Say that Cyberpunk: Edge Runners takes the world by storm would be to take things lightly. The Netflix anime series has just debuted, but it is already in the top 10 streamers list so far and has received acclaim from critics and fans alike. It’s a night and day difference from the reception that Cyberpunk 2077the game that inspired edge runners, received on its first outing. And edge runners‘, alongside a few other titles, proves that Netflix should lean more into anime when adapting fan-favorite video games.
The main reason is that most animation studios have the freedom to tell an original story. Yes, studios can also look to the game for inspiration, but being an entirely original story means there’s leeway to explore different themes and elements that the original game might only briefly have. addressed. This is particularly true for edge runners, which takes a close look at how capitalism crushes people 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 Sandevistan implanted in his body. Sandevistan grants David superhuman speed and reflexes, but he must constantly inject himself with drugs to stabilize himself. The longer he uses his implants, the more he runs the risk of “cyberpsychosis”.
The anime series actually improves on the game
Whereas Cyberpunk 2077 exhibited many of the hallmarks of its titular genre – including mega corporations that oversee everything and digitally relive someone’s memories – it only scratched the surface of those themes. This was one of the main issues voiced by fans of the game, 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 that Cyberpunk 2077 felt like “GTA skinned with a generic 80s retro-future,”. In contrast, edge runners feels more in tune with the elements that make cyberpunk appealing, even stopping to question them at times. This kind of storytelling helps flesh out the series beyond just a game adaptation.
edge runners is also designed in a way to attract viewers who have not played Cyberpunk 2077. All you need to know to get into the series is the core concept, and that concept fuels a powerful story. And it still manages to include elements of the game that will appeal to die-hard fans, like the ubiquitous trauma squad that springs into action to treat the injured. Netflix has taken this approach with its other video game anime, including Castlevania and DOTA: Dragon’s Blood, and the results were critically acclaimed. Often the biggest concern when adapting a video game is how to approach it – what do you put into it? And what are you going out? edge runners is unconcerned with this, choosing instead to focus on his titular team and the struggles they are going through; so much the better for this decision.
That doesn’t mean fans of the game are unhappy with the results. Quite the contrary; edge runners only managed to publicize the game it is based on. Cyberpunk 2077 saw an expansion in the number of players due to the launch of edge runners, and more will likely relaunch the game in the coming weeks. In a strange synergy, it also coincides with the release of the phantom freedom DLC, which sees the return of Keanu Reeves‘Johnny Silverhand.
A creative hand in the process
It also helps the creatives behind Cyberpunk 2077 have helped shape edge runners. Bartosz Sztyborwho wrote several cyberpunk comics for Dark Horse, serves as the series’ executive producer, and helped shape the story for most episodes. And Mike Pondsmith, who created the original tabletop game, had nothing but 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, let alone give praise that feels genuine. But edge runners seems to be the exception – and hopefully an example for those who want to bring a video game to the small screen.
Another major element that made edge runners a must-have was the animation studio behind David’s story. Studio Trigger took care of the animation tasks, with their fluid and frenetic style that proved to be a perfect match for the technological world of Cyberpunk 2077. Trigger is well known for its popular cartoons including kill her kill her and the supernatural movie 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 animated series, and the results are nothing short of spectacular. Studio Mir, best known for its work on Avatar: The Last Airbender and Young Justice: Ghostsprovided the animation for DOTA: Dragon’s Blood. And Powerhouse struck gold with Castlevaniafinally striking a first deal with Netflix to produce more series for the streamer – including Masters of the Universe: Revelation.
But perhaps the most important element that makes edge runners standing out is its main character. David undergoes major changes throughout the events of edge runners. He loses his mother, he is expelled from school and he puts his body and his mind in hell to become a cybernetic warrior. But he also finds purpose working with the Edgerunners, and true love in Lucy’s arms (Emi Lo). Although RPGs love Cyberpunk 2077 let the player customize their character, no two players will have the same experience since each brings their own experience to the table. David’s journey provides a focal point for audiences to grasp, and his trials and tribulations make him just as compelling a character as Johnny Silverhand or 2077 protagonist V. Netflix has had its ups and downs with its video game adaptations – for every Castlevaniathere is a resident Evil – but he may have cracked the code with edge runners.