This Cyberpunk: Edgerunners review contains no spoilers.
Netflix has received quite a bit of criticism in recent years for everything from its overwhelming release schedule to its liberal cancelation policy. One thing the streamer is doing that should receive nothing but praise, however, is its growing track record with video game to anime adaptations. Last month Netflix released Tekken: Bloodline to rave reviews from hardcore fighting game fans, and now it’s added to that resume with the impressive Cyberpunk 2077 spin-off, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners.
The best adaptations are able to be enjoyed by people who are already immersed in the source material, and those who are jumping headfirst into the world for the first time. As someone who hasn’t played the game this show is based off of, one of the first thoughts that entered my mind was how much it made me want to try out Cyberpunk 2077. I am well aware that the game had a lot of technical issues, and was somewhat of a critical disappointment. Whatever the other reasons are for the complaints around the title, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners certainly doesn’t follow in their footsteps. This is an anime with a lot to say about friendship, grief, and the relationships humans have with a world evolving technologically but devolving socially.
The story follows a teenager named David. He is an underachiever at the advanced high school his mother has placed him into, and he is unable to fulfill her wishes and dreams of him succeeding in this environment. When she dies in a car accident caused by a shooting, David is left to fend completely for himself, and he turns to the technology–infused underworld of Night City for social comfort and financial needs.
The ability of the animators of this show to create a world that is simultaneously bright and vivid, yet melancholy and depressing is no easy feat to pull off. The art style is deeply tied to the cyberpunk aesthetic that has been established by other authors and creators in the last several decades. The genre has a lot to say about the state of a world in which capitalism has succeeded in totality and is not necessarily good for the population inhabiting it. Technology, innovation, and artificial intelligence is only useful for the people who can afford it, and everyone else is left in the dust, just trying to hang on and survive.
David is the epitome of this theme, and his decision to become an edgerunner is a depressing analogy for the depths young people turn to in times of crisis. In the show, edgerunners are people who choose to outrun the law to gain access to the advanced technological world they’re living in. But that doesn’t mean the people who choose this lifestyle are morally inferior to law-abiding citizens. As more layers get pulled back on the authority figures in Night City, the line between who’s good and who’s evil is a little more gray.
A special shout out should be given to the tremendously talented Giancarlo Esposito (Better Call Saul), who voices one of the more interesting side-characters in the show, Faraday. TV still has the benefit of getting bigger guest stars and name value involved in projects. As gaming continues to grow in popularity and perhaps surpass television and film one day, people like Esposito will prioritize voicing gaming icons rather than just TV ones.
This show also has the benefit of hindsight. It has taken the best parts of what made the game enjoyable, such as the cyberpunk aesthetic of Night City and the cool weapons the characters use to fight their enemies, and perfectly placed them onto the TV screen. They don’t need to worry about bugs or slow-down. They don’t have to worry about whether the show is too long or too short like the game. Instead, the team behind Edgerunners has distilled the key positives of the universe and thrown out the hiccups.
There’s so much to think about in a video game. Some developers simply aren’t skilled enough to execute everything their fans come to expect: graphics, gameplay, runtime, characters, story lines, controls, and the list goes on and on. Something often gets the short end of the stick. When adapting a video game for the television, you get to solely focus on the plot and the characters, the two parts of storytelling TV is still the master of over almost any other medium.
Television allows fans to realize what made them originally excited for a video game, and it brings in new fans (see both of my hands raised!) who get to learn about a setting they normally wouldn’t have given a try. If the two mediums can continue to work with each other in this manner, the entertainment industry can really start to coalesce into one grand experience.
The streaming world of Netflix has made this more easily accessible for subscribers, starting with the well-received League of Legends series Arcane. Now Cyberpunk: Edgerunners continues to hone the blueprint. It’s a show nobody should miss out on if you have even a slight interest in science fiction or social commentary on capitalism and technology.
All 10 episodes of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners are available to stream on Netflix now.