Infinite Dendrogram: The Shield of Miracles

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

This is another second half of a two-parter where the second half is a bit too short. The author attempts to say something in the afterword about not wanting to do short-story volumes, which is why he puts them after volumes occasionally (as he does here), but it does mean that the climax of this arc feels a bit underwhelming. Ray, Nemesis and B3 finish their investigation of the Master who married and had a child with a tian, but it’s cut short by a monster from the past who has once more risen at this exact time to start killing everyone. (I will give props to the monster, as most of these ‘black shapeless thing that fires beams that kill you’ sorts are mindless, implacable types, but this monster wants to see dying people despair, and has a nice line in maniacal laughing.) Naturally, Ray and Nemesis have to save the day, and they do, pretty simply. This allows us to read a story about Rook as a detective trying to catch a egocentric Master.

One thing that Dendrogram does here is play a bit with the idea of being darker than it is. For the most part, so far this series has been as shiny as Ray, with lots of life-or-death situations but very little real death. Being an actual game rather than a “trapped in a game world” game helps, but the actual plotting lampshades itself at times. We get a master who Ray and B3 realize is, in reality, a terminal patient. It is strongly hinted that the reason he has not come back to the game world is that he is dead. And, I feel it’s OK to spoil this since it’s of no surprise whatsoever, in the end he turns out to have survived the miracle surgery and is merely recovering. This is not a book that is going to make pregnant women and young idealistic kids sad. Likewise Tsukuyo, who we met last time when she was trying to get Ray to join her Society and baiting him with healing his arm, ends up magically healing EVERYONE (including Ray, and Ray’s arm) from the monster attacks, and her reasoning is essentially “I’m such a ditz, tee hee”. She and Ray are eerily similar in mnny ways.

Of course, not everyone is as into Dendrogram as Ray is. B3 treats this game as a game, and the tians as NPCs. She also really likes to roleplay her character, and really really likes to kill other players. Since this is an actual game this time, and the players she kills are actual jerks and losers, your sympathy naturally falls with her. It’s a refreshing contrast from Ray, who is essentially the exact same person in the game as he is outside it. Here B3 actually is her “outside” self most of the time, but when she gets her killing on she puts on her mask and turns into a sneering villain sort. I hope we see more of her. I’m less excited at seeing Gerbera, Rook’s opponent in the short story who does not really come off very well until we get inside her head for the epilogue. I think Rook finds her annoying. I did too.

So not the best volume of Dendrogram, but it didn’t really do anything wrong either. A solid effort.

Infinite Dendrogram: The Lunar Society

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

Despite very much being a book of two halves, this volume has essentially the same theme, one which I suspect will carry over into the next book (yes, it’s another cliffhanger). That theme is how Dendrogram gamers deal with the real world, and balancing the player’s real life with this thing that is more than just another game. We see Reiji starting college and immediately running into people he knows (and would rather forget) from the game. We see him interacting with someone who is exactly the same in the game as in real life, and someone who is seemingly the same, only to turn out to have a hidden side to her. And the second half deals with the fact that players can marry NPCs and father children in this game, though it’s difficult, for reasons which are actually expounded on in detail. We also see a major player log back in after a few weeks offline to find that he’s essentially missed the entire book series to date. There’s a lot going on.

The Lunar Society is, as I indicated above, the subject of the first half of the book, particularly its leader Tsukuyo, played by a real-life college medical student named… Tsukuyo. She’s a cross between Haruhi Suzumiya and Ryouko Mendou, and I suspect some readers may find her irritating. Ray finds her terrifying once he meets her outside the game, and his brother explaining the reason why (which immediately resolves his fear) is one of the funnier parts of the book. As a character, Tsukuyo is not the greatest, being exactly as she seems: a spoiled princess who’s desperate for anything to stave off her boredom and will kidnap people to get what she wants. That said, I like Haruhi and Ryouko, so I found her quite fun. I also liked her butler/assassin, who is exactly what you’d expect a butler/assassin to be like.

Tsukuyo is not the only gamer Reiji meets at his college; he also runs into Kozue, who is far more sensible and reserved – in fact, when we see her character in the game, B3 (or BBB), she seems almost exactly the same as she is in real life, just like Tsukuyo. This *is* a front, though, and leads into an interesting discussion of PKing in Dendrogram. I’ve gotten so used to Sword Art Online being the be-all end-all work on player killing that I’d forgotten that Dendrogram *is* a game, and that the penalty is not actually lethal, just annoying. The PK guild we see here (whose reasons for gathering around their leader I will groan about and try to skip past) has rules about only PKing those who want to duel, essentially – those who want a good fight, with an appropriate “reward” for losing. As for B3, while we don’t get into it due to narrative necessity and Ray’s stunning denseness about women, it’s implied that PKing turns her on. There’s all sorts of gamers.

We’re caught up with Japan now, though I think the next book is out soon if not already. Those who have enjoyed the series will find more to enjoy here, as the books keep examining what it is about this game that’s different and how its reality can suck you in. Plus maybe we’ll see Nemesis evolve past her jealousy? Nah, probably not.

Infinite Dendrogram: Those Who Bind the Possibilities

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

I’ll pick up with a point I made in the last review: there was honestly no reason that the author couldn’t have simply kept this with the fourth book and released it as one big tome. It took me a while to get back into where the action was, as if you were watching the climax of a movie and stopped with 15 minutes to go so you could go on a two-week vacation. That said, given that we’ve not only got the climax of the previous book, but also an extended epilogue and a side story or two, this is a light, easy read. In fact, the side stories may be the best part of the book. Because this is a series where the world not only is a game, but also one where people are not trapped in said game, we’re actually allowed to deal with real life issues like making sure you do all your pre-college prep. And having the hero and villain pass each other like ships in the night.

We also get more of the Starling brothers and their eccentric awesomeness, though it appears it’s more “the Starling family”, as we hear about an older sister who’s more insane than either brother. (It would be nice to meet her, but I expect she’s just the sort of character to be talked about but never show up.) Shu proves to be, as the reader likely guessed all along, a phenomenal powerhouse who uses his incredibly unbalanced build and real-life martial arts skills to completely decimate Franklin’s army of monsters, all while making the bear minimum number of puns. And then there is Ray, who still sees himself as the typical, normal male protagonist even as he gets himself some evil blood-red armor and also loses an arm, replacing it with a hook. Nemesis was introduced into the book as his lovestruck familiar, but lately she seems to exist to occasionally sigh and mutter to herself about Ray’s tastes.

As for Franklin and Hugo, I was fairly surprised by their relationship, though again, I do think it would have had more impact if the book hadn’t been divided into two parts. Franklin’s “character” is a classic sneering, arrogant villain, the sort who thinks they’re being stoic but really they’re just being awful. I’m not entirely sure if the obsession with Ray Starling will extend into the real world – they’re oblivious to each other at the moment, but I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. I was slightly saddened to see that Marie’s character, while still remaining relatively badass, has acquired a bit of a comic relief quality, mostly in everyone knowing her real identity despite everything. I also enjoyed the two adult Superiors going out for a drink with a third one who, it’s implied, has just turned ten. Again, this is the nature of online gaming.

This book ends the first “arc” of the series, and we’re also almost caught up with Japan, though I think we’ll have one more volume to go before we have to wait. I expect the next arc will deal with what Franklin implied in this one, which is that of course Dendrogram is not “just” a game, there’s clearly something else to it. Till then, enjoy working your way through this book, though you might want to re-read the previous one first.