Cyberpunk Edgerunners has been a massive success for Studio Trigger and CD Projekt Red. The animated show has single-handedly reignited interest in the polarising RPG in ways that not even a next-gen update could achieve. Players are giving it a second chance, while newcomers are discovering it for the first time after falling in love with the adventures of David Martinez. It’s a deserved comeback, and one I find myself utterly swept up in.
I’ve spent almost 20 hours in Night City this past week, embarking on my first playthrough since reviewing the game back in 2020. I’m jumping into so many side quests for the first time, and plan to take my time on its dystopian streets instead of speeding through its main story to meet an embargo. Flaws aside, I’m having a great time and the added context of Edgerunners is only drawing me in further. Knowing that past events with characters I love took place on these streets long before V’s legend began, and how their mark has been left in small yet subtle ways. This cross-pollination is working miracles for Cyberpunk 2077.
Edgerunners is decidedly anime though, and doesn’t see Studio Trigger hold back in service of this existing universe. It obviously never matches the exuberance of Promare or Kill La Kill, but it bends our perception of Night City and fills it with characters who go far beyond how this world has been defined since its inception. Yet it still feels grounded and convincing, albeit with a few anime archetypes that, in the eyes of Western audiences, feel even more out of place than they usually do. Anime is home to both the best animation we’ve ever seen and things so foul I don’t even want to mention them here.
Bloody violence and gratuitous nudity are all well and good, even more so in a place like Night City where such things are already so normalised. We expect them in Edgerunners, and their presence is almost comfortable as the first few episodes spend time revisiting familiar locations and establishing a rather broad ensemble cast. Trigger is known for such excess too, whether it be the liberating approach to female sexuality found across Panty & Stocking or the fantastical eroticism Kill La Kill is more than happy to emphasise.
There’s also character archetypes that so much major anime is keen to adopt. The tsunderes, the lolis, the yanderes, the childhood best friend, the elusive crush, and others I won’t waste time listing here. Their presence is all but required, both to draw in audiences who gravitate towards these characters and increase the potential swathes of merchandise that stand a chance at surfacing upon mining success. As someone who has watched anime for years and been involved in these communities, none of this is surprising, and neither is the discourse surrounding Rebecca and her controversial loli appearance.
For a bit of context, a loli is a childlike female character found in anime or manga. They won’t always be underaged - they seldom are, in fact - but are designed to resemble a young girl in their figure, while often supporting an attitude that goes far beyond their years. I can think of countless examples from great shows that are dragged down because they are for some reason committed to providing this gross bit of fanservice. Otherwise stellar characters are ruined by the fact they look like a small child but are actually a 9,000-year old dragon or come from another planet or some other nonsense explanation, meaning the show feels it’s okay for them to be sexualised in every other scene, even if they live a childlike life with activities such as primary school. It’s really gross.
Following the show’s release, it emerged that CDPR actually objected to Rebecca’s design at first, stating that lolis don’t exist in Night City and thus she would appear out of place. Studio Trigger insisted she remain. I’m not surprised at all it fought back, and Rebecca is easily one of the show’s best characters, but her design remaining untouched has resulted in rotten corners of the internet deciding that suddenly having permission to be sexually attracted to a character designed to look underaged is a cause for celebration.
Excuse me while I call the FBI on your sorry asses, because that outlook twists a positive part of the show into something to be ashamed of. A sign that anime has failed to and might never mature. You can 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 cliches would stand out more than ever when held up against an existing universe. That’s precisely what happened and I’m not surprised at all, and Rebecca’s design wouldn’t even be a point of contention if this wasn’t brought up.
I think the idea of shorter and petite women not existing at all in this dystopia is incorrect, but Rebecca doesn’t always lean into those qualities with good intentions. Her opening scene involves answering a door wearing nothing but her underwear, holding a gun against our hero’s head as her outlandish personality is placed front and centre. We are expected to examine her figure before we know anything about her, taking in her small height, flat chest, and immature figure at face value like it is something to be admired.
Small nuggets of dialogue and further character development comes to paint her as a mature person capable of violence and personal introspection. She isn’t underaged, and neither is anyone else on the main cast, but Rebecca is the only one whose existence is framed to resemble a young girl in ways that get under my skin. I know plenty of women in real life who have Rebecca’s body type, and it’s awesome to see that represented in a show like Edgerunners, but certain fans are now championing the fact that Studio Trigger has given them permission to crank it to an attractive child. How is that not fucked up?
Rebecca is a cute, capable, and accomplished character in her own right, but now the entire conversation has shifted to her loli identity and how out of place it is within the universe of Cyberpunk 2077. Her only attire is a baggy coat, meaning the camera often leers on her behind or provides an unobstructed view at her chest and thighs. This is classic Studio Trigger, and characters like Lucy and Kiwi are subjected to the same full-frontal treatment throughout Edgerunners' ten episodes. This isn’t a problem unique to a single studio, but a systemic problem with the medium and how for decades it has come to rely on sexually charged archetypes as a means to an end. Their presence is required, or have become so entrenched in what defines anime and manga that taking them away is viewed as sacrilege.
The same circles celebrating the presence of Rebecca as a pure-bred loli are the same who accuse game developers of being groomers whenever as a transgender character is introduced, or woke if a same-sex romance that isn’t focused on the male gaze happens to be placed front-and-centre. Everyone is pushing a liberal agenda until an agenda fits their own. I can’t defend these people, nor do I want to be associated with them, and suddenly stanning Edgerunners because it isn’t bowing down to a non-existent pressure almost makes me want to walk away from that too.
Rebecca deserves so much better, and is a frequent bright spot amidst Edgerunners' bleak storytelling, but her being framed and designed as a sexual object first and foremost means these stronger qualities are left behind in favour of appeasing an archetype that can’t be viewed in any other way except problematic.
Being attracted to shorter women isn’t an inherently bad thing, but this character’s similarities to an actual child are being celebrated as a universal positive, and that takes away any goodwill this argument could have possibly had. You can hurl abuse at me and say she isn’t real, and it’s just a drawing or whatever, but you’re still stanning the presence of a sex symbol designed to resemble a child, and that’s a problem.