By Frankie-Robin Cooper, Staff Writer, Co-host P.F.I.
Full Spoilers Follow.
If there’s one thing that can’t be debated, it’s that Cyberpunk: Edgerunners certainly isn’t the feel-good show of the year. No, it’s certainly nothing to cozy up to with a hot mug of hot chocolate, but it’s popularity can’t be denied.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a tale that follows the 17-year-old student turned cyberpunk David Martinez, his life in the fictional Night City in The Dark Future, and his relationship with his mother, his friends, and his partner Lucy. Spoiler alert: just about every character you like dies in the end, save for Lucy (and Falco but I appear to be the only one crazy about him).
So, what exactly is all of the hype for?
Upon first glance, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners doesn’t necessarily sport any unique storytelling. It’s a coming of age story, a tragic love story, and a story about a tragic hero. Most of the tropes you’d expect to find in those sorts of stories you can find in Edgerunners. Spunky, sarcastic, angsty hero whose tragic family backstory forces him to grow up too fast? He’s here. Mentor/father figure who gains an unlikely fondness for the protagonist? Check. Star-crossed lovers fated to meet their downfall for a miscommunication error? We’ve got them too. Add 2 heaping cups of violence, some nudity to make it a mature show, a pinch of needlessly over-sexualized female characters on top, throw it in the oven for 30 minutes or so at 350 degrees fahrenheit, and you’re done.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not pointing out these tropes to say that Edgerunner’s has poor storytelling–at all, (although I did find that a lot of the sexual scenes were a bit overdone and unnecessary to the plot. I’m getting a little tired of writers throwing nudity into shows just for the sake of sheer shock or spectacle, but I digress). Tropes just set up the story. What makes a great story is how the writer’s use those tropes to tell the story and convey a message. I think the message of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is what drives it home and why it resonates with so many people, particularly Generation Z and Millennials, despite its flaws.
The Cyberpunk franchise itself is anything but romantic. The Dark Future is a rather hopeless place. Characters are shamelessly reduced to their base-instincts, and rather than having clear cut heroes and villains, most characters operate in a kind of morally-gray zone simply to survive another day.
And yet, In episode 5, “All Eyes On Me,” David states that the Sandevistan would never make him go cyberpsycho, despite what it did to its previous owner. Jimmy Kurosaki asks David if he believes himself to be special. His response? “Why not?”
This line in particular struck me. The word “special” is such a simple word, yet its abnormality in this atmosphere speaks volumes. It may seem easy to chalk this interaction up to main-character-syndrome, but as previously established, in the world of Cyberpunk there are no main characters. In this wasteland of poverty, violence, and madness, no one has special privilege, and everyone will die. But despite the futility and meaninglessness of this world, there are characters like David who believe that they are special. You could call that poetry or stupidity, and you would probably be right either way.
In the following episode “Girl on Fire” this ideology is tested in fire. As Maine succumbs to his cyberpsychosis and eventual death, David tries desperately to save him, only to be met with the crushing line delivered by Maine himself: “David, you can’t do it,” moments before Maine is killed.
In this moment any main-character-syndrome that David might have had completely evaporates. He was poised to protect his friend and mentor, and realized all at once that it was simply not feasible for him.
How David processes this grief is not shown in detail, but his life goes on. He continues to progress as a character, taking Maine’s leadership position and becoming stronger himself.
Characters like David look for meaning and, upon realizing that the search is futile, create that meaning for themselves.
And he dies in the end. Most of them die. That’s the thing though–we’re all going to die. The Dark Future isn’t real (yet), but tragedy is more real than most of us are comfortable admitting. So what do you do in the face of such bleakness? That’s the important question–and it’s entirely what Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, and the Cyberpunk franchise as a whole, is about. Nobody is going to save the world, but who can we save? What differences, or changes, can we make, even if no one is watching, even if it won’t be remembered, even if it was all in vain? Millennials, and Generation Z by extension, have often been called the “snowflake generation,” meaning that we think we’re special, but really we’re just setting ourselves up for heartbreak and disappointed hopes. Or maybe, we believe we’re special despite heartbreak and disappointed hopes. That’s why a story like Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is so important.