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.

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.