Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

In the dystopic future urban landscape of Night City, where criminal cartels battle with mega-corporations for control of both legal and illegal industries, David Martinez is a student attending the elite Arasaka Academy. However, unlike his fellow students, whose parents are part of Night City’s economic elite, David’s mother Gloria is a humble paramedic working for one of the powerful health corporations, taking every shift she can get just to pay for his tuition. David is brilliant but impulsive; and when his temper leads him into conflict with the spoiled and entitled son of an Arasaka boss, he is expelled from the Academy. But David’s troubles have only just begun. Gloria is killed as collateral damage in a gangland drive-by shooting; then David himself is captured by a band of “edgerunners” – cybernetically enhanced mercenaries – whose leader, Maine, was supposed to have had installed in his body the spinal enhancements David used in his student conflict. Now an orphan, David decides to throw in his lot with Maine’s gang, entering Night City’s violently unpredictable underworld. Here, death can come from one’s enemies in innumerable grisly ways – or it can take the form of “cyberpsychosis”, a complete mental breakdown caused by the accumulated destructive effects of prolonged or excessive use of cyber-wear. David discovers that he has both a talent for edgerunning and a heightened resistance to the impacts of cyber-wear; and he also discovers in fellow gang member Lucy – who dreams of travelling to the Moon – an unsuspected capacity for emotional intimacy and a centre in which his existence can be grounded. But all of this comes under threat as the gang become fodder in a vicious corporate war between Arasaka and their chief rivals Militech; and as their unscrupulous corporate contact Faraday begins to manipulate them for his own nefarious purposes. And as the consequences of these events unfold, David begins to feel the first, threatening tendrils of creeping cyberpsychosis…

Based on the controversial computer game created by Polish games studio CD Project Red (itself based on the 1988 role playing game created by Mike Pondsmith), Cyberpunk: Edgerunners was produced by CDPR and animated by Studio Trigger. Premiering on the Netflix streaming service in September 2022, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is characterised by the same high-impact visuals and vivid colour palette that also made The Great Pretender and Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop such aesthetically striking hits for Netflix. There, however, all similarity to these other programs ends: hyper-violent and replete with jargon- and obscenity-laced dialogue, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a brutally grim depiction of a society in which capitalism has reached its full monstrous potential, reducing human life and societal relationships to nothing more than a commodity ripe for exploitation, sharpening the social and economic divides between the haves and the have-nots. And yet, beneath these anarchically vicious dynamics, the struggle to retain human identity and connection continues, even by those most involved in the rampant dehumanising of free-fall capitalism. And it is in this dimension that Cyberpunk: Edgerunners reveals its most interesting facets: for beneath the rather standard neo-noir/corporate exploitation narrative is a deeply human story about what it means to be human with human hopes and allegiances. Thus, the relationships between the gang members – especially as embodied in the romance between David and Lucy – leavens and counterpoints the nihilistic violence of the world in which those relationships occur.   Bleakly dystopic and unremittingly pessimistic about humanity’s future, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners nonetheless contains an undercurrent of pathos and hope that places it squarely in the storied cyberpunk tradition of Bladerunner, Ghost In The Shell, and Psycho-Pass.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2022. All rights reserved.