Greetings, fellow travelers, It's been a while, but in between my bouts of editing on book two: Bound for the Styx, and getting the coloring book published on Amazon, I watched Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. I found it proper to give you my opinion on this surprisingly good anime on Netflix. However, I also wanted to do a piece on the aesthetics of cyberpunk. So, I'll start with an impression and then move into a more general discussion in our next blog.
For me, this show came a bit out of now where. Cyberpunk 2077 was a laughing stock at release, and to this day, it's notorious for being a glitch fest. Also, the developers made all types of promises they couldn't keep and retroactively attempted to rewrite history to make it appear the promised RPG had always been intended to be just an action-adventure game.
And then comes this anime by Studio Trigger. I never even heard of it until people started praising it on Youtube.
Let me join in with the chorus that Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is an excellent show. And it doesn't surprise me that the player base of Cyberpunk 2077 - which is still a glitching mess of a game - by a whopping 300%. How come. Its because Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is high-concept writing done right.
Is it perfect? No. Furmuleiac, perhaps. Predictable. Somewhat. But I prefer formulaic over obtuse shows that change the script over and over, like Raised by Wolves as they appear to be changing characters' backgrounds on the fly to subvert your expectations. For me to keep watching, I would like to know what a character's motivations are and what to look forward to. Seriously. This Mystery Box nonsense needs to stop.
So, what is the plot of Cyberpunk Edgerunners?
It's the story of a talented outcast named David Martinez. A misfit raised by his mother who is sacrificing everything to let her son attend an academy so he can join the corporate class. Despite being a top student, he doesn't fit in, and his behavior nearly gets him expelled. Then his mother dies in a traffic accident, leaving him alone with crippling debt.
After some events, he meets Luci. A mysterious who woman introduces him into her circle of Edgerunners, also known as Cyberpunks; Mercenaries using cybernetics to perform all types of jobs, ranging from hacking to assassinations and corporate sabotage.
David turns out to have a high resistance to one of the side effects of cybernetics, that being Cybersphycosis. An affliction that turns cyborgs into raging monsters who can't distinguish imagination from reality.
David joins a crew of such Edgerunners, and that is the show in a nutshell. Through the show, we see David develop from a wet-behind-the-ears punk into a top-tier mercenary who is completely chromed up. It is not about the hero's journey, but about the life that Edgerunners are leading. And it does so very well. Some critique is that the ten episodes are too few. But quite frankly, I think the ten are fine. I wouldn't mind more, but considering what they were going for, I think additional episodes might have dragged down the pacing.
Let's talk about world-building. The wonderful thing is that the show barely does any exposition. No history of Knight City, or the corporations. No explanation why the hackers need to bathe in ice when going on a 'deep dive'. That is probably the reason why the player base exploded. The series makes you want to learn more about the world, which is precisely what an excellent high-concept series needs to do. Good conceptual work take you on a journey. It reminds me of going to countries like France or Germany. When you are on the road to your destination, you see a castle or an old industrial complex in the distance. And you are like, what is that? But you already have a destination and no time for diversion. This makes you want to come back and explore more. I think this is what this show does very well.
This is good because, quite frankly... The setting of Cyberpunk 2077 is somewhat basic bitch. I tried listening to some of the lore channels on Youtube, but they failed to grab my attention. I mean, it's generic by design. It's an RPG setting for people would want to have cyberpunk adventures. I am more of a Shadowrun person myself, despite my aversion to fantasy. But it was a good hook; A cyberpunk future with magic. Throughout its history, technological advancements compete with the magic phenomenon and creatures flooding the world, creating a situation that is both funny and intriguing. I just can't get over the idea a dragon is controlling Mercedes-Benz.
And one can not help but feel it has a lot of similar story beats in their grand narratives, like they both also include Cyberpsycosis and endured a great system crash resulting in the majority of the internet being wiped, and what remained only being accessible through special means. But Edgerunners made me curious about the hackers in this universe and some of the security services in this world. And that is what I mean that high concept is a lost art in western media. When is the last time you watched a series that made you intrigued about the world just by watching? Thank JJ Abrahams. Thanks for your f**cking mystery box style of show writing.
And you wiring community! When looking for writing advice, aspiring authors are bombarded with the hero's journey. I participated in a writing project where my collaborators started screaming at me, what about the hero's journey? Folks, it's not the only way to structure a story. Camble's book is about his observations about storytelling, NOT A MANUEL.
Does it mean David doesn't develop? Oh hell, he does. But instead of depicting him as a hero, or victim of circumstance, Edgerunners is more of a morality tale of hubris and pride. Trust and relationships. In typical anime fashion, David has a remarkable quality. This makes him excel in being a cyborg. However... Well, I don't want to give too much away.
The other characters are memorable, despite their appearances being short. But their relationships and motivations are clear, unhindered by excessive back story. Well, apart from Luci perhaps.
I have mixed feelings about Luci, especially because her mysterious past is... Well, not that interesting, and it adds little, apart from a little bit about the world's history. But it doesn't play into the story that much... Or it does, but I cared too little about her situation. I dunno.
The other characters, however, I like because the scale is that small, it's easy to understand their situations and sympathize with them. Just ehm... Don't get too attached.
Now, let's talk about aesthetics. On its own, Edgerunners looks great. It makes good use of lighting. Probably as a cost-saving measure, but it works. Knight City looks like a dump, reflecting a dysfunctional society where it's every man for himself, and many people retire themselves to the confines of the matrix. In noir fashion, it uses neon colors to create a claustrophobic atmosphere throwing in some expressionist abstraction representing the character's inhuman movements and their waning mental states. The characters' designs are simple but effective, making them stand out, and even the minor characters are memorable.
On its own, Edgerunners has excellent design, with some great references to expressionism as good noir and cyberpunk should have. More importantly, they did so with restraint, adding to the scene rather than being the focus. Something often lacking in Cyberpunk anime, like in the Ghost in the Movies or Serial Experiment Lain, which are all about visual displays of abstraction. The only complaint I have are the Lupin III-esque car chases in which trucks are bouncing around like beach balls without even getting their paint scratched. I guess they struggled to make these visually interesting on their production schedule. It just felt somewhat inconsistent in tone. Then again, it gets quiet over the top the last two episodes. Still though.
But there are some overall trends I noticed in contemporary Cyberpunk. This, I will discuss in our next blog on the aesthetics and themes of Cyberpunk.
Till then. I hope you found this to be helpful information.
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