Cyberpunk: Edgerunners shows Night City has more stories to tell

Studio Trigger and CD Projekt Red’s collaboration is a brilliant fresh lens into Cyberpunk

Legacies are not forged in the way a merc lives in Night City, but how they die. This idea permeates through both the game Cyberpunk 2077, and the newly released Netflix anime Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

The runners don’t lead a corpo life. They don’t get Platinum insurance with the Trauma Team. They’re not trying to secure their soul. Everyone is running from, or towards, something. And everyone runs until they can’t anymore. It’s this universal pursuit of more that Cyberpunk: Edgerunners dives deep on, to great success.

A long line of Cyberpunk

Comparisons between Cyberpunk 2077 and Cyberpunk: Edgerunners feel inevitable. Look at the snaking line of influence leading to Edgerunners; it’s a 10-episode anime series, a collaboration between Studio Trigger of Kill la Kill fame and Cyberpunk 2077 developer CD Projekt Red. It’s set in Night City, but one that’s adherent to both the video game and its roots in the Cyberpunk pen-and-paper role-playing game.

What results is a series with the visual flair and cinematography of Studio Trigger; the sights, sounds, and interpretations of imagined concepts into assets that can be rendered and displayed from Cyberpunk 2077; and the world, lore, and drive of Cyberpunk. And like Night City itself, all these disparate pieces click together into one whole that is spectacular.

You can see the fingerprints of Studio Trigger on Cyberpunk: Edgerunners everywhere. In obvious cases, that means the studio’s penchant for incredible action sequences, with emphasized weight and blows that rip apart everything around them. There’s no shortage of action here, and yes, there will be times where characters are practically rubbing foreheads in a verbal stand-off.

The look of the future

Trigger also shows some incredible character art and designs, though. Particular shots stuck with me because of how gorgeously they were framed, and the details included in the frame. The look of this world is certainly heavily informed by what’s come before, but also pushes to establish its own identity within it. 

Even just the main character’s jacket becomes a visual signifier, an immediately recognizable piece of the character as much as Kamina’s glasses from Gurren Lagann. Studio Trigger is given a host of source material to draw from, but then also the freedom to build their own story up and over it.

It’s because of the unique lens that Trigger has been given that it can explore Night City in new and interesting ways. One misunderstanding I’ve seen from those just catching up on Edgerunners is thinking it’s a Cyberpunk 2077 tie-in game. While cameos happen from time-to-time, it’s not in any way part of V’s story.

Rather, it follows David Martinez, a young boy whose single mother pulls extra hours and side hustles to put him through Arasaka Academy. David’s mom dreams of him rising to the top of Arasaka, of escaping the life they have: barely making ends meet in a mega-slum.

Life in Night City

When we see David Martinez’s daily routine in the first episode of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, it’s a beautiful contrast. He walks out of their apartment and over bodies. He leaps down several flights into garbage that is always there to catch him.

The further he goes towards the start of his day at the academy, the more we see fast-moving suits replace bodies on the streets. Smog gives way to clean air and falsified atriums. But David is looked down upon in school. To one in particular, he’s someone who brings a sickly reminder of those parts of Night City to school every day, to a place where it shouldn’t belong.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners gets a chance to explore these ideas in ways Cyberpunk 2077 never quite did. That story was concerned with V and Johnny Silverhand. It’s a constant race against time, as you deal with various factions who may or may not be able to get Keanu Reeves out of your head before it destroys your soul.

The edge of the line

For David, we see his life explode in a moment. We see how fast life can change in Night City, and how its systems do nothing to soften the blow. One of the most heart-wrenching moments early is when David is told his health care package doesn’t allow for visitation. A grim, sympathetic moment.

Edgerunners explores sides of Night City that V never does. The rise up the ladder for David does still get a bit of a montage, but it’s more drawn out. There’s an ensemble cast that interacts with each other. We see them hang out and do crime together. Little changes appear in them over periods of time.

We see cyber-psychosis, an affliction where people with too many artificial machine parts disassociate and go insane, explored in detail. In Cyberpunk 2077, it’s just the motivator for a set of ambient combat encounters in the world. It’s not something V can succumb to. But in Edgerunners, we see the ever-thinning line between getting more chrome to stay alive, and that chrome pushing one towards their doom. We see it in excruciating detail.

But I really wanna stay

As David falls in with a crew and strives to become an edgerunner, someone who carries out jobs for fixers to make a life for themselves in the city, we get exploration of all of them. Lucy, one of the main focal points of the story, is a netrunner with an unknown past haunting her. Maine, Kiwi, Becca, and others all make up a memorable motley crew that fights through hard times together.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners really succeeds in little ways, like how it adapts pieces of Cyberpunk 2077’s interpretations of the world. Studio Trigger incorporates a surprising number of details from the game. It’s not just city visuals and real locales, or the name-dropping (and even cameo appearances) of famous runners from through the years in Night City.

I love the way Edgerunners uses the call noise and icon. In a video game, where the player is in first-person and following a quest or set of events, the calls act as talking heads. But in Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, they’re just another means of communication. Calls and texts communicate story, but also emotional state. 

Night City calling

One character carries on a conversation non-verbally, while engaged in some other activities. In an early scene, a stream of aggressive, angry text serves to ramp up the tension, tightening and tightening the screws until they warp and twist. In a particularly memorable scene, we see Lucy staring at a “calling” icon, waiting for a response. The dial tone we’ve heard throughout the series is the only sound we get.

It’s really neat when you can visually see netrunners flipping through the sequence-matching minigame shown in Cyberpunk 2077, or characters talking about weapons that are common in the game. It makes Trigger’s Night City feel even more familiar, especially for those who have already explored this world in the game.

The Cyberpunk future

But Cyberpunk: Edgerunners also makes me hopeful for more stories to come from Night City. After my time with Cyberpunk 2077, I was pretty cool on the idea. CD Projekt has said they plan to keep supporting the IP, and I wasn’t keen on seeing more of it.

Now, seeing what this collaboration manages to pull off in ten episodes, I want to see more. It’s a blast to watch, from start to finish. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has moments of intense, explosive action and quiet remembrance. It can tug at your heartstrings with sad moments, and then put on an effusively heartwarming pseudo-first date. 

Edgerunners even digs into the Cyberpunk 2077 soundtrack to back these moments, finding summer love anthems and tense firefight tunes I had never found while turning the dial in Night City.

As an anime, an adaptation, and an extension of the Cyberpunk world, I can’t recommend Cyberpunk: Edgerunners enough. It’s turned me around on seeing more of what folks can do with this property. And in a short span, it’s proved that there are still many compelling stories to tell in Night City.

Images via Netflix

Eric Van Allen