Netflix's anime series Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is the embodiment of '80s and early '90s anime. It's overly-dramatic, ridiculously bombastic, and exceptionally violent, set in the world of Night City, which we all know from CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk: 2077. The 10 episode series from Studio Trigger (Star Wars: Visions, Promare) arrives on Netflix on September 13, and for an anime series taking place in the world of a video game, it has no right to be this good.
The series follows David, a struggling student at a prestigious academy way out of the price range of what his working mother can afford. David joins the underworld of Night City, becoming an Edgerunner and dives into the world of body-modification. From there, he starts running with other Edgerunners, who are a misfit group of large personalities.
It's a story about classism, the little guy standing up for himself, greed, all while tinkering with the Ship of Theseus thought experiment. These are all typical tropes you'd see in a sci-fi anime–especially one from decades prior. And while David comes off early on as immature and a bit unlikable, his character arc is incredibly engaging and satisfying. Everyone can relate to youthful rebellion, wanting a better life for yourself, and trying to game the system, taking power from the privileged, so this show has the immense potential to hit that nostalgic part of your brain remembering your younger years.
However, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is sentimental for the past while creating its own path with a story and look that is reminiscent of anime like Akira, Battle Angel, and other sci-fi action content from that time. The action is over-the-top, featuring shootouts with hundreds of bullets flying across the screen in a matter of seconds and wildly-violent deaths where blood comes out of the dead like geysers. There are long, sweeping, dramatic moments as someone gets their body eviscerated at blood sprays all over the area. And that's one of the really fun things about Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. It's ridiculously bombastic.
That can be thanks to Studio Trigger's animation style, which has the viewer flying by the seat of their pants as they move through the story, but the show is just as much about the mise en scène as it is following David's journey. Every scene looks like art, something you can screenshot to use as your desktop image or phone background. The amount of attention that's paid to where things and people are framed is incredible.
And the animation itself is very fitting for this world. While it is the future of 2077, Night City feels very '80s or "Here's what someone from the '80s thinks the future is like." It's a lot of neon. It's a lot of high-collared clothing. It's a lot of bizarre-looking sunglasses. And because it's so heavily-inspired by that decade, the matching animation style really gives this show its own distinctive look and feel. It makes Edgerunners feel unlike a lot of the other modern--and popular--anime, in the best way possible. But the most important element for many people who have played the game is that Night City feels like its own living, breathing character, which it does here. Much like the game, Edgerunners can be a sensory overload of sights and sounds; however, the show and world still remain friendly to those who are visiting Night City for the first time.
There are a few issues within Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, but nothing that really hinders the series as a whole. Some of the dialogue is awkwardly translated or written. The point of what the character is saying isn't completely lost--but will have you scratching your head for a few moments when you try to piece together why they would phrase it so strangely. Continuing with the issues in the dialogue department, there are numerous times throughout the 10 episodes that there will be a slow pan of a back alleyway or a static, close-up shot as someone monologues. It's obviously a technique to save time and effort from animating the person talking, but it becomes a distraction from the action or what's just going on in the scene. At first, it does add to the previously mentioned mise en scène, but these moments tend to drag on a little too long.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a fantastic companion piece for those who love the world of Cyberpunk: 2077. It builds on the world of Night City and the characters from the underworld that live within it. Studio Trigger's dive into the world created by CD Projekt Red works exceptionally well, and it's one of Netflix's best anime dealing with someone else's IP. While there are minor issues with dialogue, it's a minor inconvenience for a series that is wildly more entertaining than it has any right to be.