The show based on the game is…arguably better than the video game? You decide
Count on a show animated by Studio Trigger to come out guns—quite literally—blazing. The first episode of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, based on the video game Cyberpunk 2077, throws audiences right into the action with a high octane combat scene that sees a cyberpsycho soldier killing cops with supernatural strength and cybernetic implants, before getting iced by the military. It sets the tone for the rest of the series, as if to say, “Oh, if you like that, you’ll love what comes next.”
The story of Edgerunners revolves around David Martinez, a street-smart teenager who constantly finds himself beset by harassment and injustice at every turn as a student at the prestigious Arasaka Academy, where he is bullied for his socioeconomic standing. After getting caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting that kills his mom, David goes to extreme measures to have a military grade piece technology violently implanted into his body. (This show has…a lot of gore.) Tragedy, rage and black market steel set him on the path to being a Night City mercenary. An edgerunner.
The world of Night City is vibrant, rendered with evocative art and frenetic animation. Compared and contrast with the world of, say, Ghost in the Shell, which leans into the grimness of ruin, the world of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners prefers to aggressively cover up its structural decay with shiny metal, bright lights and big explosions. We can thank Producer Hiromu Wakabayashi, who did work on Star Wars: Visions and Darling in the Franxx, for the show’s visual language, flair and generous amounts of sakuga.
The show’s voice acting is phenomenal as well, and also happens to be the rare specimen of anime where the dubs are just as good—if not better—than the subs. Alex Cazares does an incredible job as the trigger-happy edgerunner Rebecca, a fan-favorite character.
Speaking as someone who’s only experience with Cyberpunk 2077 was witnessing the backlash the game received online due to how buggy and underdeveloped it was, Edgerunners seemed to do a lot more for the franchise’s marketing. This could be a trend—we saw things go down kind of the same way for League of Legends when Arcane came out. If this sets us on the path towards a decent Warhammer 40,000 movie, I’m all for it.
If you’re not a fan of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, I venture to guess it might be because you’re tired of the trappings of the cyberpunk genre as a whole, which is understandable. A lot of cyberpunk media likes to fetishize its own bells and whistles. Even when cyberpunk tries to wax poetic about the philosophy of humanity and the politics of dystopia, it can come across as really heavy-handed. Oooh, technology bad. Oooh, dehumanization. Such insights have about as much intellectual sophistication as like, those boomer memes of zombies looking at cellphones.
Just because a fictional world acknowledges that it has a class divide in its society, doesn’t mean it has anything interesting to say about class divides. For some reason Studio Trigger really likes to get involved in projects like this, using mobs and rulers and narrative devices, but falls flat when it comes to actual class analysis and depth of storytelling. Sure, Kill la Kill had interesting things to say about fascism, but can we say the same thing about BNA Beasters and Promare, two recent Studio Trigger projects? I’m not asking for much. I know not everybody can be Akira. I am, however, asking for more than Love, Death and Robots season one.
Make no mistake, Edgerunners is still a romp, and actually takes an interesting approach to sidestepping its genre’s baggage. Running at a tight 10 episodes, the show has to take us through its story blisteringly fast. The writing and directing seem to take great advantage of the show’s extremely fast pace through its usage of character death as a narrative device. Without giving too much away, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners triumphs in the way it makes character deaths matter. Sometimes we’re given time to grieve a significant loss, other times we are forced to accept death before we can fully process it, much like how our hero and his motley crew of mercs can never stay sad for too long, lest they let their guard down and get eaten alive by the city.
In that regard, underneath all the nuts and bolts, humanity remains. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is one of the best animated shows to come out of Netflix in recent history, joining the ranks of other surprise hits like Great Pretender and Super Crooks. You’ll go to the moon with this one.
Stream “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” on Netflix.
Words Jam Pascual
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver