by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Infinite Dendrogram ?
I'm not sure if Infinite Dendrogram is consciously pouring most of its effort into its world-building, or if that's just the only part the writing actually has interest in. That's the main question I had to consider this week as, in lieu of any actual part of a real story, the series opted for a solid half-hour block of the characters sitting around tables recapping in-universe events and discussing the mechanics thereof. It's self-indulgent setup that may have worked better as blocks of text in novel form, but here come off as resource-friendly stalling, even with a couple attempts to spice up the presentation for us.
You know some weird storytelling choices are being made when this episode opens with Ray and pals discussing the resolution of the player-killer subplot that catalyzed last week. The framing means they're just as confused about how things got taken care of as we are, paving the way for new character Marie Adler to appear and explain things. I like Marie- She's got a cool look, she's a reporter-type, a kind of character I tend to be fond of, and there's a modicum of spunk to her personality. Her habit of taking charge of the discussions and conversations she's involved in means folks like Nemesis actually get someone halfway-interesting to bounce off of sometimes now.
Marie's first little story-within-the story is where the episode goes the hardest, showing us Figaro, the top-tier player we met last week, in action against a batch of PKs. Dendrogram's presentation has been pointedly average thus far, but there's a spark of sharp direction to this encounter, from Figaro's vicious fighting expressions to the over-the-top atmospheric attack he uses to finish off the killers' leader. As with most of the discussion this episode, some world-building details are snuck in as well, like there being contracts that players can be bound to abide by with each other, or the point that pain isn't something the players experience, but can still be communicated by exceptionally high-end attacks. It's basic stuff, but it's about as interesting as this episode gets, and telling that those behind Infinite Dendrogram decided, just three episodes in, that stuff like this would be more interesting to follow than Ray's meanderings.
The other details of the player-killer-killers are shorter and less dedicated. Though we do get one pretty interesting introduction: A Japanese religious group from the real world has set up a branch in this online one, its possibilities specifically catering to their tenets. As with other ideas Dendrogram has introduced, the implications of this idea are far more compelling for us to consider on our own than the minimal analysis it gets in-story. The scope of Dendrogram's world and apparent popularity naturally means that outside groups would turn to it for recruitment and progression of their ideals, and the ways that could interact with in-game organizations has a lot of possibilities. Will we actually see any of those possibilities play out beyond a couple minutes of this Lunar Society stabbing player-killers in the throats? That remains to be seen.
Anyway, this episode spends its first half showing us all that just to get to the singular key detail that the ‘Superior’ killer who took Ray out last episode was left alive, so our hero and his sword special-friend can theoretically head off to get revenge on him themselves. If you're thinking that's where an actual story arc may kick off though, you've clearly learned nothing, as no sooner do they arrive at the razed forest where the killer was last seen than they get waylaid into another discussion around a table with Cheshire, one of the admin units of the game. This is just to set up some more light mystery-boxes about what a special Embryo Nemesis is. They do again tease some potentially-interesting ideas, specifically the question of how you punish acting-out player characters in a setting where they could easily log out or reset themselves, but the surface of that subject is barely scratched. It's so weird how Infinite Dendrogram seems so keen on its own world-building, just not as much on the actually-intriguing parts of it.
Such as it is that the last chunk of this episode sees Ray and Nemesis only nominally moving forward on their revenge quest, sitting down at another table for another rambling discussion about random facets of the world we haven't yet heard about. And here, eighteen-and-a-half minutes in, Infinite Dendrogram throws the narrative equivalent of a bucket of cold water on my face by practically-offhandedly revealing that Rook's character-class is Pimp! It's an astoundingly cavalier admission, to the point that I first questioned if I hadn't just dozed off during the show and dreamed it. But no, Rook is an actual-factual, official in-game Pimp, who reads off character-sheet powers like ‘Male Temptation’ and 'Female Monster Enhancing”. And compounding Dendrogram's frustrating style of storytelling, we spend just a couple cursory seconds getting the idea that Rook himself doesn't actually know what this job really is, before Ray brushes it off and we're back to vague discussions of adventures this group might eventually go on.
It's impossible to call this episode a total waste of time, since key points are set up that will clearly become important in the coming weeks. And there's that cool fight with Figaro at the beginning and some exciting portents of enemies to come right at the end. But for the most part this episode is like listening to an extremely rambling, unfocused, fantasy-land podcast- The kind where you hopelessly intone to the pre-recorded hosts “No, go back, that topic actually sounded interesting!”. I feel like the order of things could have been shuffled to help keep us in the moment this show so thinks is worth our time. At least our heroes seem like they'll actually be hitting the road next week, and they'll be bringing Marie along too, which is good. As I said, I like her.
Infinite Dendrogram is currently streaming on Funimation.
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