Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is one of the most elaborate and effective advertisements I have seen. Reviving interest in an infamously poorly received video game, this self-contained side-story set in that game's world is one of the most hyped animated projects of the year, arriving on Netflix this September. But is the hype worthwhile for such a seemingly niche project? Well, usually I'd not even be interested in checking this out, but they got the right people to do this job. Studio Trigger is one of the best Japanese animation studios, and specifically the work directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi has always ended up great. Imaishi is the man behind two massively popular anime shows, Gurren Lagaan and Kill la Kill, both of which continue to ask the question of "how large scale and absurd can we push things?" while still keeping a relatively straight face. More recently he directed the movie Promare which also was an over the top, but exciting and brilliantly animated. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners shares a lot of the DNA of Imaishi's prior work, only dressed up in the pre-existing world of the Cyberpunk 2077 video game. Smartly, this show doesn't require any knowledge of the game to watch and, while canon to the video game, is more so just a different story told in its world rather than an expansion of the video game's characters and storyline.
Edgerunners takes place in a dystopian future where crime, corruption and cybernetic implants are the norm. It follows David, a savvy street kid, whose mother is trying to keep him on track by spending the majority of their household income on his private school tuition. However, after getting accidentally caught in the middle of a random drive-by shooting, his mother is left in critical condition and David is left on his own. He finds a military-grade cybernetic implant which he installs into his body which grants him superhuman speed and reflexes, and ends up joining a group of "edgerunners", who are black-market mercenaries.
The world of Cyberpunk is incredibly rich, and the first few episodes of this show prove it. Just a brief segment where David walks to school through the city paints an ugly dystopian tone. All the neon lights can't hide the fact that things are clearly not working out in Night City. Class disparity is too high, David cannot afford healthcare for his dying mother, his apartment locks him out when rent is past due and
A lot of my favourite parts of this series were the scenes where David's eyes are opened to the seedy underbelly of Night City. In piggybacking off of an existing universe imagined up by the game's developers, Edgerunners appears to be packed with ideas. Scenes are bursting with ideas you really get a feeling for the world of Night City, which is good for the purposes of storytelling as well as the perhaps cynically, grander scheme of advertising the video game to the viewer.
Japanese anime contains some of the most iconic and influential pieces of the 'cyberpunk' genre. Edgerunners lovingly salutes a lot of them, especially Ghost in the Shell. The hyper-violence that was common in a lot of older anime in the genre is present here, while not overly gruesome or lingered on, it's sometimes shocking to see characters explode into blood, bone and metal. Especially when considering the show is fairly liberal with killing off its cast.
Generally once things are set up after its first few episodes, this has a breakneck pace racing to its finale in episode 10. Ten twenty-five-minute episodes make it an easy show to work through, but its biggest drawback is that it needed some time to dial things back a bit. It's a show that, despite a big ending blowout, is better in its first half when more time is given to the characters simply existing in the world of Cyberpunk 2077.
Though perhaps this is by design. Cram a 12 episode story into 10 episodes and leave the audience wanting to spend more time in Night City, which they can do! By purchasing the Cyberpunk 2077 video game! It does make the show's purpose feel a bit nebulous, but there's enough great stuff on offer that Edgerunners is worth a shot, advert or not.
Fans of the genre won't be seeing too much particularly innovative within the plot of Edgerunners. Corporate corruption drives along the gang of mercenaries who start to feel like they're not quite on top of things like they thought. Interesting ideas are brought into play though, such as 'cyber-psychosis', which is an ailment that can occur when someone has become so decked out with cybernetic implants that they start to lose grip on reality.
In coming packaged as part of Cyberpunk 2077's world, the show is able to crib from the game's soundtrack. With a great original score and a set of tracks by a large variety of artists who were commissioned to create original material. I thought it was great and reminiscent of the similarly fast-paced classic anime FLCL, which let its soundtrack by Japanese alt-rock band play over many of its scenes. Cool to hear a band like HEALTH or The Armed play in a show like this. Though, Rosa Walton's track will remain the piece of music most associated with the show, and rightfully so! Hopefully it means more people start listening to her band's music.
While its hype might be a cause of gamers exiting their preferred form of media and discovering something like this for the first time, it's still hard to deny that Edgerunners is a pretty good show. With better pacing, perhaps a couple extra episodes to slow things down a bit before its bombastic finale, and it could've been a great show to stand alongside Gurren Lagaan and Kill la Kill, but as an extremely glorified advertisement for the infamous video game, it is not only alarmingly effective but way better than it had any obligation to be.