Infinite Dendrogram – Anime Preview
Synopsis: In 2043, the world’s most advanced VRMMO video game is created. The game engages all five senses and uses lifelike NPCs. Reiji Mukudori joins this immersive world and allies himself with his brother, Shuu. But Reiji discovers unlike his own in-game character, when his NPC brethren die, they’re gone forever! And to top it off, a war is coming! (Official Funimation Synopsis)
1st Episode Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Infinite Dendrogram is actually the Winter’s second title that could be summed up as “Watch someone else play a video game.” First there was BOFURI, which attempted to hook audiences by making the lead a gaming newbie who puts all her status points into vitality and defense, making the whole thing a comedy. Infinite Dendrogram’s own ‘unique’ hook instead puts the onus to entice on the game world itself. Namely, as the synopsis details, we’re supposed to care about the NPCs of this VRMMO. The idea is that this game, for some reason, utilizes NPCs powered by near sentient AI, making them almost human. So when they die, we feel bad. That’s the idea anyway. In practice you’ll likely find it difficult to care about fictional characters trying to save the lives of characters that are even more fictional than them. The show addresses this flawed concept multiple times, with Reiji noting “I know they’re just NPCs, but even so….” As if trailing off forces the audience into an incredible, emotional epiphany.
Linny: The common problem with anime set in a game world is that it’s asking the audience to sincerely and intensely care about the death of NPCs; to care about the death of virtual/fictional creations within what is already a fictional creation. Now I am not saying it’s impossible to care about fictional characters but in the specific case of Infinite Dendogram’s first episode, it’s asking us to care about the fate of characters we don’t even know; aka the little sister of an NPC that we spend 5 seconds with onscreen. Of course, to make the whole situation feel grave, we are informed that NPC character deaths are permanent, making you wonder just how frustrating this game must be to play as a VRMMO if important NPC can just be taken out of the game permanently in a flash, leaving you with little idea of when and where to pick up appropriate level quests.
Tom: This is a running trend this season. BOFURI also suffers from game development ideas that would be absolutely horrid in practice. But putting that aside, the real issue here is how contrived these concepts are, existing solely for the sake of adding in just enough drama to make the story ‘compelling.’ No one wants to watch some random guy play a video game. Not without consequences. At the same time a lot of these Light Novels are antsy about letting the story get too dark or grim. They’re meant to be low-key entertainment. So Infinite’s solution is to make us ‘care’ about the AI by claiming they’re near as sentient as people. But there’s no evidence of that in this first episode. I don’t even think this idea is inherently terrible, but the show needs to work to convince us that when one of these NPCs dies we’re all the worse for it. That it really is, and truly, like losing an actual human being. Infinite Dendrogram is an easy skip, even if you’re absolutely dying for a VRMMO anime. Heck as much as I didn’t like BOFURI, it’s still a mile ahead of what Infinite Dendrogram is offering.
Linny: Infinite Dendogram tries to be unique by featuring some unusual game mechanics, such as players getting an ’embryo’ implanted that can grant them a random power/ability but leaves the explanations vague, using words and terminology it never bothers to elaborate on. Or the fact that any player can trigger any quest regardless of skill levels. And apparently you can turn on pain sensation in the game because apparently they are catering to the masochist sub-group gamers. None of these ideas are inherently awful (well maybe the pain sensation thing) and if Dendrogram had presented this information in a more engaging manner or through a more charismatic lead, it could have helped it feel like a fresh new addition to the bloated sub-genre that is shows with an isekai/game world setting. But with a painfully bland lead, whose only defining characters is that he really really cares a lot, and drab world building, Infinite Dendogram is doomed to win over only the most curious and devoted of Isekai/’Trapped (he’s not even freaking trapped!) in a game world’ fans.
Infinite Dendrogram is available for streaming via Funimation.