Infinite Dendrogram: The Forms of Love

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

At long last, after a year’s time, including a volume of short stories and a prequel, we are back with the main plot of Infinite Dendrogram. The plot itself involves a lot of setting things up for future books, though we also get one we’ve seen before, which is that the admins do not all get along with each other, and some of them are perfectly willing to destroy people’s lives if it means that they get to see their players evolve into a higher and stronger level. Once again, you are trying to figure out: is this a game? Is this some world pretending to be a game? How “real” are the NPCs? Certainly Ray has no issue with treating them as real, something which the princess appreciates, as she’s trying to get her little sister married off and out of harms way. Sadly, she’s as socially inept as every other woman in Ray’s orbit, so goes about it in exactly the wrong way.

There is also another plotline going on, and to be honest it involves one of my least favorite parts of the short story volume, which is the woman who was spurned by her real-life lover, so goes around destroying couples. She’s finally out of jail, and desperate to meet Figaro, who everyone realizes she is desperately in love with. The issue is that everyone is pretty sure that Figaro would much rather duel her than woo her, if indeed he’s realized what she’s after at all. What follows is admittedly predictable, but also probably the best part of the book, and reminds you that it’s not always wise to assume that characters who are super-focused on one thing are ALWAYS focused on that one thing. And, if nothing else, certainly provides contrast with Ray Starling, who may be our hero but can’t even dress himself properly, let along realize how many girls like him.

It has to be said: Ray may be a college student, but in terms of emotional depth he’s more like Tsukuyo than, say, B3. He is a chuuni, something Nemesis is trying to point out to him when she desperately attempts to get him an outfit that does not scream “bwa ha ha” but can’t quite make it. Of course, it’s that straightforward chuuni part of him that also lets him win the day – going up against a villain who loves to watch people’s emotional reactions to things, especially if it’s tragedy, Ray is simply pissed off beyond all measure, and manages to not only hand the guy his ass but also terrify him. (Given he has constellation-based powers, I sort of wanted Lucy from Fairy Tail to show up and beat his ass.) Admittedly, given what we’ve seen of Shu (whose past as a sentai actor is gone into here) and his oft-mentioned, never-seen older sister, Nemesis may have a long wait.

As I said, there’s lots of setup here, and not all of it has payoff. This has the feel of a story that’s nowhere near done, and provided the anime didn’t kill the franchise, we should be able to enjoy it for some time to come.

Infinite Dendrogram: The Glory Selecter

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

Since my last review, the Dendro anime has come and gone… and probably best not to speak of it again. Hopefully it’s not a franchise killer like Index III. The novels are still ongoing, though, and this one is a prequel taking place before Ray enters the game. The mysterious admins behind the game are all based around Alice in Wonderland names, and the one called Jabberwock wants to create stronger players with the Superior designation. As such, he unleashes a nightmarish nearly impossible to kill dragon with multiple heads and sets it on poor Altar (this is another volume that shows us why the Kingdom was on its last legs when Ray arrived). Some incredibly powerful and cool folks go up against it… and fail horribly. So it’s up to Figaro (who wants revenge for his friend), Tsukuyo (who just wants to have fun) and Shu (who is a little more pissed off than we normally see him, and takes off the animal suits for the big battle) to save the day. The result is a good book… if you like battles.

We do meet another strong and briefly interesting character at the start of the book. Foltesla, the King of Swords and leader of a powerful battle group, is a player who is very invested in the game, loves to duel with Figaro (who also gets some backstory here, explaining why he’s always a solo player), and has a lovely NPC wife. Every single thing about him screams tragedy, and sure enough, that’s what happens, to the point where honestly it almost swamped the rest of the book for me. I don’t doubt he’ll eventually come back… there’s too much time devoted to him not to… but it does remind me once more that there are a luge number of books that involve “the NPCs are more real than we’d thought”. Sword Art Online Progressive has it as almost its entire plot, and Dendrogram also hammers on it. Figuring out what’s different about this game is part of the fun of reading it.

The battles are usually also part of the fun, and there are some good moments here, particularly involving the “King of Crime”,but it has to be said that there’s a lot of “hope you love gaming stats” talk here. Dendro is better than some at blending this with the actual prose, but when so much of the book is devoted to one battle against one giant monster, it can be a bit boring for those who aren’t stat heads. It doesn’t help that the outcome of the battle is not really in doubt… we know given that there are three lines of defense (Figaro, Tsukuyo and Shu) that all three will eventually have to fight, and we know that anyone else who tries to fight is going to end up vaporized. Also, the book really wants the dragon to talk, but it can’t, so the author tries to give the dragon dialogue it would have said if it did talk, and… it’s as awkward as it sounds.

So it’s a middling book in the series, one that unfortunately made me remember the tragedy rather than the triumph. Can we get back to the main plot next time?

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.