Infinite Dendrogram: Franklin’s Game

By Sakon Kaidou and Taiki. Released in Japan by Hobby Japan. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Andrew Hodgson.

Last time we had the setup, and this time we do get the payoff. Well… most of the payoff, as this fourth volume unfortunately does end mid-battle. It is somewhat puzzling that the author says the climax was too long to fit into this book, given that this book is significantly shorter than the previous three. But that said, it’s a solid volume overall, provided you like fighting, because that’s pretty much all that it is. We get a nice punchable villain, get to see Hugo agonize about the life choices he’s made, and get some more detailed backstory on a few of the others, including Rook, who turns out to have been the offspring of Saint Tail all along. (OK, not really.) The fights are also solid, with each of the characters helpfully narrating every single thing that’s happening, which may be annoying to some, but I have difficulty with visualization so I find it quite refreshing.

Again, one of the more unique things about the Dendrogram series is that it is actually a game, and not people trapped or living in a game-like environment. As such, Franklin, our sneering villain, can feel free to kill off a bunch of Masters with impugnity and the reader is not inclined to think of him as history’s greatest monster the way that we did when the NPC children were being slaughtered in the second book. Franklin, in order to make things fun and also make sure that he gets the one battle he wants to have, ensures that low-level masters – like Ray and Rook, conveniently – can escape the arena and go to try to stop him. Naturally this is going to backfire horribly on him, because Ray and Rook are not just any old newbies. Again, we’re informed of the difference between those who simply treat this world and those in it as a game, and those (like Ray) who can’t help but see the people suffering inside it as real. (Marie also gets something to do, by virtue of who she is, but her fight with the conductor, while cool, felt more like an excuse to pad the book out than anything else.)

One thing I really liked about this book is the addition of three minor female masters who follow Ray and Rook to go do battle. They’re introduced as tagging along because Ray and Rook (especially Rook) are really handsome, and I was expecting them to be either a) cannon fodder, or b) a source for annoying gags. Imagine my surprise when they get (admittedly brief) characterization and backstory of their own, team up well to take out some minor monsters, and do fairly well for themselves. I’m not sure if we’ll see them in future books, but it was nice to see them taken seriously even though they’re fangirls. As for Ray’s battle with Franklin, it’s still in media res, so to speak, but I was amused by the fact that everyone thinks of Ray as a big dumb shonen hero filled with justice and righteousness, which isn’t wrong, but when we switch to his POV his mind is filled with analysis and quick thinking. This is no Luffy.

It took a while to grow on me, but I’ve come to quite enjoy Dendrogram. If you like “game-style worlds” and aren’t annoyed that it’s an actual game for once, this is a good series to follow.

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