Video game adaptions have a checkered history, but anime consistently seems to be the best medium for alternative content based on video games. Following in the footsteps of shows like Castlevania and Arcane, Netflix’s new Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a phenomenal adaption of the source material that fully makes use of the series’ key themes about transhumanism in a cyberized world. In fact, it delivers a more compelling story than anything found in Cyberpunk 2077.
The events of Edgerunners take place one year before the start of Cyberpunk 2077, and the Night City of the anime will look quite similar to anyone that’s played the game. The show uses locations from the game, and there are even a few familiar characters that pop up along the way. Edgerunners follows David Martinez, a street kid struggling to survive while his mother scrounges every penny she can to send him to Arasaka Academy. Like most stories in the cyberpunk genre, tragedy hits David’s life and continues to strike throughout the series.
Before long, David has a life-changing meeting with an Edgerunner named Lucy and joins up with a group to start pulling off jobs. In the game’s universe, an Edgerunner refers to someone who lives on the edge and generally works jobs outside of the law, outfitting their bodies with cyberware and other technical enhancements. Lucy is instantly one of the most memorable anime characters in recent memory. She’s a stylish and aloof netrunner with a traumatic past that informs so much of her identity, and the way the show peels back her layers is a wonder to behold.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is filled with plenty of action, explosions, and cursing, but what’s most impressive about the show is the surprisingly thoughtful and emotional relationship at the heart of everything.
Underneath all the neon glamour Edgerunners is really a story about two people struggling to find their place in a hostile world while protecting each other. They each have their own development arc across the 10-episode series, but their evolving relationship is the most compelling part of what’s going on.
There’s also a strong ensemble cast to back up the core duo. The foul-mouthed and diminutive Rebecca stands out as a hilariously unhinged highlight, while the unscrupulous villain Faraday makes a good foil to David.
Impeccable pacing in a meaningful overarching narrative full of memorable characters is the recipe for good TV, and Edgerunners has it all. Each episode has at least some kind of action, and it becomes unabashedly violent and/or gory at some points.
Studio Trigger was the absolutely perfect choice to bring Cyberpunk to anime, as the studio’s trademark eclectic style works wonders here. The bright neon colors of Night City really pop, and the animation really has a sense of “impact” with bullets exploding heads and massive blows from mechanical arms making horrific bone-crunching noises.
Action scenes consistently make use of dynamic camera angles, and there are some neat tricks the animation does to represent characters moving at high speeds. All of this is highlighted by a bumping soundtrack that sports a few original songs on top of plenty of ones from Cyberpunk 2077.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners really feels like it makes a blueprint for how CD Projekt Red should approach this franchise moving forward. Sure the show has all the “Choombas” and other slang the game does, but there’s a genuineness that the anime has that the game simply lacks. Although there are certainly some strong narratives in the game, much of Cyberpunk 2077’s storytelling feels like it's specifically trying to be “hard” and “edgy.”
While Edgerunners has a lot of those same elements, it’s more concerned with making characters that feel like real people. Because of that, the season’s climax feels memorable and important. So much of Edgerunner’s story isn’t happy, but it definitely winds up feeling immensely cathartic.