Infinite Dendrogram: After the Storm, and Before the Storm

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

We’re taking a bit of a break from the main plot here, as we get what Dendrogram had not yet had to date: a short story collection. It’s bookended by various aftermath stories involving Ray and the past couple of books. Ray starts college properly and deals with the hurricane that is Tsukuyo, and also cleans up after the crisis in Quartierlatin. Both of these things involve B3, though the latter is somewhat more amusing as it reinforces the cluelessness of Ray as a harem lead. It’s not entirely amusing, though, as we’re reminded of another reason that Azurite hates Masters, and it goes all the way back to the first couple of books. There’s also some suggestion of future plot points, as a technical master – who we’ve met before, in a different context – finds something that might actually help the beleaguered kingdom out for once. But for the most part this book is about the short stories, which, as you might imagine, vary in quality. That said, there are no real duds in here.

The first story gives us a description of what life is like in one of the other countries, this one essentially based on Edo Japan, meaning there is no peace, just all fighting and alliances shifting all the time. A group of rather sad villains try to take advantage of this, and are humiliated. This bookends nicely with the final story of the book, in which we see more about life in the gaol, featuring Gerbera, who we’d met before but is busy sitting around the coffeeshop within it and being bitter. This is a fun story, partly as the King of Crime is basically another of those really calm, placid guys who is secretly unkillable and also because Gerbera’s POV is fun, especially her broken sense of her own power. Less successful were stories about Logan, the villain from the last two books, which is actually successful in a plot way but I also sort of hate “villain recruits villains” stories, and a Valentine’s Day story that is about a very very spurned woman beating up people in love, and is funny if you like that sort of character.

The best story in the book is also the longest, as usually seems to be the case with short story volumes. It’s mostly from the POV of Hugo, who is looking for new experiences and so heads off to a desert casino sort of country currently run by the not-Chinese not-mafia. Now that we know the actual identities of Hugo and Franklin, we can really get into Hugo’s head a lot more (it also means we get more of Cyco, who is awesome). The new character we meet here is AR-I-CA, who is so over the top that for a moment I thought the revelation would be that she’s Ray and Shu’s oft-mentioned but never seen older sister, That doesn’t seem to be the case, but she’s certainly a lot of fun – and also actively bisexual, something you don’t normally see in a light novel, or at least not this blatantly. This story also has hits of future plot, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

It will be even longer till we get back to the main action, apparently, as the 11th volume will be a prequel taking place before Ray joined. Still, this should tide over Dendrogram fans nicely as they wait for the upcoming anime.

Infinite Dendrogram: Blue Blood Blitz

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

First off, it has to be said: that is a deeply ludicrous and yet amazing hat and cloak combo that the Princess is wearing while she’s out secretly saving the world – though it seems the only one who doesn’t figure out who she is is Ray. I’d mentioned in my last review that the Princess is set up as a sort-of-but-not-really love interest for Ray, and that holds true here: Ray continues to be almost asexual, and it’s made clear that his role in Altimia’s story is to get her to trust Masters again so that Altar might actually be able to defend itself in the upcoming war. That said, she and Ray do make a very good combo team, and I’m sure we’ll see more of her eventually. Also amusing in this volume is Ray and Nemesis taking down an extremely cliched villain from the “This-this cannot be!” school of acting, and the revelation about who he is in real life fits 100%.

The girl on the cover is another of Ray’s new weapons/abilities/allies, but in terms of this story she shows up, demonstrates her FIRE PUNCHING, then goes away again. More interesting are the revelations about Tom Cat, the clone-making adventurer that we met in the previous book. His actual identity is more of a surprise than I expected, but works well in the context of the series/world. It’s still unclear how much of Dendrogram is “this is an unusually complex game with a deep deep backstory” and how much is “this is an actual world that we have somehow made into a game”, but the author is enjoying making us try to figure it out. Hopefully next time we will have fewer doomsday weapons. That said, I did very much enjoy the weapon having slept for 2000 years and no longer able to recognize what humanity is till it sees something that is reminiscent of its former time. It was cheesy but very effective.

There’s an anime coming soon, and I really do wonder how a fandom that’s not familiar with him is going to deal with Ray. His chuuni tendencies aside (and we do get some more making fun of his Evil Overlord Outfit), he really is the ridiculously OP hero that most fans of fantasy works profess to hate. He has an easier time than he’s had in the last few books here – he may be pushed to the brink once or twice, but there’s never any real sense he’s in trouble, and it helps that he’s found out that his magical robot horse is also doing cool (if mysterious) stuff to save his life. Without the usual Altar masters around to show that there are people even better than Ray, he gets more of a big fish in a small pond book here. It works well for this book, but I hope next time we see him either in real life or the game getting shown that he has a ways to go.

Dendrogram is always fun to read, and this volume is no different. At times I can’t follow the worldbuilding (a wiki of some sort is likely needed), but it’s still definitely recommended.

Infinite Dendrogram: The Hope They Left Behind

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

Way back in the first volume, when I had no idea what sort of series this was going to be, Ray was introduced to Liliana, a Royal Guard member, and I assumed that she would be the first in a long line of girls in Ray’s orbit who would fall for him. Since then, while there HAVE been a bunch of girls in Ray’s orbit, with the exception of Nemesis they have shown very little interest in him romantically. This just isn’t a harem series. That said, here Ray meets the first princess… or rather her “secret” alter ego, Azurite, a disguise that fools absolutely no one except Ray. She’s far more of a love interest, despite their confrontation when they first meet, which has her going off on Ray due to his “villain” outfit (complete with a new set of armor to make him look even more villainous, the best running gag in this series.) But is Ray interested?

“Not really” seems to be the answer to that. As I said above, this isn’t a harem series, or even a romance, and Nemesis’ occasional feelings of jealousy is as close as we ever get. There’s even a “walk in on the girls naked in the bath” scene here, which the author says has apparently been in the plans since the beginning of the series, but Ray, while acknowledging that Nemesis and Azurite are beautiful, does not seem particularly sexually aroused at all. The series has different things on its mind. Things like building up the world of Dendrogram itself, and its past history, which, as Ray observes, is so blisteringly realistic that it doesn’t feel like “backstory” added by game developers, but something that really happened. This is not a “trapped in a game” series, and players can and do log out (B3 is not around in this book as she has to do a tea ceremony in real life, a detail I liked), but clearly there’s more to this game than just realistic writing and NPCs.

The premise of this book involves the kingdom of Alter discovering a new ruin at the edge of their territory, which could mean fantastic new technology to help them… or could also mean horrible monsters and weapons waiting to kill them. In fact it’s both, and Ray and Azurite, who meet by chance on the way there, have to team up and try to do something about it. We see a few master developed, such as Tom, who wears a cat on their head all the time (the picture here was great), and the guy with the evil traveling band who fought Marie a while back, who still has the band but is not on the clock so is less evil. Always trust a guy who has to blow off a dungeon crawl to play music for an adorable bedridden orphan. The “villain” of this arc, if he can be called that, is a man named “Dr. Mario”, who speaks in a fake Italian accent to match his name but clearly has hidden depths, and his identity rapidly becomes obvious to the reader (but not Ray, whose denseness is pointed out multiple times, usually by the princess in disguise he doesn’t recognize).

The volume ends with a cliffhanger, and we’re caught up with Japan. That said, I think the next book comes out there in February, so it shouldn’t be too long a wait. Till then, let’s prepare for the battle and wonder what piece of horribly villainous clothing Ray will get as a reward next time.