Anime review: “Cyberpunk Edgerunners” (a modern classic)

By | February 13, 2023

When I was first learning Japanese over two decades ago I watched a huge number of anime movies and series, and especially loved classics like Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Cowboy Bebop. It’s fair to say Japanese anime was one of the driving factors that motivated me to seriously study Japanese language and culture, a force that still continues to this day (though it has morphed in some ways).

However, as I’ve mentioned in a few other articles my passion for Anime itself has waned considerably, partially because I’ve become sensitive to certain tropes, and partially because I think the quality of anime shows being produced has gone down (at least if I compare the average anime on Netflix to the stuff I used to watch in the day). I can still enjoy myself once in awhile, but it’s never quite like back then.

The other day when I wasn’t feeling too great I decided to watch something on Netflix, and chose “Cyberpunk Edgerunners”, a series set in the same world as the game “Cyberpunk 2077”, before the events of the game. Despite being a huge fan of the cyberpunk genre (“Neuromancer” was one of my favorite books back then), I didn’t expect much when I clicked ‘Play’.

But I was blown away by what I saw, and after only two episodes whatever bad mood I was in felt like it had been utterly erased. Those two episodes were probably the best anime I have seen in (at least) the last decade.

This anime gets a lot right: incredible action, characters that make you care, some great music (I could have sworn one of the songs was by Yoko Kanno), and overall great production. Also the movie felt very true to the Cyberpunk universe it was set in, which was originally created for a RPG in 1988 by Mike Pondsmith.

I had sort of a love-hate with the visuals. They did a great job conveying the action and story, and avoided the artificial CG-made look that you see frequently in Netflix anime nowadays. They also seemed to be created in a retro style much like the classics I mentioned above, which gave this series a nostalgic feel for me. In fact, in some cases I felt that certain scenes were heavily influenced by classic anime. But even if Cyberpunk Edgerunners takes fairly explicit cues from classic anime, I think for the most part it does it with taste and respect.

On the other hand, the color design seemed all over the place and some of the scenes just felt like B-quality, with an overall lack of consistency across scenes. There were few if any scenes that I wanted to turn into pictures to put on my wall (this happens for really good anime).

The music was good, but after a few episodes I felt that either the quality went down, or perhaps they were recycling the same songs over and over. But the last episode used one of my favorite songs to great effect, so overall I can’t complain much.

Story-wise, things were enjoyable and easy to follow but I felt the series of events was a bit too simplistic and there were not any really unpredictable twists. The dialog generally was good, though some lines felt like they were unnatural or a bit out of place.

I watched it in (of course) Japanese, and the voice actors and actresses were all amazing. I wasn’t surprised to see that some of the people voicing the lead characters had unbelievably long careers, which is probably why their voices sounded so familiar to me. I started watching with no subtitles and did fine until some of the more technical stuff became more frequent, at which point I turned on Japanese subtitles. By no means is the Japanese easy, but I think this is a fun one to watch without English subtitles and figure out what the characters are saying. Personally, it was very satisfying to be able to watch this without English subtitles.

I was a little annoyed at the use of explicit sex in the series. The first few episodes had a few unnecessary explicit scenes, but they seemed to mostly drop off as time progressed. I wished they would have just cut these out. Although even with these removed, the violence and blood is quite extreme and not suitable for children.

After getting to the end of the series, I don’t feel this actually trumps any of the classics, but it was enough to rekindle a bit of my passion for anime. And I think I’ll finally give a try at the Cyberpunk 2077 PC game, something that I’ve been planning to do for a long time now. 

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