I forget how I found out about the Scott Pilgrim books. What I do remember is that one volume would come out each year. It was 2010, the sixth and final volume had come out, and the movie was to follow a few weeks later. Time makes us forget the details of certain moments, but I never forgot the feeling reading the Scott Pilgrim series gave me. The series was a beautiful ode to different eras of pop culture, video games, and all things nerdy. Scott Pilgrim spawned a movie, video game, and a fan base that’s been loyal for near 20 years. If Scott Pilgrim is a coming-of-age story, then Netflix’s Scott Pilgrim Takes Off series shows how hindsight can be an amazing editor and narrator to create an even better story.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is written by series creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski with Abel Góngora as the director. I got my first glimpse of the show at New York Comic-Con 2023 at a panel. Bryan and BenDavid showed some scenes from the show along with the official trailer for the show which remixed the Mortal Kombat ‘test your might’ song. Fam, I saw that shit and my body was ready. I loved the book, the movie was fine (ending should of followed the book’s), and here I was hoping we’d get to see a series adaption of the book where we saw more slice-of-life situations between the characters between fights as well as some moments of self-realization.
I was wrong…
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off in a new direction
And… I have never been so happy to be so wrong in my life. When watching episode one, we see the show follow the book to the T. We’ve seen Scott and Ramona meet in two occasions (book and film) and even here in this third iteration, it’s as charming as the first times. For that, I gotta give Science Saru all the credit. They did not come to fuck around with this animation. The characters feel like an amalgam of their looks from the book enjambed with an anime influence. The visuals take risks by making these characters and Toronto stand out in their own way. Every character looks so clean and stylish from the way that they move to the way that they fight. I love how much of a staple this animation feels for the look of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.
The music of the show is its own character as well. From songs we heard in the movie to original tracks, the music curated for the series bangs. There’s a scene of Lucas Lee skating to ‘United States of Whatever” and hearing that track took me all the way back to my senior year of high school in 2003 playing Tony Hawk Underground. The fact that that song was also in T.H.U.G. and used as a trailer for a game, let’s me know that Lucas Lee shredding around town to the track is no coincidence. No sound is wasted in any scene. The music, animation, and characters are all connected. Oh, and speaking of characters…
Another thing that makes this series feel like a homecoming moment is that we got the original cast back together to do the voice acting which feels so natural and in peak performance. You can tell they had fun while also understanding there can’t be a weak link on the mic in this iteration. The bedroom scene between Scott and Ramon in this iteration comes off as this mixture of sexy and charming that I didn’t feel in the movie. It worked, but this shit just felt so different even though I know the scene by heart. That’s an amazing thing for a piece of art to do.
I was fully prepared to watch this series, expecting to see the story going beat for beat. I knew there would be some variations, like seeing Gideon Graves inform Matthew Patel about Scott Pilgrim and how he’ll be set out to throw down with him. I just thought we were getting some small extra details, but when we see Matthew Patel and Scott Pilgrim throw hands, what we actually get is a brand new story…that I am entirely here for.
Okay so beyond this point there are going to be spoilers ahead so, you should go watch the series, then come back so we can discuss the detail and nuance of the new themes brought to the table by Scott Pilgrim Takes Off…
Ramona Flowers’ Finest Hour
What makes Scott Pilgrim Takes Off so different is that when Scott and Matthew Patel clash… Scott loses. Scott gets turned into toll fare, and my jaw became an open draw bridge. Soon as I saw this happen, I realized that everything we thought we knew means we don’t know shit for this show. When Ramona gets a small inkling that Scott is still alive and has proof of him being teleported before Matthew’s punch connected. The show unveils itself as a whodunnit mystery with Ramona as lead detective. What I love about this twist is that in this version of the story, Ramona has more agency now. Our girl gets is center stage in the fighter select screen of her own story. This time instead of Scott Pilgrim fighting to win Ramona, Ramona is choosing to find out what happened to Scott and confront all her exes in order to do so. Your girl felt sparks with Scott Pilgrim and decided he was worth following up on, even if it meant having to confront her past and the person she used to be.
This serves as a brilliant twist. Although, in the books and movie, it was dope seeing Scott Pilgrim fight the evil exes on some Street Fighter II shit. This makes Ramona seem more like an object to be won when we really think about it. Sure, Ramona is aware that it’s something the person she is dating has to go through, and Scott is comfortable with it. Looking back in hindsight, this feels like a fight that Ramona should have been doing herself because this is her life. Whereas in the book, Ramona couldn’t do that, she is fully able of doing so now in this version. Confronting her exes, isn’t something that Ramona wants to do, but she is willing to. The dope part about it is we see that it doesn’t always have to be a fight when confronting or meeting an ex. In some of the relationships Ramona was in, she was the villain. This is something that she has to reconcile with.
In her fight with Roxie, we see them throwing all of the hands in a video store and the fight moving through different cinema backgrounds (genius). They’re fighting but talking is at the root of the matter and the truth is Ramona made Roxie feel like less than nothing. Ramona is aware of this and in the end does what needs to be done to truly put this fight, Roxie, and her own feelings on the matter at ease. Ramona apologizes… and fucking means it. It can all literally be that simple. Roxie doesn’t have to accept the apology as is her right but, here, in this instance we see it is what she needed. We’re seeing Ramona’s actions outside of Scott Pilgrim being around and outside of Scott’s point of view. This is the side of Ramona we didn’t get to see in the books or the movie.
This is Ramona and her exes getting a chance to handle things as adults instead of as enemies or as opposition to for a potential partner to get through. It’s moments like this that make me love how hindsight feels like an editor making revisions for the retelling of this tell. Sometimes things won’t end well with an ex, but I do not think that has to be the case each and every time. Sometimes, all that’s needed is a conversation when both parties are in a better place and willing to own up to the part they played in how thing went or ended. This series gives Ramona’s exes a chance to be something more than just obstacles. They get to become characters with more story and development given to them.
After the fight, Roxie is still trying to test the waters with Ramona, even as friends with benefits. When that’s a bust, she makes out with Kim Pine to see if there’s anything between them. No sparks. It might feel a little male gaze-ish, and I can see that; however, to me, Roxie is just looking to be in lesbians with her. It’s here where Scott Pilgrim Takes Off gives us the other underlying theme that people are looking for or wanting someone that they have sparks with. It’s those same sparks that Ramona felt with Scott that sent her on this journey, even as she finds out, that Scott was seeing a Knives Chau at the same time… and that she’s a high schooler. Ramona still wants to see how things play out with Scott cause that himbo gave her sparks when they kissed and she wants to see things through. This iteration of Scott Pilgrim does a good job at displaying how messy feelings can be. How we connect with people who may have had a relationship with someone we know. How things don’t have to be that weird when a break-up is talked out and everyone can go about their lives.
Writer’s note: I’m sorry, but the whole Scott dating a high schooler thing is still wild. I’m surprised Knives wasn’t aged up to 20 to make it only a 3-year difference. I know it’s implied that nothing happened cause all they did was hold hands. That shit is still grooming, man. It’s noted a lot more in this iteration as well as a “what the fuck” moment, and Scott addresses it later on as well. It would seem that Scott was moving toward being a certain type of dude and we could say oh he’s, so charming or he’s harmless. It’s still a big ick. I’m glad for this iteration that, he sees the error of it, even if it was brought up as a running gag (due to folks real world gross reaction to it.)
I do love how with Scott Pilgrim out of the way we get to see these characters who didn’t get much time before become something more than one night. Matthew Patel was basically the first of Ramona’s evil exes to catch a fade, but this time around because he “beat” Scott, and realized Ramona wasn’t going to get back with him even though he won. We see Matthew have the confidence to take on Gideon for a change of leadership, win, and take over as the new owner of Gideon’s billionaire estate. Let’s keep it a buck too. We know the Scott Pilgrim series is white as fuck. The creator even apologized for it.
In the series, Matthew Patel is the only dark skin character with lines. We see some Black background characters in this show and Lucas Lee’s agent is Black with some speaking lines but Matthew Patel and Knives Chau are the two prominent people of color in each iteration of this series. This time around Matthew gets to have not only one of the best fight scenes in the show but a journey towards what he thinks he wants that he didn’t get before. Knives in the other iterations gets to have her apology from Scott but here, we see her given much more as we discover she is not only good at marketing, but she’s a fucking musical prodigy on instruments. There’s a sweet scene between Knives and Kim having a jamming session, and we witness the vibe that they create.
This isn’t a scene we get in any of the other iterations. This is a big moment for both Kim and Knives as it doesn’t involve Scott and is a moment for them to share with music being the binding agent. This is one of the rare times we see Kim smiling. This is also big for Knives as she is getting something of her own outside of being a romantic interest. Knives goes from idolizing Sex Bob-Omb’s sound, because Scott was in it to being the missing link that the band needed in order to not suck. Both Knives and Matthew get the time to show another side of themselves thanks to this iteration and most importantly, thanks to Scott not being around.
Everybody in Together Now
Though Scott Pilgrim Takes Off changes things, the changes happen in a familiar way. When Scott Pilgrim comes home, and makes his amends, we see it’s not an evil ex in his way this time or his Negative Scott but the future version of him that’s stopping him and Ramona from moving forward (since he’s trying to make it so Scott and Ramona never get together). I thought this reveal was not only wacky, and out there, but fucking brilliant as well. Before, Scott’s negative side was the thing he had to reconcile with in order to become a better person. This time around he got to be better by seeing what Ramona was going through in order to rescue him and even future Ramona sets a plan in motion to save Scott from himself (his future self) getting in his own way.
Future Scott wanting to never meet Ramona instead of actually doing work on himself and trying to fix the issues with Ramona that lead to divorce feels like Scott’s anxiousness getting in the way. Even all these years later, I love how present Scott wasn’t deterred by what could go wrong because he wanted to work it out. He saw Ramona in the past going out of her way to find a way to rescue him and seeing that changed him. Look, I love fighting and I was excited to see Scott throw hands in this series. I also love when fighters find themselves in a situation where there is no one else to punch and the fight is with themselves. When Future Scott came back to fight. I love how now no one is Scott and Ramona’s enemy. Everybody is on the same side (well for the time being at least). The exes have their own things going on and were actually glad to see Scott and Ramona together.
Look, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is the superior version. I said it. There’s time travel involved, but this banger is canon and the fandom is all the better for it. The writing for this shows the growth of the author Bryan Lee O’Malley as well. My man was 25 when the first Scott Pilgrim volume dropped, and 19 years later, he’s 44 for the Netflix series. O’Malley and BenDavid really did some fine combing with the plot, story, and character development for this retelling. Creators don’t always get a chance to tell the story again, and there aren’t many creators that would take such a big risk instead of playing it safe with a sure bet. Scott Pilgrim takes a back seat to his own series, but my man got three different versions (books, movie, video game) where he’s Mortal Kombats to defeat the League of Exes. This version with Ramona taking the helm is exactly what the fandom needed.
I love it here even more now.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is streaming now on Netflix.