Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, Netflix’s animated take on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s seminal graphic novel series, hit the streamer today, and it’s a must-watch for fans of either the comics themselves or Edgar Wright’s 2010 movie adaptation. It’s one of our favorite animated shows of the year, but to find out why… we really need to talk about it.
Seriously, if you’re even remotely curious about Takes Off—which runs for eight episodes, and melds the animated stylings of hit studio Science Saru (Masaaki Yuasa and Eunyoung Choi’s workhouse behind the likes of Japan Sinks, Inu-Oh, Star Wars: Visions, and more) with the cast of Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World live-action movie—turn around, go to Netflix, and watch at least a couple episodes. It’s well worth trying out to see if you’re on board with it, and if you are, you stand a good job of not being able to put it down after those couple of episodes.
But if, like us, you’ve already devoured your way through it… well, let’s talk about what makes it really hit, for the most part—and a couple of things that didn’t quite work. Seriously, you’ve been warned:
We Liked: The Meta Twist
Okay, so here’s the thing: Scott Pilgrim’s first episode is a pretty faithful, brisk adaptation of the early parts of the comic series and the movie. Scott encounters mysterious delivery girl Ramona Flowers, becomes obsessed with her, and discovers that he has been challenged to mortal combat against her seven evil exes. Matthew Patel steps up at Sex Bo-bomb’s big concert, Scott and him battle…
And Matthew wins. Scott dies, leaving nothing but pocket change.
In a single moment after lulling you in with 20-odd minutes of faithful, pretty restrained adaptation, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off reveals its real intent. This isn’t a remake of the comic or an adaptation of the movie—it’s almost a sequel, a remixed riff on the beats of the tale that completely refreshes it and leaves space for a future that could go well beyond even the original comics. The mystery of what happens to Scott, and the audience’s expectation of what they thought the story would be, becomes central to making Takes Off work, and lets it update the source material in some really interesting ways while having a fascinating conversation with both the source material and the movie. (Shout out to Young Neil’s Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life: The Movie and its eventual musical adaptation, a very funny metacommentary on the comics’ own peculiar life beyond its source.)
We Liked: The Excellent Soundtrack
Takes Off takes its metatext integration even further with its soundtrack—a fantastic collaboration between composer Joseph Trapanese and chiptune group Anamanaguchi, who created the legendary soundtrack for the sidescrolling Ubisoft video game Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game in 2010. It’s a fantastic mix of original compositions and Anamanaguchi’s video-game-y vibes, and just as perfect for the gamified world of Scott Pilgrim and its fighting fantasies as it was 13 years ago.
We Liked: That the Movie Cast Really Works
These days, people—often rightfully—brace themselves when a voiceover project casts big name Hollywood talent. In the era of Chris Pratt’s animated tyranny, we’ve come to expect that studios casting stars not known for voice acting will lead to a generally mediocre experience, because voice acting is a very different skillset to acting for the big screen. So even with the excitement that Takes Off was reuniting the movie cast, there was a little hesitance that it wasn’t going to click—and let’s be honest, some of the first clips and trailers didn’t exactly help.
The good news, then, is that those fears are largely unabated. There’s a few moments here and there where things feel a little flat, but the cast falls effortlessly back into their roles and delivers solid performances—a nice mix between anime-inspired OTT earnestness and a naturalistic air. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Ramona in particular is fantastic, which is great, because…
We Liked: That It’s Ramona’s Story
Scott’s early removal from the plot does the unexpected in a lot of ways, but its best fallout is that Takes Off immediately then becomes Ramona’s story, as she navigates the loss of someone she was just beginning to bond with and then eventually goes rooting through the mystery of what really happened on the night of Matthew and Scott’s battle.
In a way we never really got in the movie, and only got a little of in the original comics, Takes Off spends a lot of its time exploring who Ramona is as a person—as complicated and laden with almost as many faults as Scott is—and her own relationship with the people that were in Scott’s lives, and now become parts of hers. She’s no longer the object to be fought over for the most part, but the active agent of the narrative.
We Liked: That There’s More Time With the Exes
Ramona being the driving force of Takes Off isn’t just a boon to her story, but to the League of Evil Exes to boot. Not only do we get to further explore their histories with her and expand those relationships, a few key figures in the League—namely Matthew, Gideon, Lucas, and Todd—get a lot of time to interact with each other and with their own stories. Matthew in particular is a highlight; his unanticipated win against Scott sets up a coup against Gideon that transforms the League into an entirely different thing beyond its association with Ramona. But in general, Takes Off does its characters a great justice by giving each and every one of them at least a little of their own thing beyond their connection to either Scott or Ramona.
We Liked: That It’s Queerer Than the Comics
More time for more narratives outside of Scott and Ramona is also great for exploring the series’ queer characters and connections, too—although arguably still not nearly enough, Roxie and Ramona’s former relationship gets a more nuanced and fleshed-out examination in Takes Off that does a far better job that the joke the movie treats it as. But the most fun highlight is Wallace’s expansion as a character—and his Hollywood fling with Todd Ingram on the set of Young Neil’s Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life movie. Queer people can be messy and socially disastrous and fun too! It really makes Takes Off feel like a more universal story about how messy people can be.
That said, I personally am a little bummed out Stephen Stills doesn’t get his boyfriend from the comics, Joseph. Maybe in season two?
We Liked: The Embrace of the Comics’ Aesthetic
The great thing about an animated adaptation of Scott Pilgrim is that, well, it can actually look like Scott Pilgrim. Takes Off’s fantastic embrace of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s artwork creates a gorgeous looking show, and Science Saru handles both intimate moments and the over-the-top action with a ton of style and flair. There’s some really clever camera touches too that, despite the show’s overall stylized aesthetic, lend a realism to the way that it’s shot and framed that feels like a great nod to the movie as well.
We Didn’t Like: That Scott Felt Underexplored
The thing about making Scott Pilgrim Takes Off what it is is that, well, Scott Pilgrim takes off. Scott himself is key to the story told here, but he’s out of the picture for the vast majority of it. While he’s not as shitty as he is in the comics, we don’t really get to see too much of an arc for him where he grows as a person out of his connection to Ramona, because he’s cut off from her from the end of the first episode pretty much to the show’s climax. Yes, it’s clever that this time around it’s the masculine side of the relationship that is the trophy to be fought over, but it still means Scott suffers in exploring his character as a foil to all the excellent work the show otherwise does with the rest of the ensemble.
We Didn’t Like: Future Scott’s Plan
Scott takes off, because, of course—almost as quickly established as it’s introduced—he doesn’t really die fighting Matthew at the end of the first episode. It’s eventually revealed to the audience, and through Ramona’s own investigation over the course of the season, that Scott has been kidnapped… by none other than his future self (played by Will Forte in a delightful turn), one who wooed Ramona, defeated all her exes, and then dated her before growing apart, and becoming distant and bitter in the process.
So his plan is pretty much to kidnap his past self, show him what a terrible person he is, and then blame it on Ramona to try and twist young Scott into never dating her in the first place. Which would be interesting, but then Takes Off layers in a twist that Future Scott laces his past self with nanomachines that prevent him from being able to kiss Ramona, setting up a big battle between everyone and a hulked-out Future Scott at the end that is very visually fun but… just kind of a weird sideways jaunt.
The whole point of Future Scott growing apart from Future Ramona was his own communication issues and unwillingness to actually talk to people, so the fact that Takes Off almost has to end with a big scrap instead of navigating that in a more nuanced way is a little disappointing.
We Didn’t Like: That Ramona Did All This For a Guy She Barely Knew
The other thing about taking Scott off the board so swiftly is that the story is almost entirely driven by the idea that Ramona does everything she does, and uncovers the bizarre plot Scott has been thrust into by his future self, for a guy she’s known at most for a week before he “dies.”
Not even Scott’s friends are particularly broken up by his supposed passing, and while it’s reasonable that Ramona feels guilt over it, it almost would’ve been better to actually see her bond and spend more time with Scott before the twist, just so it felt a little less pre-destined that she and him had to end up together. It’s a minor quibble—especially as the series ends with the potential for more to come, so we can actually see just how much all this impacted Ramona and Scott as they navigate their future together—but it is a little weird when you let the shock of the twist cool off and think about it.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is now streaming on Netflix.