“Why are we doing this now?” is an understandable question to have when hearing about the new Netflix anime Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, or even throughout most of its first episode. There are identical lines and visual jokes, and with the entire star-studded cast of the movie back in voice roles, it seems like the show is setting up to be a pretty faithful (but admittedly stylish) retread of Edgar Wright’s 2010 cult classic.
Then the first episode ends with a very different choice, and the show soars from there.
The non-spoilery version: The first episode is not at all what the rest of the show is like. It is instead an elaborate bait-and-switch to set you up for a completely different twist on the Scott Pilgrim story you think you know. Trust what I am saying here, and be rewarded with one of the best new shows of the year.
The spoiler-light version: From episode 2 on, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off takes its name quite literally and makes this a story about Ramona, not Scott. The show focuses on her finding closure with her evil exes, rather than Scott defeating them all in a quest to win her affection. And that’s to its great benefit. Scott was often the least interesting character in his own story, and sidelining him gives all the other great characters in this world more airtime and depth, building out the unique version of Toronto they inhabit.
It’s rare to see an artist get an opportunity to transform one of their signature works. It’s not unheard of — for a very different example, Michael Haneke remade his Austrian thriller Funny Games in English with Hollywood actors — but most of those projects are glorified shot-for-shot remakes that seem explicitly like ways to make money in a new market, rather than reinvent the story. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off takes this opportunity and runs with it, creating a stronger story in the process while being in direct conversation with the original. It’s clear that creator Bryan Lee O’Malley has had a lot on his mind about how previous Scott Pilgrim stories have presented the two leads. Now, he (and the rest of the crew) gets to return to that story and make it even better.
So don’t let the first episode of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off scare you away from one of the smartest, funniest, and most surprising shows of the year. It’s more than worth it.