Nineteen years seems like a pretty long time to finally get a proper animated series based on the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, but now is as good as any time for such an endeavor to take place, and boy howdy did it ever. Produced by original creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and the reboot Are You Afraid of the Dark? creator BenDavid Grabinski, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is a Netflix bankrolled production alongside Science SARU, a Japanese animation company that has done both Japanese and American productions, as well as two shorts for the Star Wars: Visions project. But one of the best parts is that they also got Anamanaguchi, a prolific chiptune band that did the music for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World The Game to do the music for this, when it wasn’t licensed tracks.
If you’re like me, and you’ve read the original graphic novels, or saw the live-action movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in 2010, you might’ve gone into this thinking it would just be an animated adaptation of that. Netflix even took care to keep the promo material feeling like that was going to be the case. But at the end of the first episode, you’re in for the start of a real treat to this eight-episode cour, and that means you are either not going to like what you see, or you will appreciate this coat of fresh paint on an old franchise. For that, I’ll fold much of this review under a spoiler cut, watch it, and then read into that.You the Reader VERSUS A Significant Spoiler Cut
So if you’re here, it’s because you finished the first episode, and thought to yourself “Wait, back the fun bus the fuck up… Scott didn’t die!” and you may have even fumbled back through the movie or the graphic novels. Yes, he did not lose in the source material, he beat Patel, and would then proceed to battle all of Ramona’s evil exes to win her, like a pre-feminist trophy prize. Instead, the show’s sacred timeline deviates at that point and spawns a new original story, one where Scott is seemingly missing from the picture, presumed dead, and Ramona is left to pick up the pieces. Despite only knowing him all of a week, she seems convinced he was the one for her, so much that she then sees him in her subspace highway dreams, and begins a Columbo-like quest to investigate.
Through the next four episodes, the show centers itself squarely around Ramona and her investigation, which sees her essentially confronting all of her evil exes roughly in the same order as Scott did before. Much of backdrop is framed around a movie script seemingly written by Young Neil called “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life”, which is being put into production by Gideon’s studio, now in the possession of Matthew Patel. The entire film is actually the original iteration of Scott Pilgrim and his quest through the evil exes, unknowingly to the characters, and even Young Neil himself, who thinks he wrote it in his sleep. This plot-within-a-plot warps around everyone in weird and interesting ways. Most of it works, some of it didn’t. You go from episode three’s big fight scene between Ramona and Roxie to episode four being largely centered around Lucas Lee as he stumbles his way into the movie’s lead role, as Scott Pilgrim, whom he only knows indirectly from The League. Here, the show slows down a bit with significantly less action and a lot more exposition into his character. For the layperson, it might feel slow, but as you continue to see throughout all of Ramona’s encounters with her evil exes, the circumstances of her relationships with these characters are actually being explored, versus just outright fought the way Scott did before. In fact, the only ex she actually battles throughout this show is Roxie. The rest she manages to have mostly civil discussions with. Perhaps part of me did want to see girlboss Ramona whack-a-mole through all of her exes in an alternate story style, but as you come to find out at the end, it’s girlfailure Ramona that wins, and saves the universe, or something.
As Ramona probes her evil exes for information, some other characters get expansions of their own. Knives joins Sex Bom-omb. Wallace joins the cast of the movie as himself and has a fling with Todd. Gideon shacks up with Julie. Some however do not get very much expansion. Kim interacts with many characters, but doesn’t expound much on herself. Stacey is just a barista without much more. The Katayanagis are only plot devices. Stephen doesn’t get his gay arc. This would either imply that they just didn’t have the time or budget to get to everyone, or there will be more of this animated show to be made. I for one would enjoy having new, animated material in this universe. I was a fan of the graphic novels, and I think it was because it was one of the more better put together blends of pop culture, music nerd shit, gaming nerd shit, and romantic comedy with characters that everyone probably had friends of at least four or five of the archetypes. I know our title character, and the lead girl, are kind of the glue that holds the universe together, but this show took care to try and move the focus onto others for a change. The feeling I can describe watching this is like when I watched Clerks: The Animated Series. It also created this weird adjacent universe of dumb bullshit that just happened to include the main characters, and it was funny.
So when the big plot twist reveal drops in episode seven, it turns out the person who kidnapped Scott from the fight through the vegan portal was himself, from the future. Played by Will Forte in English and Fumihiko Tachiki, literally fucking Ikari Gendo from Neon Genesis Evangelion in Japanese, “Old Scott” proceeds to show him around Wallace Wells’ home he shares with his “rich Nintendo husband” that Scott is once again bumming after a fallout with Ramona. A fallout he attributes to the whole “fighting the evil exes” thing. Yes, this timeline deviation is built on the premise that had Scott not fought the exes, he wouldn’t date Ramona and get his heart broken, presumably the way all of Ramona’s exes have before. It’s a very Butterfly Effect kind of story, but with a few more twists, like Scott using The Twins’ robot to navigate the past. Scott manages to get back with the help of Old Ramona and her DeLorean Skates, only to find out he’s been NANOMACHINE, SON’d by Old Scott with an “A.K Field” (HAHA FUCKING GENDO’D AMIRITE?) so he cannot kiss Ramona after reuniting with her.
The final episode, “The World vs Scott Pilgrim” is just a very cheeky turnabout that I quite enjoyed. Yes, time-travel plots can be very lackluster in today’s everything-is-time-travel-or-multiverse shit. But it’s very like Scott Pilgrim to not really understand how time travel works, or more importantly, how time travel does not work. Ignoring that is much more fun to the audience though, so the final boss fight ends with a very satisfied conclusion and epilogue that sets up that aforementioned question of will there be more to this new alternate universe? Will it still be set in mid-2000s Toronto? Or will we explore all of the “Old” versions of these characters in the closer present?
I think I wrote something about the live-action movie thirteen years ago in an older blog, or social media. Unsure which. Perhaps the most fun to be had with this is hearing all these names who were mostly nobodies in 2010, come back and voice their nobody roles after having thirteen years to become somebodies. Chris Evans’ Captain America, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Hera Syndulla, Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, Alison Pill’s Agnes Jurati, and so many more, I was not a fan of Michael Cera, and in many ways the film just reeked of that mid-2000s stoner comedy vibe, which paired to O’Malley’s slacker comedy vibe seemed appropriate to cast Cera in. I especially poked fun at Jason Schwartzman’s depiction of Gideon Graves because he looked like they applied an American hipster lens to that character for extra cringe effect. Thirteen years and an animated format has helped fix a lot of those issues, because even though the original live-action cast lent their voices to these characters again, the tone and delivery felt much more relaxed and fresh. It felt like they had fun with it, like they genuinely wanted to come back to these roles without having to actually step on camera. This is why animation works so well, it extends the longevity of something, but also allows actors who traditionally don’t do VA roles a chance to flex their voice and have fun.
But in an even more cheeky twist, they recruited a very heavy-hitting Japanese VA cast for the Japanese dub to this show. Hiro Shimono who plays Scott, was none other than Katsuragi Keima in Kami nomi zo Shiru Sekai or The World God Only Knows. Our lead boy has experience playing the weirdo loser chasing the girls already. Fairouz Ai who plays Ramona, has a much shorter list of VA credits among the cast, but was the heavy-hitting Jolyne Kuujou in Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure: Stone Ocean. Tomokazu Seki plays Gideon, and you should know his name in dozens of shows going back to 1986, including G Gundam, Fushigi Yuugi, Kidou Senkan Nadesico (MOTHERFUCKING DAIGOJI GAI), Pokemon, Initial D, Kidou Tenshi Angelic Layer, and Gundam SEED as Yzak Joule. More include:
- Kana Hanazawa (Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai) as Envy Adams
- Yû Kobayashi (Steins;Gate) as Julie Powers
- Aoi Koga (Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen) as Knives Chau
- Yuuichi Nakamura (Guilty Crown) as Lucas Lee
- Wataru Hatano (Major) as Todd Ingram
- Shunsuke Takeuchi (The iDOLM@STER) as Ken Katayanagi
- Anri Katsu (Toaru Majutsu no Index) as Stephen Stills
- Naomi Ohzora (Genshiken Nidaime) as Roxie Richter
- Misato Matsuoka (Boushoku no Berserk) as Stacey Pilgrim
- Tomo Muranaka (World Trigger) as Kim Pine
- Yûto Kawasaki as Young Neil
- Katsuya Fukunishi (Tokyo Revengers) as Wallace Wells
- Shinji Saitô as Matthew Patel
Certainly, you want to watch this in English first in order to get the full experience of the original movie cast do their thing to their animated counterparts. But then give it a listen in Japanese. It fits so well. The only change I would make would be to have all of the narration and announcer voiceovers be done by Wakamoto Norio. If you know the voice, you know.
Netflix funding this production did probably mean changing a minor detail, and that was the delivery service Ramona was working for at the start of the show. In both the graphic novel and film, it was Amazon she delivered for back when they first got going online. Netflix had also started their service delivering DVDs around the same time frame, though I don’t know if they operated in Canada. Nevertheless, Scott is seen ordering a Lucas Lee film off Netflix for Ramona to deliver to him. Historically inaccurate, but when you’re footing the bill for the production, creative measures must be taken.
Overall, this show was legit fun to watch, and a long fucking time coming for something animated to be made that mimics more the original art style of the graphic novels. Scott Pilgrim has never been particularly legendary among the nerdoms, but it’s always held a cult classic following, especially with people who were big into webcomics in that mid-to-late 2000s era. It was everything Megatokyo wanted to be, but in Canada, or something.
Final Score: Seven-point-five Young Neil golf cart accidents out of ten cups of Wallace’s coffee. Which I bet are fucking amazing.