Anime Review: Cyberpunk Edgerunners (2022)

TL;DR – chrome it up, become a cyberpunk and earn coin as a mercenary. Lucrative profession. Just don’t get killed or let the cybernetic implants drive you insane.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Another anime adaption on a hugely popular video game. Cyberpunk Edgerunners is based on the action role-playing game, Cyberpunk 2077, and there is plenty of material to tell a good dystopian yarn that mixes elements of “Sin City” with “Tron”.

The video game was lauded for its graphics and the anime lives up to the stylish sci-fi images and is a feast for the eyes. The story centres around a boy named David who attends an academy of elite students. Problem is you have to be rich and have all the latest gear to do the classes, and unfortunately David’s mother is barely making ends meet. She’s overworked and David resorts to using illegal mods to his tech to keep up in class.

When one particular class sees his modified technology cause all his fellow students’ headsets to explode, he becomes an outcast and is bullied. This leads to a series of tragedies including the death of his mother caught in a highway shootout and David’s eventual expulsion when he decides to chrome his body (i.e., have his spine operated on to install a cybernetic implant giving him superhuman speed) and taking out his anger and anguish on the bully at the academy.

He then joins a group of cyberpunk mercenaries known as edgerunners, who all have different abilities and have chromed up in different ways. As he rises up through the ranks, David becomes enamoured by Lucy, a netrunner with her own tragic past. She views Night City (the sprawling metropolis they live in) as a prison and dreams of one day flying to the moon.

While fulfilling a number of contracts that pay considerable coin, David becomes addicted with getting more cybernetic implants. This brings on the ever increasing risk of cyberpsychosis, a mental illness caused by the strain of having too many augmentations that results in psychotic breaks where the individual loses their sense of reality and become incredibly violent.

Combine this with corrupt megacorporations, organised crime, and gang violence, and you have the driving force behind the series. Will David survive and maintain his sanity, and will he end up with Lucy and escape Night City?

Between the chaos and brutality of the missions, there is a enough downtime, chemistry and emotional development between David and Lucy that you will care about their fates. This is crucial to ensure buy in, otherwise the whole thing is mindlessly violent and will feel pointless. While the animation is stunning, you still need characters you’ll invest in to get through the series and thankfully there is enough depth to our main duo that you will want to know what happens to them. David and Lucy are also supported well by Maine, an ex-military soldier who becomes a cyberpunk mercenary and leads the group initially before eventually succumbing to cyberpsychosis.

Arguably, it is a show that deserves repeat viewing but not for all the right reasons. One of the right reasons is that the animation scenes are complex and sumptuous, and they are worth watching again to pick up nuances that you will likely miss during the first viewing.

One of the wrong reasons for repeat viewing is that the subtitles are strangely displayed on screen so fast that you’ll need a cybernetic enhancement to read the dialogue and process it at lightning speed before the next bit of action occurs. I watch a lot of anime using subtitles (I don’t like dubbed versions) and I don’t usually struggle to keep up with the text but whoever did the subtitles in Cyberpunk Edgerunners needs to be fired. I frequently found myself having to rewind and pause so I could read the subtitles and figure out what was going on before hitting play again. An unfortunate glitch in an otherwise solid anime.

Thankfully, the final episode has minimal dialogue, and the climax combined with ripper soundtrack (especially “I really want to stay at your house” by Rosa Walton & Hallie Coggins) will elevate you to the moon even though your heart will be devastated by David’s final moments. Bittersweet but brilliant.

8.5 out of 10

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