The quality of anime adaptations or tie-ins to video games is frequently quite inconsistent. The undisputed winner in this category and a mainstay of the subgenre is Cyberpunk: Edgerunners from 2022. Edgerunners, which won anime of the year at the 2023 Crunchyroll Awards, has made a name for itself in the anime world. It has a complex core characters, jaw-dropping animation, and a poignant plot about class injustice and the risks of privatization public resources like healthcare. Nonetheless, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners' dedication to emphasizing the value of human connection in a grim future where tomorrow is never guaranteed is possibly its most touching feature.
The series' protagonist is David Rodriguez, a poor adolescent who becomes a contract combatant after losing his mother in a shooting. Along with his netrunner love interest Lucy and his comrades Rebecca, Falco, and Maine, he becomes known as a "edgerunner" and works outside of the law. While the plot follows David's grief-induced descent into his world's version of drug addiction, which involves pushing his body's technological modifications to the limit, it is clear that he is only ever able to overcome this problem because of his connections to and desire to protect others.
David's Bond With His Mother Gloria Ignites His Edgerunner Work
David's bond with his mother Gloria and his affection for Lucy may be his most significant relationships. These two connections are what keep him motivated throughout the series, and it's obvious that, in the case of his feelings for Lucy in particular, his love is strong enough to put both the capitalist system that oppresses him and his life in danger. His decision to become an edgerunner, which is in and of itself a subversion of the values and standards of the society he lives in—a heroic stance against the corrupt social systems that robbed him of so much—is prompted by the loss of his mother, as was already revealed.
It’s obvious from Episode 1 that David is extremely protective of Gloria, consistently defending her against the cruel taunts of his classmates who make fun of her for not being wealthy. They imply that she’s a prostitute, which results in David fighting his classmate, Katsuo, and eventually leads to his expulsion from school. Gloria then dies following a drive-by shooting/car crash after David is unable to afford the more expensive healthcare option, which presumably would have saved her life. The series delivers a very powerful message here about privatizing resources and the dangers of making life-saving care a commodity to be bought rather than a public good. Gloria’s death was completely avoidable, and yet the cruel society in which David lives prevents her from living. This loss fuels David’s journey as a character throughout the entire show, and it's the inciting incident for not just his move to become an edgerunner but also his loneliness, which in turn draws Lucy to him.
Edgerunners: How Lucy Affects David's Life
Although she initially betrays his trust upon meeting him, selling him out to a group of edgerunners because of his acquisition of the Sandevistan, a cybernetic weapon that Gloria had held onto during her life, Lucy's relationship with David is so important because it keeps him hanging on through his grief after losing his mother. Despite the initial blow of her betraying his trust, David starts working for the edgerunners. Over time, he gets to know Lucy better and starts to have real affections for her, which she returns. She shares with him a desire to go to the moon -- a dream that binds them together as a form of escapism, fantasizing about leaving Night City for the beauty and simplicity of life in space. This dream gets David through much of his aforementioned addiction and the general bleakness of his lifestyle, and it's also the starting point for his romantic relationship with Lucy, which becomes the most important bond with another person he has in his life.
David’s problems really begin to come to light following the death of Maine, the original leader of the cyberpunk crew David is part of, and after Lucy leaves said crew. David begins getting more and more cybernetic implants to increase his strength in combat, eventually developing "cyberpsychosis" -- a serious condition that occurs when too many augmentations to the body cause the affected person to experience a break from reality. David begins to grow more distant from the people he cares about under these circumstances, yet his love for Lucy holds strong, and he finds himself torn between his addiction to body modifications and his feelings for her.
By the series finale, David has become fully cyber psychotic and can barely manage to tell the difference between his delusions and reality. Even in the face of this, he is determined to rescue Lucy from Faraday, the former "fixer" who employed David and his crew and ended up double-crossing them. This desire to protect Lucy fuels him in a way that shouldn’t be possible considering the damage done to his mind and body under cyberpsychosis; however, his love for her perseveres and allows him to push past his limits. After saving her, David dies, and she eventually fulfills her lifelong dream of going to the moon, though she cries because he isn’t there to enjoy it with her.
David’s life and legacy continue on through Lucy, as their shared dream allows room for his spirit to persevere even after death. The strength of their shared relationship is present in Edgerunners not just in their desire to protect one another at any cost, but also in the power of their shared experiences, which give each of them hope and happiness even in the darkness of the world they live in -- a world that runs on power, money and violence.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a remarkably subversive anime in a number of significant ways. Its unique, bright animation style, cyberpunk setting and aesthetic, and interestingly diverse cast of characters make the series a must-watch, but its narrative power is perhaps the most stunning aspect of the show. The dystopian layer that blankets the plot is compelling enough on its own, but the way David’s relationships with Gloria and Lucy push him to keep going is what helps makes the series truly moving.