Netflix done went and opened up the floodgates on some peak anime with Cyberpunk Edgerunners. Oh, is Edgerunners your first jump into the world of Cyberpunk? Then let me put you on to some of the source material and highlight some of the awesomeness of the franchise.
What Y’all Need to Know is…
The Cyberpunk transmedia universe, as we know it, is the most vast and most expansive gaming universe in known media. It spans roleplaying, board games, video games, and now animated mediums. On top of the many accolades and years of critical acclaim – the creator is a Black nerd legend: Mike Pondsmith. Yes, a Black man is responsible for designing and developing this sprawling piece of prophetic media. So when you watch a series like Edgerunners and see a brown-skinned protagonist, know it was with an intention beyond the well-meaning of some executives working out how to deal with their white guilt.
I say that to say this: the impact of Pondsmith’s work in shaping the way we see the future, dystopian or otherwise, includes and introduces Black and Brown people to a vision of that future. Although he doesn’t center any one kind of person, there is something profound in having a Black creative design a future that imagines us in it. So much so, that despite the many many glitches in the Cyberpunk 2077 video game, folks are still investing in the richness of a world that focuses on the juxtaposition of ‘lowlife and high tech’.
Style Inside of the Substance
Cyberpunk Edgerunners is all killer, no filler right out the gate. Audiences are dropped headfirst into a world built with decades of lore. In all honesty, if you are not familiar with the Cyberpunk universe, it can take an episode or two to really engage. There is an entire culture in this fictional world, a look, a feel, and even a language unto itself. Once you’re absorbed in it, you’ll feel like you were born into Night City (molded by it), the mega-metropolis where Red and 2077 take place. This thing starts with the blood, sex, violence, and economic disparity synonymous with the franchise and doesn’t let up the entire ten episodes.
Of the many ways Edgerunners impresses, the use of visual symbolism is by far the most impressive. Not only does the series look pretty, but it uses the raw greed of a corporate economy as the driving force for the ‘end of the world’ and the only thing that survives that ‘ending’ is scary. Because bio-modding (adding tech to one’s body) aka ‘chroming’ is the way of the world, a brilliant character development tool is allowing those mods to be an extension of who the character is. While you are watching the show, characters you never meet have an entire backstory and exposition indicated by just their mods. That kind of coding makes for a colorful and detailed world and Edgerunners delivers on that.
Animation on Edgerunners is absolutely S-tier. There are few anime on Netflix that can even compare with the work on this, let alone compete. Studio Trigger Director and animator Hiroyuki Imaishi dipped put his blood in the pen and put numbers on the board in his past works. Maybe you’ve heard of Kill La Kill and Gurren Lagann? Yeah, he’s that guy. Suffice it to say, not only does the animation look as fluid as water rolling off a waterproof jacket, but the action is frenetic and blurs the line between real physics and the imagined. The fights are easy to follow and do as much to tell the story as the dialogue.
Break the Rules (of Representation)
If it wasn’t enough to have this world created by a Black man, to have the main character in Edgerunners be a Black Latinx homie from a part of town called Santo Domingo had me at hello. David Martinez got put through the wringer of denizenship in Night City. If David had been in NYC instead of California, he’d have a secret dap with Miles Morales on the way to the bodega to get some Takis. It absolutely breaks the mold of representation by having this character upfront and seeing this world through the lens of their experience. Even more so to have David surrounded by a supporting cast of deeply nuanced and highly capable women.
In many visions of the dystopian cyberpunk future, women and people of color are so often left to the margins and/or made into caricatures (I ain’t never forgetting Benny from Total Recall). In Edgerunners there is so much attention to detail with regard to representation that it all feels very authentic. Forced representation is what we now call ‘diversity’ – if it has to be forced, then it was never in your imagination. Being able to imagine Black people in the future is what Afrofuturism is steeped in. Pondsmith redefines a genre he played a huge part in shaping by taking such care to keep non-white and female characters in the foreground.
Attitude is Everything
Ladies, gentlemen, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming folks: Edgerunners was dope. It hit. The series was so impressive that player interaction on the Cyberpunk 2077 video game hit seventy-thousand concurrent players after it dropped. For those that don’t know what that means, the anime-inspired people to play the video game again with the same numbers as when the game first launched…In 2020! So yeah, the series left its mark on the franchise. Furthermore, CD Projekt Red went and added aspects of Edgerunners to the game. There ain’t a show out there that can say that. Edgerunners really came with the goods and showed out with a knockout blast of an anime series that pushes the envelope for what transmedia narratives can do. Not to mention the critical acclaim of a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. That it all was born from a Black mind is the icing on a very engaging and genre-defining cake. The entire first season of Cyberpunk Edgerunners is available on Netflix. If you’re into either Cyberpunk or anime, check that out.