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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” is a delight for comic and movie fans alike

Saichand Chowdary
A student browses through Netflix. Photo by Saichand Chowdary / Mass Media Staff.

*This review contains spoilers for “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.”*

It’s been 19 years since the release of “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life,” the first issue in a now infamous series of comics by artist Bryan Lee O’Malley. It’s been 13 years since the release of Edgar Wright’s movie adaptation. Now, all this time later, Scott Pilgrim and his friends have returned for an eight-episode animated series on Netflix. Does it stand up to the source material? Can fans of the movie and comics enjoy it? The answer to both questions is a resounding “yes”—here’s why. 

For those who are unaware, “Scott Pilgrim” is a story of the titular character, in all his 23-year-old, nerdy, self-obsessed glory. He plays bass in a terrible garage band with his friends, lives in a literal hole-in-the-wall, mooching off his wealthier roommate and is dating a high schooler. Yikes. 

This simple life is suddenly disrupted when he begins to have mysterious dreams about an even more mysterious girl named Ramona Flowers, a girl that he eventually finds in real life. He romantically pursues this girl, cheating on his current girlfriend in the process, but he soon finds out that if he wants to date her, he will have to defeat her seven evil ex-partners in a Mortal Kombat style fashion. 

It’s a unique story, one that was very innovative for the time, and both the comics and the movie arguably appeal to different audiences. Fans of the comics were satisfied with the movie for the most part, but they critique how flat and underdeveloped the characters turned out. After all, there’s only so much character growth that can occur within a two-hour time frame.

Fans of the movie, on the other hand, have often not even heard of the comics. It’s rare to find a fan of the movie who dislikes the comics, but it’s much more common to find a fan of the comics that dislikes the movie. 

This caused a lot of speculation when the first announcements for the Scott Pilgrim animated series were released. Netflix didn’t deliver much information; there was no official trailer with dialogue, only a few promotional images, and all fans had in terms of the premise was a very vague summary. The original cast of the movie was said to be returning to their roles, with stars such as Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman, Kieran Culkin and Aubrey Plaza. 

Many were under the impression, judging by the brief clips in the trailer, that the series was going to follow the movie beat-by-beat, with perhaps a little more detail given to the character development in the comics. There wasn’t much pushback to this idea, either. Fans were excited to see the series developed into animation, a medium that is objectively much easier to adapt this kind of concept into. 

Then the series came out, and fans were shocked to discover how different the series truly was–the most important difference being the lack of Scott Pilgrim himself. The first episode follows the movie rather closely, but it ends with a plot twist: Scott is supposedly killed by Ramona’s first evil ex, disappearing without a trace. 

The series then takes its own route, following Ramona’s adventures as she works to find Scott and prove that he isn’t really dead. There’s time travel, more fights and fully fleshed-out characters that connect to the audience more than ever.

The series presents its characters in a much more endearing light than the movie does. A major part of the comic series is Scott’s improvement as a person, which is not at all discussed in the movie. This is a major drawback of the movie, since Scott’s redemption arc is an integral aspect.

He’s a cheater, a creep and an arrogant boyfriend who doesn’t care about the well-being of the people around him. Luckily, Scott faces punishment and scrutiny in the show as a result of his terrible actions. He quite literally takes a look at himself and realizes how pathetic he really is, and he seems to go through positive change by the end. 

The show is also more dynamic in terms of its female characters. Ramona is much more complex and likable than she is in the movie. Roxie, Ramona’s ex-girlfriend, is given a sympathetic backstory and ample closure with Ramona. But the most important change is the one that occurs in Knives Chau, Scott’s 17-year-old girlfriend that he cheats on with Ramona. 

Rather than spend the entire series sulking over losing Scott, which she does in the movie and the comics, Knives takes her life into her own hands. She spends most of her time working with Scott’s bandmate to become famous with her music, and she gets a positive ending completely independent of male influence. It’s a breath of fresh air for fans of Knives. 

The beautiful icing on top of this complex layer cake is the show’s art style, which draws inspiration from the comic books and various anime. The characters are drawn with bold lines and bright colors, the backgrounds are well-done and the fight scenes are beautifully choreographed in a comic-book style brought to life. It’s an expressive and adorable style that has been well-received by both comic and movie fans, and it fits the genre wonderfully. 

That is not to say that the show doesn’t have its drawbacks. It can be rather slow in the pacing, especially in the middle episodes, but it picks back up toward the end. Although he gets some criticism, Scott definitely deserves more than is delivered; he was 23, dating a 17-year-old high schooler and he cheated on her when the opportunity arose. These moral issues are not really discussed in the series, which has led to a lot of scrutiny from fans. 

Fortunately, it is explicitly stated that Scott and Knives have done nothing more than hold hands. Still, the show would have certainly benefited from giving Scott more punishment, as it’s a scumbag move. He’s taking advantage of Knives and her innocence, and this should be given more attention. Giving Knives more autonomy is a good move, but it’s only half of the process. The more important half is making sure the perpetrator faces the consequences. 

Despite this, “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” is a series that has delighted fans of both the comics and the movie. The show can be easily binged. In fact, there’s no other way to watch it; once you start, it’s hard to take your eyes off it. And be sure to wait for the post-credits, as there’s a teaser for a second season that is sure to be highly desired.