Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is 2022’s must-watch anime

While we have more than plenty to look forward to with 2022’s fall anime line-up, if you have yet to watch Cyberpunk: Edgerunners then now is the prime time to do so. Don’t let this one get bogged down in your to-watch list because of other upcoming anime commitments or because it’s a Netflix exclusive anime. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has put the previously disappointing anime distribution side of Netflix back on the map, especially after the egregiously soulless Bubble.

As an aside, before we get into it properly, one thing I find incredibly adorable about Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is how its dub has Emi Lo and Zach Aguilar voicing the leading couple — when both of these actors also voiced the main characters of the aforementioned Bubble. Also, the cast includes Matthew Mercer as Falco and Giancarlo Esposito as the villainous Faraday. What more convincing do you need to watch it?

Anyway, what was I saying?

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners follows the tale of David Martinez, a directionless kid who is enrolled into the Arasaka Academy thanks to his hardworking mum; she has her own dreams for what her son will end up doing and achieving.

After a tragic turn of events that leaves David in a vulnerable and powerless position in Night City, a dystopian nightmare where the majority of its civilians barely manage to get by, our hero is left more alone and unmotivated for life than he has ever been before. That is until he meets Lucy and eventually ends up joining Maine’s Edgerunners crew, who she works for.

The familiarity of Night City

Cyberpunk Edgerunners

First things first: those who are unfamiliar with the Cyberpunk setting will still be able to enjoy Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, even if you’ve never played either the video game Cyberpunk 2077 or the original tabletop RPG. CD Projekt Red and Studio Trigger made the wise decision to give the anime its own self-contained storyline while still including plenty of references for existing fans to notice and appreciate.

Many of these references are found in the form of cameos, including characters without voice lines who are tucked away in the background for eagle-eyed fans to spot. There are also some exclusive anime-only scenes that validate pre-existing notions about certain characters, such as Adam Smasher well and truly living up to his name. The show also pokes fun at the video game and its many issues — such as how NCPD enemy units seemingly appear out of thin air, as mentioned at one point by the character Maine.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is set in the year 2076, placing its events a year prior to the video game. Structurally, the anime does a great job of making the audience feel affection for its characters in the space of just 10 episodes. You’ll feel strong emotions and easily connect with the various characters thanks to their on-screen presence, their antics, their relationships with one another and their simple unification as a found family of sorts. It’s something that some longer-running shows fail to do even within 24-episode runs.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is action-packed, with guns blazing galore — you can thank Rebecca for the entertaining chaotic energy she provides in all the show’s shootouts — but when it wants to get more emotional, it’s not afraid to keep things realistically tragic. Through the cast’s group dynamic and persona journeys, we see how this setting squeezes every last drop of hope out of these characters. It’s a lesson that the shounen genre should learn a thing or two from: it manages to make all character interactions poignant — and all the more gut-wrenching when they leave us far too soon.

As anyone familiar with the Cyberpunk world might expect, the show is filled with tragedy. The world is not kind to anyone, and the characters often fail to help themselves even when they have the best of intentions. They overestimate their own abilities, they find themselves trapped in cycles of addiction — and even simple communication errors can be the catalyst for terrible tragedies.

Most of these incidents stem from the characters’ strong, desperate need to protect those closest to them. It’s the most sacred thing that gives them drive in such a hopeless world. In fact, throughout the show there’s really only a single example of a supporting character who does a selfish act for their own benefit; everyone else has someone they choose to live for in order to make them happy — and this often involves being content with their own standing in such a cold, cruel world.

In a way, this makes the show’s story a bit predictable, especially as both a spin-off and prequel to Cyberpunk 2077 — the payoff can be seen from a mile away. But that just makes it all the more tragic, because things go down as depressingly as you might expect. It never gets easier.

Everything you could ask for

Let’s talk a bit about the show’s main tragedy, and the emotional core of the plot: David and Lucy’s blossoming relationship. Lucy is initially presented as mysterious and quiet, as she hides a dark, depressing origin story that she gradually opens up about to David.

Lucy’s revealing of her background complements the growth of their relationship, and sells it effectively — with the cherry on top of it all being how they give one another a sense of purpose and a reason to grow, either for representing a feeling of “home”, or a new-found reason to live.

The show doesn’t hide the reality and gravity of the situations way before things happen. There’s plenty of foreshadowing about David’s past relationships and self-destruction, with lots of visual parallels being drawn. Keep your eyes peeled and compare the very first and final shots where David is on screen, for example.

David’s reason for existence is to see through the dreams of those who had perished in his past — while never forgetting to help Lucy experience her own along the way. In the end, as Edgerunner group leader Maine tells him, “you don’t make a name as a cyberpunk by how you live. You’re remembered by how you die.” And David certainly makes a name for himself while living for the sake of others.

He goes down in Night City history as a relatable hero; one who rose up from being a directionless young man into being someone who found purpose in life: carrying the legacies of those closest to him. He even teaches that exact life lesson to Lucy in order for her to maintain her own sense of hope at the very end. The message is simple and effective: we find meaning in our own existence through the bonds we make, no matter how bleak the world might be, and how untrustworthy those born within in might seem to be. It’s what drives us into growing and becoming stronger.

There’s always something more at play, even when we look at the corporate scum villains of Arasaka and Militech. And looming over it all is the threatening possibility of destroying one’s own psyche from cyberpsychosis due to excessive cybernetic augmentation of the body. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners’ ending manages to hit on all these aspects as David’s character arc comes to a close: carrying on the dreams of both the living and dead as he battles against cyberpsychosis, and how he passes on the metaphorical torch to the last person he touched deeply. It’s a wonderful way to wrap up the tragic, defiant tale Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has to tell.

Breathing new life into Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has everything you would want from such a work: a dystopian nightmare of a setting, the limitless potential of the previously established world and its themes, and plenty of talent working on it, including direction from Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann, Promare, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt). It’s no surprise that it ended up being so impactful.

The sheer perfection of it all has introduced new fans to the IP and made a lot of us revisit Cyberpunk 2077. To go along with the anime, the game got a new update with plenty of new features, including the ability to acquire David’s jacket and Rebecca’s shotgun, an opportunity to visit the apartments of the show’s main characters and the ability to take on David’s name by talking to Claire in the Afterlife bar. Truly the best way to honour a legendary Edgerunner.

All in all, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is an emotional, heart-pumping wild ride. To see the Cyberpunk world shine and thrive was our greatest desire with Cyberpunk 2077, and it was a bit of a shame when certain aspects weren’t all they could have been. So seeing Trigger and everyone else who worked so passionately on this anime project make sure it came out as golden as it did makes me insanely happy. Give the anime a watch right now and see for yourself. You’ll love every second of it.

Catch it now on Netflix.

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Lilia Hellal
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