot points in The Future Diary.
I first discovered The Future Diary through my college roommate. I was instantly intrigued when she explained the plot of the series to me, and I decided to watch the whole anime myself.
Future Diary depicts a battle royal in which twelve “diary users” involuntarily enter a death game to decide who will be the next god. The goal: be the last one standing. Fourteen-year old protagonist Yukiteru is a shy, quiet boy who is mostly useless when it comes to fighting. His classmate Yuno is a femme fatale harboring a stalker-level love for him and a vow to make him the winner. While I enjoyed the plot, characters, and over-the-top camp aesthetic of the series, there are serious issues with its depiction of women, LGBTQ+ characters, and sexual violence.
While the women in Future Diary are compelling for many reasons, they are also made into sexual objects. Their naked breasts are displayed constantly throughout the series, even in scenes where nudity doesn’t make sense.
When Tsubaki (the Sixth Diary holder) flashes back to her years of sexual exploitation, it could be argued that the flashes of her naked body add to the gravity and horror of the situation. However, when Minene (the Ninth Diary holder) is held prisoner, she is almost completely naked, with her breasts exposed as she hangs from the ceiling. There’s no explanation or reason for her nudity, other than to excite the viewer and make her appear vulnerable.
In fact, female suffering and vulnerability are intricately tied to titillating nudity in Future Diary. Men suffer in this series, but their vulnerabilities do not center around images of their bodies or sexual abuse. When Yuno takes Yuki hostage, she strips him down to boxers and an undershirt. He is at Yuno’s mercy and in a humiliating state, but there is no special focus on Yuki’s body or emphasis on eroticizing features like sweat, revealed flesh, or sexualized humiliation.
Even when the series isn’t specifically showcasing nudity, the female body is still on display by way of fanservice. Yuno in particular usually wears revealing dresses, a T-shirt and underwear, or swimsuits.
There’s also an element of idealized fantasy to her. When Yuki and Yuno must go to the amusement park together and act like normal teenagers, Yuki notes that Yuno is “cute like this,” noticing that she gets scared in haunted houses and checking out her bikini when they enter the water park.
In this moment, Yuno is depicted as a dream girlfriend in Yuki and the male viewers’ eyes. She is cute, sweet, and a damsel-in-distress. It is not until much, much later in the series that Yuki is able to love Yuno for her true personality. And even then, her willingness to kill is a fantasy of obsessive devotion colored by her “perfect girlfriend” status—in other words, she fits the basic appeal of the yandere archetype.
Future Diary’s depiction of LGBTQ+ characters also leaves much to be desired. While lesbian Mao is a very sweet and likable girl, her crush on her best friend Hinata centers around a fascination with Hinata’s breasts. She takes pictures of Hinata at inappropriate moments and writes in her diary about her breast size. Her affection is played as ridiculous, and both characters die senseless deaths at Yuki’s hands.
Meanwhile, the male character Akise is not sexualized in his love for Yuki, but he plays out the role of The Tragic Gay. Not only is his love unrequited, but he suffers a brutal death at the hands of Yuno as retribution after she sees him kiss Yuki.
The real problem with Future Diary’s depictions of same-sex relationships, though, is that they are in no way given the depth of the heterosexual ones. Mao’s obsession is overwhelmingly focused on physical attraction, while Akise’s crush is given minimal development to make it seem more like a twist.
In contrast, the heterosexual relationships are given backstories and more intricate details. While many of the relationships in the series end in tragedy, Future Diary seems to go out of its way to ensure that the two heterosexual protagonists end up together and have a happy ending, while the gay romances are torn apart or were hopeless from the start.
Most troubling of all are the depictions of sexual violence. A recurring theme is the use of violent revenge as a solution for sexual violence. The Seventh diary holders met at a young age and became a couple shortly after Ai was raped by her classmates. Her close friend Marco flew into a rage upon discovering this, brutally beating her attackers and killing one of them. After this, Marco nearly kills himself out of guilt for not being able to save Ai from this fate, but she stops him.
While Marco’s rage is justified, his solution to this terrible event is far from productive. He first takes on an act of vigilante justice, instead of immediately attending to the medical needs of his friend. He then decides to take his own life, effectively eliminating all witnesses to the crimes committed against Ai and leaving her with no one to go to for help.
The flashback exists, not as a way to create depth and a greater understanding of Ai, but to dramatize their origin story and make Marco look noble. It focuses on his guilt rather than her suffering in order to give him character development.
Tsubaki, the Sixth diary holder, also suffers brutal sexual violence. She is the priestess of a cult whose second-in-command locks her away and allows the male members of the cult to frequently rape her.
After capturing Yuno, Tsubaki orders the male members of the cult to rape Yuno in order to draw Yuki out of hiding. Again, the idea of violent revenge for sexual violence appears in an even more disturbing way, this time with women perpetuating systems of violence against other women (rather than, say, her male oppressors).
The idea that a survivor of rape would want others to go through that same trauma is tasteless, and the subplot reinforces the idea that inflicting pain on others is a way to help one come to terms with one’s own pain. In short, Future Diary cheapens and dramatizes the issue of rape.
Sexualized rape is pushed throughout the series, used for both shock value and as the ultimate exploitation of the female body. Tsubaki holding the threat of rape against Yuno is less about her traumatized state and more about including another scene where a woman is in a vulnerable position.
“That’s a lot of caveats,” you might be thinking. But, despite all those issues, there are some great things that make Future Diary worth watching. I love the over-the-top camp of this series. Everything happens in as grand, melodramatic, and ridiculous a manner as possible. It creates an intriguing cross between action and comedic elements, and makes a lot of the more horrible elements of the story easier to bear because they feel so far removed from reality.
The characters are also compelling even in their larger-than-life mannerisms. I was especially drawn to Yuno. Her obsession with Yuki is unhealthy and often destructive, but I nevertheless felt sympathy for her.
About halfway through the series, the audience learns that she was the victim of horrific abuse by her mother and neglect from her father. Unsurprisingly, these years of abuse are what eventually threw Yuno into the emotionally disturbed state where we find her at the beginning of the show.
Her obsession with Yuki began with a conversation between the two of them about getting married someday. Yuki took this conversation jokingly, but at that moment Yuno began to see Yuki as someone she could love and live her life with.
Her obsession with him stems from a desire to love and be loved, which I think is touching. She was more than willing to die for him and sacrifice her well-being to keep him safe. Yuno is fearless and a badass, and able to think and act quickly during critical moments—a skill that Yuki certainly lacks.
She’s just as much the protagonist as he is, and the fact that the series is campy doesn’t mean she isn’t complex. Yuno is a yandere, an archetype that often promotes harmful stereotypes about mental illness, as another AniFem contributor has discussed. But she is also a survivor. She is a woman who is undoubtedly stronger and more confident than her male partner, and many of the other female characters are similarly powerful.
I also think Future Diary has a lot to say about the importance of choice when it comes to clothing and body. Being stripped of clothing is used to show vulnerability in both men and women. At the same time, there are also scenes where characters who are in a powerful position are dressed scantily.
In several scenes Yuno is dressed in only a shirt and underwear around Yuki, because she is both comfortable with him and attracted to him. She also wears this when she holds Yuki hostage and is in a position of power.
In one scene, Kamado (the Eighth Diary holder) partially undresses to reveal her diary’s server strapped to her body, which puts her in a position of power in the death game. This is also one of the few scenes where a female’s lack of clothing is not sexualized, given that Kamado is an elderly woman. These scenes are examples of a woman’s lack of clothing being used to display power instead of vulnerability. It’s a clever reversal of expectations and (much like the way Yuno holds the physical power in her partnership with Yuki), it challenges common assumptions about where power comes from and how people wield it.
Future Diary wildly overreaches on some levels for the drama factor. This gives it an (unintentional?) camp aesthetic which works in some ways, but not in others. The series stumbles in the way it clumsily handles the issues of rape and LGBTQ+ relationships, and in its over-sexualization of the female body.
However I also realized that, in Future Diary, women and the female body can be symbolic of power, which is a concept that I really enjoyed. The over-the-top nature of the series worked to create complex and compelling characters that kept me interested. I think it’s important to remember that Future Diary handles some issues badly, and that it may not be the series for everyone. For me, though, it definitely remains one of my favorites.