Infinite Dendrogram Light Novel Review: My valiant attempt to hype the anime

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With the recent announcement of an anime adaptation, I thought I’d take a stab at light novel reviews by posting my thoughts on the source material for Infinite Dendrogram. I’ve read up to volume 8 of the official English release, and I’m going to use some direct quotes from the later volumes. However, they shouldn’t reveal any future plot points, so the goal is to stay spoiler-free.

“You can become a hero or the demon king, a king or a slave, a good person or an evil person. You can do something, or you can do nothing… Just like the Embryo in your left hand, what’s about to begin is infinite in possibility.”

Cheshire

The story of Infinite Dendrogram centers around a VRMMO with the same name, released as a seemingly unprecedented success in realistic “full dive” immersion. Our main character is Reiji Mukudori, known online as Ray Starling. He is invited to play Infinite Dendrogram by his brother, and we follow him as he discovers the world within the game.

Along with his brother and other player characters, Ray fights alongside Nemesis, his “Embryo” born from his actions within the game. Embryo are an in-game special item that is unique to each player and can take almost any shape, even a tank. Nemesis is even more unique as a Maiden-type Embryo, with a human-like appearance and a mind of her own.

“I’d never cared much for any NPCs who’d died in other games, but it was different here. It gave me a lump in my throat. Even if I knew this was a game, I didn’t think I could ever get used to seeing people die here. That might’ve been because *Infinite Dendrogram* was simply far too realistic.”

Ray

At its core, I think series explores the line between reality and fiction, with a healthy dose of artificial intelligence to spice things up. The world of Infinite Dendrogram is a somewhat standard fantasy world, and the players choose to inhabit one of its major kingdoms. However, the world has its own history, and the NPCs, called “tians”, will interact “realistically” with the players, which almost makes it akin to an isekai.

This fact becomes important because it can often become difficult to tell the difference between a player and a tian, allowing the series to pose the general question of what truly separates the two. The tians worship the players as undying “Masters”, but they also have their own lives to live.

“I… I can’t log out,” I muttered as I fell to my knees.

“You sound like the protagonist of a death game VRMMO story,” Nemesis commented.

Sorry if it comes at a disappointment, but the drama in this series isn’t driven by a mysterious game master trapping its users in the game. In fact, most of the conflict in this series is character-driven. The game definitely throw in its fair share of twists, with insane boss and the like, but the story seems to heavily emphasize character choice.

As a result, the story tends to have really strong character development. On a surface level, you can clearly see how Ray improves himself within the game and gains new abilities, but you can also see how he changes on a personal level. Especially as he interacts more with the tians, there’s a lot going on.

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As a fair warning, the story uses a ton of foreshadowing. Ray is regularly getting caught up in some unknown entity’s secret plot. I tend to like that aspect, but I’m not always sure. On the one hand, it makes nearly every scene important, as the scene is invariably referenced in some later reveal. And to be fair, there are some legitimately surprising reveals in this series.

However, some of these reveals tend to be super obvious, which makes me sometimes wonder if the story is giving itself away too much. You could argue that these reveals are intentionally put in to point out how dense Ray is, though. Part of me wonders how an anime adaptation might handle those little hints.

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And to top it all off, the series just has a nice sense of humor in general. For example, the series has a character with a chess piece name ask what castling is or has another character immediately throw a new shield like Captain America. I really enjoy jokes like that. There’s clearly some deeper mystery going on at any given point, but the series never seems to forget that the players are just having fun at the end of the day. You may have to sit through a few bear puns, though.

So, that’s my general take on Infinite Dendrogram. It’s available in English if you’re interested in reading it, and I recommend checking it out. Otherwise, the anime’s on its way, and I’m hoping it turns out well.

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[OWLS August Blog Tour] Granblue Fantasy: The great journey across the skies and across the screens

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I was wondering when I’d get the chance to talk about the game that has been consuming roughly half of my free time for the past year. And on that note, welcome to the August 2018 OWLS blog tour. This month’s topic is Journey, and I will let the magical topic dispensers tell you what that entails:

We have all heard this saying in some shape or form: “Life is a journey.” We travel down a path in hope that we reach a goal or destination, but the travel in getting there isn’t always easy. Along the way, we encounter some personal struggles. It is in those moments where we must overcome an adversity to complete our journey or take a different route or path instead. In this month’s OWLS post, we will be discussing the personal journeys of pop culture creators, icons, and characters. We will explore the journeys that these characters went through, discuss the process and experiences they had on their journeys, what they discover about themselves, or share our own personal journeys.

Now, a journey is a pretty broad idea, so I naturally had trouble picking a series to cover. Seriously, my scratch list of potential ideas was longer than the previous two months combined.

The problem is that basically any anime in an inherent journey in some sense. At the end of the day, I settled on Granblue Fantasy because it embodied a literal journey along with the literary one. Plus, I just play the game a lot. What can I say?

To give a brief introduction, Granblue Fantasy was an anime adaptation of a browser game. That’s not to be confused with this season’s “Grand Blue”, which is a bit different. The series takes place in a world where the people live on flying islands in the sky. The main character, Gran (or Djeeta), aspires to become a skyfarer like his father and reach Estalucia, the Island of the Astrals. Oh, and he has a lizard companion named Vyrn, but we don’t talk about Vyrn.

He’s given the opportunity when he meets Lyria, a girl who escaped from the laboratory that was experimenting on her, and her companion, Katalina. Lyria becomes linked to Gran (for reasons that become more entertaining when you consider the story from Djeeta’s perspective), and the three (plus lizard) set off together in search of the Island of the Astrals.

From there, the story is pretty typical for fantasy. The group set up a skyfarer crew, meet some people, recruit more allies, and generally meddle in the affairs of any island they visit. It’s a series with no clear end in sight, but it’s rich with story and an expansive world.

Unfortunately, the adaptation doesn’t have the greatest animation, but it was still surprisingly enjoyable to watch as a fantasy series. I think it greatly appealed to me as someone who travels the world a lot.

When I finished watching the adaptation, I became curious about the game it was based on. Although the game was never officially released in the west, the Japanese version of the app actually has a full English translation.

The game itself actually has a lot of mechanics that make it a bit daunting in the beginning but rewarding once you figure them out. The strength of your team is not determined only by the strength of your characters but also the combined power of weapons and support summons.

It’s pretty cheesy, but you could say that watching the anime was only the start of the journey for me. This post probably ends up being a shameless advertisement, but I do recommend the game. It’s grindy as hell, but I’ve found it fun. Plus, they have all sorts of collaborations. A Love Live collaboration is just finishing up, and there have also been Persona 5 and Attack on Titan collaborations in the past.

That’s all I have for this month. I don’t really have a big overarching question to end on this time, but I’ll say this. When I started writing anime reviews, I put an undue amount of attention on endings. Nowadays, I feel like I’m fine with an enjoyable journey, regardless of whether the ending resolves everything.

As always, I invite you to check out my OWLS neighbors if you enjoyed this post and want to see more. Preceding me was Dale over at That Baka Blog with a post about the director, Shinichiro Watanabe.

And up next is Scott over at Mechanical Anime Reviews.

Dorei-ku the Animation Episodes 2-3: Explanations would be nice

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I would be much more willing to cut this show some slack if it presented interesting ideas, but it just feels so boring overall. Both episodes 2 and 3 felt like they were introducing some completely tangential story which would eventually link in with the main characters. I think this tactic would work if the show made more sense, but I just end up seeing the stories as isolated incidents.

Episode 2 introduces the idea of a map that allows SCM wearers to locate each other and a proximity alert function. These functions seem reasonable at face value, but I want to get the sense that they have been thought out. How do people find out about the map? Is it just standard functionality outlined in the instructions for the SCM? If the mechanics are just shown out of nowhere, they feel much more like plot convenience to me.

I don’t really have a problem with Seiya knowing about the SCM proximity alert, but how does Ayaka know about it?

Even if we discount the fact that Seiya hates Ayaka enough to lose on purpose, I don’t see why she would believe in his “good idea” when his last one turned him into a slave.

I mean…that’s actually kind of a funny way to play safe in a 2-on-2 duel.

Julia’s trick was so annoyingly obvious, but I’m more annoyed with the fact that she doesn’t put her SCM on until after the bet is made. Why does the SCM recognize a duel that was proposed before the SCM is put on? Doesn’t that seem like a really vague mechanic?

I’m not sure where this is going, but the dog winning a duel is a pretty funny development.

Dorei-ku the Animation First Impressions (1): That was odd

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I was drawn to this show because the premise seemed like it could be interesting, but I wasn’t really having a good time watching the first episode. A system that allows one person to control another seems to get at the kinds of moral questions I like. But at the end of the day, this show reminds me a lot of Kakegurui with some forced component to the punishments. We’re probably just in for watching a bunch of really crappy people get their comeuppance. I dunno…this series might be a little too messed up for me.

Seems a bit odd to me to lead with this kind of symbolism stuff.

Not too hard to see where this is going.

This scene actually came as a huge shock after the opening scene of this episode. It does make sense from a technological standpoint that these devices work in pairs, but it really makes me question the popularity of them. Seriously, why would you believe someone enough to stick this thing in your mouth? It doesn’t even look comfortable.

I also question this effect. I guess you could argue that the device hooks your brain to it while it’s active, but that explanation feels incomplete. I find it hard to believe that this could happen silently. You’d at least feel some euphoria, right?

This might be the weirdest scenario devised to bring two characters together that I’ve ever seen. This guy was just looking for a smart person to have his back? I mean…there have to be better ways.

Fall 2017 Grab Bag Week 5: Sangatsu no Lion, Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou, Mahou Tsukai no Yome, and Ousama Game

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Making up for last week by adding in another show.

3-gatsu no Lion S2 Episode 4

While I really liked this episode, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t identify with Hina at all. I like to think I’m better now, but I know I wouldn’t be the guy trying to help the bullies’ target in school. I would say I identify more with Rei, the outcast who tried to look busy in school just for the sake of keeping others from interacting with him. I can also relate to his trouble with find ways to help Hina given how wildly different he was in school.

When I first saw the scene at the end of the episode (while reading the manga), I instantly identified it as one of my favorite scenes. I really liked the idea of Hina’s resolve in a rough situation saving Rei from the ill memories of his own childhood. It kinda reminds me of the whole concept of meeting the right people to pull yourself out of a bad place.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou Episode 5

This show continues to be a welcome break every week. Honestly, I didn’t really get the dream sequence in this week’s episode, but it was funny enough. I liked the idea of showing the girls “imagining” their dream home, though. It’s very fitting for a post-apocalyptic world. The way that the show expressed their differing priorities was pretty cool too. The sedentary lifestyle that we find normal is completely foreign to them in a world where they’re constantly searching for supplies to sustain themselves.

The final story in the episode was just a fun and relatable experience for me. I’ve always enjoyed the sound of rain, so I can understand how easy it is to just sit and listen.

There was something strangely grand about this final line from Yuu after the credits. In a world that’s so beaten down, she notices something wondrous and questions whether the sounds she’s just experienced were always there. It’s probably a simple nod at the little things we take for granted.

Mahou Tsukai no Yome Episodes 4-5

I’m kinda curious how others are seeing Chise at this point. I think when I was reading this part, I was a little disturbed at how devoted she was to Elias. It’s especially interesting given the scenes from earlier where she questions whether Elias would lose faith in her if she couldn’t purify the corruption.

I also found this story to be particularly interesting. It’s always said that cats have nine lives, so why don’t we use those lives?

There’s a fun comment about Chise’s ability of “sight” in this episode too. I wonder if it’s just a reference to her empathy built from her own suffering. Still, it’s nice that she isn’t simply distilled into her Sleigh Beggy powers.

Ousama Game Episode 5

I’ve been trying to keep quiet about this show because I have very little to say about it that’s nice. I’m just really shocked that the random side comment I made in the first episode about how strangely dumb the characters were turned out to be my main complaint with the show. They seemed so innocuous in the beginning.

I guess I just don’t understand what the show is trying to accomplish with the retelling of the “first” Ousama Game. Based on how Nobuaki’s memories are being presented, the show seems to indicate that it just wants to take a block of time to tell the first game’s story before getting into the second game. In that case, what is really gained from introducing the second game? By the time we get back to the second game, I’ll have forgotten all about Natsuko’s quirks.

It also doesn’t help that I actually think the first game is more interesting than the second game for one simple reason. The first game is much less overt about the supernatural pieces of the game. You could actually explain away a lot of what we’re shown with purely natural causes. In a different show, I’d be praising that. The second game just shows you in the beginning that there’s something more to the deaths.

This episode in particular was just ridiculous. I’d be willing to respect this show more if the king was more reasonable, but a vague order like “don’t do anything unnecessary” is just a dick move. It’s silly if the game master expects you to figure out the rules by waiting until someone breaks them.

Hey, idiot. I know you want to be kind to Yousuke, but aren’t you basically asking him to make Kaori cry here? You know, the thing you just promised you wouldn’t let happen?

Guilty Crown Lost Christmas OVA

Well, this certainly was an interesting OVA. Basically an introduction for the video game, it’s a short episode showing off the main character Scrooge (with some appearances from our buddy Segai). Based on what I can gather, Scrooge is a test subject for the Void Genome who has escaped Da’ath and is trying to get some sort of revenge by killing Ouma Kurosu. Since we know someone else kills Kurosu, it obviously follows that Scrooge will fail.

Setting aside the obvious “Christmas Carol” references (three pursuers called ghosts of Christmas, Lost Christmas, Scrooge, and a character named Carol), what confuses me most from this little demonstration is the very nature of Scrooge’s right hand. Scrooge is shown initially to avoid touching others because he would somehow transmit the Apocalypse Virus to them (demonstrated by the GHQ soldier). Also, he could also draw Carol’s Void safely, but not the dog’s.

So, the conclusions to draw from this: first theory, maybe a Void power similar to Shu’s but causing the virus to spread if he fails (whereas Shu’s failures would just result in embarrassing boob grabs). Another possibility is that Carol is a special subject whose Void can be drawn (the dog was altered as well, so it’s possible it was just an incomplete form of Carol, explaining her attraction to it).

Or it could just be the same power, but Scrooge has no control over it, so he kills people with it. It’s an interesting thing to think about…but overall, I’d say it’s a cool OVA and it’s definitely got me interested in the game (even if visual novels aren’t my style). Where Shu was supposed to be a more average-type protagonist, Scrooge is closer to an anti-hero, which is more of the protagonist I would enjoy. And yeah…that sword is pretty awesome. Puts Inori to shame.