That’s the word constantly used by the characters of the setting to describe something awesome, and it is the only word that sums up this animated production. As I sat there, 40 minutes after midnight on a Tuesday, I was reeling from the shock of experiencing “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” for the first time. I remember starting the first episode days before with cautious optimism after the fiasco that was the launch of “Cyberpunk 2077,” hoping the new animated production would at least be entertaining. When the last episode went by, and the end credits rolled, I was left speechless. That’s when you know you’ve witnessed a piece of media that’s truly remarkable.
Produced by Studio Trigger and distributed by Netflix, “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” is a new animated show based off of CD Projekt RED’s “Cyberpunk 2077” and serves as a prequel to the events of the game. The plot centers around one David Martinez, a young punk living in the fictional dystopian, Sci-fi metropolis of “Night City.” David exists in a state of existential frustration as he attends a private school for self-absorbed, classist brats, with only his loving mom, Gloria, as company. After a terrible twist of fate, David comes across military-grade cybernetics his Mom had been smuggling, and decides to “chrome up,” by implanting them inside his body. From there, David eventually meets Lucy, a “Netrunner,” a futuristic hacker who winds up getting David involved in her crew of “Edgerunners,” futuristic mercs, “fixers” and smugglers who skirt the edge of the law and mortality to get jobs done for big payouts. David then quickly falls for Lucy as he tries to help Lucy fulfill her dreams while being pursued by the mega-corporations that rule over the city.
With the show’s amazing animation, score, direction and writing it can be hard to point to which specific element that cements this animated production as one of the best shows of the year. The animation and design by Yoh Yoshinari are a visual feast as he uses his talents and experience gained from working on classics like “Neon Genesis Evangelion” to create exhilarating and heart wrenching sequences throughout the series while also giving the main cast and even side characters designs that make each of them stand out. The animation is worth repeating as the show is breathtakingly R-rated! Even the trailer has brutal action sequences and other graphic imagery all synchronized to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy! The two best sequences where Yoshinari shines are during Main’s fight with the NCPD, and David’s confrontation with Araska security. Both sequences are gruesome and frantic, with bright colors and fast-paced animation that shocks and exhilarates the audience with each shot. Some audiences may take umbrage with the level of graphic content on display, but it would’ve been to the show’s detriment if the visuals were toned down and wouldn’t fit with the setting.
Akira Yamaoka, famous for composing the Silent Hill franchise, serves as the show’s composer, and Studio Trigger could not have chosen a better composer for this job. Yamaoka’s skills shine, with beautiful and poignant tracks to emphasize the melodrama and tragedy, especially with how he integrates standout songs like “I Really Wanna Stay at Your House,” by songwriter Rosa Walton that are so raw at times that helps make the audience shed a few tears. Yamaoka also shows his skills for creating disturbing tracks such as when characters experience “cyberpsychosis,” adding a visceral feel to each scene.
By far the most important aspect of “Edgerunners” is the series direction and writing. The show writers and director Hiroyuki Imaishi manage to capture the punk ethos of “Cyberpunk” with compelling characters like Lucy and David and their crew of “Edgerunners.” These are characters with their own personalities, dreams and flaws and much like a typical protagonist written by Imaishi, they’re filled with white-hot passion, raging against a world that would suck out the life from them to fuel its classist hegemony. The narrative’s conclusion, while tragic, fits with the setting. Edgerunners is a prequel, and even though the protagonists do bloody the noses of their corporate overlords, those same mega-corps still exist in “Cyberpunk 2077.” Despite this, the story of David and Lucy matters because of how their relentless pursuit of their dreams despite the odds leaves a tremendous impact on the audience long after the ending.
The show itself is not without flaws though, as the show’s greatest weakness is its quick runtime and pacing. With only 10 episodes, each about 25 minutes long on average, the show does itself a disservice by not taking more time. The audience is presented with such unique characters that deserve more screen time to see who they really are but are constrained by the narrative’s focus on David and Lucy. It is a shame as more characterization for the rest of Edgerunners that David and Lucy run with would have made them feel more three-dimensional. One episode teases the audience with Main’s backstory before he became the leader of the crew, another teases the audience about the home life between the siblings Pilar and Rebecca, Kiwi’s past as the group’s Netrunner before Lucy, and Falco and Dorio hardly have any characterization at all! This one issue with the show’s writing and direction is the only thing holding it back from being a masterpiece.
In the end however, “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” is a nigh-perfect triumph as Studio Trigger has created perhaps their greatest work yet, and Netflix has helped create yet another wonderful adaptation of a popular video game like with Arcane and Castlevania. If you have the time, this show is a must-watch for how Edgerunners puts the punk back in Cyberpunk!
Kelly Baker is an alumnus of West Chester University of Pennsylvania.