by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Infinite Dendrogram ?
You get a backstory! And you get a backstory! Hot off the heels of so many other Secret Origins last week, this episode of Infinite Dendrogram kicks off with the history of everyone's favorite (?) monster pimp, Rook. The funny thing is, given Dendrogram's general tone and the type of audience it seems to be appealing to, Rook's backstory definitely comes off like it's trying to make him super-cool, being the product of a union between a great detective and a master thief, inheriting all their abilities, which I guess is how that works. But between the overt try-hard-ness of that origin and how it leads to him showing off his ridiculous analytical skills in the battle he's fighting against Hugo right now, it all mostly just coalesces to make Rook seem like a total dork to me. But like, in a fun way, honestly. Dendrogram may be taking itself way too seriously, but that doesn't mean I have to, and I'm still having a pretty good time with it.
The thing is, because Rook had all the personality of a manilla folder until now, applying any kind of expansion to his existence is going to be a net gain. And in place of a fateful showdown for Ray to have with his former friend Hugo, Rook ends up standing in pretty well. His newly-expressed attitude definitely lends a different dynamic to the confrontation than Ray would have, since Rook's clocked Hugo way differently than the main character's take on them. Rook's over-analytical detective powers get all the mileage they can in this fight, but the standout portion is likely his big teardown speech of Hugo's character. I make fun of Rook for being a doofus in his own circumstances, but he absolutely nails Hugo as the tired cliche he recognizes them as. Hugo's acting out the part of the tortured hero of contradictory motivations, doing what they feel has to be done, and this drives Rook crazy because of how obvious it all is. Games can indeed be a great way to role-play your feelings in place of shortcomings you're dealing with in your real life, but when you take it as deeply seriously as all this, it just comes off as ridiculous and self-serving. It's like Rook calling out the show itself for the places it gets too full of itself, and I'm here for that.
There is an implication that Rook's understanding of Hugo goes even deeper, and that's he's possibly personally aware of her secret identity, but that isn't reflected on in lieu of making time for the more tangible aspects of their battle. This is where Rook's overly-technical tactician powers become a bit tiresome, but that kind of thing's honestly par for the course for Dendrogram at this point. The core idea's pretty sound, with him trying to figure out how Hugo's freezing powers work and thus be able to counter them having kind of a lite Jojo's Bizarre Adventure feeling. But then it spirals into him connecting non-existent dots with Dante's Inferno trivia he memorized, and I start to check out. Still, the payoff is neat, and that aforementioned humbling speech he gives Hugo even has a mechanical purpose that surprised me, because I still don't give this show enough credit sometimes! It's basic stuff, but it's the basics that Dendrogram consistently gets right, which is what makes it still satisfying to watch in spite of lacking for impact or ideas sometimes. They got me to give a care about Rook here, that's certainly some kind of testament to the show's narrative effectiveness.
Things pointedly aren't as interesting when we switch back to Ray this episode, especially as our boy is totally in serious end-of-series mode right now, but those basics are still flexing their muscles. About the only stumble I can really log is part of the story's ticking clock being built off of Franklin's monster-summoning app, a feature that they haven't called attention to since introducing a couple weeks ago and I must admit I just kinda forgot about. Otherwise it's just a race for Ray to figure out how to beat the RSK, which is amusingly revealed here stands for ‘Ray Starling Killer’. It feels kind of perfunctory that the big bad guy in this story saw the overpowered main character as such a threat that he built a monster specifically just to beat him, especially undercutting Ray's supposedly still-lower-leveled status that let him get to this fight in the first place. They try to pin a more elegant explanation on it that ties Franklin's grudge to Ray all the way back to the first episode, which is a nice thought to come full-circle here as we close in on the end, but it still comes off as a purely mechanical affect to the writing.
Similarly, there's a dang-near running dialogue of technical commentary from Ray and his tian allies in this field as they puzzle out how the RSK works. As with Rook taking on Hugo's powers, the actual concepts at play here are clever, particularly in how Franklin exploits the way counter abilities like Ray and Nemesis's Vengeance is Mine actually works. But it's still mildly distracting as they discuss and dissect all this in laborious detail while riding around on a horse dealing with lasers. This stands alongside Hugo's earlier mental infodump as an example of Dendrogram's main ongoing weakness: A lack of flair. It's probably enforced, given the clear production constraints the show is under, but any meaningful attention to the direction could have spiced this up somewhat. As-is, the boss-monster breakdown was just functional enough in making me curious about how Ray would pull off beating the thing. Unfortunately, that too is bogged down with a mess of technical mash-ups of abilities that don't feel like they were foreshadowed effectively enough for this big moment. There's a satisfaction in the fear Ray siphons being set up by Franklin himself, sure, but hoisting the villain by their own petard is, as with other elements, some pretty basic stuff. As it has been so many times, Infinite Dendrogram was fine this week, above-average even in the Rook portion. But being just okay means I'm probably not going to be sad to see it go next week.
Infinite Dendrogram is currently streaming on Funimation.
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