By Sakon Kaidou and Taiki. Released in Japan by HJ Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Andrew Hodgson.
Since my last review, the Dendro anime has come and gone… and probably best not to speak of it again. Hopefully it’s not a franchise killer like Index III. The novels are still ongoing, though, and this one is a prequel taking place before Ray enters the game. The mysterious admins behind the game are all based around Alice in Wonderland names, and the one called Jabberwock wants to create stronger players with the Superior designation. As such, he unleashes a nightmarish nearly impossible to kill dragon with multiple heads and sets it on poor Altar (this is another volume that shows us why the Kingdom was on its last legs when Ray arrived). Some incredibly powerful and cool folks go up against it… and fail horribly. So it’s up to Figaro (who wants revenge for his friend), Tsukuyo (who just wants to have fun) and Shu (who is a little more pissed off than we normally see him, and takes off the animal suits for the big battle) to save the day. The result is a good book… if you like battles.
We do meet another strong and briefly interesting character at the start of the book. Foltesla, the King of Swords and leader of a powerful battle group, is a player who is very invested in the game, loves to duel with Figaro (who also gets some backstory here, explaining why he’s always a solo player), and has a lovely NPC wife. Every single thing about him screams tragedy, and sure enough, that’s what happens, to the point where honestly it almost swamped the rest of the book for me. I don’t doubt he’ll eventually come back… there’s too much time devoted to him not to… but it does remind me once more that there are a luge number of books that involve “the NPCs are more real than we’d thought”. Sword Art Online Progressive has it as almost its entire plot, and Dendrogram also hammers on it. Figuring out what’s different about this game is part of the fun of reading it.
The battles are usually also part of the fun, and there are some good moments here, particularly involving the “King of Crime”,but it has to be said that there’s a lot of “hope you love gaming stats” talk here. Dendro is better than some at blending this with the actual prose, but when so much of the book is devoted to one battle against one giant monster, it can be a bit boring for those who aren’t stat heads. It doesn’t help that the outcome of the battle is not really in doubt… we know given that there are three lines of defense (Figaro, Tsukuyo and Shu) that all three will eventually have to fight, and we know that anyone else who tries to fight is going to end up vaporized. Also, the book really wants the dragon to talk, but it can’t, so the author tries to give the dragon dialogue it would have said if it did talk, and… it’s as awkward as it sounds.
So it’s a middling book in the series, one that unfortunately made me remember the tragedy rather than the triumph. Can we get back to the main plot next time?