by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Infinite Dendrogram ?
So it turns out I won't have to say goodbye to Infinite Dendrogram after this week anyway, since it's not actually over yet! Yes this is going to be a thirteen episode series filling out the cour, so there should be one more to go after this. This is good news if you've been enjoying the show's various excessive escalations as it's really gotten going with this arc, as it means Ray's takedown of the monster meant for him last week wasn't the true climax, but merely a warm-up. Mister Franklin is one of those ‘prepared for everything’ type villains who has backup plans for his backup plans, which in turn necessitate getting a lot more of the cast besides Ray involved in this final battle. That's appreciable as Dendrogram broadening its horizons, though what it does ironically also kneecaps some of the long-term interests for the story it was actually fostering in me.
Some of these last-minute reveals work well enough as cool spectacles, at least as cool as Infinite Dendrogram at the end of its production cycle can make them look. No sooner was I wondering where Franklin even got all the monsters he was deploying than we found out his Embryo was a giant dragon-shaped creature-creating factory. That's a neat idea, even if it does feel like the in-story game designers might have missed that bestowing this ability on someone would pretty well oblige them to act as a big bad villain. There also isn't much visual variety to the monsters it pumps out, which robs it of some of that cool factor. Even for the cleverness of the concept, it's clearly mainly here to provide a reason for Rook, Shu, and a lot of other characters (several of which we haven't seen before but who sport very nice designs nonetheless) to get involved in the final battle.
Rook's initial role earlier in this episode is another little touch I really like. It's mostly an extension of his dressing-down of Hugo from the previous one, but now it's rooted more in questioning the knight's belief system and faith in an obvious monster like Franklin. Rook's speech stops short of being an indictment of cults or religion specifically, but he's clearly taking on the notion of ‘faith’ as a concept and those who latch onto it in their leadership. Rook doesn't know Franklin personally the way Hugo does, but that just means he has no attachment or favor to the guy, so he can objectively judge him based on his deeds and the villain they make him out to be. While it's just barely interrogated the ethics of its specifically constructed virtual world, Dendrogram's never really delved into allegories of real-world moralities. So while this is a pretty simple pass, it's nonetheless interesting to see the show lay out a solid case for perspectives outside and even antagonistic to a movement leader's cult of personality as being necessary to articulating their true nature. It gives the episode an idea for me to latch onto and have some interest in aside from just coasting through this big final battle.
My issue with said climactic conflict is that it's in such a hurry to unload a few last-minute twists for the sake of embiggening the involvement of the characters and their connections that it shortchanges some of the buildup it was working on. The most glaring issue for me, naturally, is the revelation that Ray, Nemesis, as well as apparently Rook, have known about Marie's true identity as the Superior Killer for some time now. Admittedly it makes for a great gag in the moment, but now all that dramatic irony in the situation I was praising a few weeks ago has evaporated again because of this. It leaves me annoyedly wondering where the plot of Ray's pursuit of the Killer is going now, if anywhere, or if this was just their way of quietly dropping the whole boondoggle. That makes it seem like as much of a shaggy-dog story as it did before the effective Marie reveal, coming across like a waste on two fronts now.
As well, we also get to see Shu's true power as the top-ranking ‘King of Destruction’ who's been alluded to a couple times. This is another deep-set twist that feels like it could have been reserved to play out in later story arcs, rather than being dropped in here where half-a-dozen other surprise plot elements are competing for shock value. I do like the concept, particularly in how it further undercuts Ray's superpowered protagonist status by showing how his brother is even more overpowered. But it also comes across like Dendrogram admitting that it wouldn't have anywhere to go in terms of big plots after the one we're in now, which runs a bit counter to its ‘infinite possibilities’ messaging. I'm not sure if this and other reveals were introduced differently or with more grace in the original light novel version of the story, but either way it speaks to an overloaded storytelling strategy in what I'm watching here. Besides, the real biggest issue is obviously that Shu's ‘true’ form sheds the giant bear mascot costume for a more generic strong-guy barbarian look! What a downgrade!
It all adds up to a whole lot of ‘big’ elements in this penultimate episode jockeying to be the biggest, which means none of them really make it in the end. There's less a sense of build-up and earned payoff (with the possible exception of Rook's cutting points turning Hugo's loyalties around for one specific day-save) than there is of a show throwing everything it possibly can out there because it realizes its time is almost up. And this might satisfy those that would just complain if a story wrapped without tying off every last dangling thread, but for the rest of us it just shortchanges the threads we were really interested in at this moment.
Infinite Dendrogram is currently streaming on Funimation.
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