Cyberpunk: Edgerunners Can’t Escape The Game’s Juvenile Personality

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners isn’t quite the Studio Trigger masterpiece I was hoping for. It’s still great, and a worthwhile expansion of CD Projekt Red’s world filled with style, violence, and provocation, but doesn’t always stick the landing. It feels completely in the same universe as Cyberpunk 2077, for better and for worse.

Fans will find a lot to love here, but for me, I was hoping for a story and characters with greater substance and purpose. Instead, the finished product was somewhat meandering, unsure how to cement its own identity in the shadow of a game once destined to rule the world. With only a single expansion to come side projects are now its unexpected lifeblood.

Studio Trigger is renowned for excess and exuberance, but throughout the ten episodes it so often feels nailed down, like it wants to do more or tell a deeper story but is never given the capacity to do so. It also falls victim to immaturity and a surface-level approach to Cyberpunk that never really has much to say. Corporations are bad, but haven’t we moved on from that?

David Martinez and his unlikely crew of allies are all born of unfair circumstances. Some were raised on the poverty line, and learned to work the streets to rise above ridicule and make a living for themselves. Others were kept prisoner in laboratories, groomed to become living weapons of corrupt executives and the military industrial complex. All of them have been dealt a bad hand, so their coming together should represent an ideological collective.

Edgerunners does broach upon that vision on occasion. David is told that no matter how much cyberware he outfits himself with and no matter how far he ventures from the definition of humanity, he will never be more than a lowly criminal in the eyes of Arasaka and Militech. They have bigger fish to fry, and could wipe him off the map instantly if they so desired. Sticking it to the man isn’t really possible in Night City because there are so many strings being pulled behind the scenes than we could ever possibly be aware of.

Upending this status quo is teased in the show constantly, but never feels developed enough or comes to be acted upon by characters to leave a lasting impact. Much like the game that inspired it, the exploration of cyberpunk fiction is all about flashy neon and eccentric style, all while failing to acknowledge the thematic impact of a new generation being bitterly ground beneath the boots of corporate dystopia. This world is fucked, and we’ve come to roll with it.

We see characters talk all about how beyond repair Night City is and what they’d do to escape its clutches, but never is the idea of revolution brought up, or whether our society really is too far gone to entertain the idea of systemic change. We just roll with the punches, knowing that aside from working dirty jobs to make ends meet, our existence is doomed to misery. Edgerunners is an otherwise cheery take on 2077’s universe with its over-the-top visuals and exaggerated character designs, but that would have made doubling down on the world’s politics that much more interesting. It opts for the easy approach, and suffers for it. I can’t help but picture what could have been, or if Studio Trigger was holding itself back.

There’s also a juvenile attitude to sex and nudity that carries over from the game. Cyberpunk 2077 teases a world where you can be anyone thanks to cyberware and body modifications, and Edgerunners takes that idea further than the game ever does. Body types are knowingly bizarre, while full-frontal nudity is displayed whenever a female runner dives into the net in search of information when a job calls for it. Brain Dances are filled with sex, while shots constantly frame characters like Lucy and Kiwi from behind and the side, making sure their boobs, butts, and privates are in full view. Male characters sometimes receive a similar treatment, but much like 2077, there is something quite clearly heteronormative and male gazey about the whole thing. We are asked to ogle in the straightest ways instead of nudity and sexuality being used to reinforce the role of cyberpunk in this world. It isn’t smart enough for that.

Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t running away from this reputation either. Since its reveal the marketing machine has leaned into edgier memes, gratuitous violence, and super cool sexy times. To be considered mature you must lean into all these areas, as if a cyberpunk confronting dystopian fascism is unable to function in any other way. When the game landed and proved to be a massive letdown that outward tone soon changed, but the game remains an often cringey manifestation of pure edge. The anime runs with that personality, and at times I wish it didn’t. Enough callbacks to faux iconic locations from the game and bring us something new, because this universe is absolutely capable of broadening its horizons in a new artform.

Edgerunners isn’t what I wanted it to be, but with a few careful changes it almost certainly could have been. Maybe we’ll see that take form in the future, but for now I’ll keep waiting.

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