When Netflix announced it was developing an anime series based on the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels and the 2010 film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it made sense. Realistically, I was surprised it hadn’t been done sooner. After all, bringing Bryan Lee O’Malley’s beloved slacker hero to the small screen seemed like a perfect idea to refresh the story and bring in a new audience.
However, changing mediums is not always easy, and the track record of adaptations living up to the original is spotty at best. Not to mention that you have to keep fans—new and old—happy while still maintaining some creative autonomy. Unfortunately, while Scott Pilgrim Takes Off nails its source material’s quirky humor and energy, it ultimately falls short in delivering a compelling new take on the Scott Pilgrim saga.
Starting things off on the positive side, the animation by Science Saru is perfect. It vividly brings O’Malley’s signature art style to life. I was a bit worried the studio would not capture the look of the series and it would end up looking more like a typical anime than anything truly unique; thankfully, I was proven wrong.
The fight scenes are fast, fluid, and fun, capturing the over-the-top video game combat that was a highlight of the books and film. If you were a movie fan, you would also appreciate the return of the original movie cast, with Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larson, and others reprising their roles. Even if you weren’t a fan of the film, you have to admit this cast is stacked. It really is great to hear these familiar voices back in action.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off also doesn’t shy away from referencing every corner of the Scott Pilgrim universe, with easter eggs and inside jokes galore for devoted fans to discover. There are nods to both the books, games, and the movie, so all fans of the work can easily find themselves jumping into this universe and feeling at home. Even with the bigger scope of a full series, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off calls back to the iconic Toronto landmarks, keeping the story and concept true to their roots (some even say Toronto right!).
However, once the initial thrill of the callbacks wears off, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off struggles to justify its existence. Rather than moving the story forward meaningfully, the show takes a new stab at the plot points and character arcs from previous installments, trying to bring a fresh take to the source material but falling flat often. The show develops an entirely new plot to flesh out new ideas, but personally, I would have rather seen the old story refreshed.
That being said, a lot remains the same. Ramona is still distant, Knives is still obsessed with Scott, Scott himself is still immature and oblivious, and just because you call out issues from the original source material does not make them any less creepy (a 23-year-old dating a high school student is a bit weird).
Worse, the expanded runtime only highlights the thinness of the premise, with the odd situations played out more for cheap humor than any deep meaning. Scott’s perpetual inexperience, which felt sharp and timely in the 2000s, now comes off as dated and one-note, with even his later growth in the series feeling forced, with a twist that did not work for me.
The series makes half-hearted attempts at developing supporting characters like Gideon Graves and Lucas Lee. Still, they remain secondary to the Scott/Ramona love story, even when Scott isn’t around for half of it. The attempt to take things in a new direction with some fun references gave the characters new things to do, but unfortunately, much of it did not work in the grand scheme of things.
While Scott Pilgrim Takes Off delivers all the fast-paced action and geeky humor fans could want, its attempt at an alternate retelling of the story leaves many secondary characters in the spotlight, and I don’t think fans will be thrilled with what they cooked up. Those looking for closure may be disappointed. While it does wrap things up for the most part, there are enough new threads that Netflix could revisit the universe without much trouble.
While fun for die-hard fans, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off lacks the wit and heart that made the original property so special. It tries to coast on nostalgia and Easter eggs but, at the same time, completely shakes up and retells the story overall. The balance of old and new doesn’t feel well-thought-out, which could alienate those looking for the comfort of a story they knew.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off will be a fun watch for those familiar with the actors but less so with the story. Fans of the original will likely find some charm here, but unless you’re looking for Scott Pilgrim: The New Class, you may find it hard to settle in here.