The following article contains spoilers for Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.
“Scott Pilgrim doesn’t need a sequel!”
“We want a Scott Pilgrim animated series! Why is it anime?”
“Oh goodness, why Netflix?!”
All perfectly good responses to when a press release revealed that an adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim would be getting a new, anime/animated series on our streaming screens this year. Frankly, our guts were telling us what road we were going down but did we listen? No. We were blinded by flashy, Japanese-inspired animated trailers and Mortal Kombat references to know what “takes off” really meant. But let me give my credit as a certified Scottaholic before getting into the anime.
Like any good fan, I did start with the graphic novels, absolutely loving the series by the time “Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together,” the fourth volume in Scott’s story. The gaming humour mixed with the action/fantasy was something I didn’t want to put down and following Ramona’s seven evil exes was something I did want to see the conclusion to after everything the couple had gone through. Back when bookstores were still a thing, I had “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour,” the thrilling finale, preordered just in time for San Diego Comic-Con.
Speaking of Comic-Con, this was also around the time that they revealed Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame, was directing a Scott Pilgrim movie with Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the starring roles and San Diego had rolled out the most epic red carpet for the movie’s promotion. From the larger-than-life poster on the skyline to the world premiere of the movie’s theatrical screening at the convention itself. I managed to get a wristband to the second-ever screening and if it wasn’t for me trying to get back home before my parents realised I was gone, I would have also experienced the band Metric and the cast on stage after the credits.
Was the movie perfect? Not at all, unfortunately. Since the movie was being written while O’Malley was still in the middle of the book series, the notes were there but things go wildly off track around the fourth ex, even testing an alternate ending where Scott ends up with 17-year-old Chinese girl Knives Chau instead of the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers, which does explain the differences in their movie characters from the source material. For what it’s worth, the scenes in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are fun and action-packed to reflect the story of the graphic novels, even if a year in the couple’s life is condensed into maybe a week at best.
Of course, things come full circle when Scott Pilgrim gets his own tie-in video game for the movie. Taking a different take on the fights of the seven evil exes, this 2D, pixel beat-em-up produced by Ubisoft was a fun take on retro gaming with Scott’s trials at the front and chiptune rockers Anamanaguchi doing the soundtrack. The game was considered to be lost media until a “Complete Edition” was released recently, and I don’t feel bad for saying I’ve bought the Scott Pilgrim video game several times over.
I have several copies of the graphic novels, including the box case with more pixel art goodness. I have bookmarks, plushies, more than seven ticket stubs from seeing the movie, the soundtrack and score from the movie and the video game, both digitally and physically, including the Seven Evil Exes vinyl collection (still in its packaging sadly, heh). I have coloured versions of the graphic novels, specifically the Evil Ex convention-exclusive copies, with a deluxe version of Volume 4 signed by Bryan Lee O’Malley himself. I have the K.O. Edition of the Complete Edition of the game from Limited Run Games for the Nintendo Switch (which Andrew showcased over… here!). I have “Odds and Ends,” “Free Scott Pilgrim,” Lost at Sea, and Seconds. (The last two are just written by O’Malley, but you get the idea.) I am a Scottaholic through and through.
So here we are, 4000+ days after the last release of new Scott Pilgrim content and now we have Scott Pilgrim Takes Off streaming on Netflix. So why were my fears warranted with this anime adaptation? Because we essentially have Scott Pilgrim without… Scott Pilgrim.
Is Scott Pilgrim a good guy? No, he cheats on Knives, an innocent high-school girl, with Ramona. He’s constantly breaking the hearts of the girls in his life and when it is done to him in return, he falls apart and blames a salon for cutting his hair. When he’s with Ramona, his jealousy almost pushes him to be another evil ex-boyfriend on Ramona’s already long list. Scott Pilgrim shouldn’t be someone that someone looks up to as a role model and there are already plenty of articles saying why Scott Pilgrim, both the title character and the story, are problematic. So how do you make a Scott Pilgrim series in 2023? Flip the script away from the problem of the protagonist.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off tackles this issue by going into the fight with Ramona’s first evil ex-boyfriend, Matthew Patel, and then making Scott go POOM into a lowly pile of coins. That’s right, Scott Pilgrim dies at the end of episode one. My jaw hit the floor when the road the anime was taking went right off the freakin’ cliff, but I wasn’t about to count it out just yet.
So without Scott, who does Scott Pilgrim Takes Off focus on? Why, Ramona Flowers, of course, and her sudden affinity for detective work to figure out just what the @#%* happened at the Rock-It with Matthew Patel. Oh sure, a girl like Ramona would have the best story to tell in confronting her exes with words rather than Scott’s fights. You know, the whole reason that we wanted to see an animation of Scott Pilgrim in the first place?!
My apologies for the sarcasm, but this Scott Pilgrim without Scott was sort of hard to watch from this perspective. It was fun seeing what the rest of the cast would do in the spotlight, but it also felt very aimless. The best comparison I could make is it felt like FLCL or Excel Saga with a coat of Scott Pilgrim paint, and while those shows are great in their own right, this story just doesn’t fit as Scott Pilgrim or at least in the way that most fans know Scott and his story to be. My expectations for the series were high, sure, but the anime couldn’t even deliver on the main story of Scott fighting for Ramona in the end. It’s no longer Scott’s story, it’s the “more deserving” narrative to tell.
What I wanted from the anime was to take the action of the movie, the elements of the video game and the proper lore and backstory from the books and blend it all with whatever new material they needed to add. Instead, we get no full year of Scott Pilgrim. No summer, beach episode, which is an absolute tragedy for an anime. No Lisa Miller, no Mr. Chau, no Comeau. No relevant or additional explanation of the “Glow,” which is probably a testament to how confusing that plot point is. It felt like there was barely any Anamanaguchi as advertised and just, a different package of Scott Pilgrim in favour of redeeming Ramona. It’s good, I guess, but it feels just so strange.
Still, I’m saying all of these things knowing well enough that I’ll probably watch the series again to get a better understanding of what it wants to bring to the table. Is Scott Pilgrim problematic? Sure, but we can all afford to learn from the message it tries to tell. The anime gives a different message for a different redemption and it doesn’t pay off for those fans who want their Scott Pilgrim content to, you know, include Scott Pilgrim. And yet, I’m thankful for the anime for coming out. It’s introducing a whole new audience to O’Malley’s characters and that is something that should be celebrated. I just wish that they stuck closer to the source instead of going off to tell a story that doesn’t want to acknowledge the original narrative that the series is based around.