'Cyberpunk: Edgerunners' Review - A Dense And Tragic Anime On Finding Love In A Capitalist Society | DMT
Back in 1982, a film by Ridley Scott, and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young, called “Blade Runner,” was released. It was set in the year 2019, and Scott imagined Los Angeles as a multicultural, classist, capitalistic, misogynistic, and violent hellscape. Our reality is not far from it. Due to globalization, cultures have merged with each other, bringing with it copious amounts of racism. Classism is at an all-time high, and the economic gap between the poor and the rich continues to grow. But since our brains have been programmed to “accept the grind,” we’ve entered a phase where corporations will keep exploiting us till the planet implodes. And since the thought of battling all this is too overwhelming, like in “Blade Runner,” “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” wants us to find something or someone that we truly love and fight for it.
“Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” is based on the universe created by Mike Pondsmith for the video game “Cyberpunk 2077”. The anime series is created by Rafal Jaki and written by Bartosz Sztybor, Yoshiki Usa, and Masahiko Ôtsuka, with Hiroyuki Imaishi and Hiromi Wakabayashi in the directors’ chairs. It follows David (Kenn/Zach Aguilar), a high school student who lives with his mother, Gloria (Yurika Hino/Gloria Garayua), in Night City. David spends his nights illegally brain dancing into people with cyber psychosis (a form of mental disorder caused due to replacing organic body parts with those made of chrome) and his days going to school. Gloria is hardly making ends meet as a first responder, and David makes matters worse by getting suspended from his school. By the time he realizes how much his mom wants him to get a proper education and a job, it’s too late because they become the victims of one of the many shootouts happening in the city.
Now, that is just one part of the three essential chapters in “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners.” The second chapter begins when David comes across a girl who steals microchips from the passengers on a train. When she tries to steal David’s chip, he catches her red-handed. She introduces herself as Lucy (Aoi Yūki/Emi Lo) and recruits him into this chip-stealing business, because he needs money to stay afloat. But this partnership ends up being a ploy to sell David out to the cyberpunk team made of Maine (Hiroki Tōchi/William C. Stephens), Dorio (Michiko Kaiden/Marie Westbrook), Kiwi (Takako Honda/Stephanie Wong), Pilar (Wataru Takagi/Ian James Corlett), Rebecca (Tomoyo Kurosawa/Alex Cazares), and Lucy herself. Why? Because Gloria used to be their supplier, and she was supposed to deliver the Sandevistan. However, since David is already wearing it, he promises to pay Maine back by working for him. What work? Hit jobs that a broker for the corporation called Arasaka (whose rival is the corporation called Militech) named Faraday (Kazuhiko Inoue/Giancarlo Esposito) gives to Maine.
As you can clearly see, the plot of “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” is dense, just like the game it’s based on (that’s an assumption after reading the reviews). There is a lot going on at any given time. A massive amount of attention is dedicated to world-building. Therefore, you have new terms, professions, powers, and weapons coming at you from the left, right, and center. Each episode is fast-paced, frenetic, and around 25 minutes long. Hence, you don’t have a lot of time to process everything, literally. That’s why the viewing experience can be overwhelming. And it seems like the writers and creators of the show are aware of that. So, they ground this over-the-top, action-heavy, science-fiction story with the help of themes like unachieved dreams, the unprocessed trauma of killing people for money (because that’s the only profession left for the under-privileged) and finding love in this hopeless place (and the very real fear of losing it because there is no place for organic things in Night City).
The amalgamation of all these elements cuts through the (necessary) clutter and gets you emotional. And while David’s effort to find his family in Maine’s team to overcome the loss of his mother is certainly endearing, the beating heart of this series lies in his and Lucy’s romance. Not just because it’s one of the only positive things in the plot, but also because of the visually dynamic way it is portrayed. Just like the plot, the entirety of “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” is kinetic. Every frame, every sound beat, every virtual camera move, every reaction, every little thing is pulsating with colorful energy. The credit for that goes to assistant director Yoshiyuki Kaneko; animation producers Shunsuke Shida and Naoko Tsutsumi; character designers Yoh Yoshinari, Yuto Kaneko, and Yusuke Yoshigaki; background director Masanobu Nomura; color designer Yukiko Kakita; composite director Tetsuya Kawata; editor Masato Yoshitake; sound director Hiroki Urakari; and composer Akira Yamaoka, in addition to the directors. But when it comes to David and Lucy, they slow things down to let the romance build and imbue them with several motifs that are then repurposed in tragic ways.
From a visual standpoint, the creators are clearly not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves. The most obvious ones are “Blade Runner,” “Blade Runner 2049”, “Akira,” “The Matrix” trilogy, and “Ghost in the Shell.” I mean, there’s even a shot that mimics the iconic rooftop drop sequence from the 1995 anime by Mamoru Oshii. But some of the not-so-obvious ones are (and this is a big guess on my part) “Cowboy Bebop” and “First Man.” The beautifully done opening title sequence, edited to the tune of “This Fffire” by Franz Ferdinand, really reminded me of “Tank!” by Yoko Kanno and Seatbelts; because of the use of silhouettes and its overall vibe. Lucy’s costume design has some parallels with that of Faye Valentine (Megumi Hayashibara/Wendee Lee). Whether or not that’s overly sexualized or a sign of the character’s sexually liberated traits, I’ll leave that to the experts. Why “First Man,” though? Because there’s a subplot about a character (keeping it vague here), who dreams of going to the Moon because they think that’s the only place, they’ll find solitude. And I think that’s beautiful.
Coming to the voice acting (Japanese only, because that’s the version I watched) in “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners,” every single actor is excellent. The way Kenn showcases David’s transformation from a person with just apathy in his veins to a leader who is reeling with the pressure of unfulfilled dreams is masterful. His voice chemistry with every single actor in the show is palpable, especially Hiroki and Aoi, who are excellent in their own right. As Maine, Hiroki brings a big brotherly vibe, which has an undercurrent of comedy. To be honest, everyone has a sense of humor, except Aoi. And there’s a big, spoiler-filled reason for it. That said, Aoi doesn’t make her sound drab or boring. She always makes it seem like she’s trying to avoid drowning in her depressive thoughts, and that effort is what makes Lucy an emblem of positivity. Michiko and Takako, as Dorio and Kiwi, sound as badass as their characters are. Tomoyo’s peppiness is amazing. Kazuhiko is terrifying. However, and this is maybe the only criticism I have, the show needed more of him.
In conclusion, “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” is an anime show worth investing your time and energy in. Because you’ll need both of those. As mentioned before, even though every episode is 25 minutes long, it takes a toll on your senses (in the best way possible). The characters keep reminding each other that they shouldn’t load their bodies with too much chrome, even though it feels good. In the same way, I am going to advise you to watch this show slowly instead of thinking that you are built differently, and you can take on all 10 episodes in one sitting. Also, if possible, try to watch it on a big screen, accompanied by the best sound system at your disposal, and in a darkened room. I don’t endorse the consumption of drugs, but all this is a roundabout way of saying that watching the show while being high (preferably with your loved ones) will be a transcendental experience.