Scott Pilgrim Takes Off in a New Direction – This Week in Anime


Nick and Chris dive into the brand-new adaptation of the fan-favorite comic, although something is missing…where’s Scott?

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is streaming on Netflix

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Nick

Knock Knock Knock
Hello, special delivery from Netflix. Are you uh….”TWIT?”

Chris

We’re, uh, TWIA. Is Netflix coming in the mail? Either that service is still going in Canada, or a new anime adaptation is about to make me relive the tumultuous experience of being in my twenties during the mid-2000s.

I have no idea what goes on in the frigid, barren wasteland of Canada and its godforsaken populace, but I can vouch for that second part! That’s right everyone, it’s time to get into the unlikely new production from Science SARU: a goddamn Scott Pilgrim anime in 2023.
It’s been pointed out how bizarre Scott Pilgrim is as a phenomenon: This odd little manga-influenced Canadian indie comic wound up becoming a cultural sensation, then spawning a star-studded movie adaptation directed by Edgar Wright. And most of those celebrities have come back a decade later, lending their voices to an actual anime version of the movie.




At least all that weird stuff is just in the lead-up to Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, and we can expect the adaptation to be a simple, faithful recreation of that famed source material.
I don’t know why we’re covering this when y’all already talked about anime based on Western properties, but we can wax nostalgic about growing up in the Bush Administration. Maybe joke about the size of Hummer SUVs or all-denim fashion-



…when people said Scott Pilgrim couldn’t survive in this day and age, I didn’t realize they were that literal.
As well as this series worked with Netflix‘s expected binge model, it’s yet another one I would have loved to follow on a weekly release. Just an entire week of my social media timelines melting down about the title character being killed off at the end of the first episode of what appeared to be a rather rote retelling of the comics.




This series and its choices have already resulted in a weekend of Scott Pilgrim all over my feeds, like I’m back on 2008 manga message boards. It would’ve been wild to have this for eight straight weeks.

I think the binge model suits this pretty well, if only because it allows for that initial shock to settle and then immediately see what this new take is all about. What we got is pretty: the creative staff is turning the original premise on its head and seriously re-evaluating what kind of story they want to tell in a new time and place.

I was merely curious about what a Science SARU Scott Pilgrim anime would be like when I thought it might be a more straightforward adaptation. But finding out that Takes Off was a more ambitious take-off on the source material catapulted me into genuine enthusiasm for the show. It’s eminently refreshing to see the staff, alongside original creator Bryan Lee O’Malley, use this opportunity to explore this setting and its characters from a completely different angle.



It turns out the Evil Exes have a fair bit going on when they don’t just line up to get beaten into coins by Scott.
From what I’ve seen, it’s a bold move that has mostly gone over pretty well. Some fans are upset that it wasn’t just a faithful recreation of the original comic. Still, it seems like most people who were into Scott Pilgrim back in the day are responding with a lot of enthusiasm for it getting the Rebuild of Evangelion treatment.
It might just be how I curate my social media intake, but the reactions I’ve seen have also been primarily positive. It’s not always a given with this sort of move, but I think it helps that the new story put forth by the show and the presentation of it is such a joy to behold.

It works because it recognizes that while Scott Pilgrim‘s main emotional thrust was fairly novel in nerd media when it first came out, that’s not the case now. We’ve had decades of nerd-centric media about flawed male leads in their teens and twenties, slowly learning to improve. I think that 15 years later, O’Malley felt it was better to spotlight other characters’ stories and perspectives.

Given how many of us were vocally dreading retreading the various discourses of the original Scott Pilgrim leading up to this show, I can sympathize with the creators deciding they didn’t want to do the same plot over for a third time. So going the meta-rewriting route and making this more about Scott Pilgrim the story than Scott Pilgrim the guy is a smart move.


Plus, if you wanted a story about a 20-something screwup slowly trying to grow out of their worst habits and making up for the people they’ve hurt, I have good news: Being a dirtbag in your early adulthood is not exclusive to guys.
Ramona wasn’t exactly underserved as a character over the whole course of the original comics, but here we see that she can carry the plot as a solo protagonist. Taking Scott out of the equation and having her be the one to confront and try to reconcile with her exes cascades into even more of that development for others in the cast. It’s a delicious amount of digging into these people that got me to genuinely love the likes of Roxie and Lucas as actual characters.



It’s wild how much Scott’s absence opens room for everyone else. Episode three offers some genuine closure for Ramona and Roxie and gives side characters like Kim a chance to develop a bit. It also allows them to make “Scott Pilgrim Yuri” a phrase I have to say.


Scott Pilgrim Yuri and Scott Pilgrim Yaoi, this truly is the adaptation for 2023.

Also, I know most people were excited to have the movie’s cast return to voice everybody, but I went with the JP audio because I would not pass up hearing Yū Kobayashi swear like a sailor.

I ended up watching the whole thing twice because 1) as we’ve covered, this is quite good, and 2) I had to check out the Japanese dub after hearing about the cast. The only thing better than Ramona Flowers in the lead is Ramona Flowers in the lead voiced by Fairouz Ai.

I didn’t know I needed Aoi Koga as Knives Chau until I heard it, but now I can’t imagine life without it.

Before this was released, I knew there was some trepidation about how “anime” this Netflix Original Anime adaptation of a Canadian comic would be. Still, between that cast and Science SARU‘s rendering of the series, I can comfortably say that Scott Pilgrim Takes Off IS anime.

That is the least interesting thing to argue about this show. If somebody walked up to me and started trying to debate the exact definition of anime, I’d be like, “Whatever!”

Those needle drops might be another element that makes its pure anime status a bit more skewed, but I ain’t going to complain about them.


Nobody complained when Cyberpunk: Edgerunners had Let’s Eat Grandma or The Armed, so they don’t get to be picky when this show throws in Sarah McLachlin covers



Sidenote: I compiled all the needle drops and ED songs and dare anyone to send this as a mixtape playlist to their crush.

Musical references are as much a part of Scott Pilgrim as ones to manga or old video games. So it fits to incorporate all of them here and goes a long way towards giving Takes Off the feel that fans of the source material know, despite the massively diverged story. That might explain why this show’s status as an AU/Spin-off/Sequel/Whatever to the original has been a bit less divisive than might have been expected, since regardless, it still feels like Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s Scott Pilgrim.

It’s still thematically and tonally in line with the original version. It’s a story about a collection of 20-something screwups being toxic and flaky while trying to navigate their messed-up relationships. It’s still got the snappy and metatextual sense of humor. It’s still got Scott Pilgrim dating a teenager. But now, with a modern perspective on its legacy, it can also respond to its audience cleverly.


I love how the team on this show gets in front of that point multiple times. They came prepared, it’s great.





That’s part of Scott’s whole deal. He’s an immature dirtbag who’s more comfortable dating an inexperienced high schooler who’s easily impressed by his incredibly mid attributes. At the same time, we’ve seen enough media about “problematic” guys who date minors and get zero pushback, so I appreciate the show making it abundantly clear that he’s a douchebag and Knives is better off finding her drive. I wish we got more of her. That one scene of her and Kim jamming was fantastic.

“Knives joins the band” is an obvious route for the character in hindsight. That’s another benefit of that modern perspective granted by this particular avenue for “adaptation.” Yeah, they could have just rewritten the original storyline of the comics where they excised those problematic aspects, but engaging in conversation with the source material this way is so much more interesting. It’s an approach that makes it comparable to the invoked-earlier Rebuild of Evangelion, which is both cool and hilarious.

I know we keep bringing up those EVA movies, but that’s because this feels in line with them. The Rebuild quadrology was a decade-long opportunity for Anno to re-examine his most famous story and reconsider how he told it and what he wanted to express as a creator. The result ended up being divisive and taking years to be completed, but it was ultimately richer for being so willing to dissect its origin. Takes Off never gets quite as reflective, but it makes up for it by being cheeky as hell with its status within a larger franchise.


It’s an approach that works for me because I love metatext and seeing how authors interface with their works. I loved the EVA movies for that, especially the third one that blindsided everyone with its most massive story shift. It makes me wonder about some of those contentions. For instance, its status does mean that Takes Off isn’t a recommendable adaptation option for newcomers, similar to other meta sequels such as Rebuild of Eva or the now-ongoing Final Fantasy VII Remake.

That’s fair. Even ignoring reflexive disappointment, I can understand why folks might bristle at the general idea of this. I certainly get tired whenever a legacy reboot or remake makes itself a half-baked metaphor about the nature of reboots. Here, that’s mostly an added layer that rests on top of the genuinely engaging character drama, humor, and fantastic action setpieces.


The other point came from the few naysayers who did cross my feed. I didn’t agree with it, but the argument seems to go that Takes Off too effectively hid its alternate-universe status, “tricking” viewers who were hoping for a played-straight adaptation. That gets into the question of how much a project like this owes its audience that kind of alert versus how much of its impact is predicated on the surprise of a swerve, like killing off your title character in the first episode.



This was the sort of thing that Final Fantasy VII Remake also got hit with.

I’m not interested in telling people how to feel about that, or if hiding stuff for the sake of surprising the audience deserves to be called lying or whatever. If your initial disappointment is that this isn’t a straightforward adaptation, it may be worth pushing past that first reaction and approaching the show on its terms. This isn’t changing stuff just to be different – it’s very much in dialogue with the original story and its audience, and being open to that conversation may be pretty rewarding.

As I’ve made clear, I absolutely agree. It stands up compared to other anime that tried what Rebuild of Scott Pilgrim here did to less success. Series that changed major plot points for their own sake, like in the Fuuka anime, or genuinely did go the deception route at the outset, like Higurashi: When They Cry – GOU, didn’t generate nearly the buzz and goodwill we’ve had for Scott Pilgrim this weekend.

Well, in Fuuka‘s case, it took ten episodes to reveal they had cut out the funniest part of that whole stupid story. So, of course, nobody would react well to them retconning Truck-kun out of existence.

Effectively, the opposite of taking out Scott Pilgrim early on, both in execution and impact.





I firmly believe Fuuka is why we’ve been cursed with so many isekai anime. Truck-kun was robbed of his promised sacrifice and is now painting the roads red with blood until he is sated.

It could just be that Fuuka was never in the cultural zeitgeist the way Scott Pilgrim was. Doing this sort of thing requires having a built-in fanbase who can be taken out by these swerves and interface with what they mean for the author’s telling of the story. It’s why it worked for something on the Evangelion level.
My favorite version of this movie is in Macross: Do You Remember Love? Much as I like the original TV series, its plot was messy, and the final third was a hastily assembled, extended epilogue that didn’t serve the story or characters well. So, the movie revamping the plot and central love triangle is a significant improvement. And much like how Takes Off manages to flesh out the supporting cast, DYRL turned Lynn Minmay, a pretty underwritten side character for most of the series, into the foundational lynchpin for the entire franchise. There is an excellent reason why every subsequent entry treats the movie version as canon.
Sometimes just changing the original story works without any in-universe timeline metatext. In Macross case, that might be one reason it was able to build up its fanbase and continue as a franchise to this day. The creators must calculate the decision to rewrite their own story in the name of adaptation on a case-by-case basis.

Meanwhile, suppose it’s not well-considered, or you don’t properly communicate its motivation. In that case, you get stuff like the infamous 2nd season of The Promise Neverland, a bag so fumbled that people don’t even talk about the manga anymore because they’re too busy being angry at the anime.

Oh man, you had to remind me. There are so many “anime-only” ending storylines for adaptations that it can be hard to confirm if they fit into the same sort of thing conceptually as what Takes Off is doing. But The Promised Neverland tried to go for that fan-fake-out reaction-inciting swerve. Not only did it fail to stick the landing, but it also somehow wound up face-planting in an entirely different zip code.



We talk about different timelines, and I would love to look in on the one where whatever happened behind the scenes of this adaptation that made them go this route…didn’t.

I’d like a timeline where the discussion could progress beyond the adaptation’s failings, as eye-catching as they were. It’s not like the anime erased the manga from existence any more than Takes Off got rid of the comic or movie. And I think we, as an audience, would be a lot better served if we could learn to live with imperfect – or even bad – adaptations rather than letting them dominate the discourse.

That’s true. And it’s relevant since a big part of the theming of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is that our experiences are worth remembering, even if they ended badly or had bits that weren’t so great in hindsight. I know that finishing Takes Off made me want to go back and give the original Scott Pilgrim comics a reread.

I certainly hope it can do the same for other folks. We’re living in a media environment where it feels like any deviation from what’s expected, or anything that takes a big swing at new ideas, gets taken as hostility towards the fanbase. However one feels about Takes Off and its approach to its source material, I think it’s worth approaching with as open a mind as possible. It might not be exactly what you expected, but that may be why it’s worth your time.

It turns out Scott Pilgrim can teach us just as much in our thirties as it did in our twenties. Now, if only it could teach us how to return these Netflix DVDs now that we’re done with them. I do not want to get hit with those late fees.

I guess we’ll need to find a side gig to help with those debts. That’s one thing from my twenties that hasn’t changed.



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