by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Infinite Dendrogram ?
So we're not four minutes into this episode of Infinite Dendrogram when, tasked with chasing after an evil centaur-lich, Ray circumvents not having the skill to ride his horse by standing on his shield and letting it drag him alongside it. Following that is a massive multi-stage boss battle, revelations with character-building flashbacks, and even a little intrigue built up for future storylines. I'm not quite sure where Infinite Dendrogram was prior to the shocking uptick in quality this arc has brought, but I am extremely glad it finally got here.
As alluded to by my appreciation for the aforementioned shield-surfing maneuver, I think one thing that's lent flavor to Dendrogram's proceedings the past couple weeks is less interest in taking itself so dang seriously. A lot of the setup around it does still run counter to viewing everything as just a fun game, and we will get to that. However, it just seems more willing to get wilder with its ideas and action in a way that keeps our attention even as it's still dropping all this lore and number-crunching on us. For instance, it's an over-the-top detail that Bad Horse here was working on creating an immortality-granting Philosopher's Stone out of a bunch of dead babies, but then we're pointedly aware of its meaning when Ray uses that rock as a distraction later. Similarly, the detail that Ray's goofy new gauntlets were crafted out of the orc he defeated seemed like a throwaway detail a few episodes ago, but it comes back into focus when it turns out that lingering oni-energy granted awareness to that new weapon-set in the form of another magically-embodied girlfriend for Ray. Is that a bit eye-rolling in the realm of these kinds of shows? Of course, but at least it's self-indulgent in a manner that's halfway-interesting to us instead of endless ramblings about the over-detailed workings of the game world.
That's still a thing, of course. A lot of the mechanics of the boss battle that makes up most of this episode are still dragooned to Ray and Nemesis over-explaining how their powers work. Hugh and Cyco even excuse themselves from the fight early on, so we don't have any mecha action spicing things up, it's just more of Ray and his weapon-wife going over how they're exploiting the technicalities of counter attacks and damage multipliers. It's only mildly annoying, since there's actually plenty of examples of that kind of dungeon-master detailing delivered decently in this episode. The concept of some high-level AI controlling the big boss monsters specifically in opposition to Ray's efforts pops up again, that's intriguing. And the show makes good use of a literal mystery box dropped by the defeated neigh-cromancer to showcase its crazy contingency plan fusing a bunch of bad guys into a massive undead Mino-Cen-taur-taur! Okay, they actually grant it the title of ‘Revenant Ox-Horse’ which is almost as badass, and the point stands: Infinite Dendrogram can have fun showing off its mechanics when it's not so obsessed with explaining exactly how they work.
The other negative takeaway I could have from this episode is that Infinite Dendrogram still doesn't look great. The animation's extremely chunky and choppy throughout, as the show struggles to keep up with all the exciting action it's trying to display. Even in idling situations it's got issues, like an extremely poorly-rendered pile of coins in the run-up to unlocking that mystery box. It does thankfully seem to straighten out for Ray's climactic take-down of the Revenant Ox-Horse, but it still sticks out as a potential issue moving forward: With half the show's cour still to go, if it's going to keep busting out crazy crap like this in the name of keeping our attention, I hope it can keep it looking passable.
But it's hard for me to even be too down about that given the other elements on display here that really work. Like in-between a cliche kissy-healing scene with Nemesis and Ray (are they even supposed to be an item yet? They've had hardly any chemistry) we get a pretty interesting flashback to our main man and the IRL version of his bear-bro, imparting the wisdom of hard work and guts. I even learned a new word, ‘radix point’, basically a fancy designation for ‘decimal’, and we get more confirmation that the reason for bear-bro's fursuit disguise may be because he's famous over in the real world, apparently as some kind of competitive fighter. It's an expectedly poignant little scene that nonetheless exposits on the brotherly bond that initialized this story.
The show also sees fit to finally delve more into the ideas driven by its pointedly overt world setup, namely the question of how much Ray can keep engaging with Infinite Dendrogram given that how he ascribes agency to its AI inhabitants and recognizes the incredibly dark implications of a system that would reduce those people to fodder for game quests. Ray's principles have seemingly landed him an actual job in protecting what he can in this world, one that could be regarded as a moral failing if he abandoned because of those same conceptual hardships. It's impressive because the episode honestly doesn't spend any more time ruminating on this nature than it has allotted the concept in previous episodes, but because the actual considerations are so much more thoughtful, it provokes much more consideration in the audience. It's a conundrum that feels like it could lead to a real turning point for Ray.
The last impressive bit of this episode game right at the end for me, with the revelation that Hugh and Cyco were working with that creepy penguin fursuiter the whole time, and they may not be totally on the up-and-up. I mentioned last week that Dendrogram had pulled a funny trick in engaging me with Hugh despite his short screen-time at that point, but that works in the favor of this twist as well, since I haven't known Hugh for so long that this kind of subversion feels out-of-nowhere. As with last week's cliffhanger, this pulls off the surprising feat of making me interested in what's going to happen next time on Infinite Dendrogram, and that's the kind of glow-up I'll take from a show it was too easy for me to be dismissive of at first.
Infinite Dendrogram is currently streaming on Funimation.
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