Anime Review: Cyberpunk: Edgerunners – Wrong people, wrong city, but just the right story

My dream…is not going to the Moon anymore…

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a series that need no further introduction than CD Projekt Red x Trigger. CDPR – the creator of the Witcher series – has ventured to create Cyberpunk 2077. Trigger – the mastermind behind eccentric and unique series such as Promare, Kill la Kill, Inferno Cops and Gurren Lagann (I know it’s technically Gainax but we all know who put in the work). However, the game wasn’t received with warm welcome when it first debuted, with many flaws and false promises that drive their own fans crazy. But all of the sudden, the momentous release of Edgerunners revitalize the Cyberpunk fanbase and the game saw a massive spike in player count. What sort of magic did Trigger pulled to create such an effect?

First, we must say that this is an adaptation of the Cyberpunk 2077 game. Trigger, since its foundation, has prided itself on eccentric original works and made really, really few adaptation (and they are mostly very short too). So with Edgerunners, they had to “create” a world that matches the game, but also threw in their own idiosyncrasy. And of course, Trigger pulled a Promare once again. Night City – that sounds like something straight out of Cyber City Oedo, Bubblegum Crisis or Megazone 23, yet the place is extremely vibrant and colorful. Of course, we get a lot of neon overload because Trigger will use the full RGB spectrum for their series, especially with the background. It’s basically Jackson Pollock but easier on the eyes. But of course, those “colorful” pallet is just to contrast the “reality” of Night City.

For 2077 players, Corpo War is a very familiar term. Imagine Capitalism on steroid, and some more crack, and you get Cyberpunk. Extreme corporate greed from the rich and haves revolve around a terrible trickle-down economy that drive the have-nots and the poor to the edge (pun intended). The people sitting on the highest level of Night City enjoy a life of luxury, comfort and extremely hedonistic. Meanwhile, the lower level citizen has to work day-and-night, and even then, that might not even be enough. That lead common people to resort to a life of stealing and getting stolen from. They steal each other’s possessions, steal each other’s life, and even their memories. In the world of Cyberpunk, anything and everything can be taken from you. Unless you decide to take back and stand your ground – potentially sacrificing own humanity in the process – you will never rise beyond your “allocated” position of your birth.

And our protagonist is exactly that. David is a crude and reckless teen molded by Night City’s lifestyle. Aside from his love for his mother, there isn’t many redeeming points about him. He wasn’t even shown to be a “good-hearted” citizen. Because in Night City, that sort of people don’t survive. However, when the situation calls for it and if the people he cares for are in a bind, David became a selfless guy and dove straight in – a quality that we often see in shounen protag. A combination of a life in a dystopian city, a crude and rash personality but a normal loving heart just like a normal person makes David a perfect canvas for a tragic hero story. Yes he was driven to a life of crime and less-than-legal deeds, but deep inside his heart he cares for his loved one deeply. An encounter with Lucy really set his destiny on its direction. However, of course, it was also the very thing that led him to his destruction.

And then came in Lucy – an independent and free-spirited girl – at first glance. Of course these types of characters usually have a side that they don’t show anybody. Lucy exudes a mysterious confidence that immediately drew young and naive David in. I mean, after their first encounter and the ambulance thing, we knew poor David won’t be able to drag himself out of that swamp. Lucy eventually warmed up to David and decided to give him a chance. And their relationship actually progressed like a relatively normal one, but this is Cyberpunk and Night City – good things don’t last very long. Their relationship veered off when Maine and Dorio died – both are parents figures to Lucy and David in a way. While David took the advices from Maine and began chroming himself up so he could protect Lucy and everyone else himself, Lucy began to withdraw into her shelf and gradually wanting to leave this life of a “cyberpunk”. Both of them are heading in opposite directions, but their love for each other are still true. It’s a tragedy slowly slowly unfold in front of our very eyes like an inevitability.

Of course then Lucy started doing other reckless things so she could protect David from the shadow, while David continue to make a name for himself in Night City. The amount of misunderstanding and unsaid explanations kept piling up and it slowly choke out their relationship, but still the only thing that bind them together is Lucy’s “old” dream: going to the Moon. But while David is working himself to death and putting himself in harm’s way to realize it, Lucy has already started to abandon that luxurious yearning and she just wanted to stay with David, wherever they are. She doesn’t care about a luxury lifestyle, a fancy trip to the moon or anything, she just want him – the person that she originally sold out to Maine and treated like a young and naive buckling horse. Well, they say love is blind. And it truly is, since not only the both of them lost sight of their original self, but also each other in the process. The story shows that even if your love is strong, even if you want it very hard, the cruel hands of fate and capitalism will still squat you down like a fly. It is a cruel representation of reality where too many stories like David and Lucy happen. Of course, occasionally there are exceptions, but it’s a one in a billion chance.

Another highlight of the series is the “villain” that appeared at the end – Adam Smasher. He’s just a battle hungry brute that never stop seeking conflict. And violence to him is just a game. The winner will be the stronger and more violent side. He’s not deep, he doesn’t have an impressive background or anything of the like – he’s just a killing machine. Yet he represent everything wrong with the cyberpunk universe. The unstoppable and violent hands of the Mega Corpos and the sadistic tendency to squash the average people’s dream to fuel their own greed and enjoyment.

The writer of the series really did know how to bring the viewers up and down with the script. For people familiar with the Cyberpunk game, it may not come as such a huge surprise, but for first time audience, Edgerunners brought something quite fresh and unique – but not in a happy way. There are plenty of heart-warming moments in the series, but running beneath the surface is the mindless and cold grips of reality and tragedy. Small but gradually developing disaster slowly creep their way up and into the main characters’ life. David – from a low-level citizen that’s struggling to make ends meet, was greeted with a terrible disaster and sucked into a life of crime. However, there he found comrades and the girl he love. David also gain a new power to fight and protect himself and others he care about.His life was getting better and better everyday, but then incidents after incidents happen. He lost his mentor, his friends. He had to pick up the pieces but luckily, the girl he love wholeheartedly – Lucy – is still beside him. He spent a long time next to her – sharing intimate days together while climbing the society ladder in the shadow.

But as fate would have it, even if you’re a good-hearted person, your action will eventually catch up to you. David began to suffer heavy cyberpsychosis as he recklessly plunge into danger to fulfill Lucy’s dream – a dream that she has long abandoned. And to add salt to the wound, David was caught in a scheme by the megacorp to outright eliminate him. What’s painful is he was betrayed by his own comrade – but in Night City that’s just par for the course. David is like a lone wolf that shoulders everything and goes against the current of human greed. But because he went too hard too fast, he was too eager to fulfill Lucy’s dream and put it all behind that he didn’t notice the bad seed growing. It’s hard to say it’s David’s fault since it’s clearly the “top” at Night City whose cruelty is unlimited – who treated humans lower than them like cockroaches. But we can’t say that David’s method was the correct one either, since he got tunnel-vision and in the end, it was too late to turn back. Lucy could have actually stopped him, but she wanted to protect his pride, his heart – so she couldn’t stop him. So when things are already too far out of hands, she couldn’t do anything. Edgerunners told a story about cyberpunks who live life on the edge, and that they can fall off either side at any moment, and unfortunately, David fell onto the wrong side of the razor’s blade.

The visual direction in Edgerunners is a certified Trigger banger. If you’re familiar with Kill La Kill, LWA or Promare, then Edgerunner is a polished version of that. The aspect that stood out the most is the character frame and light direction. While the action and movement direction is still Trigger’s tried-and-true method, they incorporate more artistic lightings and color-grading to create the perfect Cyberpunk atmosphere. The choice of making the “daytime” in Night City super bright and vibrant while keeping the “nighttime” flooded with purple, red and blue neon create the ultimate contrast of the atmosphere, the society as well as David’s fate. The effect of David’s Sandevistan is also very cool. Trigger definitely woke up one day and decided they’re gonna use the entire rgb palette for Edgerunners. With how the series is already so vibrant, the Sandevistan help emphasize that even more to create a visual masterpiece. The series also includes a lot of mature scenes, both gory and sexual, so it’s best to watch it with people whose age are appropriate.

The anime’s soundtrack is also another amazing part. Seems that when it comes to production quality and staff, Trigger just can’t miss. Departing from the usual use of Hiroyuki Sawano’s beat drop, they turn to the West and EDM for some funky tunes for the punky punks. The opening song “This Fffire” is the perfect song for this futuristic yet ghetto anime. And the song “I really want to stay at your house” has become an incredible phenomenon after the anime aired because it is the perfect description of David and Lucy’s selfless love for each other. Despite not being in the anime, but rather the original game, the Netflix marketing team know exactly what makes us tick, and they quickly push the song to be David and Lucy’s couple song. Other insert songs also has that indie mixed with EDm/citypop vibe that’s quite in line with Martin’s origins.

Overall, Cyberpunk: Edgerunner is a surprising show undertaken by Trigger. The original game didn’t succeed in transmitting its message through the surface due to the production quality, but the anime has accomplished that. And in doing so revive the interest in the Cyberpunk universe by telling a complete story of romance, comedy and tragedy. The true face of a prosperous society is if the light shines bright, the shadow is even darker. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has also made its mark by winning Anime of the Year by The Anime Awards. And it’s a very convincing win. If you want a series that dwell deep into transhumanism as well as societal rifts and the two sides of human society, then this is the series for you.

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