Would you fight for those you love? How about for a chance at love? Would you agree to fight every ex your partner has in order to date them? It’s a tall order to be sure, but for some people it’d be worth the risk. Canadian 20-something Scott Pilgrim certainly thinks so, and he’s got a fourth outing to strut his stuff…or does he?
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is a Netflix animated series released on November 17 based on the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley. The novels were previously adapted into the 2010 film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, directed by Edgar Wright, with O’Malley working on the screenplay alongside Wright and screenwriter Michael Bacall. The film is a fairly direct, if truncated, version of the novels where Scott falls in love with Ramona and fights her evil exes in order to date her. Now, O’Malley returns to adapt his story for the small screen but with a twist: what if Ramona was chasing Scott this time?
The show is set in a fantasy version of Toronto that’s heavily inspired by the 16-bit era of video games. In addition to people having various superhuman abilities such as throwing fire or creating portals, there are mental highways that some people can traverse that act as shortcuts through the real world. One of those highways is how Scott first sees, and subsequently falls for, a mysterious woman as she rollerskates by while he’s asleep. While at a local house party the next day, Scott discovers that the woman of his dreams is real and named Ramona Flowers. Through some awkward flirting, he manages to score a date with Ramona. They hit it off on that date, but Ramona forgot to mention something: she has seven evil exes that have banded together and refuse to let anyone get with her. In the original story, this sets Scott on a path where he has to defeat each ex to reach his happy ending, but this isn’t the original story
In Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, O’Malley decides to take this story in a new direction instead of doing another straight adaptation. In the fight with Ramona’s first evil ex, Scott loses. He seemingly dies and leaves behind only a couple of cents (here people explode into coins when they’re defeated). Ramona soon suspects foul play, and starts down a list of suspects to find out what really happened to that guy she went on one date with. The series has always been an action-comedy, and that hasn’t changed here. The tone is firmly lighthearted, where even the villains occasionally look like big dorks, and it makes the story feel distinctly human. Nobody is a caricature, and they’re all relatable. The dialogue is witty but grounded, the characters all have their own hijinks going on even when not on-screen, and the physical gags are plentiful and frequently paired with fantastic facial expressions.
Speaking of those facial expressions, the animation is excellent. The series is animated by Japanese animation studio Science SARU, known for works such as Ping-Pong The Animation, Japan Sinks 2020, three of the opening sequences from Adventure Time, and the 2018 adaptation of Devilman Crybaby. This studio knows their stuff and it is on full display here. The show uses the original art style of the graphic novels, and those simple character designs animate beautifully, especially during the action scenes where the animation is at its most energetic. The character animation is fluid and the action is snappy. Even when the characters are just having a conversation, there’s so much personality on display. The colors are bright and saturated, the backgrounds are vibrant, and character designs are easy to differentiate. This show is a treat for the eyes.
The show also brings a variety of treats for the ears as well. I mentioned the title theme, but the original soundtrack is also worth touching on. It blends chiptunes into the various backing songs and it works far better than you might think. It never distracts from the story and lends a unique sound to the show. There’s also songs composed for various in-universe bands and solo acts covering a handful of genres from punk to pop, and they all hit the mark. The voice performances are also fantastic. Much of the voice talent comes from the cast of the film including Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona, Michael Cera as Scott, and Chris Evans as Lucas Lee. They all brought their A-game, making sure their deliveries line up with their character’s personalities. Kieran Culkin as Wallace is a personal standout. His confident yet laid-back performance makes the blunt words coming out of his mouth endlessly entertaining. In fact there’s a few cases, like with Michael Cera, where I think he delivered a better performance here than in the movie. He puts a lot more emotion into his lines and doesn’t awkwardly mumble every other word like he’s done in previous roles.
While I’ve gushed about the show plenty, that doesn’t make it perfect. However, I struggle to pinpoint any singular part of the whole that I didn’t like. There were individual moments that fell flat for me, but nothing I felt that needed to be cut or massively reworked.
If you’re looking for something new to watch, I can’t recommend Scott Pilgrim Takes Off enough. It’s a wild ride from start to finish, and at just eight episodes it’s a fairly quick binge. It’s funny, well-written, and has a lot of heart behind the sarcastic quips and sight gags.
You can watch Scott Pilgrim Takes Off on Netflix.