SERIES REVIEW – In Cyberpunk 2077, V’s ascent into the criminal underworld is revealed in a five-minute cinematics intro. In Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, however, David Martinez needs roughly five episodes to become a cyberpunk tycoon beyond redemption. That time gives Studio Trigger and creator Rafał Jaki breathing room to showcase Night City and the lives of its inhabitants in a 10-part series, 26-minute episodes in a thrilling series of 10 10 episodes, bringing an unexpected “boost” to the game with a concrete-solid story and a very well-timed Cyberpunk 2077 atmosphere and visual world, and proving that CDPR has plenty to offer in future Cyberpunk story titles alongside the already released game.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is CDPR’s spinoff of Cyberpunk 2077, the exact version of the acclaimed tabletop role-playing game created by Mike Pondsmith. The locations and design are identical to those seen in the video game, but the story focuses on new characters. In short, don’t expect to see V or Johnny Silverhand (aka Keanu Reeves) in the animation. Both are missing from here.
“Learn son, Arasaka will make you a functionary!” (Or maybe not, because you’ll be a beggar…)
Instead, The Edgerunners follows David Martinez, a bright and outstanding student at Arasaka Academy. His talents can’t support his single mother’s salary, especially in Night City, where survival requires much more than a female paramedic’s salary.
When David has to start looking after himself, the Edgerunners take the time to reveal just how terrifying Night City can be, and it goes beyond a thriller about psychotic, cybernetically enhanced street gang clashes – it’s a very gorily authentic portrayal of a cruel, future ‘wild capitalism’. As David slowly drowns in debt, is kicked out of a prestigious academy he can no longer afford, and is pursued by debt collectors, Night City’s hyper-capitalism turns him into a juvenile delinquent in the Edgerunners, showing that even flying cars and cool clothes are no panacea for poverty. Yes, we’re well up there with William Gibson’s novels…
David’s fortunes change when he meets a mysterious netrunner, Lucy, and teams up with a lovable group of mercenaries led by the strong-willed – and literally over-armed – Maine. Thus begins his journey to becoming a mercenary cyberpunk in Night City.
How is it different from the game?
While V’s mercenary adventures take a unique turn when his body and mind become the habitat of Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Silverhand, David’s story focuses almost exclusively on the criminal elements of Night City. Maine’s crew ends up embroiled in the feud between the city’s two biggest megacorps and the machinations of a fixer named Faraday (whose English dub voice is that of Giancarlo Esposito, with his usual creepy, simultaneously polite and endlessly menacing style).
The Edgerunners is at its best when it explores the various elements of Night City’s vicious cycle of life, as street gangs and mercenaries commit crimes in the name of the Fixers, who themselves work for Night City’s true rulers, the Megacorps. These relationships are at the heart of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners and David’s rise within this food chain provides a fascinating perspective on this cyberpunk setting.
A stylized, “exaggerated” anime world
Visually, this story is only enhanced by Studio Trigger, a group of artists working in the expressionist anime style. While famous cyberpunk anime such as Ghost in the Shell and Akira focus on highly detailed, futuristic cityscapes, Studio Trigger approaches the material with a slightly “avant-garde” sense of style full of “exaggerations”. You’ll see plenty of blood and nudity here too, but the stylized anime world is the main thing here, with Studio Trigger filtering Night City through the same lens as we saw in Kill la Kill and Space Patrol Luluco.
This means that Edgerunners could be one of the year’s sleeper hits, given the low-key hype leading up to its premiere. Jaki, who worked as the business developer for Cyberpunk 2077 and the writer of The Witcher Ronin manga, chose to branch out from the main story of CDPR’s video game to explore the broader aspects of Night City, resulting in a much better narrative with a more quality story.
“This city is a distant planet”
Still, this has a drawback: although the characters at the heart of Edgerunners are extremely professionally developed, they too get lost in the series’ focus on showing us as many sides of Night City as possible. Some characters disappear too soon, while others are introduced without proper introduction. Thankfully, the central duo of David and Lucy are given the opportunity to develop a full storyline, which charts their increasingly interesting and emotional relationship, leading up to a heartbreaking finale.
But all of this is somewhat understandable, as Cyberpunk has always been more about Night City than its characters, and Edgerunners still manages to focus sufficiently on the life of a mercenary in Night City through a few key characters, all of whom are ultimately just trying to better their lives, or simply survive. Their fate is more the result of Night City’s extremely cruel food chain than anything else they themselves can control.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is proof that CDPR has a lot to offer here
The often cruel and heartbreaking story doesn’t become depressing thanks to Studio Trigger’s more fun and extravagant animation style. In a way, these two elements of the series help each other, rather than holding each other back too much. When the story gets too grim, the art style helps lift it up to maintain the hyper-realism of the cyberpunk genre, while the mature storytelling also keeps Studio Trigger from falling into tonal excess. It is therefore a question of complementing each other, not clashing.
In a sense, Edgerunners is more of a complement to Cyberpunk 2077 than an alternative. Between the anime and the video game, fans get to experience Night City from two different angles, and while I haven’t played much of it since finishing Cyberpunk 2077 last January, the anime has made me want to not only look at it again, but to explore the streets of Night City again in a serious, longer gameplay experience.
With Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, I wondered if another cyberpunk anime was even needed in the year 2022. The genre and the medium have met so many times before, it’s hard to imagine there are any new stories worth telling in this space. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, however, proves that there is still plenty of content in CDPR’s vision for Night City, and the series is perhaps also a guide to the direction CDPR should take the series in the future.