Horror is a very difficult genre to write, and even more of a feat to animate or draw. Writing horror has the advantage of letting the audience fill in the blanks for themselves. It’s often said that the most effective horror barely shows the antagonist itself, leaving much of it to the imagination, and thus creating something far more frightening than could be made into a rubber costume or created with CGI. Anime has trouble with this, since cartoons in which characters aren’t particularly deformed don’t really have the nightmare potential of, say, The Shining or for me at least, Mars Attacks. However, this isn’t a post detailing the distinct lack of genuine horror in anime. While I may save that post for a later date, for now it’s not the focus of discussion.
Something almost as important as keeping the antagonist shrouded in mystery is creating an appropriate atmosphere. The Silent Hill games, across almost every single iteration, have consistently good atmosphere that keeps the player on their toes well before any monsters show up. A thick haze of fog swirls around the main character outdoors, blocking his view for more than a few feet in front of him. Whenever he might find himself indoors for whatever reason, it’s almost always in derelict buildings shrouded by nearly impenetrable darkness. Monsters scuttle and scurry just out of sight, the only notice that you have that you’re in danger being radio static that hisses at the player nonstop until the threat is dispatched or fled from.
The key to this sense of oppression isn’t the darkness blanketing your vision or the creatures looking to snap your spine and suck out your bodily fluids in one fell swoops, it’s the very spare lighting that lets you glimpse a pale shape shuffling off in the distance for a split second before you realize that you’re about to come face to face with something that may or may not embody your worst fear. Without the light, you’re left stumbling in the dark. Frightened and uneasy, yes, but not jumping at every noise or shadow that bombards your senses. It’s thanks to the flashlight or glow stick or what have you that you can see exactly what has all kinds of places to mount your skull on its wall.
I guess what I’m trying to get at here in as indirect a manner as possible is that Mirai Nikki had really good lighting in this episode, and that heightened the mood. Ordinarily, the lack of subtlety would sabotage any sense of horror that it tries to convey by having Yuno stalk Yukiteru. After all, there’re only so many explosions and motorcycles you can have in one scene before it falls into a category bordering on high camp, which is something not usually known for being very scary.
Anyway, after a filler-ish day at the local amusement park, the two (Insert Concept Here) Diary owners high tail it to Yuno’s place, conveniently alone during a power outage. While Yuno leaves to peel an apple, Yukiteru tries to find a bathroom by utilizing his laziness to its full potential and using the Future Diary. While he fumbles about with only the light of his cell phone to guide him, he stumbles on a room not mentioned in the diary, which apparently escalates this shit to a whole ‘nother level. Probably the dead bodies that Yuno’s hiding in there.
Again, Yukiteru discovers this grisly scene by cell phone light, casting very little luminance on the cadavers scattered about the room. Finally, out of the shadows behind him, we see Yuno look over his shadow while whispering about the plan to be with him supposed to be succeeding. But, y’know, corpses don’t really tend to attract people in their right mind, so I can understand her worry. While it didn’t scare or even startle, it did make my skin crawl a little bit, topped off by Yuno following an understandably frightened Yukiteru back home to peep through his mail slot with eyes that, in any other circumstance and not at night, wouldn’t be quite so damning for his safety. Again, lighting making her eyes look like they’re glowing with malevolence.
Other than the surprisingly good atmosphere toward the end of this episode though, there isn’t anything REALLY commendable about Mirai Nikki. It’s a lot of fun, it’s occasionally suspenseful, and it has some of the least enjoyable characters sharing an unfortunate situation since Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it doesn’t do anything (I’m sure my praise is for a fluke) exceptionally well. In short, come for the psychotic yandere, stay for the… psychotic yandere.