Soggy streets, thick smog shining from neon lights, too-rich-to-care-too-care skyscrapers built for the elite right next to fire-lit slums. It’s a world of drugs, technology and sex that most moviegoers know only too well: the world of cyberpunk.
Like acclaimed stories from years past – from blade runner at ghost in the shell and Battle Angel Alita – Netflix anime series just released, Cyberpunk: Edge Runnersfollows the genre’s common theme of the corruption of humanity, sprinkled with the tiniest glimmer of hope, but with its own animation and story style.
“Cyberpunk, as a genre, is very old and it’s a genre filled with desperation,” says Hiroyuki Imaishi, director of Studio Trigger’s new series and Cyberpunk 2077 game developer CD Projekt RED (CDPR). “It has become much less common these days to see a story with a cyberpunk genre. But, even though the genre itself is old, edge runners has been put together in a way that I hope can be more easily consumed by modern audiences.
Cyberpunk: Edge Runners is a CDPR prequel Cyberpunk 2077 game, which is part of the same dystopian sci-fi universe as the cyberpunk tabletop role-playing game franchise, written by Mike Pondsmith and first published by R. Talsorian Games in 1988.
Set one year before the events of Cyberpunk 2077, edge runners tells a 10-episode standalone story about street kid David Martinez trying to survive in a tech-obsessed and body-modified metropolis of the future, Night City. A private-school kid from a low-income, single-parent family, David is painfully aware that he doesn’t belong on the bright, shiny side of town, or among the wealthy students who make it their mission to remind him of his low status and proper place in Night City’s food chain.
While David is willing to hold on despite the abuse for the sake of his mother, who gave all her resources in hopes of seeing him succeed, his untimely death sees him drop out of school and join a group of cyberpunks in the goal of becoming an “Edgerunner” – a high-tech black market mercenary. Armed with military-grade chrome installed in his spine, David quickly becomes a valuable asset to his team.
But, with every organ and body part an edgerunner replaces with sleek new technology, the more likely they are to enter “cyberpsychosis,” an irreversible dissociative disorder, caused by an overload of cybernetic bodily augmentations.
“David was such a different character from the general Imaishi characters,” says edge runners‘ character designer Yoh Yoshinari, who previously worked with Imaishi on shows like gurren lagann, kill her kill herand BNA. “Usually, Imaishi’s characters are very brash and, in another sense, not very intelligent. David is a smart boy. And the story is about this smart boy who slowly crawls to his death. With him being a smart individual, it was very difficult to come up with a compelling reason why David would take these actions because, at least to me, it didn’t really make sense. So it was really difficult to create extremely awkward situations that would push David to his limits and force him to make these choices. The situation was always to be dire.
The challenge of fleshing out David’s character and decision-making into something believable but still true to the cyberpunk universe was an even bigger challenge since, when CDPR came to Trigger – known for PROMARE and kill her kill her – pitch edge runnerstheir Cyberpunk 2077 game was still unfinished. While the world of cyberpunk had been around for quite a long time, the main characters in anime were practically non-existent. And this was an area where Trigger had the most creative freedom.
“It was a big struggle, but that’s the part we enjoyed the most doing. cyberpunk in an anime,” says Yoshinari. “Working on an adaptation, or anything that has an original IP, is pretty rare for our studio. And it was a first experience, at least for me. The only thing that was clear was that the genre of the game was the cyberpunk. And that genre is very nostalgic for my age group and Imaishi’s.
Imaishi and Yoshinari were both born in 1971, at the start of the cyberpunk hype and, for all edge runners‘ Modernized story features, there are plenty of throwbacks to retro anime.
The view of Earth as Lucy takes David for a romantic nighttime walk on the moon (in virtual reality) mirrors scenes from Kazuo Yamazaki please save my land (1994); Lucy looking out the window at the nighttime cityscape looks a lot like Major Motoko Kusanagi’s Window Reflection Scenes from ghost in the shell (1995); the bikes look a bit like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (1989); the open wastelands shown in the recesses of Maine’s veteran edgerunner memorabilia resemble the deserted plains of the United States in A wind called amnesia (1990, also by Kazuo Yamazaki). And cyberpunk gang dynamics have it Cyber City Oedo 808 (1990) flavors.
But perhaps the most unique feedback feature in edge runners are the bullet-time animation sequences, shown when David activates his Sandevistan; a piece of machinery installed in his back that will slow time to a certain percentage, on command, for a set amount of time. David uses this technology at first to get the better of one of the school kids who mercilessly berates him and his mother, but eventually the young edgerunner begins to use it in his mercenary work, avoiding to be shot down, steal chips and capture targets. .
In the anime, Trigger created sequences that show every frame of David’s movement, with different shades of color for each movement frame. It’s a pretty trippy visual, not only in David’s action sequences, but also in the era of the characters suffering from hysterical cyberpsychosis.
“To reproduce that in animation, to make the movement very slow, it’s a lot of work,” says Imaishi. “So our method was to spread out all the frames that would have been included in that particular animation, scale it down, and fill in the gaps. Normally, the previous frames in a super-fast sequence would just disappear from the screen and you wouldn’t wouldn’t have to see them. But with Cyberpunk: Edge Runnerswe took this footage and presented each image with great care.
Yoshinari adds, “And that’s a style that actually existed in Japanese anime of old. So, it’s nothing new artistically, it’s just a style associated with a very retro anime. We dusted it off and brought it back to modern animation. I think it worked very well. »
The old game graphics also inspired the “in-depth” scenes, where characters from the cyberpunk people surf the networks by connecting to the web through connections installed in the back of their heads – a bit like The matrix.
“The deep dive scenes, I thought, were the hardest,” Imaishi shares. “In the game, [the network] is expressed with many of these digital objects or pixels. But, in the anime, you can’t illustrate that in the same way. We just don’t have the tools to replicate it. So we referred to old-school analogues. It looks very different from the original game, and that was the hardest thing for me to make it compelling.
Imaishi, Yoshinari and their team at Trigger managed to craft a cyberpunk story that is a nice composition of crisp, modern 2D animation with nostalgic imagery for those who were raised in 70s, 80s and 90s anime. all the tones of the favorite dystopian anime, but wrapped up in shiny new packaging. And yet, so many edge runnersThe design is not to cater to the nostalgia of Japanese viewers, but for Trigger to reach a new audience.
“Typical Japanese audiences today aren’t very into this particular sci-fi genre, at least not anymore, and we thought this might be a good opportunity for Trigger to appeal to a different audience,” says Yoshinari. “It was refreshing to do the character designs for edge runners, because I knew most of the demographics were going to be outside of Japan. Often when I have to design a character with a Japanese audience in mind, what Japanese audiences generally consider cool or cute has gotten to the point where everything looks the same to me. So it was refreshing to design something without having those constraints or concerns in mind. »
Imaishi adds, “I also made it in a way that people who play the game can also enjoy and further develop their love for their favorite genre. I was trying to find a balance to make the existing audience and the new audience happy and hopefully I was able to strike a really good balance between the two.
Cyberpunk: Edge Runners is the first anime produced by Trigger based on a video game, but tackling the topics of classism, sex and brutal violence is nothing new to them – they collaborated with A-1 Pictures on the science monster romance -mature fiction, Darling in the Franxx – and was one of the reasons why they are well equipped to tell this news cyberpunk story, apart from their exquisite skills creating captivating animation.
“We knew it was going to be streaming-exclusive and the original game was considered mature,” says Imaishi. “So there was a part of me that intentionally made it a little more unbalanced. Ultimately it comes down to us not wanting to worry too much about what society says is acceptable and what she says is ‘too much’ because it starts to get in the way of the creative vision.”
In edge runners, a watered down or watered down version of David’s story just wouldn’t be impactful. As Yoshinari said, for David’s decisions to make sense to an audience, the situations had to be dire. And, to truly appreciate the hope, against all odds, that netrunner Lucy embraces at the end of the series, the darkness and utter despair must be tangible and visceral.
“The game itself was from the late 80s, which is when the cyberpunk genre was really still new and popular,” Yoshinari explains. “The genre really got started based on how the Japanese economy was doing so well in the early 90s and late 80s. The genre of cyberpunk was a reference to the question, ‘What if Japan Would it continue to grow like this? Would it become a very consumerist, tech-driven world?” It’s been a good 30 years since the cyberpunk genre was first created. And, today, the future is a little different than what the 90s people thought it would be.
He continues: “But it’s still a very economic society, and there are a lot of people struggling to live. And it’s probably not getting any better either. So what I would like the public to take away from edge runners it’s that there are people who find it difficult to live in a really shitty society. And I hope that brings some insight and sympathy.
Victoria Davis is a full-time freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She reported many stories ranging from activist news to entertainment. To learn more about his work, visit victoriadavisdepiction.com.