Review: Infinite Dendrogram (Vol 1)

Infinite Dendrogram

For general information on this novel: Infinite Dendrogram entry

This review is for the first volume of Infinite Dendrogram. This series is written by Sakon Kaidou and features illustrations by Taiki. The second volume released on August 29th, and will be followed by volume 3 on October 31st. So far there are five volumes for this series in Japan. Special thanks to J-Novel Club for providing a review copy of this volume.

Vol 1 — The Beginning of Possibility

Virtual reality and MMO games. I don’t have much experience with either, but that is the setting for Infinite Dendrogram. And really, that is the entire premise too. The official synopsis is simply “there is a VRMMO called Infinite Dendrogram, and a boy named Reiji plays it.” To be honest it didn’t sound like much of a hook to me, but a lot of readers said it was a really great story so I decided it was worth a try.

In the end though, there wasn’t really anything that clicked with me in this one. The story goes into extraordinarily great detail regarding things like player classes, job skills, level-up abilities, item crafting, monster stats, unlockable treasures, magic bonuses, environment effects, buffs and debuffs, and guild formations. But honestly, none of these things interest me. They’re the sort of details that are nice to flesh out the setting a little, but for Infinite Dendrogram this style of world-building takes center stage. As such, the prose often feels more like a game manual than a story.

Instead of spending so much time on all that jargon, I would have liked to learn more about the main characters, and how this virtual reality game affects their lives. But we didn’t get much of that at all. Reiji is shown to be a nice boy, and that’s about it. His partner, an A.I. girl named Nemesis, is shockingly just as plain. I was expecting a more vibrant personality from a weaponized child whose power revolves around enacting revenge, but instead she just felt… there. Another major character in the story is Reiji’s brother, who is dressed up as a bear–but the entirety of his personality is he includes a bear pun in seemingly every single sentence he speaks. It got really old after a few pages, but it’s something I had to put up with the entire book.

Browsing the interwebs, it’s clear that Infinite Dendrogram is a well-loved series by more devoted fans of virtual reality game stories. So if you’re really into that kind of setting, it probably makes sense to give this a shot. Personally I was much more entertained by the first volume of Paying to Win in a VRMMO, but obviously that’s more of a comedy rather than a straightforward adventure.

Cho’s Rating: Maybe Recommended

2 responses to “Review: Infinite Dendrogram (Vol 1)

  1. I also had read some praise for this one online and after seeing Amazon had the first book for around $2 I gave it a whirl. I found the book utterly bland and struggled to make it through the last 25% or so.

    I recently finished Ready Player One and this one just fell short in every aspect. Lives outside the game aren’t dealt with in any meaningful way, we’re exposed to a very generic medieval type fantasy world rather than seeing something a bit more interesting or unique, and the characters lack any real hooks to suck you into them.

    Other little things annoyed me as well, this insistence of the MC telling us, “This world feels so real” but failing to sell it through the prose. Also, badly hinted at subtly of the brother’s identity.

    • Thanks for commenting, Ilkei!

      I read Ready Player One last year actually, as I was curious to see another take on a virtual reality-themed story. That one didn’t really click with me either, since the greatest focus of the text was constantly on references to 80s pop culture. I also had mixed thoughts regarding the characters… I think the story itself will work better as a blockbuster action flick, to be honest–it had that sort of feel to it the whole way through.

      Infinite Dendrogram will likely continue to build upon the characters of the series over subsequent volumes, but there wasn’t enough in the first to really hook me. I suppose I mainly just wish there was more focus on the real-life characters, because this is a rare instance of a protagonist simply playing a game for fun, rather than being trapped in the game or being involved in some life-or-death thriller scenario tied to the game.

      Not a VR example, but there’s actually an anime airing right now called Recovery of an MMO Junkie that handles this concept of “real life vs game world life” in a fun and imaginative way. We get to understand why the characters live their “second lives” in a game world, and see how it affects their lives and how they interact with one another.

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