Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is violent, riveting, and potentially brilliant
Netflix previewed its Cyberpunk 2077 spinoff anime at PAX West.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners starts like any Studio Trigger production should: with an action-packed fight scene.
An indestructible man with huge muscles and a chromatic spine takes on an entire police squad, dodging gunfire and throwing cops around like ragdolls. None of the bullets even scratch him until an electric shock forces him to short-circuit. Then, as far as we know, they take him out. Little does the viewer knows what it means for the protagonist, David Martinez.
All I knew about Cyberpunk: Edgerunners before PAX West was that it was set in a gritty, futuristic world based on a game that was known for being such a buggy mess that it changed the games industry forever. I didn’t know any characters, places, or the world’s unique concepts. Thankfully, the anime had no problem teaching me about Night City in the single premiere episode. It’s the perfect way to introduce anime fans to the game and find out how a dumpster fire became such a lovable trash heap.
Now for the story: David attends an elite high school that his single mother can barely afford. He has the smarts but not the money to fit in with his peers, who knock on him for everything from his clothes to his cheap VR headset. His mother, who works as the equivalent of an emergency responder, constantly works to give her son a better education and keep the lights on in their apartment in Arroyo. After David loses her in a personal tragedy, he gains cybernetic enhancements and joins a mercenary group.
Edgerunners is grimmer than most anime with its sexually explicit scenes, social hierarchies, and bodily fluids galore. Most anime series pretend this kind of stuff just doesn’t exist, or if it does, it’s only alluded to in some kind of artsy way like in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Here, we meet an underground doctor that spends too much time jacking off to VR porn. (An idea that Netflix also explored in the underrated Maniac series.) Inebriated neighbors casually puke on the streets and writhe in place, high on who knows what.
Is the writhing supposed to be a reference to the buggy models from the unpatched launch game? If so, good on CD Projekt Red for having a sense of humor about the whole thing.
On some level, it all feels rather realistic and even relatable somehow — even if kind of gross.
Edgerunners doesn’t hand feed you the message “poor people don’t get treated well, and society is busted” with simple words. It shows you in David’s daily routine: He walks through his low-income neighborhood, gets slammed by his peers at school, and breaks through the vent to get into his apartment because the landlord denied access from the door. The very breakdown of society at this level of poverty is what drives him to go rogue and become a Cyberpunk.
All things considered, the first two episodes are an excellent start for the 10-episode series. Based on that and some of the high-octane trailers, we’re all in for a wild ride.
CD Projekt Red wrote the Cyberpunk: Edgerunners story. And it’s animated by Studio Trigger, the anime house behind beloved action-packed series like Gurenn Lagaan, Kill La Kill, and Promare. So it comes with a certain pedigree attached. That alone is enough to prove that CD Projekt Red has something good going with its Cyberpunk universe, even if Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t stick the landing at launch.
I’m personally not all that interested in playing the game, but based on what I’ve seen thus far of the anime, I am definitely interested to see what happens to David next. You can see for yourself when Cyberpunk: Edgrunners launches on Netflix later this month.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners will be released on Netflix on September 13, 2022 at 3:00 a.m. Eastern.