Few media properties are as legendary and successful in nerd culture as “Scott Pilgrim.” The beloved franchise began as a humble graphic novel series from 2004, became a cult classic live-action movie and inspired a successful video game in 2010. But when Bryan Lee O’Malley, the creator of the franchise, was asked to develop an animated “Scott Pilgrim” series in 2013, fans were let down. O’Malley said that while he would love to, “it would have to be a full-time job” and that it was “too late,” given the financial underperformance of the film.
Lo and behold, ten years later, such a series exists, animated in Japan by acclaimed studio Science Saru and showrun and co-written by O’Malley himself. It’s the result of perfect alignment between several factors. Firstly, the show is part of Netflix’s efforts to diversify its animation output (alongside shows like “Rilakkuma” and “Blue Eye Samurai”). Secondly, the anime industry has seen increased interest in adapting western media (Science Saru previously worked on “Adventure Time” and “Star Wars: Visions”). Combined with the growing nostalgia and internet popularity of the film, “Scott Pilgrim” was the perfect intellectual property for an anime reboot.
It’s not a project taken for granted by the studio. The anime medium finally allows “Scott Pilgrim” to fully realize its complex fight scenes inspired by “Dragon Ball” and “Ranma ½.” But more importantly, a full, 8-episode remake of the story gives its creators a chance to highlight fully original content from the second episode onwards. It charts a new path for the series while still being faithful to the source material, and serves up plenty of meta-commentary about the series’ place in popular culture to keep itself energetic and creative.
The show, therefore, is not the most accommodating to newcomers. Its subversion of the established story will of course go over the heads of first-time viewers, as might some of the fantasy concepts. Nevertheless, at the core of “Scott Pilgrim” remains a story about adrift 20 somethings growing into actual adults, with hilarious and relatable characters (Kieran Culkin’s Wallace Wells is a standout).
For returning fans, the story is rich with changes begging for analysis. The series protagonist is no longer the titular loser-boy, but rather his alt-girl love interest Ramona Flowers. And though the series still leans into obscure and nerdy references, it steers its focus away from the fanboying over anime combat and towards the character relationships and inner conflicts. Rather than the high-energy, highly-edited snappiness of the 2010 film, “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” emulates the chill, indie vibe of the original graphic novels to massive success. The series fleshes out characters that the movie left one-note due to its runtime, while also exploring new dimensions and relationships that the comic never depicted.
Carrying over the cast of the 2010 film, the acting is unfortunately a mixed bag. That’s not to say that anyone cast is a bad actor (included are A-listers like Michael Cera, Brie Larson, and Chris Evans). Rather, the middling performances likely come from a lack of experience. While some stars, like Cera and Evans, do have prior voice acting experience, most have only ever done live action roles. This leads to many performances sounding flat and a bit uninterested.
Nevertheless, “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” is a triumph for the franchise and its legacy. It’s part reinvention and part celebration. Fully inventive, it is the antithesis of “Scott Pilgrim, but again.”