It's January 2022. Netflix has just announced plans to turn the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels into an anime series – and I, a Scott Pilgrim fanatic, am in two minds about the news.
Publicly, I express my unashamed delight Netflix is reuniting the live-action movie's cast for its animated adaptation. And when the first trailer arrives in August, I suggest the show – titled Scott Pilgrim Takes Off – is the gorgeous anime adaptation I didn't know I wanted.
Privately, though, I'm unsure if a Scott Pilgrim animated show is necessary. Bryan Lee O'Malley's beloved comic books have already been turned into a live-action film and a Ubisoft-developed side-scrolling beat 'em up video game. Does the Scott Pilgrim story really need to be told in another medium? And will it live up to O'Malley's source material and my own lofty expectations?
Thankfully, my fears have proven to be unfounded. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is a bold, wonderfully crafted reimagining of O'Malley's cult comics that new and old fans will find entertaining. It has the odd flaw but, as a show packed with subversive and surprising storytelling, reams of humor, and satisfying over-the-top action, Netflix has another anime-style hit on its hands.
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
Diehard fans know how this tale begins, but, for the uninitiated, here's the scoop: Scott (Michael Cera), a 23-year-old bass player from Toronto, meets the so-called girl of his dreams Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a house party. He persuades her to go on a date and they later wind up spending the night together, much to Scott's delight. Unfortunately, just as things are starting to go really well, Scott learns a terrible secret: to officially date Ramona, he must defeat her seven evil exes in combat.
Thus begins the comics' surreal but thrilling video game-inspired 'boy meets girl' story. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off initially draws you in with its beat-for-beat re-tread of the source material, right up until the showdown between Scott and the first of Ramona's former flames Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha).
However, as viewers – especially long-time fans – prepare to join Scott on his battle-filled quest, O'Malley and fellow co-showrunner BenDavid Grabinski completely flip the narrative on its head.
In the interest of not spoiling anything, I'm forbidden from saying much else about this top-secret rug pull. All I can tease is it's an unexpected bait and switch that'll intrigue newcomers and potentially stun established Pilgrim-ites. If you sit in the latter camp and thought you knew where Takes Off's story was going to go, think again.
From that point, Netflix's adaptation walks a completely different path. Indeed, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is a wholly original story that doesn't play out like O'Malley's works or the Edgar Wright-directed Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World movie – which was a near-carbon copy of the graphic novels.
For one, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is a show that wears many faces. Like the comics, it starts out as an action rom-com, but it isn't long before its multi-genre approach shines through. Again, full spoilers notwithstanding, the series twists its way through the gamut of genre fare, from amateur detective drama and mind-bending sci-fi, to spy thriller and even the odd toe-dip into horror-based waters.
It's a creative decision that pays off in spades. While they're married to the series' primary narrative, individual episodes have a pleasing idiosyncrasy, born out of their genre composition, that grants them a unique identity. Think of each entry as a genre-specific chapter in a comic book or graphic novel. They're imbued with a novelty factor that never wears off, even after multiple re-watches (yes, I watched it three times. What of it?).
Despite his name being in the title, Scott isn't the anime series' protagonist, either. That honor goes to Ramona, who spends the rest of the series navigating events after Scott and Matthew's fight, reckoning with her past (including her role in numerous break-ups), and maturing as an individual. Sure, Ramona's character development feels somewhat rushed – Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is set across days, rather than weeks – but hey, when has the anime genre ever followed conventional real-world rules?
As I touched on above, part of Ramona's internal growth comes from confronting those she's hurt (and, at times, been hurt by) to find closure for all involved.
The comic series and live-action flick centered on Scott and Ramona's battle to protect their burgeoning relationship from myriad pitfalls, including Ramona's exes and Scott's inner demons, that litter their path. With the TV adaptation focusing on Ramona and her questionable romantic choices, however, Takes Off rips up that part of the Scott Pilgrim playbook and places a greater emphasis on the subspace-traversing heroine's dalliances with her past partners.
It's a plot-based switcheroo that, like the show's other creative departures, has a positive impact. Rather than position the exes as sinister, one-dimensional characters who solely exist to prevent Scott from dating Ramona, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off spends time presenting them as authentic, complex individuals. From Marvel alumnus Chris Evans' skateboard-loving, unruly actor Lucas Lee to impatient sword wielder Roxie Richter (Mae Whitman), Ramona's exes get their own fun-filled and emotionally rich character arcs that not only humanize them but also make them surprisingly likable. Even the Katayanagi twins – Ken and Kyle, voiced here by Julian Cihi – are given a bigger role in Netflix's anime series than in the source material.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off's sweeping story-based changes also mean certain characters have bigger or smaller roles to play – with mixed results. Bhabha's Matthew Patel, for instance, benefits greatly from the show's heavily altered narrative, and Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) is given a genuine growth-filled arc, which is a far cry from her role as Scott's lovesick squeeze (well, until Ramona enters the picture) in the comics.
By contrast, Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman) – a looming threat in the graphic novels before he emerges as the series' big bad – feels a tad underutilized. And with Scott no longer the story's primary star, his sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick) has next to nothing to do outside of a couple of scenes, while Envy Adams (Brie Larson), his most notable ex, is largely relegated to the sidelines. At least Scott Pilgrim Takes Off's narrative detour allows for brand-new team-ups and unusual character interactions – such as Ramona and Kim's fledgling bond in episode 3, or Gideon and Lucas' in its sixth episode – to flourish in gratifyingly unpredictable ways.
Oh, and if any of this makes it sound like Takes Off will favor serious drama over the source material's signature humor, don't worry. Netflix's adaptation is packed with witty, deadpan, and observational hilarity, some of which becomes incredibly meta as the series progresses.
Scott Pilgrim's distinct comedy isn't the only thing Takes Off retains from the comics. The series is stuffed with video game paraphernalia, cultural references, and, of course, Scott Pilgrim's own Easter eggs. From Sonic the Hedgehog and the X-Men, to Back to the Future and Pokémon, and a creatively brilliant reworking of Scott's "Bread makes you fat!?" line from the graphic novels, there's plenty for viewers to point out. Just try to overlook the eye-rolling inclusion of Netflix's own product placement, especially when it comes to the streaming giant's now-defunct DVD rental service.
And what of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off's soundtrack? Music is as synonymous with the source material as its other cultural mainstays, so Netflix's anime could've lived or died on the tracks accompanying its story, visuals (more on this shortly), and other important building blocks.
Thankfully, the show's score and licensed soundtrack are some of its strongest components. Whether it's the nostalgia-inducing chiptune music from Anamanaguchi (they also created the 16-bit soundtrack for the Scott Pilgrim video game), the cover songs that play over each episode's credits, brand-new tracks, or the electrifying live concert rendition of The Clash of Demonhead's 'Black Sheep', Takes Off's pulsating and bop-inducing musical numbers become earworms that refuse to release their grip on you.
As for its art and animation style (created by Japanese studio Science Saru), Scott Pilgrim Takes Off naturally lends itself to its anime medium. Indeed, O'Malley's original material was heavily inspired by Japanese animation and manga, such as Ranma 1/2 and Osamu Tezuka's vast back catalog, hence Takes Off's clear homage to similar genre fare.
In the main, Netflix's adaptation is beautiful to look at. Some scenes appear as if they've been torn directly from the pages of a comic book with their panel-based assemblage and anime clichés, including big eyes and over-the-top action.
Speaking of the show's physical showdowns, there's a powerfully kinetic and inventive nature to these sequences. Scott's Mortal Kombat-like skirmish with Matthew Patel, Ramona's DVD shop-based fight with Roxy – the latter being the most wildly creative duel in the show – and the series' climactic battle are just three examples. There's also a striking vivaciousness to Takes Off's music-based moments, too, which span the melodic spectrum from charming to thunderous and feel more lively than their sibling scenes in Wright's live-action movie.
That isn't to say Takes Off's animation is free-flowingly fantastic. There are scenes that come across as clunky and visually stiff, though I'm unsure if this is an intentional ploy that feeds into the series' occasionally paper-based aesthetic. Still, in animated projects with comparable visuals, such as Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, this kind of artform isn't as perceptively jolting.
I'd heartily recommend Scott Pilgrim Takes Off to every type of TV aficionado – and that's in spite of my clear adoration for O'Malley's comics and the fact it can be watched in a single, four-hour sitting.
Sure, there'll be long-time fans who'll bristle over its revisionist take on the source material, among other niggles, and that might prevent it from being viewed as one of the best anime around. But, as one of those diehard fans, I enjoyed Netflix's adaptation far more than I expected. It's thematically rich, poignant, funny, genuinely thrilling, and, at times, so abstractly absurd that it's hard to take issue with the creative swings O'Malley, Grabinski, and the rest of the cast and crew took – especially those that right some of the graphic novels' biggest faux-pas. Even Scott Pilgrim Takes Off's ending was more satisfying than the source material's.
So, if you're looking for a wild-card, brain-teasing anime that's curiously inspired by Twin Peaks and Donald Glover's Atlanta, Netflix's Scott Pilgrim TV show is ready and willing to delight you. And who knows? Maybe it'll rock its way onto your best Netflix shows list, as it has mine, and soon have you saying "I think I'm in lesbians with you, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off".
All eight episodes of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off are out now on Netflix.
Sign up for Black Friday email alerts!
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the TechRadar team.
As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.
An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot.
Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across.
Got a scoop, interesting story, or an intriguing angle on the latest news in entertainment? Feel free to drop him a line.