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Literature / Infinite Dendrogram

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Ray Starling wielding Nemesis
Nemesis's human form in background
"Vengeance is Mine!"
Ray & Nemesis

By the 2030s, technology had advanced to the point where game companies could make the elusive "full-dive VRMMO" a reality... but even the finest titles of the genre turned out to be little more than expensive vomiting simulators. That was, until the release of Infinite Dendrogram in 2043 - a game that eclipsed all prior VR technology (and game technology in general) by an almost frightening degree, with hardware sold at prices too cheap to believe. Dendro boasts hundreds of classes, a single server that can handle millions of players with no lag or downtime, and a vibrant world of impossibly lifelike Non Player Characters where time progresses three times faster inside than outside. Each "Master" (Dendro's term for players) is gifted with an Embyro - an Empathic Weapon (or a Mon, a Cool Bike, a castle, an artificial heart...) which grows alongside them, gaining unique and powerful abilities which make no two players the same.


About two years after launch, college student Reiji Mukodori purchases a copy of the game over summer vacation, creating his character Ray Starling. After his first adventure with his veteran older brother Shu places him up against impossible odds, his persistence triggers the birth of his Embryo as Nemesis, a Maiden-with-Arms type specialised in Counter Attacks against strong foes. Taking up the Paladin class, Ray begins his journey into the world of Dendro, a game of limitless depth and filled with colourful characters. That is, if it's really a game at all...

The light novels are written by Sakon Kaidou (the original Japanese Web Novel is readable here) and illustrated by Taiki. An English translation is available from J-Novel Club, with 13 volumes as of December 2020.

The series has a manga adaptation with art by Kami Imai, as well as an anime airing Spring 2020.


A Spin-Off manga, Crow Record: Infinite Dendrogram Another is told from the perspective of Juliet, one of Gideon's duel rankers.

This light novel carries examples of:

  • Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: DIN, K&R, KoD, B3, RSK…
  • Action Survivor: In a world where monsters and masters roam, many Tians (NPCs) gain fighting classes to survive.
  • A Day in the Limelight: The side stories are usually this, highlighting side characters' adventures. Many of them expand on the main plot.
  • A Darker Me: Many PK clans are filled with people who are nice and diligent in real life, but wish to role-play villains.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: Subverted, while killing other players doesn't have drawbacks, killing Tians is against the law, which can lead to a ban from using the country's save points.
  • Always Someone Better: While we haven't seen her yet, Shu and Ray's sister seems to be this.
  • Anachronism Stew: The Country of Knights is attacked by a country with Mechas and other machines. Other countries include themes such as a Mercantile Desert and Far East Asia
  • Androids Are People, Too: The NPCs, known as Tians, live perfectly normal lives, and can interact with players.
  • And Your Reward Is Clothes: Monsters often drop various items and equipment. Ray's first kill nets him a set of armor he is too low-levelled to equip.
  • Anti-Debuff: Ray is granted this through Nemesis's second form ability, "Like a Flag Flying the Reversal", which causes all debuffs afflicting him to be inverted - e.g. speed penalties become speed bonuses, and Damage Over Time effects are converted into Gradual Regeneration.
  • Anyone Can Die: If you are a Tian, death is permanent.
  • Alice Allusion: While she hasn't shown up herself, many of the other characters in Alice in Wonderland; such as Cheshire Cat, Jabberwock, and Humpty, appear.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The game is run by various A.I.s, some of which enjoy letting monsters grow strong to terrorise the world.
  • Artificial Intelligence: At least 13 of them run Infinite Dendrogram in the background. Some of the known ones include Cheshire Cat, Jabberwock, and Humpty. Each one specializes in different things and have weaknesses in other areas.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: The Kingdom of Altar's Knights were led by the strongest Tian warrior, and the King himself went into battle during the war with Dryfe Imperium.
  • Badass Family: Ray's brother is an Unkra (Unlimited Pankration) Champion, while their sister is hinted to be even stronger.
  • Badass in Distress: Shu lets himself be jailed when he was framed as a murderer.
  • Battle Couple: Whenever a master and a humanoid embryo are of the opposite gender, this is likely to happen.
  • Behemoth Battle: The Kingdom of Altar's first three Superiors joined forces for the first time to kill one.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Shu towards Ray, even in game.
  • Black Swords Are Better: Nemesis's first form is a black western great sword called Black Blade.
  • Breakable Weapons: There is a skill that allows you to break your shield in exchange for greater defence.
  • Bystander Syndrome: The War between Altar and Dryfe went horribly because the highest ranked Masters chose not to participate for Altar while Dryfe's opted to do so. As only Masters who are ranked and their guilds can participate, their inaction ultimately resulted in heavy losses for Altar.
  • Calling Your Attacks: The Superiors' Ultimate skills seem to require this.
  • Character Class System: Masters usually start in a lower class, and once certain conditions are fulfilled they can advance to higher classes.
  • Class and Level System: Infinite Dendrogram uses a system where Masters and Tians have a class level separate from their character levels.
  • Chick Magnet: Rook seems to be one. His first main job is even the Pimp.
  • Code Name: Almost every master gets one.
  • Combat Medic: The High Priestess Tsukiyo may be a good healer, but even Figaro, the #1 in the rankings, would prefer not to face her head on.
  • Common Character Classes: Fighters, mages, thieves, and paladins are some of the many, many options that players can class in.
  • Crippling Overspecialisation: With many different builds available, some masters choose to be these.
  • Cross Player: There are plenty of characters who play as the opposite gender.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Superiors against the PK guilds.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Players like Rook, Marie, and Hugo all carry baggage from the real world.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Ray "looks more like the Hell General then the actual Hell General" Starling: black and red armor, spikes all over said armor, uses toxic gas attacks, but is still solidly a Nice Guy with Chronic Hero Syndrome.
  • David Versus Goliath:
    • Type-Maiden Embryos have abilities themed around "giant-killing", drawing out greater power against strong opponents. Examples include:
      • Nemesis: Vengeance is Mine and Payback Beyond the Stars are attacks that grow in power depending on the amount of damage the attack target has inflicted to Ray in the last 24 hours (including any damage Ray negated via barriers or a Last Chance Hit Point). Reverser's Flag inverts the effects of Status Effects, causing them to make Ray stronger instead. Chaser From Mirroring allows Ray to copy one of his opponent's stats, at the cost of draining his Vengeance is Mine counter against them over time.
      • Cocytus: La Porte de l'Enfer is an aura that freezes nearby opponents over time, with its speed depending on how many creatures they have slain of their own type; this makes it ineffective against novice players but a One-Hit Kill against experienced duelists. She later unlocks La Porte de l'Enfer Deuxieme, which functions as a hybrid of the original ability and Nemesis's Vengeance is Mine.
      • Naegling: Over Chaser provides a Status Buff if the user's stats are lower than the opponent's. The One That Overcomes, Naegling activates if the sword is broken, providing +AGI equal to the opponent's AGI, +ATK equal to their DEF, and +DEF equal to their ATK.
    • Ray develops a reputation for defeating opponents far above his weight class (even ones specifically designed to kill him), to the point where it earns him the In-Series Nickname of "The Unbreakable". In addition to his Maiden-class Embryo, he later gains the Grudge-Soaked Greaves, which convert negative emotions around him into Mana and thus power him up whenever fighting something strong enough to cause widespread panic.
  • Dead Man's Chest: Tian Adventurers often carry an inventory box specifically for storing their dead, since it prevents their bodies from being left to rot and the remains can be carried back to their loved ones.
  • Death Is Cheap: Masters who die are simply locked out of the game for 24 hours.
  • Deep-Immersion Gaming: How the world is viewed by Masters.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Liliana's voice actress, Aoi Yūki, also sings the anime's opening theme "Unbreakable".
  • Dungeon Bypass: Shu walks straight through buildings to rush where he's needed.
  • Dungeon Crawling: There are dungeons for exploring available to players.
  • Empathic Weapon: Embryos are formed by a Master's personality, and most can read the minds of their Masters.
  • Evolving Weapon: An Embryo can grow in Rank and gain new forms based on the Master's experiences.
  • Finagle's Law: Lampshaded by Mr. Franklin when his plans A through C get foiled.
  • Fantastic Measurement System: Metels instead of Meters
  • The Fellowship Has Ended: Following their defeat at the hands of Figaro, PK guild Mad Castle is disbanded.
  • Fictional Currency: Lir
  • Flight: Various monsters come with the ability to fly. Ray's Automaton Horse Silver has the ability to walk on air as well.
  • Food Porn: Shu's food is always described as so good, it can send you into a coma.
  • Gatling Good: Shu's Embryo can take the form of a Gatling gun.
  • Genius Bruiser: Barbaroy Bad Burn looks like a Boisterous Bruiser Blood Knight on the outside, but is secretly this underneath, capable of analyzing enemies and coming up with counter strategies in seconds.
  • Genre Deconstruction: Of MMO-themed Light Novels. The protagonist can get his hands on unfair, rule-breaking powers… but so can everyone else. Features of Dendro that in most stories would exist simply as Hand Waves (such as NPCs acting like humans, time flowing faster inside the game, and state-of-the-art VR gaming rigs cheap enough for a NEET to afford) are acknowledged by the characters as abnormal or even impossible, and evidence that something very strange is going on behind the scenes.
  • Graceful Loser: The King of Assassins, after losing to Figaro and Ray, thanks them for defeating him and Tsukiyo.
  • Guest-Star Party Member: The Vice Commander of the Royal Guard, Lilinana, joins Ray's party temporarily during her quest.
  • Guide Dang It!: The job requirements can be quite convoluted. Thankfully, Shu has a guide to help Ray and Rook out.
  • Goofy Suit: There are various mascot suits within the game, with Shu Starling using his bear suit most of the time.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Various characters change sides after certain events. Two notable ones include Marie Adler/Superior Killer, who joins Ray after killing him while he was out hunting, and Barbaroy Bad Burn/B3, who disbands her clan after her defeat to Figaro and later joins Ray.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Members of the royal guard and other paladins are often equipped with swords.
  • Heroic Fantasy: Players can choose to be whatever they want in a mythical land where magic and monsters abound.
  • Highly-Visible Ninja: One of the two types of ninjas is the kind that uses flashy abilities. The other type specializes in proper disguises and infiltration skills.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Figaro's Chains and King of Destruction's Warship are just some examples of weapons used in Infinite Dendrogram.
  • "Instant Death" Radius: Gloria has a 1km killing field that will kill anything living creature that isn't at least Level 500. That effectively means that only high-rank masters can survive to face it, as it also No-Sell all damage from outside that radius.
  • Interspecies Romance: It's entirely possible for a Tian to get involved with a Master. By the Sixth Volume, there are at least 27 marriages on record occurring between them. With the last one actually producing a child between them, something noted to be nearly impossible since the Master would have to be logged in until the zygote's development is far enough along that them logging out wouldn't remove their sperm.
    • However, this has its downsides on both ends: As Masters are often called away and can disappear for in-game months at a time, and the death of a Tian spouse is enough to basically cause a Master to outright quit the game due to the heartbreak.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Barbaroy Bad Burn attempts this against Figaro. It doesn't work.
  • Jerkass: Franklin the Weakest, the Worst is one. After being PKed, he proceeds to camp his killer's save point, and repeatedly kills his killer until they gave up playing the game.
  • Lady of War: Tsukiyo can come off as one, being a revered High Priestess who can still kick ass.
  • Lighthearted Rematch: Ray requests Superior Killer for one.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Several Superiors such as Figaro qualify, being fast and able to deal loads of damage.
  • Limited-Use Magical Device: Magical Gems. Some have spells like "Escape Gate" to leave a dungeon or "White Lance" to harm spiritual enemies.
  • Living Weapon: Embryos can show sapience, with Maiden types being similar to humans.
  • Logical Weakness: Legion type embryos are excellent for suppressing heroes that are good at dueling, but are bad against heroes that have wide area attacks.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: Baldr's Bloody Laser Storm.
  • Magically-Binding Contract: The Contract Item makes it so that those who sign it must agree to the terms and if they break it they suffer a predetermined effect like a status debuff or even the Death Penalty.
  • Massive Race Selection: During character creation, players can create their avatar from scratch, allowing them to be anything they want, including changing their gender or becoming an animal.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The great question of Infinite Dendogram. Is it just a really sophisticated game with NPCs that only seem real, or is it an actual other world populated with real people? Nobody really knows.
  • Mechanically Unusual Class: Infinite Dendogram has so many classes and gameplay mechanics, including unusual ones such as Pimps.
  • Metal Slime: Rook manages to tame one.
  • Million Mook March: Franklin's Embryo allows him to create great numbers of monsters.
  • Mook Horror Show: Once King of Destruction starts the artillery barrage against mooks.
  • More Dakka:
    • Essentially Baldr's entire gimmick.
    • Mr. Franklin uses this a metaphor for how his plan A through C were foiled.
      Mr. Franklin: "I whip up a better plan, they bring out bigger guns, every time."
  • Morph Weapon: Higher ranked Embryos can gain additional forms and abilities.
  • Mutual Kill: Apparently the result of a duel between the King of Crime and the King of Destruction.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Superior Killer, King of Crime, King and Queen of Monsters and King of Destruction are just some of the people you wouldn't want to cross.
    • Thirteen Volumes in, Ray finally makes his own clan, Death Period.
  • News Travels Fast: Thanks to DIN, any news can reach every corner of the world quickly… if you're willing to pay for it. One high official even leaks information specifically so that Masters will go investigate an area in Volume 8.
  • Non-Human Undead: The Grudge-Powered Gouz-Maise UBM formed from the Gouz-Maise Gang in Volume 2.
  • Noodle Incident: Various stories of Shu and Ray's sister are never fully explained.
  • Oh, Crap!: Ray as a new player, with no job or skills, has to fight what is essentially a high tier monster for his very first quest.
  • One-Man Army: King of Destruction uses a Battleship and can destroy a forest in seconds.
  • One Person, One Power: The game gives each player a special ability called an Embryo, which evolves based on their personality and experiences within the world, unlocking up to seven forms of increasing power. There are many types of Embryos, but all fall into one of the following categories (sometimes prefixed with another word for Embryos with an unusual focus):
    • Type: Arms: The most common type of Embryo, taking the form of a weapon, tool or artificial limb wielded by the Master. At higher levels, sometimes evolves into Type: Weapon or Type: Calculator.
    • Type: Guardner: A tamed monster which doesn't count against the limit the player can control at one time. At higher levels, sometimes evolves into Type: Guardian (which can act independently) or Type: Legion (which has multiple bodies).
    • Type: Chariot: Vehicles, from a carriage to a Humongous Mecha. At higher levels, sometimes evolves into Type: Gear (which is more effective when ridden by its Master) or Type: Advance (which combines with an existing vehicle to power it up).
    • Type: Castle: Deployable structures which do not move but have high defense. At higher levels, sometimes evolves into Type: Fortress (which is massive in size) or Type: Labyrinth (which has powers affecting things inside it).
    • Type: Territory: Embryos which impart some effect on an area, and have no physical form. At higher levels, sometimes evolves into Type: World (which affects a wide area) or Type: Rules (which affects only its Master).
    • Type: Maiden: An uncommon category which functions as an Embryo of another type, but can also transform into a human woman. Their abilities are themed around "giant-slaying", being more useful against powerful opponents. Named for both its forms, so that a Maiden which turns into a sword would be classified as Type: Maiden-with-Arms.
    • Type: Apostle: Another transforming hybrid which functions as the Spear Counterpart to Maidens. Grows very quickly, and has powers related to the concept of "domination" wherein they spread their powers out and rewrite the rules of an area, but doesn't grant any passive bonuses to the Master's stats. Vanishingly rare due to the unusual conditions required to awaken one.
    • Type: Body: The rarest known category, which replaces its Master's entire body.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: A plethora of dragons, both pure and demi, as well as mechanical man-made dragons are all a part of the world.
  • Player-Generated Economy: Played with. There was an economy pre-existing before the Masters arrived, but typically Master-made goods are so much better that even the Tians buy them. This has actually put some Tians out of business, while others have to relocate in order to make a living.
  • Player Killing: There are guilds dedicated to this.
  • Police Are Useless: Subverted, the Tian authorities have their own classes and aren't completely outclassed by weaker Masters.
  • Personality Powers: Embryos are based on the personality of the Master that wields them.
  • Random Drop: Special monsters can drop unique, one of a kind items. Masters who get killed will also drop items at random, aside from the aforementioned unique drops.
  • Red Baron: There are plenty, some of which overlap with their class titles. Ray The Unbreakable is one of these.
  • Religious and Mythological Theme Naming: All Embryos are named after something from religion, mythology or classic literature with some connection to their abilities, which also serves as the name of their Limit Break at high levels.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The Nox forest is obliterated by Shu because Ray was killed by the Superior Killer, who was hiding there.
  • Signature Move: Ray's Vengeance is Mine is one.
  • Shout-Out: In addition to the mythological themes of the Embryos, the series has a number of more contemporary references:
    • Dendro's production lead is named Lewis Carroll, and its control A.I.s (or rather, their current pseudonyms) are based on characters from the author's works.
    • Shu wears a bear mascot costume and acts the part in his spare time, in spite of his looks he's actually a top ranking player who wears the costume into combat, wields a machine gun and has a cloak and dagger hidden agenda. All of this just screams "Checky from MapleStory". Checky is a bear mascot costume-wearing member of a secret resistance, whose dayjob is being a mascot character and he has a mech suit with machinegun arms, among other ballistic armaments which he wears over his mascot costume, which he reportedly doesn't remove even when he's sleeping. Also Shu's embryo gives him basically all the same armaments as Checky and then some, including the mechanic class's tank mode that Checky never uses.
    • The name of Dryfe's line of Magitek Humongous Mecha, "Magingear", is reminiscent of Mazinger. In-story, the engineers who developed them were a bunch of geeks who just wanted to pilot a Super Robot, even inviting the professional composer Veldorbell into their guild solely so that he could write an old-school Bragging Theme Tune to promote their first successful model.
    • Masked Riser styles himself as a Kamen Rider, down to his Embryo being a wind-themed motorbike that transforms into Powered Armor and gives him a Finishing Move named "Riser Kick". This is acknowledged in-story, to the point where other characters call him Kamen Rider more often than his actual name.
    • The first use of Rook's "Union Jack" combines himself, a succubus and a Demi-Dragon into a "Ryū-Ma-Jin" (Dragon-Devil-Man), which resembles the transformation of the same name from Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai.
    • Baldr's battleship form somewhat resembles a monochrome hybrid of SCV-70 White Base and SDF-1 Macross. It even comes with a Macross Missile Massacre style laser attack.
    • When Nemesis unlocks her third form, transforming into a shield, she doesn't gain immediate knowledge of all her abilities like normal. Ray experiments by throwing her... which soon results in him being chased by an angry, mud-splattered Nemesis shouting "Do you think you're Captain America or something?!"
  • Super Reflexes: Raising your AGI stat gives you these by speeding up your perception of time while in battle.
  • Time Abyss: Certain entities have been around well before even the pre-ancient civilizations, such as the The Skydragon Drag-Flare.
  • Undead Child: A lot of these show up in Volume 2. The bandits who'd been kidnapping children killed the ones whose parents didn't pay (and they didn't eat) and had a necromancer raise them. Ray laying them to rest was a Mercy Kill and resulted in him earning the Purifying Silverlight skill.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: A player who commits crimes to Tiens end up wanted and not being able to use the country's save point.
  • Weapon of X-Slaying: The "Ray Starling Killer" is a monster created by Mr. Franklin with elemental resistances tailored to Ray's attack forms. To counter Ray's Special Attack "Vengeance Is Mine" (which lets him strike back against an opponent with double the power of the attacks they hit him with) it has no attacks of its own, instead acting as a mobile pillbox that spawns ranged-attacking monsters inside its body.
  • Weirdness Censor: The Tians don't blink an eye when they see a Master disappear, considering them to be the perfectly normal act of being spirited away to another world.
  • Where's the Kaboom?: Mr. Franklin's reaction to failing to manually release the monsters with a second button. (which happened to have a cartoon bomb on it)
  • World Tree: Exists in the setting, where the elves live.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Each hour in real life is equal to three within the game.
  • Younger than They Look: XunYu appears as a tall, menacing Jiangshi. She's also just 9 years old. Hell General Logan Goddhart is slightly older, at 10.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: In Infinite Dendrogram the Maiden type Embryo, the most self-aware of all the Embryo types, can only be unlocked by those who believe on some level that the world around them is more than just a game and that the lives of those in it have value.