Cyberpunk: Edgerunners succeeds as a video game adaptation by using the world of the game for its own story. Its unique characters and ideas set it apart.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners continues the trend set by Arcane of solid video game adaptations from Netflix. While “Cyberpunk 2077” was one of the more polarized games of 2020, with how overproduced and buggy it was on release, this series succeeds in many of the aspects in which its source material failed. By having clearly defined characters and a standalone story to hold it in place, Edgerunners holds its own as a fine work of dystopian fiction in its own right.
The premise and motives of the characters put the “punk” in cyberpunk. David Martinez (Zach Aguilar), the series’ protagonist, is forced into the criminal underground after a tragedy rocks his world and changes his life forever. He takes a job as an “edgerunner”, basically a hired mercenary, to perform the tasks of killing others for the crime boss Maine (William C. Stephens). When he meets another edgerunner named Lucy (Emi Lo), his world is turned upside down and his missions become a bit more personal. Lucy has her own emotional baggage and a drive to keep her moving, and the two play off each other well. These perspectives of characters from outside the law illustrate the dark side of futurism and technological progress.
Given how much of the show is displayed through holograms and individual experiences of the characters, much of the narrative is nonlinear. David and Lucy both link to a “mainframe” using cords to engage in simulated fights and reveal information about themselves. These scenes are edited into the narrative in such a way to distract from the main plot and feel disorienting. This could perhaps be part of the experience, but, to some, it may make things hard to follow. The stories depicted do stand on their own; viewers still see fight scenes, character interactions, and a suspenseful narrative, though perhaps it is all a bit more convoluted than necessary. However, the visual style and worldbuilding may be enough to hold interest. This world is detached from our own with its intricate technology and use of strange gadgetry to hold the grid together. The high color saturation and the crisp, detailed art style blend together to make the aesthetic match the tone of the world by being ugly but with a strong flair, just like the story they tell.
What makes this adaptation of a video game succeed is how it understands “video game language”. The editing and animation style use motion blur to show the fast movements of the characters and simulate the notion of playing the game yourself. The hologram detours function kind of like cutscenes, providing exposition while the narrative stalls a bit. Much of the dialogue is communicated like a Discord chatroom, showing the text on screen as the characters communicate long distance. These interesting visual touches add to the aesthetic and without detracting from the show remind viewers that yes, this is based on a video game.
One aspect of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners that stands out is the music. The theme song is “This Fire” from Franz Ferdinand, an older song which has a strong guitar riff and energy flowing through it. Both the composition and the title make it fitting for a show about gangsters in the future. Instead of focusing on traditional Blade Runner-style synthpop, most of the soundtrack is rock and metal reminiscent of the early 2000s, keeping to the genre of the theme song. By playing music from twenty years ago, the series sets itself apart from time and ironically feels less dated, since the soundtrack exploits a different time to serve as contrast to the visuals. The music still fits the scene and complements the aesthetic while also standing out.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners takes a familiar setting and genre and makes them its own. Though the complexity of certain video games makes them often too dense for a film medium, Cyberpunk works around that by using the setting as a springboard to tell an original story within the game’s universe. While at times the series is hard to follow, the stellar animation from Studio Trigger and the unique form of storytelling make it worth watching. As a ten-episode miniseries, it is a quick watch and sure to leave an impact.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is now available to watch on Netflix.