Cyberpunk: Edgerunners review: Candy-coated chrome carnage

Animated adaptations of video games are in a surprisingly good place right now — particularly on Netflix, where shows like Arcane, Castlevania, and even Carmen Sandiego have delivered rewarding extensions of their respective franchises. That continues with Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, which serves up a wild anime adventure set in the world of 2020’s Cyberpunk 2077.

Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann)  and Hiromi Wakabayashi (Star Wars: Visions), Cyberpunk: Edgerunners follows a teenage boy pulled into a dark world of high-tech mercenaries known as “Edgerunners.” As he’s drawn ever deeper into the world of body modification and corporate espionage, David (voiced by Zach Aguilar in the English version of the series) soon finds himself struggling to figure out what’s truly important and where to draw the line when it comes to his cybernetic implants.

Lucy looks into the camera while David drives in a scene from Cyberpunk: Edgerunners.

While much of the Edgerunners world is a shiny metropolis sitting among dark streets and dirty alleys, the series doesn’t shy away from covering all of it with a gory mess of blood and viscera. The ultraviolence in Edgerunners gets started early, but the series never devolves into a nonstop symphony of brutality. Between bouts of frantic action (and the occasional, explicit sex scene), Edgerunners also delivers a fair share of quiet, contemplative moments as David ponders the increasingly bleak turns his life takes.

The10 episodes of Edgerunners run anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes each, and the show does a nice job of fitting a satisfying amount of action, storytelling, and world-building into each chapter without feeling overstuffed. Cyberpunk anime often has a difficult time balancing those elements, with many series collapsing under convoluted, fictional networks of corporate and criminal drama. Fortunately, Edgerunners mostly avoids getting mired in the weeds of its own complicated lore by keeping the focus on its characters.

David's bloody back reveals his latest implant in a scene from Cyberpunk: Edgerunners.

Anyone familiar with the cyberpunk worlds that fill William Gibson stories and the Shadowrun franchise will recognize the major players in Edgerunners, as they tend to fall into the usual archetypes of the genre. Hulking muscle-heads with exaggerated cybernetic musculature operate alongside shadowy hackers and unhinged, walking armories wielding comically large guns, taking on missions for sinister, suited executives angling for an advantage over their corporate competition. It’s a cadre of characters you know, but they’re still fun to watch as they bounce off each other in the grim environment they operate within.

Maybe most importantly (for the game studio that financed its production, at least) is that Edgerunners makes the dystopian world of Cyberpunk 2077 both accessible and appealing to those who haven’t played the game. Like fellow Netflix adaptation Arcane and the League of Legends game that inspired it, you don’t need to be familiar with Cyberpunk 2077 to enjoy Edgerunners, but the show is so intriguing you’ll probably want to give the game a look after the season ends.

The whole crew walks down the street in a scene from Cyberpunk: Edgerunners.

That’s not the only quality Edgerunners shares with Arcane, either. The cyberpunk series also features a memorable opening theme — This Fffire by Franz Ferdinand — that manages to capture (or perhaps set) the tone of the series while also being amazingly earwormy in all the right ways.

Although it isn’t as philosophical or self-aware as more prominent cyberpunk anime (for example, Ghost in the Shell) or as beautifully polished as the aforementioned Arcane, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners still measures up well in the genre and as an extension of the game that inspired it. The series might not break any new ground, but that’s not the intent. What it does deliver is a satisfying standalone story that leaves you hopeful for future one-off tales set in its blood-drenched world of neon and chrome.

David and Lucy look at the Earth from the moon in a scene from Cyberpunk: Edgerunners.

The entire season of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is available on Netflix.

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