by Sakae Esuno; adapted by Clint Bickham
published by Tokyopop; $10.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Yukiteru Amano is a quiet high school student who keeps to himself. He maintains a diary of the events that happen around him on his cell phone. Yuno Gasai is a classmate of Yukiteru. She is attractive, gets good grades, and is popular. She also keeps a cell phone diary. Both find that their hobby becomes the key to their survival.
Deus Ex Machina, the god of time and space, has set up a little game. He has given twelve people who keep cell phone diaries new cell phones that show their future for the next 90 days. The object of the game is for each of the participants to figure out who the other cell phone owners are and then kill them. The last one standing gets to take over Deus’s throne and become the new god of time and space. Of course, there is a catch — the cell phones only show the future as each participant would have recorded it. So they can’t count on their cell phones to give them all the answers.
Future Diary is a survival game thriller. Unlike most movies and books in this genre, Future Diary doesn’t use extreme violence. Instead, this is more of a cat-and-mouse game where each person gets to play both roles. We see the events unfold from Yukiteru’s point of view, which helps add to the tension of the book.
The key to any good thriller is pacing, and Esuno does a fantastic job. Too many comic writers think the way to slow the pace is simply to add more panels per page. Instead, the secret is to slow down the time within each panel and between panels. At dramatic moments, Esuno’s panels transition from representing minutes to seconds and the time between panels is similarly shorted so that each small movement becomes heightened. The reader instinctively knows that this is the same as when a movie uses extreme close ups and slow motion. As Esuno demonstrates, you can achieve this effect with just four pages and eleven panels. You have to know what key moments to focus on for the scene to work well on the comic page.
You not only have to pace the action, but you have to know how to parcel out information. Esuno is adept at this too. Both Yukiteru and the reader are fed small bits of data at fairly regular intervals. It’s a great way to heighten suspense, because as you’re absorbing one set of facts, you know that next revelation is just around the corner. You feel like you have to keep on your toes or you might get overwhelmed by the information. As a reader, you stay interested because you want to see what new fact or twist is coming.
Unfortunately, Future Diary does suffer a few flaws common to the action/thriller genre. First, we’re not told why Deus Ex Machina decided to create this game. I get the sense he’s bored. However, that still doesn’t explain why he would have twelve people murder each other, why he seems so eager to give up his throne, or why being a successful assassin is the requirement to rule over time and space. I would have preferred a more thought out set-up.
Second, Yukiteru’s and Yuon’s relationship is the typical fanboy fantasy. Yukiteru is the perfect otaku stand-in, average looks, average grades, and just outside the mainstream high school cliques. For no reason, the attractive girl with everything going for her has a crush on the quiet outcast in the corner. Esuno does play with this formula slightly, by making Yuno a stalker, but even that can’t completely exonerate the use of this worn-out cliche.
Third, Esuno makes the most common mistake of action films. The villain seems to have unlimited access to military grade weapons, perfect knowledge of how to fully utilize these weapons, and an infinite amount of time to create the most elaborate traps. I’m always left asking where these people get the money for all these hi-tech toys? Also, how did they get access to these buildings? And more importantly, how did they get such complete access to make extreme modifications to these buildings? Since this takes place in Japan, where it’s illegal to own high-powered air guns, I imagine getting hold of the weapons in the final chapter would be impossible. I know action stories are suppose to have lots of explosions in the final act, but at least make it semi-plausible that the villain could have acquired the featured weapon. Esuno went way over the top here.
Esuno’s art is well done. As I mentioned earlier, Esuno has a great sense of page layout and timing. Yukiteru’s confusion and terror at the events around him is communicated effectively. All you have to do is look at a panel, and the art alone will tell you Yukiteru’s current emotional state. This makes the art a perfect compliment to the storytelling in creating believable suspense throughout the book. The character designs are also a pleasure. It’s nice to read a book where the lead females all have realistic body shapes and bra sizes. Also, the main villain at the end has some of the most evil facial expressions. It’s a brilliant mix of madness and malevolence.
Future Diary is another series I would put on the beach reading list. Like so many action/thriller stories, it’s a fun ride and good light entertainment. If you actually start to think about it, the story falls apart pretty quickly. The plot and characters are intriguing enough that I’m actually going to read the second volume. If Esuno takes out some of the excesses of this volume and focuses more on the terror of being put in a killed or be killed situation, then Future Diary could turn out to be a very good series. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)