Cyberpunk Edgerunners was a huge success for Studio Trigger and CD Projekt Red. The animated show reignited interest in the polarizing RPG in ways that even a next-gen update can’t achieve. Players give him a second chance, while newcomers discover him for the first time after falling in love with the adventures of David Martinez. It’s a well-deserved return, in which I’m completely absorbed.
I spent nearly 20 hours in Night City this past week, embarking on my first playthrough since reviewing the game in 2020. I jump into so many side quests for the first time and plan to take my time on her dystopia streets instead of rushing through her main story to meet the embargo. Flaws aside, I’m having a great time, and the added context of Edgerunners just keeps me going. Knowing that past events with characters I love happened on these streets long before V’s legend began, and how their mark was left in small but subtle ways. This cross-pollination works wonders for Cyberpunk 2077.
Still, Edgerunners is definitely an anime and doesn’t see Studio Trigger lingering in the service of this existing universe. It obviously never matches the exuberance of Promare or Kill La Kill, but it warps our perception of Night City and fills it with characters that go far beyond the way this world has been defined since its inception. Still, it still feels grounded and believable, albeit with a few anime archetypes that, in the eyes of Western audiences, feel even more out of place than usual. Anime is home to some of the best animation we’ve ever seen and things that are so bad I don’t even want to mention them here.
Bloody violence and gratuitous nudity are all fine, even more so in a place like Night City where such things are already so normalized. We expect them in Edgerunners, and their presence is almost comfortable as the first few episodes spend time revisiting familiar locations and establishing a fairly broad ensemble. Trigger is also known for such excess, whether it’s the liberating approach to female sexuality found in Panty & Stocking or the fantastical eroticism that Kill La Kill is more than happy to highlight.
There are also character archetypes that so many great animes want to adopt. Tsunderes, lolis, yanderes, childhood best friend, elusive crush and others that I won’t waste time listing here. Their presence is almost necessary, in order to attract the audience that gravitates to these characters, as well as to increase the potential segments of goods that have a chance to float to the surface after the success of mining. As someone who has watched anime for years and been involved in these communities, none of this is surprising, nor is the discourse surrounding Rebecca and her controversial loli look.
For a bit of context, a loli is a childlike female character found in anime or manga. They won’t always be underage – they rarely are, in fact – but they are designed to resemble a young girl in their figure, while often supporting an attitude that transcends their years. I can think of countless examples of great shows being pulled because for some reason they were committed to providing this gross bit of fan service. Otherwise, the star characters are ruined by the fact that they look like a small child but are actually a 9000 year old dragon or come from another planet or some other stupid explanation, meaning the show thinks it’s okay for them to be sexualized in every other scene, even if they live a child’s life with activities such as elementary school. It’s really disgusting.
After the show aired, it was revealed that CDPR had actually initially objected to Rebecca’s design, stating that lolis didn’t exist in Night City and that she would seem out of place. Studio Trigger insisted on staying. I’m not surprised at all that it backfired, and Rebecca is easily one of the best characters on the show, but her design being left intact has resulted in the depraved corners of the internet deciding that she’s suddenly allowed to be sexually attracted to a character designed to look like minors is cause for celebration .
Excuse me while I call the FBI about your sorry asses, because that look turns a positive part of the show into something to be ashamed of. A sign that the anime has failed and may never mature. You could say it’s a cultural thing, but Edgerunners is an adaptation of a Western property that both CD Projekt Red and Studio Trigger knew would be seen by an international audience, and these clichés will stand out more than ever when pitted against the existing universe. That’s exactly what happened and I’m not at all surprised, and Rebecca’s design wouldn’t even be in dispute if this wasn’t mentioned.
I think the idea of short and petite women not even existing in this dystopia is wrong, but Rebecca doesn’t always rely on those well-intentioned qualities. Her opening scene involves her opening a door wearing nothing but her underwear, holding a gun to our hero’s head as her quirky personality is placed front and center. We are expected to scrutinize her figure before we know anything about her, considering her small height, flat chest and immature figure as something to be admired.
Small bits of dialogue and further character development come to paint her as a mature person capable of violence and personal introspection. She’s not a minor, and neither is anyone else in the main cast, but Rebecca is the only one whose existence is framed to resemble a young girl in a way that gets under my skin. I know a lot of women in real life who have Rebekah’s body type, and it’s great to see that represented on a show like Edgerunners, but certain fans are now championing the fact that Studio Trigger gave them permission to portray it to an attractive child. How is that not fucked up?
Rebecca is a cute, fit, and capable character in her own right, but now the whole conversation has shifted to her loli identity and how out of place it is in the Cyberpunk 2077 universe. Her only clothing is a baggy coat, which means the camera is often looking behind her or provides an unobstructed view of the chest and thighs. This is classic Studio Trigger, with characters like Lucy and Kiwi being given the same full-frontal treatment throughout ten episodes of Edgerunners. This is not a problem unique to one studio, but a systemic problem with the medium and how it has relied on sexually charged archetypes as a means to an end for decades. Their presence is necessary, or they’ve become so ingrained in what defines anime and manga that taking them away is considered sacrilegious.
The same circles that celebrate Rebecca’s presence as a pureblood loli are the same ones that accuse game developers of being hairdressers whenever a transgender character is introduced or wake up if a same-sex romance that doesn’t focus on the male gaze is put front and center. Everyone pushes the liberal agenda until it suits theirs. I can’t defend these people, nor do I want to be associated with them, and the sudden rise of the Edgerunners because they don’t bow to non-existent pressure almost makes me want to walk away from it.
Rebecca deserves so much better and is a frequent bright spot in Edgerunners dark storytelling, but being framed and designed as a sex object first and foremost means these stronger qualities are left behind in favor of placating an archetype that can’t be seen in any other way than problematic.
Being attracted to shorter women isn’t inherently a bad thing, but this character’s similarities to an actual child are celebrated as a universal positive, and that takes away any goodwill this argument might have had. You can insult me and say she’s not real, and it’s just a drawing or whatever, but you’re still putting up with the presence of a sex symbol designed to look like a child, and that’s a problem.
Next: Everything We Learned From Season 3 of The Owl House Post