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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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.