When I first heard about Amazon making a Lord of the Rings show, I felt ambivalent. My love for Middle-Earth and Tolkien's work pulled me in two directions. On the one hand, I wanted to return to the world I'd spent most of my childhood; but on the other, I was cynical, suspecting that Amazon would do something to screw it up.
The latter, at least for me, ended up happening. I've watched the first half of Rings of Power and I am so sorely disappointed that I find it challenging to express my disdain without too much emotion. The complete disregard for the lore coupled with the poor writing and bad pacing make Rings of Power the most bored I have ever been with a Middle-Earth property — and some of the Histories of Middle-Earth can get pretty dry. (Some would say that The Silmarillion itself is a snooze fest, but I disagree.)
But another property adapted into a motion picture format caught my eye, and it's one I quite enjoy. Cyberpunk Edgerunners is a Netflix anime set in the world of Mike Pondsmith's tabletop RPG, the same one where Cyberpunk 2077 takes place. The fast-paced technological dystopia starts strong and keeps going hard throughout its whole first season.
Where Rings of Power failed to capture my attention in over four hours (longer than Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring), Edgerunners had me hooked in the first 25 minutes. I couldn't get enough of this show, and I'm not big on watching things. Anime also isn't my usual cup of tea, so, for me, Edgerunners really only had its setting going for it.
But the characters, plot, visual style, and over-the-top action enraptured my attention, which is no easy task. I'm not so sold on the hot-head protagonist David, but maybe because I see too much of a younger, and much dumber, me in him. Lucy, however, is my favorite, despite everyone seeming to love Rebecca more.
I have no favorite characters in Rings of Power. The most tolerable is Elendil. Everyone else is insufferable in different ways. Galadriel, for being the primary protagonist, is far from relatable, engaging, or interesting. She's just a walking cliche with little depth — not to mention she is far removed from who she is in Tolkien's lore.
I heard one of my favorite YouTubers say he had to "shut his Tolkien brain off" to get some enjoyment out of Rings of Power, but I would argue that is part of the problem. Amazon chose to slap The Lord of the Rings name as a prefix to the show's title, "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power." So when we got what has ended up being a Middle-Earth fanfiction, I got irritated and frustrated with the blatant disrespect for what Tolkien — a man who spent the better part of his life on this universe — wrote.
Edgerunners not only fits into the lore of Cyberpunk's world, but it tells a good story of some outcasts trying to make their way in a corporate, capitalist dystopia. One of the early driving events for David comes down to a parody of the American medical system. The world of Edgerunners is glum, dour, and downright depressing when you look beneath the surface, but I no less loved every second of the season.
I can't help but feel like Rings of Power misses the tone that Tolkien aimed for. It doesn't feel like Middle-Earth except for the clear attempts to replicate Jackson's vision. The show looks nice and all, and I like the sound design, but everything else fails to land for me. Edgerunners nails practically every aspect, from visuals to sound to writing.
When you're constantly checking the seeker bar to see how much of an episode is left, you know something isn't right. Conversely, when you're left dismayed when an episode is over, that's when the show has nailed it.
Cyberpunk Edgerunners is everything I wanted Rings of Power to be: a show, from a property I love, that I can't put down. The latter is not even a hate watch anymore; I want nothing to do with it. Yet, I will gladly rewatch Edgerunners just to re-experience it.