Scott Pilgrim Takes Off Anime Review

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off Anime Evaluation

If you’re already familiar with Scott Pilgrim, the first episode of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is exactly what you expect: an almost beat-for-beat adaptation of the first act of the comic, with a few minor changes and elisions. The art is a perfect copy of Brian Lee O’Malley’s art style, and the original English voice track even brings back all of the movie’s actors. It doesn’t feel significant that Ramona’s job is delivering DVDs for Netflix instead of packages for Amazon or that Crash and the Boys were a no-show at the Rockit, where they were supposed to open for Sex Bob-omb. Some story elements are shifted around, curiously de-emphasizing his relationship with Knives when that’s historically been the opening line of the story.

Yes, it’s all exactly what you expected until the last minute of the first episode. From there on, it’s not at all what you expected.

Reviewing the story without revealing the first-act twist is impossible, so I’ll save that discussion for the end with a spoiler warning. Let’s talk about the technical elements first, then, shall we?

Much has been made about the movie’s cast returning to voice their characters: Michael Cera as Scott, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona, Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, and so on. It’s quite fortuitous that they were able to get the actors back, and the nostalgia factor alone is undoubtedly enough to convince a lot of people to stick with the English version. However, it has also turned Scott Pilgrim Takes Off into an object lesson about a simple truth Hollywood refuses to learn: even excellent on-camera actors do not necessarily make good voice actors. Some of the performances remain strong, particularly Cera and Winstead, and Mae Whitman has long been an experienced voice actor; however, some of the movie’s most memorable performers, like Kieran Culkin as Wallace and Aubrey Plaza as Julie, feel stiff when acting for a microphone in a studio instead of being able to bring their physicality to the roles. Plus, most of the cast is now in their late 30s and unable to convincingly pull off characters in their early 20s. The biggest standout is Satya Bhabha as Matthew Patel, who really brings the kind of over-the-top energy the story needs.

On the other hand, the Japanese cast, a mix of superstars and newcomers, is excellent. Everyone does an amazing job, but Ai Fairouz‘s Ramona feels worthy of a special mention, especially considering the complexity of the character and her role as the story’s driving force. It’s not easy stepping into a role with so much history behind it, but Fairouz does the job admirably. Those who enjoyed her performance as Jolyne Cujoh in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure will want to at least give the Japanese track a chance. Also memorable are Yū Kobayashi as Julie, a much meatier role this time around, and Tomokazu Seki shifting between a megalomaniac and a poor little meow-meow as Gideon Graves.

This is a truly international production, with major players from O’Malley’s native Canada, the US, Spain, the UK, and, of course, Japan. O’Malley’s manga-inspired art style translates beautifully into animation: stylized and deceptively simple but expressive all the same. But that alone wouldn’t make this remarkable, and Science SARU has created something that will have animation fans drooling for years, with incredible direction from the studio’s Abel Góngora, who is probably best known for the opening of Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!. Fluid, well-choreographed, and creative fight scenes abound, but that’s not the only showy but of animation. An episode focused on Lucas Lee opens with a stunning skateboarding sequence set to the song “United States of Whatever,” which perfectly sets the tone for what’s to come, and quiet moments get power from the animators’ minute attention to character acting and body language.

I would be remiss to talk about Scott Pilgrim without discussing the music, which is consistently well-used and full of welcome surprises. The opening theme song, the only piece of J-Pop present, is a delightful bop, complete with visual references to Beck‘s legendary “Hit in the USA.” Sex Bob-omb’s music is appropriately shitty for a bunch of twenty-somethings practicing in a living room. The runtime abounds with interstitial songs, both diegetic and non-diegetic, and each episode has a different ending theme from musicians like Tegan and Sara and the Dead Kennedys. It doesn’t draw too much from the movie’s soundtrack, but when it does, the nostalgia is almost overpowering – a concert crowd singing “Black Sheep,” the song that got me into Metric, the opening lines of Plumtree‘s “Scott Pilgrim,” and so on. Oh, and there’s a special appearance by Metric covering Sarah McLaughlin’s “I Will Remember You.”

And here’s where the spoiler chat begins, so if you haven’t heard about that first twist and want to go in fresh, avert your eyes now.

The first episode ends with Matthew beating Scott, leaving nothing but a handful of change. Left without a purpose, the League of Seven Evil Exes is set adrift. Ramona attends his funeral, but something seems wrong; she becomes convinced that Scott was actually pulled into a portal and is still alive somewhere. Meanwhile, Young Neil decides to write a screenplay, goes to bed, and wakes up to a fully written document titled Scott Pilgrim‘s Precious Little Life. The rest of the series focuses on Ramona as she seeks out her exes to try to figure out which one is responsible for Scott’s disappearance.

The twist turns the original on its head, examining Ramona’s role in her past relationships turning sour and simultaneously giving the exes dimension outside of one-off villains for Scott to fight. Yeah, some of them are real jerks – there’s no excusing what Gideon did to her – but Ramona’s overwhelming tendency to peace out the moment a relationship gets tough or she’s tired of her partner really did a number on a lot of them. The story also turns an eye to the future and just what the implications of the idea of an “evil ex” can be, using the alternate universe conceit to expand on the original story’s themes.

Most importantly, it’s fun! While I’m highly critical of Netflix‘s binge-based model and think it would be fun to have seen people react week to week, the eight episodes flew by. It never once felt like a chore or homework to sit through a sizable chunk of the story, even when my attention span tends to wane after three episodes of the same series in a row. Scott’s absence at the center of the story makes it possible for the characters to interact with each other in unexpected ways. What is Gideon and Julie’s secret past? You’ll never guess what happens when Wallace and Todd meet. No longer obstacles or antagonists, they are characters in their own right, and the writers bring them to life, showing new sides of them while retaining their distinctive voices.

Considering how long I’ve been a fan of Scott Pilgrim, I’m really not sure how this will play for new viewers. The plot is coherent and easy to follow, so familiarity isn’t necessarily a prerequisite. However, it’s so strongly in conversation with both the comic and the movie that I can’t imagine getting a lot out of it without being familiar with at least one of the previous incarnations. It’s fun and funny and energetic in any case, but the core audience is an extremely specific cohort: older millennials who came upon the series when they were close to the same age as the characters, who saw the movie in theaters and have been growing and changing as people ever since. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off asks its audience to reflect on the people they were and who they are, what kind of effect they have on the people around them, and how their relationship with the story and the people in their lives have evolved over the years.

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