Cyberpunk 2077 Edgerunners shows everyone how a great anime tie-in should be done. With awesome animation and key aesthetic twinkles that ground the action in the Cyberpunk universe, there’s enough for newcomers to drink in while also letting franchise devotees nod sagely along to the show feeling very clever as it ticks off the all the cool things they’ve seen in-game – now that’s fan service.
If adapting something beloved is difficult, then adapting something with a dodgy rep should be even harder.
For all its genuine merits, Cyberpunk 2077 overpromised, launched in an unacceptable state on console and bore the price – even my Mum asked me about it getting yanked from PlayStation after she heard about it on mainstream breakfast news.
Slowly but surely, CD Projekt RED has been rebuilding the good will it lost, whether by tuning the game on both PC and console to run and feel better so you can experience the great quests underneath without technical difficulties, or by building on the game’s best elements with lore-deepening graphic novels and now a big-budget anime tie-in.
Something Cyberpunk 2077 has never lacked is a vivid world and distinctive style that perfectly suits the course and pulpy sensibilities of the techno-dystopian genre as a whole.
And watching Edgerunners, I can’t help but think about two other big name cyberpunk animes that have come out recently, Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 and Blade Runner: Black Lotus. Both of which are rubbish – just awful – thanks to cruddy CGI animation that undermines any good story work that the writers, animators and world-builders otherwise did.
The Most Dangerous Game-style plot in Black Lotus was definitely interesting, but it was hard to stay invested when all the characters looked like bendy posable action figures.
They felt like two shows that you were only watching because of the names above the door, rather than the flat and plasticy worlds they were actually serving up.
Edgerunners avoids this, not only by using better animation, but by being so firmly tied to Night City and everything you can find for yourself in Cyberpunk 2077.
First there’s the tech. From the series-defining Sandevistan to Maine’s arm cannon and Lucy’s monowire, it’s all stuff you can get for V from their local ripperdoc. Then there’s the locations; whether it’s the Afterlife bar, Jacked and Coke, or another of Night City’s famous haunts, the action is usually happening somewhere tangible that you could visit yourself, rather than just a nebulous ‘somewhere’. And then there are the little things that pop up like the phone call chime from the game, or the Breach Protocol mini-game appearing when characters hack things – small touches that turn familiar UI into world-building.
But the real key isn’t just that these things are in the show, it’s that there’s original and interesting things going on involving them – enhancing the idea of them as everyday tools that people use, or bustling hubs inside a working city rather than contrivances or set dressing.
That’s where the other shows fell down for me; they were just stuff without a cohesive world around them. Edgerunners is, unmistakably, Night City.
Obviously, Cyberpunk 2077: Edgerunners is still an anime, so there’s the usual (seemingly unavoidable) tropes. The main character is kind-of like 16 but also kind-of about 25 as well, with a bit of a confusing timeline given some of the adult situations that go on. There’s also a lot of gore and no context nudity, so it’s not really one for the big TV in the living room unless you like answering the question: “why’s that person naked?”
But then again, there’s a lot of gore and nudity in the game too, and in Altered Carbon and Akira and Dredd and Neuromancer and Total Recall and Count Zero and Robocop, and just about every cyberpunk book or show that’s ever existed (those are just ones I’ve watched/read recently), so I guess you can say that’s what they were going for.
Either way, Cyberpunk 2077: Edgerunners is one of the best anime I’ve watched in ages – tie-in or otherwise – and sets the standard for what I want to see more of going forward.