Content warning: Strobing lights, graphic sexual content, gratuitous violence, hypercapitalism
What’s it about? David Martinez is a smart kid whose mother dreams of him one day getting a stable corporate job, but that lofty ambition is next to impossible in the hypercapitalist hell that is Night City. When David finds himself alone and next to penniless, he sets out on an all-or-nothing gambit to stake his claim in the city.
As far as accessibility for this show goes, I’d like to mention one piece of advice before I begin the review proper: if you’re watching the show with the normal subtitles and Japanese audio tracks, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners made the decision to use hard subs reading out the call logs for people on the phone. It’s very cyber. It’s not very punk.
Aside from the fact the text sometimes scrolls too fast to catch some messages, Edgerunners also makes reading those subs incredibly hard while David is having a panic attack toward the end of episode 1. It’s very dramatic, but if you need subtitles to actually understand what people are saying, it’s a frustrating experience, especially because the call log text isn’t the most legible text either.
For those who are having trouble picking up the hard subs, you can turn on the “English [CC]” subs to have the hard subbed text also display as regular subs on screen. I’m just annoyed this is an extra step that you might need to take.
Anyway, TL;DR: this is my review of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners.
What? Did you need me to actually write a review? Fine, here:
Cyberpunk 2077 as a franchise has established itself as something that screams style over substance, and it screams so loud it blows out your ear drums, or at least maybe give you a seizure or two. The late-2020 game just wanted to be so very edgy, it trampled anything I could feel was goodwill by the time it came out infested with bugs. So having its official anime made by Imaishi Hiroyuki and Studio Trigger of Promare fame invited a moment of reflection.
Of course this show is going to look good. It’s going to look magnificent. It’s going to ooze style and feel like everything cyberpunk should look like. That’s the easy part of creating cyberpunk. And Imaishi’s work is, if anything, colorful and capable.
To top it all off, I went into this show knowing the opening was set to Franz Ferdinand’s “This Fffire”, and I’m kind of a sucker for those guys.
The question was, can a work by Studio Trigger, in collaboration with CD Projekt, create relevant cyberpunk in the year 2022?
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners makes a decent first impression by setting up David as a smart but resource-poor underdog in a city where you need money to get anywhere in life. He’s got everything you need for a story that hits at the crux of being a relevant critique on capitalism through a world where every last bit of your personal life is monetized and monitored.
David lashes out not to build a better world, but — following Mike Pondsmith’s own philosophy of cyberpunk — to save himself.
But being exactly what Cyberpunk 2077 is itself preventing Edgerunners from being relevant in 2022. The show has the look down, but the aesthetics Studio Trigger unironically adopts are a now-40-year-old classic question of: “what if Asians colonized America?”
Cyberpunk 2077‘s setting revolves around that same mentality as the Arasaka Corporation serves as the dominant economic boogeyman in Night City. It seems Japan, Inc. continues to pull all the strings in 2077, as Arasaka plays the dominant antagonist for the series.
And at a time when the U.S. is facing a rise of anti-Asian hate, I can’t help but feel relevant cyberpunk must move past those racial labels and refocus on class warfare.
And there are other points of criticism for Cyberpunk: Edgerunners as well. One is that it really wishes to be as E D G Y as it can be. I even wonder if Trigger is aiming to bring back an age of “ero guro nansensu.”
The opening scene is a grindhouse splatterfest of a cyborg mass murdering a crowd of cops with a hail of bullets and cybernetic enhancements. Gore splatters police cars as the cyborg assailant rips and tears in a cybernetic enhancement induced psychotic episode.
Violence is ubiquitous in the first episode, both peripherally and focally as David encounters violence everywhere he goes: at school, on his commute and, ultimately, in his last moments with his mother.
And the same goes for sexual content as well. With that eager sense of taboo reminiscent of a teenager tuning in to watch Sex and the City to see a breast for the first time in their life, Edgerunners seems giddy to titilate with sexual situations. Often times, they come as in-your-face nonsequitor cuts aimed at scandalizing more than being erotic.
Brain dance junkies convulse on the side of the street with a fleshlight strapped around their dick in broad daylight. Join the morally grey ripperdoc’s POV as he watches three hot girls fuck him at once! It’s edgy! It’s flavor! The people here are sex addicts! But also, it almost feels like Trigger was putting all this in to test just how much blood and cum they can splatter around in a show before Netflix called in the Studio Passione censorship team.
I had joked that, surely, Edgerunners at least won’t have the strange bug that populated the game with dildos. But, while I have yet to see a silicone dong do any environmental storytelling, those jackoff machines are really doing work in this show.
And this is all just an introduction to the world of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, because the first episode merely serves to set the scene for David’s journey. We have yet to even be properly introduced to the show’s deuteragonist: Lucy, a girl who is one vague step above a manic pixie dream girl.
In all fairness, I love her, but she’s designed to be that way. She’s mysterious, feral. She commits crimes. She only stocks beer in her fridge. She’s the model partner for David to learn how to live a little from.
Lucy is here to keep you interested in the show, because David is kind of in over his head after episode 1.
But you know what? If I fawned over Nazuna in BNA, you better believe I’m going rabid for genderbent sexy Lio Fotia.
And Lucy could very well be something deeper and more complex as story progresses. There’s a hint that there’s something more to her. However, this is Cyberpunk 2077. This is an anime made by Studio Trigger. I am not holding my breath for this show to pull an Akudama Drive.
And honestly, that’s how you should probably watch Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. You’re here to titillate your id, not enriching your understanding of transhumanism in an increasingly dystopic and dysphoric reality. This is a show that will likely burn you harder the more you think about it. So turn on that Lovense and put on your Oculus Rift samurai, we got an anime to watch.