Welcome to the near future, a dystopia where corporations have real power, governments exist solely to help the corporations, and everyone else is left fighting over the leftovers. Cyberpunk 2077 is a neon-lit hellhole for the average person, and a wasteland for the poor at the bottom. Lost in Translation has looked at the setting before when reviewing Cyberpunk 2077: Trauma Team. Check that review for a quick background.

There is more to the Cyberpunk RPGs from R. Talsorian Games. Films like Blade Runner, Robocop and Terminator are part of the game’s DNA, as are cyberpunk authors such as William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Walter Jon Williams, and Norman Spinrad. Creator Mike Pondsmith also took inspiration from anime. Bubblegum Crisis and its spin-off, AD Police, are part of the game’s DNA. Akira slipped into the second edition, Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. Consider two of R. Tal’s other offerings. The Mekton line is all about anime-style mecha and the pilots helming them. Teenagers from Outer Space is the Rumiko Takahashi RPG with a dash of Maison Ikkoku.

It should be a surprise that Cyberpunk became an anime, given the influences. With the success of the Cyberpunk 2077 video game by CD Projekt Red. Pondsmith was a consultant on the development of the game. With the video game’s popularity, a studio picking up the rights wasn’t long in the making. In September 2022, Netflix released Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, set in the Night City of the game. Night City is the neon lit hellhole the games, tabletop and video, presents.

Before delving into the anime, a few notes on the setting and game mechanics. Cybernetics, the cyber that gets put into the punk, augments human capabilities. Harder, better, faster, stronger, all for a price. That price isn’t just in eurodollars, or eddies, but a cost of humantiy. The more cyber, the more the mind and the meat are separated, leading to a pleasant condition called cyberpsychosis. It’s a gradual process, with warning signs the borged-out victim can spot if they wanted to, but once cyberpsychosos sets in, game over. The borg sees humans as walking bags of meat and the only way to stop them is to send in specialized troops. In Night City, these troops are known as MAX-TAC, Maximum Force Tactical Division), and they’re going to make sure the cyberpsycho can’t continue a murder spree.

Yet, people still get minor cybernetics installed. Fashionware like skinwatches and light tattoos that don’t impact a body much individually but add up overall. Interface plugs to connect directly to machines. Chipware sockets to run needed skills without the bother or expense of training. Replacement eyes with better than human vision. After a while, what’s replacing a meat arm with a cybernetic one that has weapons implanted? The slope gets slippery, sometimes with someone else’s blood.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners was created by Studio Trigger and produced by CD Projekt Red for Netflix. The ten episode series follows David Martinez, a young man whose life falls apart. The first episode begins with a cyberpsycho tearing through crowds and the Night City Police Department (NCPD) being completely useless at stopping him. It takes MAX-TAC to take down the cyberpsycho permanently. However, within the cyberpsycho’s cybernetics is recording firmware, allowing for braindance chips to be created, allowing others to relive the moment.

Enter David. David is a student at the Araska Academy. David also likes using braindance to escape his life. As a student, he’s bullied for being an outsider. He and his mother live in a terrible apartment they can barely afford despite her job as an EMT for Trauma Team. She was also on scene during the cyberpsycho attack doing clean up work after he was put down. David causes an extra expense by trying to hack an update for the Academy’s learning software, leading to his mother being charged for the damages caused by the ensuing crash. On the way home after talking to the Academy’s principal, things get worse. David and his mother get caught in a gang attack or paid hit on an exec in a limo. They survive, but since she doesn’t have Trauma Team coverage, they do nothing at the scene.

David’s mother dies in hospital, leaving a massive debt. She also left behind some cyberware, a Sandevistan booster, military spec, worth quite a bit in the black market. That was how she was able to pay for David’s tuition and, with whatever was leftover, rent and utilities. David sees a different path for the Sandevistan and gets it implanted by Ripperdoc, a low-end street surgeon who doesn’t even have a proper name.

Feeling more confident, David returns to the Academy to face his bullies. The leader of the bullies once again threatens to beat him up and activates in his Kung Fu chip. Chips are good enough against the average schmuck, but the Sandevistan boosts David’s reflexes to faster than the chip can handle. It’s not fair and can be barely called a fight. With his bully broken and bleeding, David drops out of the Academy.

He meets Lucy, a netrunner who sees potential in him. Their first scam is having Lucy cause chipjacks eject any chip inside and David using the boosterware to quickly snag the chip in the air before anyone notices. David pushes himself and winds up collapsing. His ripperdoc hadn’t given him anything to adjust to the new cybernetics. Worse, the buyer David’s mother had lined up, Maine, arrives demanding the Sandevistan, not realizing David is already using it.

Maine and David work out a deal that has David joining Maine’s crew to work off the eddies. David is slowly accepted by the team, but if life of the poor is nasty, brutish, and short, the life of an edgerunner can be measured in weeks. That span shortens the more cybernetics get installed. Maine eventually is killed, leaving David to bring the remains of the team together.

Megacorporations, like Araska, have secrets within secrets, and megacorporations, like Militech, want those secrets for their own. I most cases, the corporate cold war means business for edgerunners. For David and Lucy, it means becoming caught up as part of the secrets. Both are wanted by Araska for different reasons, and Militech is interested because Arasaka is interested. Fixers, the middlemen who broker the jobs between the megacorps and the edgerunners, can easily be turned, leading to a double cross putting the lives of David, Lucy, and the team in jeopardy.

The anime portrays Night City well, from gleaning towers to grimy slums, neon bright and grim. The visuals take after the video game, the upper and lower roads, the aerodyne vehicles used by Trauma Team, MAX-TAC, and elites, the garbage along the lower levels. Night City is pleasant for the upper echelon and hell for everyone else. The lingo follows from the game as well, but is easily worked out by newcomers. Key elements, like MAX-TAC and Trauma Team, are there. Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. predicted today’s American healthcare. Can’t pay insurance? Here’s a mountain of debt heirs will be paying off for generations. Trauma Team’s members only approach to emergency care is the spark that sets off David’s character arc.

Arasaka and Militech are some of the game’s perenniel villains. They’re also some of the game’s perenniel employers, too. Nature of the business for edgerunners, fighting the man means working for the man because no one else can afford to pay. Don’t take any corporations approach as benign; as R. Talsorian posted to Twitter, it’s not that Arasaka is the only bad guy corp; they all are. Arasaka just gets the notice because of its role in the video game and in examples in the tabletop RPGs.

The animation style works for the story being told. The visual cues of David and his team as they set themselves apart from society and installing cyber start with the eyes taking on unnatural colours, then unnatural numbers. Oversized cybernetic hands and seams along the skin add to the not-quite-human look. The effects of the Sandevistan are striking, from David’s view and from everyone else’s. He’s a blur, moving too fast for the eye, but from his view, everyone is mired in molasses.

The series shows the progression of cyberpsychosis, from the early detachment from others to the complete loss of control into murderous rage. The cyberpsycho in the first episode is in the end stage, needing MAX-TAC to be stopped, a hint of what will happen later. When it happens to a character the audience is following, it’s more tragic. It is rare for a character to ride the edge of cyberpsychosis and pull back, and MAX-TAC doesn’t care about the distinction.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is slick, bright, in your face with no holds barred. It depicts a world that is a missed meal away from falling apart, with corporate power unchecked. The anime reflects the videogame and takes notes from advice on how to play the tabletop games. It is unapologetic and bittersweet. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is both Cyberpunk and cyberpunk, delivering on the promise.


This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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