I watched Cyberpunk: Edgerunners with some friends last weekend and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I feel like I should have something to say about it now, days later, beyond what my friend and I talked about after the show ended, but I’m not sure I do. So far, all that’s really changed since 1am Saturday morning when the final end-credits bit played is the intensity of my feelings about the show, and those haven’t changed in a uniform way. They’ve grown less and more intense seemingly at random, maybe following my ability to give my attention to reflecting on the show. Which is something I haven’t had much of a chance to do between all of my weekend plans, the ceaseless exhaustion following several busy weeks, and the recognition that I have at least two more busy weeks before my first chance to relax for a whole weekend. Now, as I do my best to parcel out my attention and spoons through a work day, I find my mind returning to the show and how I felt about it any time I’m not pushing thoughts of it away. Despite my desire to just focus on stuff like blogging, working on the next Infrared Isolation chapter or just paying attention in meetings.
It’s difficult to pick a place to start, since there’s just so much that plays out over the ten episodes of the show. Plus, the it’s recent enough that I want to avoid spoilers if I can, a problem made even more difficult by the nature of the story itself and the fact that it cleaves so closely to the tropes of cyberpunk stories. What is amazing and mentally consuming isn’t really what the show says because you could pick up any decent cyberpunk genre story (video games, books, movies, even tabletop roleplaying games) and find an incredibly similar story about a young punk (or an older one, I guess, or someone who eventually becomes a punk) who loses everything and then pushes themselves to the point of destruction as they fight back against the world/life/people that made them. The pieces change, but the stories don’t, and while that’s usually reason enough for me to not feel too concerned about spoilers, I also recognize that not everyone is as story-mechanics focused as I am.
Honestly, the story spoils itself. Perhaps my favorite part about the series is that it tells you how the story is going to play out in the very first episode. You maybe need to listen closely to the opening credits song (which plays for the first time at the end of the first episode), catch on to the “episode titles are song names” thing, and actually pay attention to the animation of the opening credits (I could write a whole post about the way the opening credits animation tells the entire story with all nuance intact in a little over a minute), but it’s all there. You maybe need to be able to interpret metaphors and it helps if you’re familiar with cyberpunk as a genre, but it’s also not coy about it. The opening credits song is literally called “This Fire” and was originally created for Franz Ferdinand’s 2004 self-titled album. Which, coincidentally, was the first Franz Ferdinand album I ever owned. Since “This Fire” was my favorite track off the album, the instant I heard it play at the end of the first episode, I knew exactly how the story was going to go. There’s only so many times you can listen to a song in a fit of teenaged angst before you internalize the story it tells so deeply that you can apply it’s meaning and metaphor to any media that leans on it. And, again, it’s not like the show is ever coy about it. Sure, you need to contextualize the song, themes, and visual, but it’s really pretty clear about what all that means even if you haven’t spent your life studying metaphors, media criticism, and media literacy.
The intentionality of the opening theme song and the visuals that accompany it is also present in the rest of the show. There are slow moments, as the show moves through the story it has to tell, but there is not a single wasted second in it. Every busy visual, every moment of light and shadow and color represents something that seems difficult to parse at first. After all, this is a cyberpunk city of light, neon, and darkness intermingled, so it is difficult for you to figure out where focus right away. That clears up by the end of the first episode, as the show not only trains you to shift your focus where it needs to be (sometimes even misdirecting you to keep you on the same page as the protagonist, David), but it brings the world into much sharper focus as David responds to the events in his life. The backgrounds, lighting, and related visuals are the story just as much as the characters, words, and themes are.
There’s so much I want to say about this show. I’m going to have to return to it at least one more time, probably two or three. I don’t want to get into the themes or the content of the show itself beyond just discussing the craft of it all because I think people need more time to watch and, more importantly (for my purposes, anyway), I need more time to digest it. You don’t need to watch it all in one sitting like I did, but it’s ten episodes, each about twenty-five minutes long, so it’s doable in a single evening if you start earlier than I did (I started at nine pm, despite my thoughts of needing to start it no later than eight so I wouldn’t be up until the crack of dawn, and wound up staying awake until about four in the morning). You could probably also parcel it out a bit, watch it all in two sittings. There’ll be a point midway through where it makes a bit of sense to stop, after Episode 6, so you could take a break there or go back another night, but I genuinely found it very difficult to stop watching.
And if you have body image issues (everything from disliking the way you look to outright body dysphoria), have been abused in a way that makes you believe you must be of service to have value, have suffered through the illusion of choice presented by capitalism to those who lack the means to say no when something is offered, have lived in poverty or adjacent to poverty, found yourself alone in the world, survived encounters with abuse of authority, or anything similar to the aforementioned, I suggest making sure you’ve got support systems in place. All of those things and so many things tangential to them are frequent topics in cyberpunk fiction and this is no exception. It can be emotionally draining to watch this show and I recommend watching it with someone who you can talk with afterwards or making sure you’ve got someone available to call if you need support as you digest the show. I know it would have been a much rougher evening if i’d ended the show alone with my thoughts. I probably wouldn’t have slept at all that night, if I hadn’t had the chance to verbally process my reaction with someone who’d already gone through it.
It has been a long time since I’d engaged with anything in the cyberpunk genre and, with everything going on in my life and me finally confronting feelings and thoughts I was convinced didn’t matter, I think maybe it’s time for a deep dive. I feel like there’s a lot there for me in the genre now that I’m more receptive to it.