Jacob Engdahl – Opinions Columnist
“Cyberpunk,” also called “Cyberpunk 2020,” is a seminal 1989 tabletop RPG that redefined the grim, dystopian, countercultural genre for which it is named. 31 years later, video game developer CD Projekt Red, riding a wave of Cyberpunk revivalism, revamped the original games into the ambitious yet imperfect Video Game “Cyberpunk 2077”. And now, 2 years later, Japanese Anime company Studio Trigger with CD Projekt Red’s help have brought the 1989 classic into the field of animation with “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners”. “Edgerunners” uses deft writing and stunning visuals to deliver a moving character tragedy which results in an emotional rollercoaster of a viewing experience.
“Edgerunners” is set in the neon leviathan of Night City, a consumer capitalist hellscape where the value of a human life is only down to how much money corporations can make off it. It focuses on a 17-year-old street kid named David Martinez who loses his mom in a car accident because they can’t afford healthcare coverage. He joins up with a crew of Cyberpunks: cybernetically enhanced mercenaries who live outside the law. Within their hyper-violent lifestyle, David finds belonging, friendship, and romance. However, David eventually discovers just how much of a toll the life of a Cyberpunk can take.
The character writing is one of the strongest pieces of “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners,” and one of the most critical. Each of the characters that David falls in with are distinct, likable, and charismatic in their own way. From the tough but fair and caring leader Maine, to the spunky and aggressive Rebecca, to the enigmatic Lucy with whom David ends up sparking a doomed romance with. Viewers immediately grow invested into all these characters and others, and their relationships with both David and each other. This makes it all the more painful as you watch the brutal and careless world of Night City wear them down, but that pain is exactly what makes “Edgerunners” so special. Pack some tissues when watching this one.
Of course it would be remiss to have any discussion of “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” without a discussion of the stellar visuals and animation. Studio Trigger is known for its unique visual flair, and of those talents serve well here. While most of the visual elements are taken directly from “Cyberpunk 2077” (which helps give this anime a continuity with its source material that isn’t often seen in adapted media), Trigger puts its fingerprints all over them. This gives everything from the character design to the environments a unique style that is at once grounded but heightened to really sell the neon-soaked dystopia.
Another thing Studio Trigger is known for is its action sequences which “Edgerunners” knocks out of the park. While Trigger often deals in over-the-top sci-fi action, the grounded street-level feel of “Cyberpunk” results in a stylized sci-fi gorefest, bright red animated blood spraying around the environments. If that’s not your speed then this might not be the game for you; however, if you like extremely stylized gore this series will deliver in spades. The sci-fi elements of the action are well and truly present as well. This means some ingenious effects on the use of cyberware, including a super unique strobe effect to indicate entry into a sort of bullet time. “Edgerunners” delivers some of the best action in animation I’ve seen of late.
All of that being said, this show probably isn’t for everyone. As said, if hyperviolence (even extremely stylized) turns you off then you probably won’t enjoy the experience of watching this. There’s also a lot of nudity and a fair amount of sexual content so viewer discretion is advised there as well. In a broader sense the show is extremely fast-paced which may make it hard to follow, and if you’re the sort of person where action can’t keep your attention you may find it uninteresting. The show is a bit of a downer too, so if you want happy endings, look elsewhere. The best this show has to offer is bittersweet, leaning decisively towards bitterness. But, as I’ve said, if you like a complex character tragedy about how capitalism and violence grinds you down to a pulp, sandwiched in between absolutely mind blowing action sequences, then this is the sort of show you will most definitely enjoy.
“Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” is now available on Netflix, with one season of 10 episodes, at 25 minutes each episode.