Cyberpunk: Edgerunners Is Perfect Worldbuilding
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, the new Studio Trigger-produced anime now airing on Netflix, had me hooked from its first frame to its last. The 10-episode season only took me under 2 days to finish, and I’m compelled to include it in my list of favourite video game adaptations. Now, the anime is technically an adaptation of Mike Pondsmith’s board game “Cyberpunk 2020”, but the series uses so many elements, including its story setting, CD Projekt Red’s video game Cyberpunk 2077, that I think classifying it as a “video game adaptation” is fair.
Video game adaptations rarely make for great viewing material, but that has slowly started to be proven wrong in recent years. Last year’s Arcane (also produced by Netflix), based on League of Legends, made for one of the year’s best shows. On the live-action side, Netflix has also produced 2 seasons of The Witcher, which has a passionate (and large) fan base of its own. And yes, The Witcher is also what I’d call a video game adaptation (kinda), even though it’s closer to the original source material, which is the Andrzej Sapkowsky-penned novels. Before these, though, most video game adaptations would often fail hard, save a lucky few in the last decade (or 2) of the trans-media boom.
What makes Cyberpunk: Edgerunners so special is its perfect blend of western ideology mixed with Japanese animation. The series follows David Martinez, a low-life Arasaka academy dropout who, after a very unfortunate day, must step up in the underbelly of Night City with a ragtag group of mercenaries (the “Edgerunners”). It’s a simple story premise, and elements are quite predictable if you’re well-versed in the ways of Night City by playing either the board game or Cyberpunk 2077.
Like any good anime, Edgerunners’ cast is its biggest strength. David, Lucy, Rebecca, Maine, Kiwi, and Dorio all make for a great cast of characters that present enough contrast on the screen to separate both physically and psychologically. David and Lucy are our central characters — two seemingly opposing forces that can’t help but feel drawn to each other, for better or worse. I’ve already seen Lucy and Rebecca emerge as fan favourites on social media, and I have to agree. David himself goes down the tried-and-tested angsty character route, but tropes can work when executed well, and it certainly does here. Meanwhile, Lucy’s dreams and ambitions, paired with her backstory, make her one of the more interesting characters in all of Cyberpunk (the franchise, not the genre). Along the way, you’ll also get some cool cameos from the game, but this is David and Lucy’s story first and foremost.
Studio Trigger is well known in the world of anime, responsible for many popular shows like Kill La Kill and Little Witch Academia. The show’s visuals are pixel perfect with an adequate, if sometimes overwhelming, use of different colours. There’s no 3D animation trickery here either, save for rare instances, so you’re watching beautiful 2D plates with great animation. But more than that, it’s the sound design that is absolutely God-tier. Not only are most of the sound effects directly lifted from Cyberpunk 2077, but so is the music. The first half of the show employs the use of original and licensed music aplenty, but the second half is where it hits hard with strategic use of the Cyberpunk 2077 OST. By the time you end the show, your frame of reference for key game locations and music will have shifted heavily.
Edgerunners shows just how much potential the world of Cyberpunk, and Night City, holds for storytelling. CDPR took more than 5 years developing the world of Cyberpunk 2077 and handed it over to Studio Trigger as a giant playground. If you’ve played the game, then I can forgive you for having this reaction for most of it. There are just so many locationsand concepts lifted straight from the game that couldn’t help but put a giant smile on my face from start to finish. Say what you will about the game (and many have said a lot), Night City is in itself a central protagonist or antagonist, as series creator Bartosz Sztybor puts it, and that’s shown in spades across the 10-episode adventure.
All of this praise doesn’t mean the show’s literally perfect, mind you. The pacing can be a little hectic, undercutting some of the show’s slower moments with action. Significant characters will slip in and out of the story without notice, and sometimes it’s hard to recalibrate yourself with David. I watched the show alternating between the original Japanese voice acting as well as the English dub, and sometimes certain character beats don’t translate as well to the English version. You need to be aware of the inherent style that Japanese animation relies heavily upon, with character traits that feel out of place if you go into the mindset of watching a Western production. The episode length can also be detrimental to exploring certain themes properly, with the ending feeling slightly rushed as it moved on so fast from the final conflict to an epilogue.
That said, Edgerunners does explore some of the universal Cyberpunk themes better than the game at times. At the heart of this is “Cyberpsychosis” — a mental disorder affecting people who can’t handle cyberware modifications, relying on immunosuppressants to handle the heat. A key part of David’s character arc is his innate ability to withstand the use of his “Sandevistan” — a Cyberware mod that grants him superhuman speed and reflexes. Throughout the show, David pushes himself constantly to merge with metal more to up his game, leading to confrontations with his own team, especially Lucy. Edgerunners, like its name suggests, also explore the ability of “netrunning” — basically a fancier, more personified version of cyber hacking, and how a person’s actions in a digital space can affect them in their physical reality. These are all explored well enough, reaching a conclusion which is all too familiar to those familiar with Mike Pondsmith’s franchise.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners Made Me Jump Back into Cyberpunk 2077
With the launch of Edgerunners comes update 1.6 for Cyberpunk: 2077 bringing new content inspired by and connected to the anime. Edgerunners was the perfect excuse for me to jump back into the game and try out some of the new additions. In the game, you can now avail David’s jacket and Rebecca’s shotgun, as well as other new weapons. The anime has also given me an excuse to finally try out a Sandevistan + Kerenzikov cyberware mod playstyle so I can pop cyberpsychos with the same time-stopping ability as David.
The game update also confirms that Edgerunners is set about one year before the events of Cyberpunk 2077, which is something I’d guessed given the status of certain characters that appear in it.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners joins a winning list of genre-defining anime productions from Netflix and proves that CD Project Red’s dystopian future can house interesting stories of all formats within and outside the confines of Night City.
Originally published at https://thescreenzone.com on August 17, 2022. You can also support The Screen Zone by subscribing to our YouTube channel, where we publish video game and movie reviews in video format. You can also support The Screen Zone by subscribing to Save State, the publication’s free newsletter.