by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Infinite Dendrogram ?
The best parts of this episode of Infinite Dendrogram are the very beginning and the end. It immediately opens with Nemesis chastising and drop-kicking Ray, which is always good to see, and wraps with the revelation that the penguin-suited mad scientist Doctor Flamingo was a regular mad scientist with the equally-hilarious moniker of Mister Franklin. That's the kind of goofy gold I prefer this show to trade in. Unfortunately, sandwiched between its understanding entertainment value, the show spends this episode mugging with an attempt at a shonen-style tournament battle. That's a losing proposition, since that kind of spectacle requires two skills that Dendrogram has always struggled with: Looking cool and explaining abilities in an entertaining way.
That's too bad, since the setup for the big fight between Figaro and Xinyu is laid out pretty effectively. Ray and Shu have a confrontation with the jerky Jiangshi in the stadium lobby, and the tension of how the fight between this guy and Figaro could go, as well as what stakes they have in it as characters, is rather compelling. Taken as I have been with Infinite Dendrogram the past few weeks, I was already invested in where this was going. Sadly, there's not enough follow-through on that in the fight itself. How Xinyu is involved with the greater conspiracy by the bad guys around this coliseum (if at all) isn't clear by the end of this episode, and Figaro continues to just feel like a powerful blank slate allied with the sympathetic characters. There's nothing to go on in terms of motivating me to care about this fight once it gets going, and due to the way that villainous plot shakes things up once it's done, makes it seem like this was the only fight in the tournament we'll actually get to see. So it comes off like one big time waste after all.
That wouldn't really matter in the grand scheme of things if the fight was super fun to watch, but as I said, Dendrogram's abilities just aren't up to that task. Xinyu specifically says he won't move during the fight, and that plus the old Dragonball too-fast-to-follow trick on Figaro's movements immediately come across like shortcuts given the rather ‘storied’ quality of the show's production to this point. There's a long stretch after a commercial break where the two fighters are immobile while the main characters sit in their box and discuss what's happened so far, with Nemesis even commenting on the fact that they aren't moving! It's a brazen acknowledgement of the limitations they've hit, and admittedly pretty funny on its own, but doesn't do much to cover up how stretched the attempts to present this supposedly-amazing tournament battle obviously are.
As such, Dendrogram has to make up for the lack of dynamic presentation with another pull from the shonen playbook, and just have the spectating characters explain to us each major move that's going on. So much of it falls into the now-typical trap of the story's technobabble, rattling off how a defensive skill worked and how much cooldown it has now, and assuring us that figures into the characters' strategy. In-practice, it means a lot of this fight, especially in the first half, is presented as a mediocre display of a cool thing happening, followed by a long-winded explanation of how what we saw was actually even cooler.
That's functional, at least, especially given that Infinite Dendrogram's technical aesthetics have always been ‘just okay’ and necessitate that kind of explicating commentary. But things just keep going off the rails as the fight attempts to up the stakes with mere power-level shenanigans and obfuscated ability gimmicks. The biggest sticking point for me in this was the matter of Figaro's Embryo. A tensely-framed guessing game is framed around Ray and the others trying to figure out how it works as he deploys it against Xinyu, except it's made clear from the start that Shu knows what it is. So what should be a mildly amusing sidebar speculation is instead presented as a major plot-twist factor, despite there being no reason for it to feel that way in or out of universe. It's just a piece of information withheld from the audience to generate tension in a way the flatly-presented fight can't muster on its own, and it fails at that because we can immediately recognize the dissonance. The payoff isn't even that interesting itself, another overly-technically-minded concept that comes off like it was designed just to try to make this specific fight more exciting to watch.
Like so much of the lower end of Dendrogram's quality, the stuff this episode gets up to isn't really bad, but rather simply aggravatingly baseline. There are some things that technically work, such as the fact that I was still interested in the fight by virtue of not being able to guess who the narrative was going to let win. And as much as the animation is struggling to keep up through all this, there are some nice visual touches sprinkled within, particularly Figaro's facial expressions going from a constantly-held knowing smirk to his new berserker look as the battle proceeds. But even as it was busting out absurd techniques like yanking out organs (however that works for a virtual MMO avatar) or giant swords with ridiculous chuuni-esque names, it would find some new nonsense for me to get stuck on or distracted by, like wondering how Figaro's ‘heart-shaped superior embryo’ worked and if that had been mentioned as a big deal earlier. It unfortunately extends even to the surprise finish on this one, as even as I was enjoying the newly-revealed Mister Franklin's scenery-chewing antics, the show was bombarding me with backstory acknowledgments and hostage princesses I couldn't place yet. This is all a distraction we just got past, so hopefully with a more dynamic main plot taking back over next week, Dendrogram will be able to sort itself out, for all our sakes.
Infinite Dendrogram is currently streaming on Funimation.
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