December 8, 2022

Cyberpunk Edgerunners was a huge hit for Studio Trigger and CD Projekt Red. The animation show has single-handedly reignited interest in a polarizing RPG in ways no next-generation update can. Players give it a second chance, while newcomers discover it for the first time after falling in love with the adventures of David Martinez. It’s a well deserved comeback, and I find myself totally immersed in it.

I spent nearly 20 hours in Night City last week, and I’ve started playing my first since reviewing the game back in 2020. I’m jumping on several side quests for the first time, planning to take my time on this dystopian Streets rather than speeding through its main story to face the ban. Drawbacks aside, I’m having a great time and the added context of Edgerunners attracts me the most. Knowing that past events with the characters I love happened on these streets long before the legend of V began, how they left their mark in small but subtle ways. This cross-pollination works wonders in Cyberpunk 2077.

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Edgerunners is definitely an anime, and doesn’t see Studio Trigger holding back in service to this current universe. Obviously it never matches the abundance of Promare or Kill La Kill, but it bends our perception of the night city and fills it with characters that go far beyond how this world has been defined since its inception. Nevertheless, it still looks compelling and coherent, albeit with a few archetypes of animation that, in the eyes of Western audiences, seem more out of place than they usually feel. Animation is the home of the best anime we’ve ever seen and stuff so hateful I don’t even want to mention it here.

Bloody violence and gratuitous nudity are well and good, and even more so in a place like Night City where things like this have already become normal. We expect them in Edgerunners, and their presence is almost as comfortable as the first few episodes where you spend time revisiting familiar locations and setting up a rather broad cast. Trigger is known for such excess too, whether it’s the liberating approach to female sexuality found in Panty & Stocking or the fanciful eroticism that Kill La Kill is happy to emphasize.

There are also character models that a lot of anime are keen to adopt. I don’t waste time listing them here, like tsunderes, lolis, yanderes, childhood best friend, elusive crush, and others. Their presence is almost required, both to attract audiences that gravitate towards these characters and to increase the potential merchandise spaces that have a chance to emerge when mining is successful. As someone who has watched cartoons for years and been involved in these communities, none of this is surprising, nor is the discourse surrounding Rebecca and her controversial appearance.

For a bit of context, loli is a childlike female character found in the anime or manga. They won’t always be underage – they rarely are in fact – but they are designed to resemble a little girl in personality, while often supporting a position beyond their years. I can think of countless examples of great shows that have been pulled down because for some reason they are committed to providing this gross portion of fan service. Otherwise, the stellar characters are spoiled by the fact that they look like a baby but are actually a 9,000 year old dragon, come from another planet, or some other illogical explanation, which means the show feels it’s okay for them to have sex all over the place. Another scene, even if they live a childish life with activities like elementary school. It’s really disgusting.

After the show was released, it turns out that CDPR actually objected to Rebecca’s design at first, stating that lolis does not exist in Night City and therefore would appear out of place. Studio Trigger insisted on staying. I’m not at all surprised that I resisted, and Rebecca is easily one of the best characters on the show, but her resolve that has remained the same led to rotting corners of the internet deciding that he’s suddenly given permission for the sexual attraction of a character designed to look. Underage is cause for celebration.

Excuse me while calling the FBI on your unfortunate ass, because this look turns a positive part of the show into something to be ashamed of. A sign that 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 CD Projekt Red and Studio Trigger know will be watched by an international audience, and these cliches will stand out more than ever when they bump into a universe that exists. That’s exactly what happened and I’m not at all surprised, and Rebecca’s design wouldn’t even be a point of contention if this wasn’t brought up.

I think the notion of shorter, slender women who don’t exist at all in this dystopian reality is incorrect, but Rebecca doesn’t always lean toward those well-meaning traits. Her opening scene involves answering a door wearing nothing but her underwear, holding a gun to our hero’s head while her quirky character is placed front and center. We’d expect to examine her personality before we know anything about her, considering her petite height, flat chest, and seemingly immature figure are something to admire.

Small nuggets of dialogue and further character development come to portray her as a mature person capable of violence and personal reflection. She’s not a minor, nor is anyone else in the main cast, but Rebecca is the only one whose existence has been framed to resemble a little girl in ways that hide under my skin. I know a lot of women in real life have Rebecca’s body type, and it’d be great to see that represented on a show like Edgerunners, but some fans are now defending the fact that Studio Trigger gave them permission to turn him into an attractive kid. How is it not?

Rebecca is a cute, capable and witty character in her own right, but now the whole conversation has turned to her loli identity and how out of place she is in the world of Cyberpunk 2077. Her only clothing is a baggy coat, which means she often watches the camera behind her or provides an unobstructed view of her chest and thighs . This is the classic Studio Trigger, and characters like Lucy and Kiwi get the same full frontal treatment throughout the 10 Edgerunners episodes. This is not a problem unique to one studio, but rather a systemic one 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 has become so entrenched in what defines anime and manga that taking them away is seen as sacrilege.

The same circles that celebrate Rebecca’s presence as a pure loli are the same ones that accuse game developers of being promoters whenever a transgender character is introduced, or waking up if a same-sex romance that doesn’t focus on the male gaze occurs to be placed front and center. Everyone pushes a liberal agenda until it fits their own agenda. I can’t defend these guys, I don’t want to be attached to them, and suddenly Edgerunners surprise because he’s not under non-existent pressure that makes me want to walk away from that too.

Rebecca deserves much better, a frequent bright spot amid the Edgerunners’ grim storytelling, but being framed and designed as sexual first and foremost means that these stronger qualities are left behind in favor of appeasing an archetype that can’t be seen in any other but problematic way.

Being attracted to shorter women is not an inherently bad thing, but the similarities between this character and an actual child are celebrated as a universal positive, and this removes any goodwill this argument could have. You can take offense at me and say it’s not real, and it’s just a drawing or something, but you still decry a sex symbol designed to look like a child, and that’s a problem.

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