by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Infinite Dendrogram ?
After last week's episode of Infinite Dendrogram felt like all time-killing with its seemingly-inconsequential tournament fight, the differences between that and this one are like night and day. There's still plenty of action here, as it shifts from the spectator sport of the arena fight to an all-out battle that could technically be considered more high-stakes, and functions as well as anything else Dendrogram has done well, but the real surprise is all the plot points the converge on this one. We're in the home stretch of the season, so I guess I should have expected some kinds of payoff, but I don't think it's damning with faint praise to say that the show hadn't trained me to consistently expect that level of attention to writing detail. That said, I'm happy to be surprised, since I get an enjoyably solid episode out of the deal.
It's almost like Infinite Dendrogram is racing to cover for its previous deficiencies. This one starts with a flashback scene making clear that, no, I wasn't supposed to know the now-kidnapped princess Ellie from the end of last week's episode- Marie had met her before and that's what provoked her reaction. There is a fair amount of explaining of Mister Franklin's plan here and what the Masters our heroes belong to the ranks of plan to do about it, but it's of a more dry, basic detailing than the overly-technical passes I've come to expect from the show. And like so many other elements that work this week, a lot of it is rooted in points it slyly set up ahead of time.
I'm actually kind of mad at myself that I didn't find space in the past couple weeks of reviews to mention the tournament arena's force-field. In those earlier portions, it was a neat enough little detail, demonstrating the intense power of the warriors that were fighting in this thing and doing some mechanical world-building that didn't feel too overt. But it ends up playing a huge role this week, initially trapping the main characters and then acting as a kind of filter, evening the odds so beefy bears like Shu can't just go out and save the day with their max-level powers. It works precisely because we had several episodes of it showing how the force-field was meant to be applied to high-level tournament participants, which means it hardly feels like a cop-out when it comes around here with Ray discovering he can pass right through it.
Other follow-ups are smaller scale and had their seeds planted more obviously, most notably Hugo's cryptic advice to Ray, which confirms here that he is in fact a participant in Franklin's scheme. I'm sure we'll get some more concrete explanation of why he's on that side, likely tying into his beliefs about the agency of the tians. For now, all we're really privy to as far as the immediate story is this all being Franklin trying to weaken and distract the Masters of the Kingdom in anticipation of a new coming war. Hugo aside, it's easy to see why various other players would sign up to be part of this kind of antagonistic disruption (have you met online gamers?) though it rubs up against Dendrogram's setting in begging the question of how big a deal all this actually is.
For characters like Ray and Hugo, of course, the sapience and free will of the tians is enough for them to consider Infinite Dendrogram a ‘real’ place, and their sense of justice has landed them an obligation to affect the general good of that place however they can. The differences of opinion that has landed them on opposite sides of this conflict should be interesting to break down in coming episodes, provided the writing stays up to the conceptual task. But my mind can't help but wander to wondering while watching about all the other participants here, from the manipulating Franklin to the lower-tier no-name Masters on both sides going all-in on what are effectively virtual geopolitics. Do they get anything out of this beyond the satisfaction of ‘winning’ a big video game for a while? I've never been a dedicated MMO gamer myself, so I'm curious as to the mindset of players (and I know they're out there in real life) who get this hardcore into affecting the game world. Perhaps that's something else the show can muse on, if it finds the time.
But if you've been watching Infinite Dendrogram along with me, you'll guess that I'm saving my favorite part of this episode to talk about at the end here, with the big revelation concerning my favorite Journalist, Marie. There was that obvious setup last episode with regards to the nature of her Embryo, so I knew something was up, but I wasn't prepared for it to go all the way back to her previous claim that she had no combat skills. Marie's never been super-forthcoming with Ray in anything, and now we get to find out why: She's the Superior Killer he's been pursuing all this time! After all the poo-poo-ing I did of some of those earlier Dendrogram episodes, I'm honestly amazed at how well this reveal makes so much of that stuff click into place. The seeming lack of movement on Ray and Nemesis finding the Killer is now dramatic irony, as Marie's been right next to them all along. That's a way more effective obfuscation and payoff than I was expecting, and it works great for me since it's applied to a character I was already fond of. And we gear up to see her fight the conductor of an infernal orchestra next week (another surprisingly-subtly setup detail from the last episode), so I'm even more excited and on-board for this.
I was hoping Infinite Dendrogram would bounce back after a middling couple of weeks, and it's satisfying to see that hope rewarded. There still threatens to be too much going on as this arc escalates, and it continues to be pretty scattershot in terms of thematics. But as pure entertainment, it's back in business. And after all my previous griping, I'm certainly obligated to give it credit as it's writing shows me here that it had a bit more going on than I had thought.
Infinite Dendrogram is currently streaming on Funimation.
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