by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Infinite Dendrogram ?
Returning from a one-week hiatus, Infinite Dendrogram hardly comes roaring back. I acknowledge that's not an entirely fair criticism to lob at its structure; The last two episodes delivered on escalating excitement so a breather is all but expected as far as pacing goes. But with that extra cushion of wait time in-between, it just serves to exacerbate things feeling like the early-season version of the show as Ray and friends get back to chilling at cafes and discussing game mechanics and world-building. It doesn't help that I was actually eagerly anticipating a new episode of the series after seeing it at its best previously. But even with those presentation problems persisting, I can hardly call this outing ‘bad’ either.
Interestingly, while comparing it to the eccentric action-packed previous episodes does this one no favors in terms of content, it does mean that I'm now endeared enough to the world and characters of Infinite Dendrogram that I'm a lot more receptive to just spending time with them. Don't get me wrong, Ray's still an absolute vacuum of characterization, but all the now-lovable supporting cast members take turns coming and going keeping me entertained and my interest up. One mild personality point Ray does demonstrate is incorporated into setting up a story in this manner, as our main man (who sadly has finally shed those adorable puppy ears) seems utterly incapable of questioning when anyone he's around is acting suspiciously. It happens when Marie is talking about her still-unrevealed Embryo, he hardly questions Hugo's skirting, ambiguous talk about attending the tournament, and he doesn't think to ask his brother at all about the context of the conversation he heard between him and Figaro. Ray's always served the audience-cipher role functionally in terms of letting plot points just become apparent to him as the writing demanded it, but even those of us watching at home can now easily see where more answers need to be pressed for. It's akin to kids yelling at the oblivious Blue's Clues host who's pretending he can't see the paw print behind him.
The result of this is a ton of questions blatantly setting up for the next arc. It's not quite as intriguing as the show seems to think it all is, since absent any context for the cut-short answers to questions and cryptic key-words being thrown around, we just have to take it as mysterious flavoring that will be followed up on later, likely in excruciating detail. Simply put, this is a setup episode, and we have no idea what they're setting up for. That's frustrating since so many characters around Ray seem to have their own inklings as to what's going to happen, but he's left in the dark and we're here with him. You shouldn't dragoon me into sympathizing with your self-insert main-character simply by virtue of knowing as little as he does, Infinite Dendrogram! Get me to like Ray on his own terms!
I'm frontloading all that as a primary complaint though, since as the show taking a break for setup this still isn't too bad. Getting to catch up with our ancillary favorites helps a lot, I think. Marie's here again, and to the writing's credit that tease does make me extremely curious as to what the deal with her Embryo is. It's a similar trick the show pulled with Hugo a couple episodes ago, calling enough attention to its own systems to make them intriguing in-context. Hugo himself also continues his compellingly suspicious setup from the end of the previous episode, skirting an interestingly-portrayed line between ally and potential antagonist. There's a really tight moment of dramatic irony partway through here, as he reacts to Ray's insistence that he wouldn't deceive a friend. Infinite Dendrogram's artistry has never been the greatest, but the rendering of that one little reaction shows that they can get the small stuff right when they want to. As well, the eye for entertaining eccentricities hasn't dissipated since the last couple episodes went hog-wild either, this one having an interlude where we get the full story on Ray's brother: A ridiculous chronicling of child stardom, martial arts, and lottery winnings that only further cements my wish that Brother Bear was the central star of this show. Alas, he's building more of that behind-the-scenes business, so it's not to be.
The other snippets we get contributing to that are honestly pretty cool. There's new characters lurking about, including Xunyu, this sweet Jiang-Shi-lookin' guy who pops up just a couple times to be an unstoppable badass and tease seeing him fight in that aforementioned tournament. We get a little introductory fight in that tournament between a goth angel knight and a cute pirate girl, absolutely not important characters but it sure looks neat as a momentary distraction from all the setup. There's also some new blue girl and her pet hedgehog named ‘Behemoth’ who speaks entirely in abbreviated internet slang! The show spends a lot of tense framing and dramatic music making sure we know to be very suspicious of this hedgehog. This is all setup that, as lamented, hasn't really gone anywhere yet, but that also speaks to the power of renewing faith in a production. That last story arc showed what Infinite Dendrogram could really do with elements it assembled for itself when it actually tried. What it's putting together here feels like it has potential to be even bigger and better. Compared to my earlier frustrations with the show when it hadn't really shown off its abilities, I'm now okay with letting it take a little more of its time to see what it's going to do next.
Infinite Dendrogram is currently streaming on Funimation.
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