You’re probably just as surprised as I am. We’ve known the Cyberpunk 2077 anime was just around the corner, after all we’ve been told about it for months thanks to social media posts by Netflix. But expectations were low, I mean let’s be real; a Netflix series? In the year 2022? Netflix has mostly brought us either hastily 3D animated series like Kengan Ashura and Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 or completely missed the mark with live action series like the ill-fated Cowboy Bebop adaptation. While there’s a few diamonds in the rough when it comes to Netflix, the company isn’t exactly synonymous with quality anime.
Enter Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, a Netflix produced anime based on a western game that seemingly flopped at launch with bug issues and refunds. Even with all-star studio Trigger at the helm, expectations were tepid at best. In the weeks leading up to the premiere, I expected another soulless cashgrab trying to salvage the Cyberpunk IP after the game’s abysmal launch. I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.
Publishers: CD Projekt Red
Director: Hiroyuki Isaishi
Premiere: September 13, 2022
Caution: Spoilers ahead but I’ll try and keep them minimal
One thing I hadn’t expected from this series was actual “cyberpunk”, and I mean the genre not the franchise. More than just “cool future”, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners does a good job showing and telling the user about the social and economic dynamics that make Night City the way it is. Our protagonist David Martinez is a young man who joins the criminal world of Night City after being expelled from his corpo academy and his mother’s death.
The world of Cyberpunk is bleak but colorful, life is short and brutal and only the most audacious personalities manage to thrive. David finds himself recruited by the netrunner Lucy and inducted into Maine’s group of edgerunners. Edgerunner is a catch-all term for the criminal mercenaries that keep the economy of Night City actually functioning. It’s a vicious cycle of corporations creating a system where men and women are driven to the desperation of edgerunning, and then hiring them to do their dirty work. It’s a proxy war of authoritarian corporations with people just trying to get by in it and it’s created the culture of 2077 (or 2076 in the anime).
To that end, the story of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is nothing less than phenomenal. The main cast are all relatable in some way (massive amounts of cybernetics not withstanding), making every episode a joy to watch because you’re actually invested in what happens; and you never really know what’s going to happen next in this show.
Trigger’s unique style fits in perfectly with Night City, the cel-shaded colors that made Promare look so weird are right at home in the neon streets of the near future. Beautiful animation, visual gags, and just the right amount of anime-style melodrama, Trigger hit just about every note perfect and you’d be hard pressed to have found a better studio for this project.
If there’s anything Trigger knows how to do, it’s knowing when you want smooth animation and when you want to go full gremlin mode in your art. While technically it’s a Gainax series, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt shows this off perfectly if you’re familiar with how the series normally looks compared to the transformation sequences (Trigger was founded by former Gainax animators).
The studio also went all out on character design, not being shy about showing off cybernetic enhancements and wacky cyberpunk fashion. Not to mention everyone’s favorite loli gremlin Rebecca is walking around with fluorescent hair, pizza colored eyes, and a “DICK” tattoo on her thigh. On the other end of the spectrum you’ve got tastefully chromed out characters like Maine and Lucy. It’s an unfortunate problem in anime that some characters can only be told apart by their hair, but that’s never a problem here.
The voicework is fantastic in Japanese with Lucy voiced by industry veteran Aoi Yuuki (Puella Magi Madoka Magica, My Hero Academia) and David voiced by “KENN” (Mushibugyou, IDOLiSH7: Third Beat!). The English voice is passable, and that’s coming from me who has a kneejerk revulsion to dubs, but the English is arguably more immersive and uses in-game lingo and slang. One of the beautiful things about Night City is that it’s inundated with Japanese signage in both the video game and anime, that both languages can be considered immersive in my opinion. Afterall, with how much influence the Arasaka Corporation has, Japanese could easily be the lingua franca of Night City if you suspend your disbelief.
The music in Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has two noteworthy titles, one you’ve possibly already heard already is I Really Want to Stay at Your House which appears in the series as an insert song. The other is Let You Down which is used as the ending theme and received its own music video a few days before the series premiered. For those worried about spoilers, the music video contains its own original short story that takes place before the anime.
Ultimately, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is everything I wanted out of a cyberpunk series. Great character design, solid animation work, and the kind of story that makes you care about the characters. I like to think I’m a genre-savvy kind of guy and I think Cyberpunk: Edgerunners could almost be called the most exemplary piece of cyberpunk media in recent memory.
Normally this is where I’d say something along the lines of “If you like Cyberpunk 2077 or studio Trigger you should watch…”. But I’m not going to, everyone should watch this. It’s one of the series that will transcend niche genre barriers. You don’t have to be a sci-fi fan to like Cowboy Bebop, you don’t have to be a fantasy fan to like Fullmetal Alchemist, and you don’t have to be a cyberpunk fan to like Cyberpunk: Edgerunners.