Not too long ago in Toronto, Canada, 23 year old Scott Pilgrim fixated on his weird dreams of a mysterious rollerblading girl with colorful hair. After practicing with his indie band of subjective quality, the group ends up at a party where, much to Scott’s surprise, he finds the girl of his dreams. He swiftly fumbles his attempts at socializing, and learns her name is Ramona Flowers. She’s a new resident from America that makes deliveries, usually through using Scott’s dreams as an interdimensional shortcut. Jump to a somewhat awkward yet charming date, and the sparks begin to fly (literally). But what Scott doesn’t know is that this relationship comes with more baggage than normal. All of Ramona’s evil exes have formed a league bent on crushing anyone she tries to go out with, and Scott is now their target. And to top it off, our hero actually loses the first fight and dies immediately, drastically altering the story of Scott Pilgrim you may be familiar with. But is he really dead? And what caused this change in history?
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is the perfect example of how to take an existing franchise and elevate it within a new medium in a drastically different yet fan faithful way. It marketed itself as a Scott Pilgrim remake only to bait and switch the audience with a meta sequel, and it works incredibly well here. With the new title quite literally saying Scott is gone and it’s everyone else’s time to shine. The focus here is on Ramona and every other character in the Scott Pilgrim universe in the aftermath of his death. Matthew Patel, the victor, overthrows the league’s mastermind, Gideon, and proclaims himself the protagonist. Knives and Stephen team up to make a musical while Young Neil somehow writes a screenplay of the original Scott Pilgrim plot. And Ramona, our real star, believes Scott was kidnapped and meant to look like he died. The new narrative allows for each evil ex to be explored in much more exciting ways than being the villain of the hour. With the absence of Scott, they’ve realized the league won’t bring Ramona back to any of them and so they must move on. This allows us to instead see their more personal sides and grow attached to every minor character.
Reading the original graphic novels or seeing the cult classic 2010 film adaptation enhances the experience, but the alternative anime story is still a fun story without that context. Even without the titular character it’s easy to understand how much of an impact Scott Pilgrim originally had on this world, for better or worse. Aside from the influence of Scott, other elements have been changed as little winks. Ramona now delivers Netflix DVDs, a fitting reminder this is a Netflix Original. And Scott’s video game fun fact now is that Sonic the Hedgehog was played by the same guy in two different adaptations. This is of course highlighting how Michael Cera is doing the same at this moment, as the whole cast of the Edgar Wright film was brought back to be the voice actors in the anime.
Where the story goes and the references within Scott Pilgrim Takes Over is impressive by itself, but Science Saru took it a step further in its animation. They have a firm and amazing comprehension of how to make a Scott Pilgrim anime work visually. It takes heavy inspiration from the graphic novels by Canadian cartoonist Bryan Lee O’Malley, whose style itself was influenced by Japanese manga. This makes for easily iconic character designs alongside an aesthetically unique world. Science Saru transforms Toronto into an excitingly quirky city with superpower fighting game brawls. Taking on this more cartoon aesthetic may make it hard for some purists to accept this as an anime project, but unfortunately for them the amount of Western producers and writers doesn’t dictate that. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners made that crystal clear. And it’s something that every other anime database but MyAnimeList has recognized and acknowledged. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is by no means an outsourcing of animation work to a Japanese studio, as nearly all main creative staff involved are from Science Saru. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is anime. Plain and simple.
The only area where this adaptation lacks a bit is in terms of its comedic timing. Edgar Wright nailed down the perfect right way to handle it: fast-paced dialogue with ridiculous minor lines made hilarious by how quickly we move on. While the comedy in Scott Pilgrim Takes Off certainly isn’t lacking, it is reduced by how slowly spaced out the delivery of lines is. This may partially be due to the original audio being English, meaning compromises might have been made somewhere on Science Saru’s end to accommodate this. But I’m no expert on how dialogue pacing is determined for these cases. All I know is many jokes would have landed ten times funnier to me if it was just a tad quicker in general.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off may not have been what most were expecting, but it was an astounding animated experience of a cult classic series. It’s a love letter from Science Saru to every Scott Pilgrim side character while holding strong as its own unique entry to the franchise. After the initial episode bait and switch, each episode is a fresh idea executed in creative ways. And they’re all loaded with great insert songs along. The returning voice cast was a nice touch, albeit nerfed by slower timings. Visually this stands out firmly and proudly in the anime sphere, and its very simple yet exciting plot needs to be studied. This anime adaptation not only takes off but soars across the cartoon Toronto skies.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is available to stream now on Netflix.
Title: Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
Media Type: ONA
Aired: Fall 2023
Studio: Science Saru
Director: Abel Gongora
Original Story: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Character Design: Shuuhei Handa