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.

Infinite Dendrogram: Franklin’s Game

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

Last time we had the setup, and this time we do get the payoff. Well… most of the payoff, as this fourth volume unfortunately does end mid-battle. It is somewhat puzzling that the author says the climax was too long to fit into this book, given that this book is significantly shorter than the previous three. But that said, it’s a solid volume overall, provided you like fighting, because that’s pretty much all that it is. We get a nice punchable villain, get to see Hugo agonize about the life choices he’s made, and get some more detailed backstory on a few of the others, including Rook, who turns out to have been the offspring of Saint Tail all along. (OK, not really.) The fights are also solid, with each of the characters helpfully narrating every single thing that’s happening, which may be annoying to some, but I have difficulty with visualization so I find it quite refreshing.

Again, one of the more unique things about the Dendrogram series is that it is actually a game, and not people trapped or living in a game-like environment. As such, Franklin, our sneering villain, can feel free to kill off a bunch of Masters with impugnity and the reader is not inclined to think of him as history’s greatest monster the way that we did when the NPC children were being slaughtered in the second book. Franklin, in order to make things fun and also make sure that he gets the one battle he wants to have, ensures that low-level masters – like Ray and Rook, conveniently – can escape the arena and go to try to stop him. Naturally this is going to backfire horribly on him, because Ray and Rook are not just any old newbies. Again, we’re informed of the difference between those who simply treat this world and those in it as a game, and those (like Ray) who can’t help but see the people suffering inside it as real. (Marie also gets something to do, by virtue of who she is, but her fight with the conductor, while cool, felt more like an excuse to pad the book out than anything else.)

One thing I really liked about this book is the addition of three minor female masters who follow Ray and Rook to go do battle. They’re introduced as tagging along because Ray and Rook (especially Rook) are really handsome, and I was expecting them to be either a) cannon fodder, or b) a source for annoying gags. Imagine my surprise when they get (admittedly brief) characterization and backstory of their own, team up well to take out some minor monsters, and do fairly well for themselves. I’m not sure if we’ll see them in future books, but it was nice to see them taken seriously even though they’re fangirls. As for Ray’s battle with Franklin, it’s still in media res, so to speak, but I was amused by the fact that everyone thinks of Ray as a big dumb shonen hero filled with justice and righteousness, which isn’t wrong, but when we switch to his POV his mind is filled with analysis and quick thinking. This is no Luffy.

It took a while to grow on me, but I’ve come to quite enjoy Dendrogram. If you like “game-style worlds” and aren’t annoyed that it’s an actual game for once, this is a good series to follow.