From its marketing and anime-styled opening credits, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off could be confused for a straightforward adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, albeit one determined not to step on the toes of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Many scenes from the Netflix series, particularly in the first episode, are staged almost identically to their equivalents in Wright’s 2010 film, and the entire cast returns to voice their animated counterparts. Once again, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is poised to fight the seven evil exes of his dream girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
By the time the first episode concludes, however, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off has firmly announced its intention to go in another direction, as well as clarified the meaning of its title in the process: that Scott Pilgrim is nowhere to be found. Of course, while our hero loses the very first fight against Ramona’s ex, Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), and is believed to be dead, Ramona is unconvinced. The series then morphs into a low-key whodunit in which Ramona investigates her exes as the prime suspects in hopes of learning what has actually become of Scott.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off asks: When the center of a story’s universe disappears, what happens to all of the people who were in his orbit? Across eight episodes, balances of power shift and relationships evolve. Matthew challenges his position at the bottom of the pecking order, and Scott’s sort-of-girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) joins his band in his absence.
This approach is a mature, introspective take on O’Malley’s source material. Instead of Scott fighting for Ramona’s heart, here we watch as she talks through the sordid details of her past and even reconciles with some of her exes. As for the mystery at the center of the series, it functions like a welcome excuse to explore the side characters and antagonists in more depth than a film adaptation of six graphic novels could possibly ever allow.
Which isn’t to say that the series dispenses with the original story’s fantastical elements. Indeed, it abounds in over-the-top action sequences involving everything from characters fending off ninja paparazzi to a skirmish inside the TV set at a movie rental store. The gorgeous animation directed by Abel Góngora for Japanese studio Science Saru takes O’Malley’s art in bouncy, expressive directions, lending character to even the most ordinary moments of everyday life.
Less successful is Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’s investigation-oriented plot, which leaves many of the fight scenes feeling a bit extraneous—more like a fulfillment of expectations than a natural fit for the storytelling. The same goes for the sheer number of characters, many of whom seem to pop up here because they also make an appearance in Wright’s film. As for the thread of reckoning with one’s own past, it grows increasingly murky amid all the laborious exposition in later episodes. So while Scott Pilgrim Takes Off does offer a surprisingly fresh and funny take on its source material, the pieces don’t fit together as neatly as they should.
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