Welcome to my first “serious” blog post on Weeb Revues. Today, I’m starting with one of the best and most underrated light novels on the market, Infinite Dendrogram, published in English by J-Novel Club. This is an overview of volumes 1-9.
Infinite Dendrogram is truly a case of not judging a book by its cover. At first glance, it looks like a shameless knockoff of Sword Art Online, complete with an overpowered protagonist and a harem. However, there’s actually a lot more substance and personality in Dendro.
The first thing that makes this no ordinary light novel is the concept revolving around the titular VRMMORPG, Infinite Dendrogram. The game is probably the most advanced application of VR ever; unlike what was essentially a JRPG but with the VR gimmick, Dendro is programmed to feel like a REAL world (in a way that’s more substantiated than in SAO‘s Alicization Arc). The NPC’s, called tians, have no idea that Dendro is an RPG, and the existence of human players- masters- is programmed into the game’s lore. The tians are all dynamically programmed to live and grow like real people, and actual history takes place within Dendro completely out of devs’ control. The other thing about tians is that they permanently die if destroyed. This isn’t like your JRPG where you can get that quest to find medicine for some girl’s grandma early on, forget about it, then remember 50 hours later and it’s all fine. In Dendro, that girl’s grandma is dead, and furthermore, that girl will hate you for your neglect.
The other important aspect of Dendro is the Embryo system. Along with the traditional job system of most JRPGs, you have Embryos, which are basically Stands from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure in Dendro form. When Embryos hatch, their appearance, and abilities are based on the personality of its user and their preferred battle style. Unfortunately, the golden rule of Embryos is that there are no rules. This aspect will probably be a turn off to a lot of people. However, look at these positives: 1) No creative restrictions means an “infinite” variety of abilities and battles, and 2) The Embryos at least behave within their own individual rules once established… for the most part. Embryos also have several stages of evolution that can happen anytime and with unpredictable results. This system was basically put in to give the author several justifiable ass-pulls whenever the main protagonist is thrust into a scenario that they cannot power out of with what they have.
However, more often than not, the fights in Dendro are actually some of the most legitimate and “videogamey” out of any fights I’ve seen in light novels. The author’s prose makes them impactful and thrilling. Furthermore, fights rely more so on preparation and knowledge of game mechanics than good ol’ nakama power.
If there is any flaw with the writing, it is the fact that there are a lot of exposition dumps. In fact, a lot of them happen right in the heat of battle, and some of them are entire flashbacks of stuff. However, unlike SAO, these dumps are much shorter and more engaging, and actually, have plot relevance to the story, or at least explain characters’ abilities.
This is all well and good, but what keeps making me come back to Dendro is its surprisingly varied cast. However, the worst character is, sadly, its main protagonist, Mukudori Reiji, known in-game as Ray Starling. He’s about as Gary-Stu-Goody-Two-Shoes as it gets. Dendro tries to justify it by having characters make fun of him for doing things as stupid as trying to save a girl at Level 0; so weak that brushing up against someone almost killed his avatar. But even then, it gets old, especially after his reaction to an overly obvious reveal in volume 9.
The real color is in literally everybody else. From Ray’s pun-making brother, Shu, to his maiden-type Embryo, Nemesis, this thing has got some characters with great personalities. I don’t want to talk about anyone else due to spoilers, but they’re just so lovable. Dendro also does a great job of building up to characters. Most of the cast of characters are alluded to early on, as opposed to having them show up for the first time with no context while the main character gets chastised for not knowing about someone SO FAMOUS, which makes the world feel that much more organic.
The last aspect of Dendro is the art. I’m not going to be talking about the art much for light novels because it’s not that important; however, I can at least give a brief blurb about it. The art is neat and stylistic, but there is still better LN art elsewhere.
Overall, Infinite Dendrogram is an incredible light novel series, and I recommend it to anyone trying to get into light novels; EVEN Sword Art Online‘s critics.
This marks the end of my first blog entry on Weeb Revues. How was this first review? Sorry it was overly long, but there was a lot of ground to cover in this one.