This one has been a long time coming, but after watching the show a few times, and then checking out the reactions and reviews of it, I’m set. Let’s dive into the OVA masterpiece that is Cyberpunk Edgerunnners.

CAUTION: Spoilers for Cyberpunk Edgerunners Ahead. 

What it is…

Cyberpunk Edgerunners is Cyberpunk to its core. It encapsulates the realities and struggles of life in Night City and the perils of the edgerunner lifestyle in a way that few shows truly even touch on. I don’t hesitate to say that it’s very much an OG Cyberpunk campaign that’s been translated into animation, all the way down to the landmine trap that smoked Julio on his first Op with David’s Crew. 

What it isn’t…

I cannot overstress this, but some people need to hear it. Cyberpunk Edgerunners is not a feel good story where the protagonists, the main characters, win. This is a major speedbump for people watching who are used to happy endings where everyone lives happily ever after and the big bad is vanquished for all time. And yes, I know there’s lots of anime out there that are like this, but unlike those shows, where (particularly for us in the English speaking western world) there’s a level of cultural separation that acts as insulation, that’s absent here. The characters are predominantly American, Night City is an autonomous zone on the west coast of North America. So it all hits home more.

Winning in Cyberpunk…

In the world of Cyberpunk, whether it’s Edgerunners, 2077, or their source material, Cyberpunk 2020 or Cyberpunk RED, is a world where “winning” is 51%. Anything that’s not breaking even is a win, and achieving a goal (such as Lucy going to the Moon) is a happy ending. Even when not everyone makes it. Cyberpunk is, and always has been, a bloody game. Characters are fast to make because they can die relatively quickly, and this is reflected in the anime, where we see how easily, and pointlessly, death can come in Night City to people living the edgerunner life. Pilar gets smoked by a random cyberpsycho. Dorio catches a stray round trying to snap Maine back into reality before his cyberpsychosis fully took him. Rebecca just had to move 2m in literally any direction. David Martinez was just young and couldn’t smell the manipulation happening. Are there happy endings in Cyberpunk, in Night City? Yes. Do they come without cost? No.

Lore Integration…

For a lot of IP like Cyberpunk, it’s very easy to grind out a forgettable tie-in that uses the name and aesthetics to sell itself while abandoning pretty much everything else. It’s a frustrating reality for both tabletop RPG and videogame fans everywhere, especially when new fans coming in have their expectations set by a media product that sells something the game can’t provide or that does things the game isn’t optimized to do. That didn’t happen here, and the result was impressive.

Cyberpunk Edgerunnners embraced the lore, the vibe, the aesthetics, and to a more than expected degree, the mechanics of Cyberpunk 2077, which itself drew deeply and faithfully on both Cyberpunk 2020 and the mind of the IP’s creator, Mike Pondsmith. And where for years people have been claiming that doing this would make terrible content, instead we see what is, to my knowledge, the most seamlessly integrated series to date. My estimate is that the anime, videogame, and tabletop RPG are about 90% in sync. It doesn’t matter where you come into the IP, whether it’s the anime, videogame, or tabletop RPG, you’re being set up with reasonable expectations for what the other two are going to bring. And with the recent updates to Cyberpunk 2077, locations and items from the anime are expressly included. This has functionally set the standard for future projects to meet. 

Setting the Setting…

An unfortunate reality is that not everybody has the time, energy, or resources to play Cyberpunk 2077 or consume alarming amounts of other cyberpunk media before kicking off a game of Cyberpunk RED. But watching an OVA series? That’s an accessible goal, and the show comes through hard in establishing the kind of place Night City is and what kind of world it’s in. The show beautifully shows the precarious nature of existence there for the working class and pretty much anyone not at a higher managerial level in a corporation lives in. The advertising, the augmented reality, the casual acceptance of cyberware, the deadly nature of the place are on full display and not amplified in any way. They even get out into the badlands past the city limits, showing the blasted, environmentally devastated lands that surround Night City. It’s phenomenal.

Too Often To the Well…

The only downside to Cyberpunk Edgerunners (past that it’s a standalone series with no second season coming), in my honest opinion, is that it goes back to the same well as other media in the IP. As a genre, cyberpunk as always had issues with both orientalism and anti-asian themes, particularly the late 70’s and early 80’s “Japan Panic”. [1][2][3][4] And unfortunately, Cyberpunk has this issue in the form of Arasaka, the perennial bad guy of the metaplots in the foundational IP material. And while R. Talsorian Games has been explicitly clear that there are no “good” megacorps or neocorps, when it comes to assigning a villain to something, Arasaka just keeps being used. They were the “bad guys” in the 4th Corporate War books (which assumed that the players would side with Militech and the US government and didn’t offer an Arasaka campaign). They were the quasi-occupying force that was invited in by a desperate Night City to halt the NUSA military from forcibly reintegrating the place into the larger nation. In Edgerunners, they were the ones who created Lucy, manipulated David into testing their cyberskeleton, and unleashed Adam Smasher. And finally in 2077, they’re the main bad guys again. In short, I’m tired of Arasaka.

There’s lots of megacorps and neocorps out there in the world of Cyberpunk. There’s Biotechnica, Petrochem, Militech, Lazarus, and more who are NUSA based. There’s a raft of European megacorps and neocorps. I think it would have been nice to see something with a different villain. Arasaka was already getting tired as an antagonist coming into Cyberpunk Edgerunners, and having them as the baddie again was, I think, the weakest choice in the creation of the series. 

Series Impact…

I don’t mind saying that this series is close to or on par with keystone anime shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion in terms of the impact it is having. People expected nothing from a Netflix anime series based on a videogame that had such a rocky launch that it was pulled from online sale and even refunded in many cases. Instead they got a series that hit home so hard it hurt, with beautiful animation, top end voice acting, an engaging (if quick at times) plotline, a banging soundtrack, and more feels than a multi-season show. It was so good it drove people back to the game, with the user base exploding in the weeks and months following the release of the anime. And it’s generated a sizable and dedicated fanbase, something few OVA do to the degree seen in the Edgerunners one. And it’s been a huge boost for the genre of cyberpunk in general. 

Final Thoughts

Cyberpunk Edgerunners is something I never thought I’d see. A lore accurate, game accurate adaptation of a major IP done with heart and skill. It’s everything Cyberpunk is and hints at what it can be. It’s unapologetically itself, and has no softened parts to make it more “palatable” to a wider audience. I greatly enjoyed the show, and its source material. The show is currently on Netflix, and if you want to bring it to the tabletop, Cyberpunk RED is the current edition of the RPG and is available from R. Talsorian Games. Later chooms!

Liked it? Take a second to support Graeme Barber on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
%d bloggers like this: