Cyberpunk: Edgerunners — Masking Melancholy with Punk Attitude

The challenging task of adapting a video game property into a show or film has always been difficult due to how distinct the mediums are from each other. The various attempts made over the years have often been met with negative reception, especially if the adaptation strays too far from the source material or fails to retain the aspects which made the game’s story enjoyable. However, there are times when an adaptation is done right and welcomed by fans and newcomers alike.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, an anime collaboration between CD Projekt RED and Studio Trigger released on Netflix, is one of the few exceptions that falls into the category of successful adaptations.

Set about a year before the events of video game Cyberpunk 2077 (which is based on the Cyberpunk universe created by Mike Pondsmith), the story revolves around teenager David Martinez as he navigates his way through Night City. A resident of the lower class, he and his mother try to make the best of daily life despite struggling to make ends meet and being looked down upon by the upper elite. After a tragic accident, David is then forced to make it somehow on his own. He ends up meeting and creating unexpected bonds with a group of misfits who are usually on the wrong side of the law: cyberpunks, also referred to as “edgerunners.”

The cyberpunk genre is fascinating in that it usually showcases a futuristic setting where oppressed individuals try to fight against the system and corrupt authority. While Edgerunners could have played it safe by relying on these genre tropes, its biggest strength is how it doesn’t aim to be a recreation of the game. Instead, it borrows its setting and themes to create an original story set within that world, with the focus centered more on the characters and their respective struggles of simply residing and surviving in Night City.

While not overly contemplative, there is a sense of profundity and beauty in seeing broken and flawed people connect and become a found family of sorts. You can feel how every member of this group, quirks and all, deeply care about one another and would gladly put it all on the line to protect each other. Some childlike innocence, though having been disillusioned then rediscovered, is also shown, particularly between Lucy and David. It is admirable how much care was put into creating characters that felt grounded and relatable, albeit within a cyberpunk setting. The weight of having to push onward despite experiencing traumatic consequences is certainly at the forefront, especially since Night City is a place where dreams are usually out of reach. As they say, you can never really trust anyone.

From a production standpoint, the way Studio Trigger switches its approach with this story is both welcoming and engaging. Unlike their previous projects, like Promare and Kill la Kill which are more bombastic, Edgerunners is somewhat subdued and provides more opportunities for the audience to appreciate the quieter moments. That being said, the action scenes don’t hold anything back. They are extremely brutal, bloody and over the top (but in the best way). Additionally, the mature nature of Night City is on full display so don’t be alarmed if you see some nudity and implied sexual themes.

The score composed by Akira Yamaoka (of Silent Hill fame) is excellent and hits every beat perfectly. As well, the songs used throughout the series evoke the various emotions needed to fill each scene, especially the final moments of the last episode.

Overall, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is one of the more rare and wonderful adaptations that respects its source material while simultaneously creating an original story. It is clear how every detail is well thought out to showcase an emotional throughline within all ten episodes, ending in a conclusion that strays from the norm in a very [cyber]punk fashion.

- A. Shin

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