To say that Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is taking the world by storm would be putting things lightly. The Netflix anime series just made its debut, but already it’s cracked the streamer’s Top 10 list as of this writing and has received acclaim from critics and fans alike. It’s a night and day difference from the reception that Cyberpunk 2077, the game that inspired Edgerunners, received when it was first released. And Edgerunners‘ success, alongside a few other titles, is proving that Netflix should lean more into anime when adapting fan-favorite video games.
The main reason comes from the fact that most anime studios have the freedom to tell an original story. Yes, the studios may also look to the game for inspiration, but being a wholly original story means there’s leeway to explore different themes and elements that the original game may have only briefly touched upon. This is especially true for Edgerunners, which takes a hard look at how capitalism grinds people down and even offers a shockingly dark take on the idea of implanting cybernetics into your body. David Martinez (Zach Aguilar) learns this the hard way when he has a piece of military-grade hardware called the Sandevistan implanted into his body. The Sandevistan grants David superhuman speed and reflexes, but he has to constantly inject medicine to stabilize himself. He also runs the risk of “cyberpsychosis” the longer he uses his implants.
The Anime Series Actually Improves on the Game
While Cyberpunk 2077 featured many hallmarks of its titular genre — including mega corporations that oversee everything and digitally reliving someone’s memories — it only scratched the surface of those themes. This was one of the major issues that fans of the game expressed, but perhaps the most damning criticism came from author William Gibson. Gibson, who wrote the novel Neuromancer (aka the book that served as the basis for the cyberpunk genre), tweeted out that Cyberpunk 2077 felt like “GTA skinned-over with a generic ’80s retro-future,”. In contrast, Edgerunners feels more in tune with the elements that make cyberpunk appealing, even stopping to interrogate them at times. This type of storytelling helps flesh out the series beyond a mere game adaptation.
Edgerunners is also constructed in a way that appeals to viewers who haven’t played Cyberpunk 2077. All you need to know going into the series is the basic concept, and that concept fuels a powerful story. And it still manages to include elements from the game that will please hardcore fans, such as the ever-present Trauma Team that leaps into action to treat the wounded. Netflix has taken this approach with its other video game anime, including Castlevania and DOTA: Dragon’s Blood, and the results have led to critical acclaim. Often, the biggest worry when adapting a video game is how to approach it — what do you put in? And what do you take out? Edgerunners isn’t concerned with this, instead choosing to focus on its titular team and the struggles they go through; it’s all the better for that decision.
That doesn’t mean that fans of the game are displeased with the results. Quite the contrary; Edgerunners has only managed to raise awareness about the game it’s based on. Cyberpunk 2077 has seen an expansion in players due to the debut of Edgerunners, and more will probably fire the game back up in the coming weeks. In a strange bit of synergy, it also coincides with the release of the Phantom Liberty DLC, which sees the return of Keanu Reeves‘ Johnny Silverhand.
A Creative Hand in the Process
It also helps that creatives behind Cyberpunk 2077 have had a hand in shaping Edgerunners. Bartosz Sztybor, who wrote multiple Cyberpunk comics for Dark Horse, serves as an executive producer on the series and helped shape the story for most of the episodes. And Mike Pondsmith, who created the original tabletop game, had nothing but high praise for the series. “They fucking nailed it,” he gushed on Reddit. It’s very rare for the creators of an IP to be involved in a project like this, to say nothing of giving praise that feels genuine. But Edgerunners appears to be the exception — and hopefully, an example to those who want to bring a video game to the small screen.
Another major element that made Edgerunners a must-watch was the animation studio behind David’s story. Studio Trigger handled the animation duties, with their fluid and frenetic style proving to be a perfect match for the tech-laced world of Cyberpunk 2077. Trigger is well known for popular anime including Kill la Kill and the supernatural film Promare; even more recently, the studio provided animation services for a pair of shorts in the Star Wars: Visions anthology series. Netflix often teams up with studios to produce its anime series, and the results have been nothing short of spectacular. Studio Mir, best known for their work on Avatar: The Last Airbender and Young Justice: Phantoms, provided the animation for DOTA: Dragon’s Blood. And Powerhouse struck gold with Castlevania, eventually striking a first-look deal with Netflix to produce more series for the streamer – including Masters of the Universe: Revelation.
But perhaps the biggest element that makes Edgerunners stand out is its main character. David undergoes some major changes throughout the events of Edgerunners. He loses his mother, he’s kicked out of school, and he puts his body and mind through hell to become a cybernetic warrior. But he also finds a purpose while working with the Edgerunners, and genuine love in the arms of Lucy (Emi Lo). Though RPGs like Cyberpunk 2077 let the player customize their character, no two players will have the same experience since everyone brings their own experience to the table. David’s journey provides a focal point for the audience to grasp onto, and his trials and tribulations make him just as much of a compelling character as Johnny Silverhand or 2077 protagonist V. Netflix has had some ups and downs with its video game adaptations — for every Castlevania, there’s a Resident Evil — but it may have cracked the code with Edgerunners.