Let's take a stroll down memory lane: the 1980s were a wild time within the anime medium, with films such as Akira, Demon City Shinjuku, M.D. Geist, Vampire Hunter D, and Wicked City being just a few examples of movies that dove into animated worlds bursting with violence and nudity. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners feels like the spiritual successor to these properties, presenting a world of technological advancement which is also mired in decay, and in embracing this landscape, takes first place for original Netflix anime properties.
To start, this series is based on the controversial video game from CD Projekt, Cyberpunk 2077. Luckily, you don't need to know anything about the game's universe to dive right into Edgerunners. The anime follows a young man named David, who possesses quite the powerful tech but pays a heavy price in its acquisition. David might not break the mold when it comes to your typical anime protagonist, but he works well as an avatar for the viewers, who could easily see themselves in his shoes, even though those shoes are typically moving at light speed thanks to the new spine implanted in his back.
The series isn't afraid to explore some dark territory, but what works so well about David's story is the light-hearted family he eventually finds in a gang of "Cyberpunks," a.k.a. mercenaries who use their advanced technologies as guns for hire, with the series giving us brief segments exploring each member of the crew's character and how the protagonist fits into their worlds. Edgerunners manages to deftly balance humor and nihilistic story beats shockingly well, while also getting you to root for David along the way.
Another key takeaway from David's story is that he also happens to be a high school dropout who finds himself in a criminal world in which he messes up...a lot. The learning curve for the powerhouse teen works well in showing that David might be in another league thanks to his tech but is still a fish out of water in more ways than one. The father/son relationship that David has with the leader of the gang, Maine, is a laid-back one and reinforces the fun and chemistry of this underworld gang.
Studio TRIGGER, who might be best known for their work on the likes of Promare, Kill la Kill, and Little Witch Academia, is firing on all engines here and Edgerunners feels like their best work to date. There are some truly staggering visuals along the way and TRIGGER can capture them with ease. Series like Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star were able to surround their characters with amazing technology while also making their protagonists relatable and making their tech seem mundane at the same time. Edgerunners excels at this, allowing the extraordinary to feel down to Earth. The animation here is as energetic and exciting as is necessary for a story involving androids leaving behind light image versions of themselves while holding onto a gun bigger than their own arm, and I was reminded of visuals from the classic anime film Redline when witnessing some of the battles displayed here.
As mentioned earlier, Edgerunners is a series that isn't shy about its ultra-violence, and while some of the stars will meet gruesome ends, TRIGGER was able to help make those scenes hit that much harder when they inevitably happen to a member of the crew that we came to know over the ten episodes. TRIGGER uses an animation style that is fluid, energetic, and crackling with power along the way, helping to keep your eyes transfixed on the screen in fear that you might miss an animation cell along the way.
I would be bereft if I didn't mention the amazing soundtrack by Akira Tamaoka here, who uses a combination of synth and contemporary tunes to give Edgerunners a different feel from many other shows in the anime sphere. It feels risky but works exceptionally well in helping to push the world of David and his unorthodox new family. It's a rocking soundtrack that accompanies the visuals and story exceptionally well.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is hands down a Netflix anime original that screams for your attention and is easily one of the best productions that the streaming service has presented. Fan of the games or not, Edgerunners is well worth your time.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is now streaming on Netflix.