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Video game adaptations are a cursed situation as there never seems to be any true or correct formula to make them work. Some have come close like Detective Pikachu and the Sonic films have been very successful, but those are the rare films to make it work. Even when you adjust the format from film to TV, TV shows or limited shows seem to fumble in that regard as well. 2020’s Dragon Dogma was an awful show, and yet 2022 has had three really good adaptations of video games. We had The Cuphead Show, which was pretty much Looney Tunes-style antics, but with Cuphead, Tekken: Bloodlines which adapted the third game’s storyline with fantastic CGI animation, and now we have the highly anticipated combination of Studio Trigger and CD Projekt Reds’ Cyberpunk: Edgerunners on Netflix.
Based on the infamous sci-fi RPG by CD Projekt Red, it’s directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, written by Yoshiki Usa and Masahiko Otsuka, and produced by the famed anime production company, Studio Trigger. We follow a young man named David Martinez, dubbed by Zach Aguilar. He lives within a city that’s constantly on the move with technological upgrades being the name of the game. After an incident that ends up with his mother getting killed, David goes on the offense and starts to get enhancements done to himself including a special military grade upgrade. After doing so, he ends up becoming an Edgerunner, an outlaw mercenary taking on tasks that will sooner or later get them intertwined with the major corporations that run the entire city. Can David and his team that includes Lucy, dubbed by Emi Lo make a living in this chaotic world or will he find himself short-circuiting to the dangers in which this world lathers itself?
Now listen, the video game this anime is based on is not known for much outside of its problematic development history and its disastrous release. Do you need to know anything about the game to enjoy the show? Not really. If you have seen any major piece of cyberpunk media, then the world and its commentary should be fairly familiar to those that enjoy this type of sci-fi worldbuilding. It also mixes in the sensibilities of the late 80s early 90s OVA boom from the anime scene. This means plenty of intense amounts of violence and some titillating nudity and sexual moments. However, while those three elements were made for a very specific crowd back then, the limited series uses them here for more substantial purposes than just shock and titillation. Or, at the very least it feels more substantial than stuff like the recent reboot of a certain infamous OVA franchise that’s also on Netflix. What is refreshing about this cyberpunk story is how it doesn’t try to be like Ghost in the Shell or other anime that would use this setting to be more about the human condition and just meander around with long diatribes. Edgerunners is fast-paced, action-packed, and while it can be at multiple points stimulus-overload with the visuals, they still find a way to fit in a compelling story and great characters. While the cast is overall strong, our two leads David and Lucy are the core of this story. Even when the screen is covered in bright colors, nudity, and violence, the heart of their romance and the story of finding freedom in a world where society is basically being watched by a thousand eyes and mega-corporations. It’s also all about the danger of losing your humanity in a metaphorical and literal way. It’s a complex show, and it’s so satisfying to see that Studio Trigger keeps showing that while they can be all about the bombastic action, they can still tell a good story. It may not rise to the levels of philosophical complexity as something like Sonny Boy or Ghost in the Shell, but it’s executed in a way to make the journey and the story comprehensible with the motivations of our characters.
It’s Studio Trigger, so you can already tell what their animation style is going to be, and the animation is, for better or worse, what you expect. It can be busy and stimulating to a degree that you need to have down time from watching the visuals on screen, but it’s so good. There is something so delightful about being able to know what a Studio Trigger anime looks like. Even though the game this anime is based on has a more boring realistic look, they basically took blockier looks on the more traditional anime visual style, and have wildly expressive visuals and character movements. It might fall under the same limitations that the anime industry put in all of their projects, but they find ways to work around it all and still give us very expressive characters. The action is on point, and let’s just say there will be plenty of moments where you see explosions, bullets, and bodies getting turned into chunky salsa. The bright neon colors are also turned up to 11, and instead of going the route of making everything grungy, drab, and or murky as heck, it’s bright and colorful. It’s very impressive with how they make this world look distinct from other sci-fi worlds. The English cast is a mix of well-known anime voice actors and a few character actors you would know from live-action stuff who pull off some fantastic performances. You have Zach Aguilar, Emi Lo, William C. Stephens, Marie Westbrook, Stephanie Wong, Ian James Corlett, Alex Cazares, Giancarlo Esposito, Gloria Garayua, Borge Etienne, and Matthew Mercer. Akira Yamaoka, a composer most people would know from their work on Sparkster, Contra Hard Corps, Silent Hill, Silent Hill 2, Silent Hill 3, Shadows of the Damned, and Patema Inverted provided a tech-savvy vibe with some punk and hard rock edges to the technological cityscape. Also, the anime opening for this show is by Franz Ferdinand! When was the last time you heard from that band? That’s probably the biggest surprise that this show offers.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners on Netflix is a beautiful, bittersweet dive into the technologically driven hellscape of a future where everything is driven by cybernetic enhancements. While it is based in the world of the infamous Cyberpunk: 2077, you will not need to wait months to enjoy the world of Cyberpunk with patches or mods. It might have a moment where the story shifts to a new batch of characters that isn’t the best at going from story A to story B, and if you aren’t into the hyper vibe of the animation at points, then you may want to skip this title, but otherwise, give this video game adaptation a watch! It’s impressive how this year, we have had three great adaptations via the world of animation. It’s a stellar time. Now then, next time, we will be talking about the new film GKIDS has released known as Goodbye Don Glees.
Rating: Go see it!