Infinite Dendrogram Ep. 11: Losing sight of the forest for the trees

This anime gets so caught up in presenting its battle mechanics that it has forgotten to give us a decent story.

— When the episode begins, we immediately get yet another backstory. I was wrong, though. I thought we’d learn a little more about why Franklin started playing Infinite Dendrogram, but instead, we learn a little more about Rook. Oh well. It’s all the same, really.

— So Rook is British, which I guess it’s fitting. After all, he’s up against a Frenchie. And like the other backstories that we’ve seen so far, there’s a tragic element to Rook’s past. Had his parents not died, I wonder if he would’ve ever started playing this MMO. Had Hugo’s father not been so abusive, I wonder if she would’ve started playing this MMO. Had Marie’s manga not been can–… okay, you know what? Her “tragedy” doesn’t really measure up the previous two.

— Still, is there anyone who plays this game for fun? Well, yeah, probably. Maybe Ray is just here because he enjoys it, but we don’t really know yet. The anime hasn’t really given us his complete backstory. Maybe there’s still something tragic lurking in his past. Either way, he’s a special case. He sees this world as real, so he’s making a tragedy out of fiction.

— How far are we going to go with this though? Are you gonna tell me that Figaro has a tragic past as well? Xunyu? Any new Master who has a modicum of influence on this world?

— Alright, enough about that. Let’s get to what really gets my goat about this week’s episode. After the opening credits, we pick up where we last left off, which is an encounter between Rook and Hugo. Our Pimp — yes, that’s right — can’t allow this duel to turn into a battle of attrition, because he’s slowly succumbing to the latter’s freezing powers. So what do we get? We get Rook standing in place, spending minutes upon minutes trying to figure out how Hugo’s freezing powers work. Oh, it’s related to Dante’s Inferno! More specifically, its effects vary depending on how much of a traitor you are, blah blah blah. Then once he figures it out, he has to of course explain it to us in painstaking detail. On the one hand, Rook is buying time for a transformation which we will see later. On the other hand, this is not compelling storytelling. Battle mechanics? Really? Infinite Dendrogram already feels like an adaptation that had to cut a lot of stuff out in order to fit a one-cour season. It doesn’t help when it still opts to eschew character development and world-building for nonsense like this. Nobody’s gonna say, “Dude, did you see that awesome show where the characters took time to figure out how MMO abilities work in conjunction with each other!!! I can’t wait to buy the light novels to read about stuff like that!”

— Rook also continues lambasting Hugo for being a phony. That’s neat, I guess. He transforms into a chimera, the two combatants charge at each other, and while Rook barely misses the killing blow, his Embryo does hit the big, red button on the mecha. As a result, the mecha opens up, and he’s able to charm Hugo. Alright, battle’s over. Let’s move on.

— Outside the city walls, Franklin does the usual villain speech. I’mma crush your spirit, you’re all gonna die in an oddly specific amount of time, watch these losers fail to beat me. It’s all very bog standard.

— Franklin does reveal why they hate Ray so much. We already know that the mad scientist had intended to assassinate Liliane, but our hero interfered. As a result, they have been hell bent on defeating a Rookie ever since. Franklin doesn’t like to lose. It’s not deep character development, but I guess it’s some character development.

— Surely, however, there are easier ways to do this. Franklin’s dastardly plans involve feeding a potion to our hero that also contains a slime. Said slime will then give Franklin all sorts of info on Ray’s build, abilities, stats, etc. They can then create an enemy designed to counter Ray’s Vengeance ability, which they’re all too happy to gloat about. I mean, I know why the author did this. By creating a “puzzle” for our hero to solve, we once again can belabor the point about game mechanics. Ray can then spend the next few minutes chatting with Nemesis all about how Vengeance should still work, which must mean that the actual enemy is hidden inside the big ball of eyes. But again, we’re losing sight of the forest for the trees. And from a narrative standpoint, our mastermind’s evil plan is overly complicated. What if Ray hadn’t drunk the potion like an idiot? Most people don’t consume stuff that strangers give them. More importantly, Ray isn’t very high level. He’s already been killed by another player (*coughMariecough*). Why not crush him with overwhelming power? Why not hunt him down every time he logs back on so that his experience is so miserable that he feels like quitting the game? By comparison, Franklin’s plan is just ganking with extra steps. It’s not even a foolproof plan, because they didn’t end up learning everything about Ray.

— So yeah, Ray uses an ability that Franklin hadn’t accounted for. This breaks the shell enough for hero to then torch the monster hiding on the inside. Alright, first boss phase down. Time for the second boss phase… which will have to wait, because the episode is over.

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