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‘Cyberpunk: Edgerunners’: TRIGGER goes gloriously downbeat

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

‘Promare’ director Hiroyuki Imaishi’s ultraviolent action is colorful and kinetic, but it’s the quiet moments—lovely, sad, and otherwise, that make this Night City story sing.

Mike Pondsmith, creator of the tabletop RPG Cyberpunk—which video game studio CD Projekt Red adapted into Cyberpunk 2077 and which in turn led to the creation of Studio TRIGGER (Promare)’s 10-episode anime Cyberpunk: Edgerunnerssaid this:

Cyberpunk is about that interface between people and technology, but not in that transhumanist way where it’s all about the technology changing or improving them. It’s about how people use things. There’s a great Gibson (William Gibson, author of the seminal Neuromancer and one of the key figures of cyberpunk-the-form) saying: “The street finds its uses for things,” and that’s what Cyberpunk is about. Cyberpunk isn’t about saving humanity, it’s about saving yourself.”

In thinking about Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (and the modern Cyberpunk project as a whole—acknowledging the numerous and significant failings of 2077‘s development and launch, the game as it currently stands features some tremendously impressive character work and a defiant melancholy that, to get personal, has meant a great deal to me during a rough personal time) I’ve repeatedly come back to Pondsmith’s observation. As an action show, Edgerunners is a ton of (very, very bloody) fun. But, much like 2077, the parts that really sing are its quietest—precious moments of humanity or connection in an often soul-killing world.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners
Netflix – Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

Night City—the California megalopolis where Edgerunners and 2077 take place—is merciless. Most anyone who has any sort of power relative to someone else revels in viciousness and dominance politics. David Martinez (Zach Aguilar and KENN) knows this well. As a lower-middle-class kid attending a prestigious corporate school, he’s the favorite target of bullies whose family wealth lets them upgrade their cruelties with high-end cybernetics and programmed martial arts mastery. David endures to fulfill his mother’s dream, but he’s driven by love rather than passion. He’s a smart, anxious, lonely young man teetering on the edge of oblivion.

A series of nightmarish days ends with David with nowhere to go and packing both military-grade combat cyberware (an artificial spine and nervous system called a Sandevistan that he can use to speed up his perception of time and move faster than anyone not packing comparable tech can keep up with) and unusually strong resistance to its physiological and psychological side effects. He finds deliverance from his malaise in a crew of Edgerunners (cyberware-wielding mercenaries and outlaws) who, despite a guns-drawn introduction, take him on and teach him their world.

Most important to David among the crew are firm, fair leader Maine (William Christopher Stephens and Hiroki Touchi) and dream-chasing fellow loner hacker Lucy (Emi Lo and Aoi Yūki). Maine is a teacher and brother figure. Lucy, who pulled him into the Edgerunner life, is a peer and soon lover. They share loneliness and a perspective removed from Night City’s relentless day-to-day. Lucy dreams of going to the Moon. David’s trying to find a reason to live (as opposed to just -existing-), and making his beloved’s dream come true by becoming a top-tier Edgerunner is a pretty damn good one.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners
Netflix – Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

But Edgerunning is a violent trade, one whose legends are born in death. And everything in Night City has a cost.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners‘ mood is striking. Of the works by director Hiroyuki Imaishi (Promare, Gurren Lagann at Gainax) specifically and Studio TRIGGER generally (the Tsuburaya collaborations SSSS.Gridman and SSSS.Dynazenon) Edgerunners is the bleakest. It’s a downright downbeat show and one that gets bleaker as it progresses.

Its action is always visually stunning and thrilling to watch (the multicolored afterimages David leaves behind when using the Sandevistan are a reliable highlight, and Imaishi and his collaborators get creative with the ways David uses the tech). And without scolding the audience for enjoying its well-choreographed and bloody setpieces, Edgerunners makes a point of paying heed to the consequences both physical (what’s left behind is grody. What isn’t left behind is grodier) and mental (people hurt and harden in relation to that hurt, to say nothing of the mental strain that turning yourself into a weapon and regularly engaging in ultraviolence puts on someone).

Moreover, David’s desire to make his loved ones’ dreams come true is complicated by the fact that he’s driven as much by a need for a purpose as his sincere desire to do right by them. It’s part of a self-destructive side that becomes a larger issue as Edgerunners progresses. And, though Edgerunners is David, Lucy, and their fellow Edgerunners’ story, it’s just one of many merciless tales in Night City—a place so stubbornly resistant to change that it bounced back from a nuclear bombing more or less intact, a place that devours people.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners
Netflix – Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

Yet, while Edgerunners is committedly gloomy, it doesn’t wallow in monotone misery. The action, as mentioned above, is a thrill—and it possesses a welcomely grim sense of humor. The characters are colorful and memorable. And David and Lucy’s romance, fraught and thorny, is genuinely lovely. Two lonely people in a brutal line of work, people who’ve taken more than their share of hits, find in each other connection and the possibility of a tomorrow. Acknowledging that a well-done romance is catnip to me, David and Lucy’s tale is damn fine catnip.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is at its best when David and Lucy get to be still, in the comparatively brief moments of peace they dig out of their lives. They’re moments that are going to stick with me in the same way 2077‘s best moments have. It’s a damn good action show, a damn lovely romance, and a very, very fine piece of work from Imaishi and the TRIGGER crew. I dig it, I dig it a lot.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is now streaming on Netflix.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners trailer:

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