by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Infinite Dendrogram ?
Boy am I a mark. It'd be easy enough for me to rate this episode of Infinite Dendrogram highly entirely because of its first half, which delivers the Marie Adler showcase I've been hoping for since the character was introduced. I was looking forward to this even more since last week, of course, when we found out that, her true identity being the Superior Killer, Marie actually could fight, but this one really goes all-in on the kind of spectacle that could be, along with backstory for the character and still more shocking revelations. It's a microcosm of how Dendrogram has picked up as this arc has stepped up its game, cramming in lots of plot twists and base character work instead of dragging out single elements like it did with that earlier tournament fight. This is the show full steam ahead in storytelling that feels like the climax of a later arc from a much longer anime, which at least on a tonal level lets me further forgive some of its earlier seeming slowness.
Marie's backstory is actually one of three formative flashbacks we get in this episode, forming at least a loose thematic expression of more ‘serious’ reasons some people would turn to online RPGs. Guys like Ray of course just jumped in because it seemed neat or someone they knew invited them, but this one opens with a quick rundown of the story of Veldorbell, the King of Orchestras serving as Marie's opponent here. He's a music creator suffering from a lack of creative drive, which ends up mirroring Marie's motivation as a burnt-out manga artist searching for her own inspiration. Veldorbell, neat enough of an enemy that he is, is pretty minor in the grand scheme of Infinite Dendrogram's story, so even getting his flashback just serves to set up the noted parallel with Marie; It gives her story even more impact.
Backstories like Marie's are ones I can engage with quite eagerly in a series like Infinite Dendrogram, where I've otherwise gone back and forth on the seriousness with which it handles more main plotlines like Ray's. I questioned last week what less virtually-altruistic players even ‘get’ out of these broad, major game events, and at least with Marie, it fits nicely personally. Manga isn't just Marie's career that she needs to continue in order to make a living, it's made clear how much of her passion her art is, and how frustrating burning out on conceiving the main character she loved was to her. Playing an MMO is simply the act of playing a game, but here it's presented in a personalized context that reinvigorating her creative side was what made the act really important to her. Pitting her against someone like Veldorbell and showing that she's not the only one going through that helps make that motivation feel more legitimate. I'd still like to delve further into Marie's motivations, particularly why she took up high-level player-killing on the side, but even this initial explanation of her ambitions follows up effectively on those revelations last week building her up as even more important than she seemed.
Alongside that, the actual fight between her and Veldorbell delivers pretty well too. The musician's mechanized instrument assistants are a bit more imaginative than I'd come to expect from Dendrogram in places; Particular props to the keyboard-playing guillotine bird. Even as the show's trademark over-technical narrations are being delivered by Marie about some of the spells and strategies being deployed, it's entertaining enough to us anyway just following the various counters visually. There's even a snappy bit of back-and-forth fight animation at one point. And wrapping with another shocking revelation that Marie's secretive embryo is another Maiden-type? That's the kind of core plot twist I need Dendrogram to keep going when it isn't musing enough conceptually using the world and story setups it's built for itself.
It still has time for some of that though, centered on the third and final flash-backstory this week. This one tries to obfuscate whose tragic past we're learning about at first, though if you pay attention to some of the concepts and symbology in play you can figure out it's Hugo before the big reveal. Honestly, after the more grounded, personal fleshings-out we got on Veldorbell and Marie earlier, my biggest issue with learning this sad story of a girl named Yuri is how overly melodramatic it gets in places. Not that Dendrogram has ever been subtle, especially in relating the morals of people like Ray and Hugo who have sworn to protect the innocent, even in a video game, but it's still wild to see escalations like Yuri's sister's pet iguana dying leading to a family-falling-out and eventually Hugo participating in this large-scale virtual terrorist attack. It's honestly a testament to the core silliness that I think keeps Dendrogram working in its better moments that it can stack all that up and still deliver its idea with this one: That apart from folks like Marie using for inspiration, others like Yuri/Hugo see the game as that all-important escapism we've heard entertainment touted as so many times. It provides a perspective to question criticism I might've lobbed at other similar stories for their naked wish-fulfillment along those same lines, presenting a potential situation where someone might need that kind of escape to carry on in what lives they're contained in otherwise. Sure it's not that deep, and probably a bit over-dramatic, but it's still interesting enough by Dendrogram's standards and expands on a character like Hugo in ways they'd successfully alluded to before.
These characteristic concepts driving this episode do a lot of the heavy lifting in keeping our interest, as the action-oriented parts, especially after we shift away from Marie, are still just functioning at a mediocre level. Franklin's showdown with some knights is particularly rough in terms of production values, though there's also a scene showing a breakdown by Hugo that really would have paid the character off better had it benefitted from stronger acting animation. There's also some weird structural juggling in terms of the fights we're getting ready for next episode, mainly an indecisive tone on whether Hugo and Ray will throw down, and then how much- They end up coming to a single blow, before the baton passes to Rook for a fight that feels like it's got some personal undertones we're not privy to. It's shaky, but that and Ray arriving to finally take on Franklin still sets the stage cleanly for where we'll go next week. If those can operate at the same level we saw with Marie's character work and focal fight this time, we should be fine.
Infinite Dendrogram is currently streaming on Funimation.
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