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Television is going full fan boy for video game adaptations.
Earlier this month, Amazon greenlit a new series based on award-winning PlayStation game God of War, with Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Judkins and The Expanse creators Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby on board.
HBO’s The Last of Us, a hotly-anticipated small-screen version of the 2013 action-adventure game from Naughty Dog and Sony, created by Chernobyl‘s Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, one of the game’s original directors, drops Jan. 15.
They join a long list of game-to-series adaptations, from Halo (Paramount+) to Twisted Metal (Peacock) and Horizon (Netflix). Alongside God of War, Amazon is also moving forward with its TV version of post-apocalyptic role-playing game Fallout, being adapted by Westworld creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan.
All of the adaptations hope to capitalize on the games’ devoted base of hard core fans. But Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, the hit anime series launched by Netflix earlier this year, has done something more. Almost singlehandedly, the series has rehabilitated the game it was based on: Cyberpunk 2077.
Flashback to 2020. Polish video game company CD Projekt, hot off the success of its global franchise hit The Witcher — which had just been adapted into a hit Netflix show starring Henry Cavill — released its new title, Cyberpunk 2077: a sci-fi adventure tale set in a future world where biotech enhancements have become the norm and the boundary between the physical and the digital is increasingly irrelevant. It was arguably the biggest game release of the year, and arrived with gigabytes of hype, in part due to the participation of Keanu Reeves, who appears as a cyberpunk mercenary in the game’s open world, the megalopolis known as Night City.
Then came the backlash. The initial release was buggy and error-prone. Customers complained en-masse. Some of the game’s investors even sued CD Projekt, claiming they were misled (the company settled the suit out of court for around $1.85 million). Patches and updates followed and Cyberpunk 2077 went on to become the hit everyone had anticipated, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide. But the stain remained. For many gamers, the initial botched release made Cyberpunk a byword for disaster.
Until Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. The Netflix series was announced shortly after Cyberpunk 2077‘s bow at video game trade fairs E3 in Los Angeles and Europe’s Gamescom but before the backlash against the game had begun. By the time the series hit screens — Netflix bowed the show on Sept. 13 this year —expectations, at least from video game fanatics, were low.
They were wrong. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners was a hit out of the gate. The series, which is set in Night City dystopia around a year before the events of the video game, and focuses on a teenager (voiced in English by Zach Aguilar) who becomes a “Edgerunner” — a mercenary hacker — in order to survive, the show immediately jumped onto Netflix’s top 10 list of most-watched (non-English) shows worldwide. In its first week online, between Sept. 12-18, the show racked up around 14,880,000 viewing hours, according to Netflix’s own figures.
Equally impressive, the show is among the highest-rated ever in Netflix history, with a 100 percent Rotten Tomato score.
“We didn’t set out with a target audience, and we didn’t expect this success,” says Saya Elder, producer and English localization director for Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter at the latest edition of Lucca Comics and Games event, where, for five days, CD Projekt’s stand was overrun with thousands of Cyberpunk fans. “For us, Edgerunners was supposed to be a good series, but we weren’t expecting a hit. The showrunner, Rafal Jaki, told us: ‘I need to do something I enjoy, that feels like my own; if it’s like that others will love it too.'”
It helped that Edgerunners was animated by popular Japanese anime studio Studio Trigger and directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, the team behind such series as Kill la Kill and Star Wars: Visions. And that the series dropped at a time when anime worldwide is booming.
“Anime can overcome borders and other divisions with their own peculiarities,” says Elder. “In the U.S. there has been an increase of anime fans. The audience isn’t prejudiced anymore. Things are different in the industry, even regarding video games. For a long time, the source material hasn’t been respected and we’ve seen the results. However [now] things have been changing.”
The success of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has even restored the tarnished reputation of the original game. For Elder, the lesson of Edgerunners is to never give up: despite the backlash over Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt continued to push forward to make Edgerunners as good as it could be, taking fan feedback into account as the crafted the series’ storyline, which many reviewers consider an improvement over the game’s original.
At the moment, there are no concrete plans for a second season of Edgerunners, but, Elder says, she’s not ruling anything out. “We invite our fans to keep on following us. We won’t let them down.”
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