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.

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.