“Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” deconstructs Bittersweet Notoriety


Carina Liu

“Edgerunners” provides a beautifully balanced story that tells the tale of a rising mercenary star — and his meteoric downfall.

Akilesh Kale, Copy Editor

Warning: Spoilers for Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

It’s another beautiful day in Night City. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping (or, at least the ones who are left), and the Tyger Claws murdered 15 families last night. A relatively peaceful day, if you ask me. And what do you do when you’re a poor 17-year-old kid with little to no future, a dead mom and a military grade cybernetic implant on your hands?

Become an Edgerunner.

“Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” is an anime series released on Sept. 13, 2022 produced by Studio Trigger, under the supervision of CD Projekt Red and set in a world created by Mike Pondsmith. Taking place in the post societal collapse world of Night City, the story revolves around David Martinez, a Salvadoran-American student living in poverty. Despite attending a prestigious high school as a top student, he is relentlessly bullied by the other students, who come from wealthier backgrounds. It also doesn’t help that tuition fees are brutal, forcing his paramedic mother, Gloria Martinez, to steal cybernetic parts from dead clients to sell them on the black market. It is a hard life, but both of them have dreams that see David at the top of the corporate ladder, free from the pressures that the city puts on them. As Gloria puts it, “Think I don’t know how they treat you? Think I don’t get treated the same way? But that’s why you gotta prove them wrong. You have to work hard and rise through the ranks. My son at Arasaka Tower, top floor! I can just see it.”

Unfortunately, Night City is a hostile environment for growing dreams. David and Gloria get caught in the crossfire between two gangs one day, incapacitating David and injuring Gloria. Despite the injuries she sustained being survivable, the privatized paramedics who find them leave them stranded because they weren’t clients. Gloria is carried to a much more affordable low-end hospital, where she dies from her injuries. 

No points for guessing what the story critiques. 

One thing leads to another, and David implants the last part that remained from his mother scavenges, finally cementing himself as an Edgerunner (or a Cyberpunk, if you prefer. The terms are interchangeable). Part mercenary, part crook and outfitted with cybernetic parts that enhance their bodies, Edgerunners make up a significant portion of the economy of Night City’s underworld, with the rest being taken up by the various gangs that roam the streets and the black market for cybernetic parts that Gloria partakes in.

David’s story is a familiar one in the Cyberpunk universe. Edgerunners are treated like today’s gentleman thieves – only without the “gentle” part. They are rising stars, the heroes and villains of the lower-class… and interesting toys for the upper-class to puppeteer or show off. To make it big in Night City, you need to play the part. Famous Cyberpunks like Morgan Blackhand or Andrew Weyland are known as legends for their various exploits such as raiding Arasaka Tower. A main motivation for many Edgerunners is fame, both in life and post-mortem. They want to make it big and go out in a blaze of glory 

David’s primary motivation throughout the entire series is to make it big in the world of Night City. At the beginning of the series, it is mainly through climbing up the corporate ladder of the megacorporation Arasaka like his mother wants him to, settling into a respectable position within society by getting to the “top floor of Arasaka Tower”, meaning a high place within the corporation’s hierarchy. However, after his life spirals into chaos due to his mother’s death, he is introduced to another such hierarchy by the Edgerunner Lucy Kushinada – that of the mercenary underworld.

From the start, it seems like there’s something special about David that makes him well suited to the cyberpunk lifestyle.. Not only does he fit the role mentally, having a determination to forge on ahead, but physically as well. David’s first cyberware, the Sandevistan, is an extremely powerful piece of military hardware allowing him to go at extremely fast speeds. Most can only use it maybe, two to three times a day, but David himself can use it eight to nine times straight off the bat. In his words, he’s simply “built different”. 

The show makes a point to hammer it in, with its numerous little cruelties spread throughout the show. No happily ever after. You. Do. Not. Win. Game over.

This gives him, to put it bluntly, a bit of an ego. He is infected and addicted to the thrill of the game. He starts pushing his limits beyond their natural values, installing more cyberware. He falls into a cycle, taking more dangerous jobs and using his paycheck to buy more cyberware. His name and exploits start to get more traction within the city, with fixers – the contract dealers of Cyberpunk – lining up with more and more jobs. 

This cycle reaches an end, as David finally reaches his limits. In the Cyberpunk universe, those who install too much cyberware run the risk of gaining a debilitating mental condition – known as cyberpsychosis. In this state, psychotic behaviors are amplified, and the afflicted often go on killing sprees as they view those around them as inferior. The previous user of David’s Sandevistan, James Norris, went cyberpsycho, David’s mentor Maine went cyberpsycho, and David is next in line as his body becomes outfitted with enough metal to break a TSA scanner. 

On the surface, this looks like a typical underdog story arc. You have the rise of someone who wouldn’t normally be popular. Their dramatic rise to fame and recognition, then a slight readjustment of priorities after the fame gets to their heads. Usually, you’d find that they would then have a change in heart that usually gets them happily ever after. 

Night City doesn’t roll like that. The show makes a point to hammer it in, with its numerous little cruelties spread throughout the show. No happily ever after. You. Do. Not. Win. Game over. And so on.  

David’s downward spiral into despair eventually culminates in him killing a civilian on a “standard” job. A mother, by the look of the portrait on her desk. A son, just around David’s age. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? David has once again been caught into the cycle of violence of Night City, but this time he is on the giving end instead of the receiving. The kid will most likely go on a similar cycle, infected with the dream of making it big. 

Unfortunately, David does not get the chance to go through the readjustment of priorities that other underdogs do until the very end.

Instead, his downfall continues as the fixer he works with double-crosses him on a job, luring him into a trap where he and his crew are assaulted by the megacorporation Militech’s armed forces. In order to save his crew, he dons an experimental prototype armor that he was sent to steal and willingly risks the chance of going permanently cyberpsycho in order to save his friends. He, at this point, is suffering the consequences of his dream, of defying death again and again. This is Night City’s punishment upon people who tried to dream big, by immortalizing them with death.

The show makes sure to repeatedly foreshadow this development throughout the series. The deaths of Maine and James Norris mirror this philosophy, and many cyberpunks throughout the show are often seen dying brutal deaths. This is to the point where there is a bar in Night City that names their drinks after famous deceased Edgerunners: the culmination of such a fatalist philosophy. Lucy, concerned for David, once said that, “You don’t make a name as a cyberpunk by how you live. You’re remembered by how you die.”  

And so, the show ends by David dying a tragic death, trying to save his teammates from a similar fate. In a similar manner to Maine and James Norris, he gets shot and killed by perhaps one of the most famous cyberpunks alive – Adam Smasher. However, he differs from the previous two, as instead of simply dying in the pursuit of his dream, he dies to save his friends. He dies for something greater than a dream: to preserve life. And ironically, after his death, he is elevated to the status of a legend, who aimed high and went out with a bang.

Though this fame is stained with his own blood and tears, David has finally made it to the top of not just Arasaka, but the whole of Night City. Truly bittersweet, indeed.