Cyberpunk Edgerunners is a Certified Crowdpleaser – This Week in Anime

Trigger has done it again, this time with its anime based on the tabletop-RPG-turned-multi-platform video game, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. Strap in for the capital-A Adult anime full of gore, boobs, and the the dystopian hellscape of Night City. We all gotta survive somehow.

This series is streaming on Netflix

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Chris

Well Steve, it’s come to this. Doesn’t look like there’s anything else left this season for us to cover, so we’ve got no other choice but to finally look at Harem in the Labyrinth of Another World. Might as well get into it.


Hold on, there seems to be something wrong with my stream here.


What the-?

Steve

See now I’m confused, because usually seeing Mr. Reeves is a sign that I am dreaming. But if this means I don’t have to think about bad harem anime for another week, then I’m not one to look a gift Keanu in the mouth.

Sadly, Keanu himself doesn’t seem to be on hand for a new Cyberpunk project nearly (checks) two years after Cyberpunk 2077’s original launch. But we can still follow your dreams back to Night City for the new Netflix anime.


Though those dreams might just as easily turn out to be nightmares.
And honestly, this is probably a case where some temporal distance has done both Edgerunners and Cyberpunk 2077 a lot of favors. Even one of the most notoriously botched launches in video game history can be softened by the passing of time (and bugfixes). Beyond that, though, with Edgerunners coming out now, it’s able to stand on its own two feet and put a new sheen of paint on the whole franchise, and damn is it a good-looking sheen.

That’s what happens when you put up the eddies to get Studio Trigger on the production. I never got around to Cyberpunk The Video Game before this (apart from watching a laboriously long multi-part video essay on it), but I definitely would have been more enticed at the time had it been styled more like the work directed by one Hiroyuki Imaishi here.



Which makes it a little funny that the Steam page for the game now opens with a trailer intercut with footage from this show. Clearly the response to Edgerunners has already been a boon for the franchise.
And to think, all it took was CD PROJEKT RED handing a big sack with a dollar sign on it to a studio with both the best name-branding in the biz and also the exact right vibes and people to make a throwback to the ultraviolent ’80s-’90s OVAs and films that helped cement cyberpunk in the public consciousness in the first place.
Speaking personally, my apprehensions were shattered the moment I saw a cop car explode into blood, and that was in the first minute of the first episode.

In that aspect alone the streaming-service-based lack of TV censorship is a godsend for a show like this and the people making it. You’re getting Imaishi cutting loose with his ‘sex and violence at machspeed’ tendencies in a way he really hasn’t been able to since Dead Leaves, while also having the benefit of decades of experience plus a more powerful crew and franchise sponsorships tempering the output here. So it’s simultaneously less limited but more focused.

Edgerunners gets downright gnarly. Gore galore, to an extent I haven’t seen out of a contemporary series in a long, long time, and animated even more lovingly. If you have the constitution for it, I’d be comfortable recommending the show on those grisly merits alone. It’s a ton of fun to watch friend and foe alike get absolutely atomized.


Well, more “fun” than fun in some cases, but we’ll get to those.
While it can definitely reach for exploitative heights in some cases, it fits on account of the aforementioned style of that established Cyberpunk setting and those old-school OVAs. Even when it’s being presented as “fun”, the ultraviolence is shown here for a reason, a point.


And most of the time that point is “Night City is a hellscape that will kill you and everyone you love with zero hesitation if you blink at the wrong moment.”
That’s certainly the crux of the premiere! Action movie intro aside, it follows our protagonist David Martinez as he gets metaphorically, and literally, beaten down by the merciless power structures holding up the dystopia. And it hits all the classics. Dead mom. Asshole classmate. Crippling debt. You get the idea. It’d feel a lot more cliché if not for Trigger’s panache for visual storytelling. In fact, all the best moments of this series have almost nothing to do with words. It’s stuff like this.


After everything David gets put through in the first episode, the bit that hit me the hardest was his mom’s cremated remains being unceremoniously dumped out to him in a canister like a cheap can of soda out of a vending machine.


This is after a barrage of systemic failings involving for-profit paramedics neglecting mortally wounded victims, cut-rate doctors charging for stabilization and care that doesn’t even work, and upbeat funeral-plan voice-overs trying to sell David on the most cost-effective disposal methods for his mother. It’s all in service of that old dystopia chestnut: Capitalism sucks, and future capitalism really sucks.
That’s basically the prerequisite theme to be considered cyberpunk in the first place, imo. While I wouldn’t say it’s ever Edgerunners‘ main concern, the capitalist critique always there simmering in the background. The series’ angle is more centered on David’s journey, which is informed by those inequalities. His mom did what she could to lift him out of the muck, but it drags him down anyway. At least he gets a cool robot spine out of it tho.

If you can’t grow your own backbone, store-bought is fine.

That’s a fair point though, that after the first episode’s financial woes, Edgerunners is less interested in that capitalism element. Hell, the first thing David does after getting his fancy Sandevistan spine installed isn’t to try and make money using it, it’s taking on the elitist bully who shit-talked him and his mom.


Perhaps ironically, it’s this act that puts him on the radar of the corporation who will dog him through the rest of the tragic track this story becomes.

I’ve been turning this series over in my head a lot in the ~24 hours that have passed since I finished it. Like, on one hand, it just isn’t as unapologetically radical as, say, Akudama Drive was with its messaging. But it does also do a hell of a job with its characters, using real artistry to elevate them above their archetypes. And I should also mention that I’m only thinking about this show so much because my gut reaction is I loved it. There are just too many parts that are pure magic to watch.


Truly, Lucy and David’s first date night goes as perfectly as one could reasonably expect.

Puke is always the sign of a good date.

Oh yeah, definitely gotta give props to the soundtrack and Edgerunners‘ application of it. Lots of great needle drops throughout. Plus, we also get Franz Ferdinand coming out of their glen to do their contractual anime theme song once every 17 years. See you lads again in 2039!

The extra F’s in ‘This Fffire’ are for Franz Ferdinand!

That alone makes for an invigorating, thematically appropriate introduction to every episode (love the way David ‘burns himself up’ as he runs by the end). And other uses of music play with the illustrative and directorial efforts you mentioned. Like you highlighted the repeated and reflected shots of David in the first episode, and they do the same sort of thing with the music on the moon in the second episode, bringing that back for the final one. All to ensure I’ll be crying in the club the next time “I Really Want To Stay At Your House” comes on.

Trigger, and Imaishi in particular, have a reputation for big loud dumb anime. And that’s deserved. But they are also extremely smart and deliberate when it comes to putting those anime together. They know how to take a motif and riff on it meaningfully until it gets stuck in your subconscious. It’s even fun to see classic Trigger hallmarks, like big diegetic text, play out in Edgerunners.


Probably my biggest concern when this was announced was that a licensed Trigger show would be more licensed and less Trigger. So it’s nice that this was not the case at all.
I could definitely feel how the license affected the direction of the story. Like obviously Trigger’s characters in here can’t upend or revolutionize anything in Night City or the Cyberpunk world by the end because, hey, Mike Pondsmith and now CD PROJEKT RED still need that sandbox setting to play in. But Imaishi and his funky bunch never feel like they’re straining against that kind of limitation. Rather, I feel like those constraints enhance the tone of the story they do choose to tell here.
And yeah, it’s great to see that being based on a glossy mass-market AAA video game didn’t result in them reigning in their famous visual and character design sensibilities.


Okay I had been using all my strength to hold myself back from nonstop Rebecca posting, but now that we’ve had a Becky breach, I cannot be held responsible for how much I am going to yell about this tiny gun goblin.

Oh don’t worry, I’m absolutely here to toast to her with you!

So according to Rafal Jaki, the show’s creator, Rebecca wasn’t part of CDPR’s original script, but they liked her so much when Trigger pitched her character that she made it into the show (https://twitter.com/GwentBro/status/1571159352848924672). And, if fanart on Twitter is anything to go by, she’s by far the runaway star of the whole series. Go figure!


Obviously it’s because she’s so demure and lovable.
A real market-ready moeblob, that Rebecca.


Rebecca’s interesting as a secondary character, taking on the fan-favorite life that she has, because I think she illustrates what works about Edgerunners as a story in its setting. She doesn’t have a major character arc alongside what the likes of David or Lucy get, but her presence, her relationships with them or her brother Pilar, make the crew feel more ‘real’ and the world they occupy lived-in. She undergoes some personality shifting, alongside physical upgrades, to sell the vague time-skip that happens partway through the comparatively-short run.

She’s not the main character, but she is, in essence, the best mascot that Edgerunners could have asked for.

As someone who primarily knows Kurosawa as the voice of the level-headed Misaki in BanG Dream!, this was a rare treat indeed!


Though I feel compelled to note that I also watched plenty of the dub for this series, and her English VA, Alex Cazares, is carrying the crazed energy of the character just as well.

I know it’s unlikely given the status of the project and how things, uh, turn out for Rebecca in the series, but you have to presume that CDPR is looking at their Twitter timelines and wondering if they’re leaving money on the table by not referencing her somewhere in some Cyberpunk 2077 DLC.

I think there’s smart money on her popping up somewhere again in the future. But I should also pull myself away from my Becky babblings to mention that I really like the rest of the series’ main cyberpunks too. They really hit all the important genre archetypes.

Party balance is important in any RPG.
It does take a couple episodes for the crew to get introduced, and thus everyone isn’t around for super-long in the first part of the series, but I love how Edgerunners still uses those all-important vibes with its effective musical montages to sell how David finds a home and fits in with this crew.


I’m personally a fan of the crew’s big boss-man Maine, especially the simple, but strong arc of him going from shaking David down as a suspected gear-thief, to the two of them developing a genuine rapport.

Just some normal fatherly advice.


Maine steps in as David’s surrogate parental figure after the loss of his mom, which, like much of the script, is a tried and true way of accomplishing what it has to—investing the audience in their relationship. And I’d describe the script overall as more functional than inspired. Again, it’s not bad, but for the most part it’s very safe, and again, the show’s brilliance instead stems from how it uses the magic of animation to inject color into that script. So even a familiarly big lug like Maine gets instilled with a lot of unspoken depth.


As an aside, pretty much everyone sports popped LED collars for some reason, but nobody makes them look as good as Maine does.
Trigger’s ability to instill character and personality into this incredibly-designed cast of individuals (seriously, even smaller players like Pilar and Dorio stand out because of their designs and how the animation portrays them) also comes through when it wants to illustrate that something is wrong with a character we’ve grown to know like Maine.


Though okay, maybe that’s cheating because that particular one’s less the efforts of Trigger as a collective and more down to the specific talents of our good friend

No animator is an island, but Ikarashi truly owns his own style, and he wields it like a precision nuclear strike in episode 6. As the season’s major turning point for both plot and tone, it’s both a haunting spectacle of wanton destruction and a heartrending meditation on life and death. With the expert use of three-dimensional space, idiosyncratic take on the character designs, and rough emotional maximalism, Ikarashi and his collaborators deliver easily the best episode of the bunch.


Astounding that Trigger or anybody else hasn’t given this guy his own series yet. Episode 6 is pretty much perfect because of everything you just mentioned. Though I also especially love the way it illustrates the effects of Cyberpsychosis, in cues that the whole production crew round back to for the show’s final episode: Past backdrops interacting with characters and props from the present, dissonantly occupying areas that the affected can see and understand, but can’t parse from each other.


This is also another good spot for a sidebar: It was never going to be the case given its licensed, made-specifically-for-a-Netflix-drop model, but Edgerunners, and this sixth episode particularly, would have killed in weekly releases.
Right??? Edgerunners is a crowd-pleaser with plenty of visibility, so I’m not worried about its staying power. But I can’t help but mourn the communal experience we all missed out on by not being able to talk about these episodes one by one.
Just imagine a whole week of this image being posted over and over with either no text or a single upside-down smiley face.

My god it would even have had the potential to take on life as a redraw meme.

Not that reacting to Edgerunners as a whole is an undesirable experience. But I do wonder about the alternate universe where we had this series’ airing spicing up this whole season instead of being dumped at our feet only a couple weeks before Chainsaw Man and October’s other heavy hitters suck up all the oxygen. We missed out on real-time speculation on where this show would go after episode 6, or reactions to the time-skip in the next episode alongside the new, Absolute Unit David.

Dude did what I do whenever I feel crushed by depression: get fucking yoked. Though I must admit I’m several abs and cyborg modifications short of his example. For now.

I do also need to find a cyber esper girlfriend who wants to lounge around the house naked with me all day, but I’m sure that won’t be a problem.


Another sidebar: lots of nipples in this show.

It’s just another stylistic throwback to those old OVAs. One that I’m not sure we can post direct screencaps of, since ANN can’t show off that kind of sauciness unless we’re getting sponsored by Queen’s Blade.

Actually though, David getting superhuman samurai syber-swole lets me touch on another aspect I appreciate Edgerunners’ approach to: All the cyber-implant upgrades and body-modifications never propel a theme of “But are you really human anymore?” in this series. David, Lucy, and others’ various ports and modifications are means to the ends that are their dreams. Taking on too many of them is a case of potentially losing your self, your ability to recognize your life and those in it, more than any technical question of if sick-ass robot arms make you less of a person.

I was very similarly pleased to see Edgerunners not go in that direction either. Cyborg implants as a metaphor for shackling yourself to the regrets of the dead/hardening yourself to the harshness of the world is so much richer. The writing’s very on-the-nose about this, with multiple characters literally grafting mementos of their lost loved ones onto their bodies, but subtlety is not a language spoken by this show. And that’s fine.

It really plays into the whole overall theme of inherited will that Edgerunners has going on. It works within the inherent tragedy that this story was pretty much always destined to depict: The idea that David was never going to achieve his mom’s dream for him, nor could he conceive of a goal for himself beyond finding a way to help Lucy achieve her dream. Realizing that payoff mostly took the sting out of seeing Lucy, who was introduced so strongly in the show’s first half, spend its second half moping around the apartment before just getting kidnapped.

Lucy and Kiwi both get done real dirty by the second half. Lucy deserved a much more active role than damsel, and Kiwi needed a full episode to herself to better lay out what her whole deal was. Her relationship/history with Faraday is an interesting angle, but the story doesn’t do anything with it besides make her betray David and the others. Even a little more context/development would’ve done wonders.

It’s frustrating because they could almost have killed two birds with one stone! Kiwi’s past interactions with and instruction of Lucy are referenced in the episode where the former sells out the latter, really making you wonder what a full interlude of an episode expanding on both these ladies could have done.


Instead the most we get is an earlier infodump from Lucy on her Stranger Things backstory, which probably feels the most like a video-game cutscene-character monologue of anything in this show.

It is funny that the ultra-deadly job the kids were corralled into was browsing the normal internet. But honestly, I think we could all use some more mental shielding when it comes to logging online.

But anyway, yeah, retooling both of their latter roles in the story is the number one thing I’d ask Edgerunners to polish. The second thing I’d ask is for them to destroy even more cars in the final chase scene.

Ah yes, everyone’s favorite classic cyberpunk story: The Blues Brothers
This is the kind of delivery we can ask for, though I don’t know that anyone familiar with Imaishi’s style would expect anything less than David strapped into a giant metal murder-machine, multi-wielding firearms atop a car racing around with Rebecca and Matt Mercer selflessly backing him up.


It’s another testament to the successful stylization of the show, that this part is a culmination of the inevitably tragedy of David’s path, and also whips ass as a climactic action scene.

Imaishi is always one to revel in his excesses, and it definitely pays off here. Like, you probably could’ve made a more somber, morose final episode, and it also would’ve felt right. But Edgerunners allowing itself to exit guns blazing feels more honest. Neither the series nor these characters were ever going to bow out without a fight. Just like Imaishi was never going to finish this anime without drawing two very large dudes staring each other down as seen from dynamic low angles.

The immediately-recognizable invocation of That One Scene from Promare is exactly the sort of indulgence I think Imaishi has earned at the end of all this.
I also must confess, having no familiarity with the Cyberpunk mythos, I had to look up whether or not Adam Smasher was a previously established character (he is). Because between the name and the design, you could have convinced me Trigger made him up just so they could draw that single exact scene.

I mean, at least his role in this show explained how he got the name Adam Smasher. Since he did


smash ‘er
And I will never forgive him for that. But damn if they didn’t let Rebecca have the most badass death in the whole show. Little gremlin needed a dude the size of a tank dropping down from 20 stories to take her out, and even impending inevitable doom didn’t stop her from sassing him. Queen.

It’s an absolutely unforgettable final moment. And knowing that Adam there apparently is an established Cyberpunk character makes me hopeful I might be able to avenge her death if I ever get around to playing the game and facing him.


Take note, corpos, this is how you use a tie-in to sell us on a video game: Give us the chance to get the guy who got our Best Girl.

But then that kind of catharsis really is present at the end within the show itself. For all Lucy’s inaction in the last stretch, David’s efforts and the will of himself and the others he failed to save which he then passes onto her still makes that big moment feel earned. It lands as the end of a series-long journey for David, and somehow makes a scene of a character getting his ass summarily beat by a just-barely-introduced video-game tie-in boss still feel triumphant.

And I especially loved it because Kai Ikarashi, among other talents, understands that the best anime OPs are the ones that mirror the plot. David’s death was always going to be his gruesome terminus, but the journey there was a hell of a ride all the same.

It says a lot that knowing how Edgerunners turned out did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for throwing it on to watch again soon after. I daresay having an understanding of the kind of story this is and where it’s going only made me appreciate where it started even more. Tragedy, as a genre, is pretty well defined by knowing how things are going to turn out, but the best of those understand that seeing how one lived is so key to watching how they die at the end.

I think, where it needed to, Edgerunners found the right character moments, both quiet and loud (but mostly loud), to hone into these shimmering jewels of animation and atmosphere. So even though I’m left wanting by the big picture scripting, the individual tragedies and triumphs shine through. And in my book, getting those characters and vibes right is more important than any plotting. So yeah, I had a blast with this one, and I think this’ll be a keeper in the long run too.

Another great entry to Trigger’s catalog that I’m grateful we got this year! I’ll drink to that!

And I will post yet another Becky to that!

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