Scott Pilgrim is a cultural touchstone. First published in 2004, the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley has been codified as a cult classic, and now, Science SARU has stepped to bring it into animation, with O’Malley returning to the story. For those who are familiar, Scott meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers, but learns he must defeat her seven evil exes in order to date her. At its core, it’s a battle shonen, and the pick for Science SARU as the one to bring this beloved story into an episodic format matches that. Still, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, the Netflix Original series, takes things in a different direction, with evil exes only the start of the complications.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off refers to its past with the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World’s cast. Michael Cera is back as Scott, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona, Kieran Culkin as Wallace, Ellen Wong as Knives, Satya Bhabha as Matthew Patel, Brandon Routh as Todd Ingram, Brie Larson as Envy Adams, Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, Alison Pill as Kim Pine, Jason Schwartzman as Gideon Graves, Julian Cihi as Kyle and Ken Katayanagi, Anna Kendrick as Scott’s sister Stacey, and Aubrey Plaza as Julie Powers. Yes, I listed the voice cast because it’s a rare feat to pull off for an animated production. The series features writing from creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and showrunner BenDavid Grabinski and is directed by Abel Gongora.
It is paramount to enter Scott Pilgrim Takes Off with as little information as possible, so here is your bookmark this review for later suggestion—one light spoiler is waiting for you. While the series does feature the vocal return of the entire live-action film’s cast, it is anything but a rehash. It’s fresh, vibrant, and twists in the most perfect way. Adapting stories into a new medium requires finesse. Why? Well, you need to compliment the legacy of your IP in its other incarnations, and in order to be successful, you need to warrant existing because the things that came before aren’t leaving. With Scott Pilgrim as an IP, every element, comic, film, video game, and now series, work well together, each adding more context and identity to the series and its characters that make every step forward genuinely magical.
At the end of the first episode, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off takes a sharp turn from the story we all know when Scott fights Matthew Patel and loses. Yes, on the first evil ex. Resigned to his fate as a pile of coins, a funeral turns everything on its head as Ramona begins to expect there is something off, and instead of Scott facing her past, she does. She grapples with her past loves and who she was with each of them in a phenomenal way that puts her and Scott’s ego first.
Now, I was never a reader or viewer that was absolutely anti-Scott. Yeah, the age gap was weird and dumb and highlighted the fact that Scott was still a child at twenty-something looking to others to validate his self-worth. But hey, my first OTP was Darian and Serena. At the same time, that messiness is what made him a good protagonist. That said, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off makes excellent use of characters any fan has wanted to see more of. I mean, the team here heard “Justice for Knives Chau” and followed through.
The star of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off! is, first and foremost, Ramona Flowers. Excellently centered and brought to a more prominent role in the series, this take on Ramona acknowledges where she has been and why it’s important for her role in the story to change. She is allowed to be someone outside of Scott, and so is, for the most part, the rest of the fantastic ensemble cast.
Science Saru are one of the most diverse animation studios around when it comes to their ability to change their artistic style to match the story that they’re working on. When you look at their filmography, they have Devilman Crybaby (2018), Japan Sinks 2020, Inu-Oh, and Scott Pilgrim Takes Off!, which all showcase the ways in which the studio is able to take hold of a story and let it guide the animation. But even though the latter of these looks different than what we’ve primarily seen, their ability to layer VFX and different aesthetics onto one scene for dramatic effect remains a highlight of their animation. It’s fantastic to see in a series built from a video game, as much as it was to see in a rock opera in feudal Japan.
In Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, the animation shines and smashes stereotypes for Japanese animation. While anime watchers know that the diversity of style is common in a medium, and not all series and feature films look alike, having this highlighted in a Netflix Original series that will reach a broad audience will hopefully highlight the robust nature of storytelling in the medium and open the doors for more people to explore it.
As a television series, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is solidly an expansion of a world we have seen before, never feeling stale, and always feeling as innovative and endearing as the original comic. By choosing to expand and not just adapt, this series works as a solid entry point for a new audience with no need to know anything other than the story you’ve sat down to watch. At the same time, those who know the comic, the film, or the video game are also embraced in every twist and every homage it pays to the past.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off takes full advantage of animation as a storytelling medium and the runway it gives for absurdity and heart in equal measure. Beautifully animated and fantastically directed by Abel Gongora, Science SARU is at its best here, as is Bryan Lee O’Malley in his return to the story he created nearly a decade ago. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off took a charismatically flawed iconic work and made it perfect.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is streaming now, Exclusively on Netflix.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off!
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off takes full advantage of animation as a storytelling medium and the runway it gives for absurdity and heart in equal measure. Beautifully animated and fantastically directed by Abel Gongora, Science SARU is at its best here, as is Bryan Lee O’Malley in his return to the story he created nearly a decade ago.