After starting out as an animator on Neon Genesis Evangelion (pardon the little), Hiroyuki Imaishi quickly became one of the pillars of the Gainax studio, until Production IG entrusted him with a medium-length film, the brilliant Dead Lives, thanks to which he unveiled his frenetic style, even furious, but above all eager to push the codes and techniques of Japanese animation to their ultimate limits. He then did it again with the legendary anime gurren lagann for Gainax, then with the strange Panty and Stocking with Garterbeltbefore creating his own structure, Trigger.
Within Trigger, Imaishi has moved up a gear again with the very famous kill la kill and Uchū Patrol Luluco. But it was in 2019 that the studio struck its biggest blow. Promarehis first feature film, concentrates all the aesthetic ambitions of the filmmaker and his friends in some of the most delirious action sequences ever seen on a cinema screen, the deployed universe being permanently twisted and decomposed to completely transcend genre conventions.
So what does it matter that his latest series is an adaptation of Cyberpunk 2077of Rayman orAdibou. Imaishi and his lieutenants (like Masahiko Ôtsuka, screenwriter and second unit director, or Yô Yoshinari, character designer) always have a knack for venturing to the limits of the universe in question via the subtleties of their animation. In this case, Night City, but especially its physically improved inhabitants, is an ideal playground for the band, less interested in cyberpunk social significance than in the possibilities opened up by biomechanical liberalism.
That’s good, the video game blockbuster from CD Projekt, which oversees everything from the position of producer and co-writer, is less a tribute to the dark melancholy of William Gibson and blade runner a gigantic unbridled fantasy of pop culture, at least if we stick to the patched and playable versions of course. By means of the meticulous reuse of the sets of the game, the somewhat disconcerting use of local jargon and references scattered here and there, Trigger has the authorization to play with the DS, exoskeletons and other half-human, half-machine mercenaries. turn their adversaries into tartars. And he’s not going to deprive himself.
KID IN THE SHELL
To you who don’t have a PC powerful enough to run Cyberpunk 2077 without blowing it up, who had the misfortune to pre-order the PS4 version or just didn’t have the faith to tackle the bugs, have no fear. You don’t have to have been to Night City before to appreciate Edgerunners. Not that the script wastes time re-explaining the prerequisites of the universe, but above all it works to depict a growing chaos, disconnected from the adventures of V, at the heart of which stands out a touching love story.
Unsurprisingly, Imaishi thrives on engaging with the dangers of mechanization of the body, letting the specter of cyberpsychos loom over the narrative, those mountains of muscle and metal driven mad by their most aggressive implants. This is what David manages to escape, a young lost man who inherits an artificial and overpowered spine. Against all odds, he gains power without freaking out and befriends a band of lawless mercenaries, as well as a young woman with a troubled past who is aiming for the moon.
Japanime obliges, the stakes and the sheaves of torrential blood necessarily make one think of a nag-colored version of Ghost in the Shell. Except that poetic existentialism gives way to various moments of ultra-spectacular braverysometimes doped with 3D (Trigger has already largely demonstrated how much he mastered the technique).
Character implants allow them to break free from the rules of gravity and elementary physics. Surreal pursuits, harpoons projected under the spectator’s nose, bursts fired into corpses without giving them time to touch the ground, devastating explosions of heads… ‘ to the last two episodes, which reach as expected the ultimate frontier of what the playing field of Cyberpunk 2077 in terms of visual experiments.
This is also the reason why the series could disappoint fans of the Imaishi style a bit. This time, he is prisoner of a universe that it is not up to him to pulverize. It is therefore impossible to reach the degree of madness of Promare, kill la kill or Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, which pushed the vice so far as to paste pieces of real shots. The set takes your hair off all the same, severe, reaffirming in passing, as usual with him, the vision of an animated cinema which admits its own physical rules, its own dimension of staging.
24 times the truth per second
gurren lagann used this virtuosity to mock the gigantism of Japanese mechs, a perspective all the more ironic when you know the career of its director. kill la kill exacerbated the archetypes of anime heroines to parody. As for Promare, he juggled with clichés with impressive dexterity. Behind the ultra-efficient entertainment, Trigger productions and their ancestors have always pastiche, then paid homage to the generosity of their art, which refuses all realism by definition.
With in our hands an imaginary constructed by both Western and Japanese culture (the current cyberpunk, heir to both Otomo, Tsukamoto, Gibson and Ridley Scott), the question is more complex. Certainly, Edgerunners slightly abuses the codes of the genre thanks to the implants of the characters, but it has neither the possibilities nor the intention to go further in the delirium than its illustrious predecessors. He therefore prefers to show how animation is an ideal form of expression for science fiction.
Indeed, the MacGuffin of the season is this kind of gigantic dorsal column, which gives the hero the power to move at superhuman speed. Rather than contenting themselves with freezing the scenery around him, the animators added a trace of his movement frame by frame in his wake, a decomposition of the gesture which obviously refers to the basics of animation. Using the technologies available in Night City, David goes so far as to lay bare the terms of the series. And Trigger to proudly claim the singularity of the cinema it defends.
We don’t fight with galaxies in Cyberpunk: Edge Runners. However, the series does not lose in radicality, far from it. Even at the controls of a huge franchise with strong economic stakes (Netflix intends to make the most of the licenses it offers and CD Projekt has a reputation to restore), these little troublemakers of animation manage to impress us. After being dubbed by moviegoers, then players, the world is now theirs.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is available on Netflix in full since September 13, 2022