There's a lot to be thankful for as a fan of the Scott Pilgrim franchise. In fact, I'd claim that the team of writers and producers of the series has done it's followership the biggest favor that a franchise can do; which is to give its audience a masterfully written series of graphic novels, a movie, a video game, and now, a series that perfectly tows the line between western cartoon and anime. Each of which tell the same story of reckoning with your past so that you can give yourself the most perfect future. Though the most recent entry to O'Malley's seminal saga deviates from it's source material in a twist that I didn't realize how bad I wanted to see until I got to the end of the first episode.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off plays an elaborate trick on the viewer wherein they enter under the assumption that they get to see a beautifully stylized, newly-rendered, fully flushed out animated series that will give the wider audience the same beloved story published through the 2000s. A welcome and famililar thrill for fans who love the movie, but wish that an audience of blockbuster magnitude got the complete emotional experience the books gave us and not the corner-cutting that comes with turning a 6-volume epic into a 112-minute motion picture (most importantly the heart-wrenching instance that comes at the end of Volume 5 that was simply too dense for the final cut of the movie). Finally, everybody who knows someone with a Netflix membership could appreciate every last detail of what has become The Odyssey for the modern hipster.
And as soon as the electrically rad opening credits end, the fans are quickly left to adjust their expectations when the first frame of the seires skips to the 40th page of Book 1. No charming opening where we're sitting in Steven Stills (22)'s bedroom with the band and coming to grips yet again with everybody's favorite protagonist's unsavory relationship with a high schooler. Instead, the first girl in Scott's life that we're introduced to is the mysterious girl with the haircut so iconic that they still never gave it a proper name, skating through his desolate dreamscape. This leaves the stans to grapple with the decision that the new narrative will still be trimming some chosen fat and might be focusing a little less on the most prevalent criticism of the series - the weird relationship he has with a seventeen-year-old.
Episode 1 moves exactly as expected with little difference to that of the canonical progression of our story with a couple of fun alternate lines as not to make any fan-favorite quotes feel stale (Puck-Man and so forth). And as wonderful and slick as every last finely crafted touch that molds our narrative together may be there lingers a sense of malaise. A distinctly postmodern tiredness that comes with yet another rehashing of a beloved series being knighted into the same court as the big ones that came before it. The dead-eyed elder statesmen Star Wars, Pokémon, and The Turtles gazing down upon a new addition to the unholy church of nerd culture who will share the same fate as those before it: to have his story told again and again every five to ten years to successfully generate a higher profit margin after every reiteration. Featuring minor strays along the way to give audiences wider and wider an illusion of originality and the occasional character addition to update the plotline for a more multicultural audience. Rinse and repeat in perpetuity until the fall of capitalism and consumerism. Scott Pilgrim stands at the altar of Hot Topic style, ready to slay the lamb of Art-with-a-capital-A to make MONEY in all caps and extract the soul of Art from Bryan Lee O'Malley's seminal work. Then, just before the knife of international capital pierces the neck of the lamb, a vegan portal opens beneath the feet of he in question. And he is dragged away to a fate more interesting than we ever would have dreamed. Scott is removed from his own series.
What follows is a freely written, zigzagging, American sleuth story set in Toronto, Canada. And our American sleuth? Ramona Flowers. The girl of all of our dreams is suddenly left to unfurl the mystery of the disappearance of an adorkable manchild with whom she only went on one date. We, in turn, are given an opportunity to see O'Malley's Toronto in a view more panoramic than he ever bestowed us. Instead of seeing Scott's world from Scott's point of view, we get to see how Scott's peer group goes on in a world without him. The biggest gift of all being the tenderness you feel watching Ramona's dedication for Scott, mirroring the same passion and devotion he felt for her in the original text. Scott is the one being fought for.
Depending on the level of enthusiasm a member of the cult of O'Malley has for the series, they may very well have digested the story through all 3 different mediums by this point, these being the books, the movie, and the game. All of which could figuratively or most literally be described as a side-scrolling beat 'em up that Pilgrim spends summoning the courage and strength to physically fight each evil ex and subsequent lackies in ascending order. But with this series, writer and saint O'Malley summoned the courage to completely rewrite the journey by giving Ramona the autonomy to confront each member of her and Scott's past in the only order she can get to them. Weaving around the same map while only taking alt-routes, Ramona spends her time cunningly following leads from every face in the catalogue. Feeling her way through this haze, all the while managing a feat that Scott himself was uncapable of: making peace with everybody Scott opted to instead brawl until they burst into coins.
Ramona's approach to winning the boy whose dreams she lived in is done peacefully, thoughtfully, and preciously. Skating up to every lead with the same careful, calm confidence as Phillip Marlowe, gently easing each character into giving her all the information she needs. Viewers are left to slowly try to piece together the same puzzle in a fun race to solve the mystery before even Flowers, while subconsciously coming to appreciate the time that O'Malley has given us to really get to know each of our characters more thoroughly than we ever had the chance to when their only role was to serve Scott's pursuit of Ramona. What SP Takes Off inevitably leaves us with is a realization some fans spend the series fighting to accept, while others recognized from the start: Scott Pilgrim is the least interesting character in Scott Pilgrim
Believe me, I'd love to start listing exemplary moments of playful brilliance and range between members of the whole cast, because each player's series arc features particularly telling sides of their character that simply weren't available to the audience when the story was limited to the fast-paced action-comedy genre. But seeing extended dialogue between Kim and Roxie, Gideon and Lucas Lee, Ramona and Julie, or (teehee) Wallace and Todd, we get to experience a parallel universe just as vibrant but undeniably lusher than any previous iteration given to us.
By the time you finish Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, you're left with an even weightier impact delivered in a decidedly lighter package. It sheds the male fantasy presented in the source material and adds layers more of depth not present in any version we were given before. I'm still the same knuckle-dragging goon I was when I first watched the movie at 14, so my judgement is so very not elevated in any way here, but it seems the writers of this series did the impossible and made a feminist Scott Pilgrim property, which deserves applause. Beyond that, season 1 of the show was able to do what nobody really seemed to expect and give us more time with these characters than we ever deserved. All without breaking Rule #1 in the Codebook of Hipster Ethics and not sell out. And if you don't like it, there's more than enough material to fall back on that's just as good.