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.

Infinite Dendrogram: Clash of the Superiors

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

It is very common, in both light novels and manga, for a volume to be augmented at times by various side stories and extra chapters. Particularly if content is running a bit short. For the most part, I’ve found that these extra stories are not as good as the main fare – either they’re totally unrelated, in which case they read as the author’s attempt to get their early work collected, or they’re a bit more fanservicey and subpar, because they’re meant to be taken as stand-alone and not have an impact on the main storyline. That said, there are exceptions, and I’m pleased to say that Infinite Dendrogram’s third volume is one of them. The main bulk of the book takes up the first 2/3 or so, and is perfectly serviceable, though the reader may be annoyed that it’s all setup, with the payoff being in the next volume. The stories afterwards range from very good to excellent.

In the main storyline, we see Ray dealing with the aftermath of his heroics in Book 2, and finding that even though most players didn’t give a rat’s ass about the piles of dead NPC children, the actual NPCs certainly did. As a result, he not only gets a huge reward, but also many tearful thanks for taking out such reprehensible killers. Ray handles this with his usual awkwardness, and then goes to see what Marie used their other reward money for, which turns out to be box seats for a fight between two Superior Players – something that’s unprecedented. As it turns out, Ray’s brother is also very involved in this, as Figaro, one of the fighters, is a good friend of his. (It’s becoming quite clear Ray’s brother is one of the top fighters in the game, but he’s hiding that from Ray for now.) The fight is quite well-written, and I liked the Chinese-styled opponent as well. But, as I noted, it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger.

The two side stories do a great deal to expand on the others Ray met in the first book. The first deals with Rook trying to get a new monster for his party. We get some hints of a disturbing backstory for Rook’s real-life person, who seems to have been through a lot, and also shows off he is far more than the cute innocent boy who is the perfect underage ‘pimp’ – Rook will go far. Even better is Marie’s story, which dovetails up with some of the other events in Book 2, i.e. the missing princess who was thought to be kidnapped by the child murdering gang. I don’t actually want to spoil this one too much, but suffice it to say that Marie shows off immense depth in both her online player persona as well as her real life character. I don’t game, but honestly the way that she created a character and built up traits based on her past felt very real to me. Plus there are many stupid thugs getting handed their asses, which never grows old. I also liked the denoument, even though the mystery wasn’t really the point of the story.

I’d been waffling back and forth about this series, which seemed to excite other readers more than me. The third volume is a definite step forward, though, and I can honestly say I’m greatly looking forward to the next one.