Netflix provided Vital Thrills with the chance to speak with Scott Pilgrim Takes Off creators Bryan Lee O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski about the anime series coming to the streaming service on November 17, 2023.
O’Malley is the writer/artist of the original six-part Scott Pilgrim comic series from 2004-2010 on which the new series is based, while Grabinski created Nickelodeon’s 2019 reboot of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Development on the updated series began under the auspices of Edgar Wright, director of 2010’s beloved film Scott Pilgrim vs the World, who acted as executive producer of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.
“Edgar and the studio had reached out to Bryan about possibly being involved in an adaptation,” Grabinski said. “Then Bryan and I had dinner just as friends, it was not me pitching, it was not anything. He was talking about how he wished there was a new way to tell the story, because he felt like doing the exact same story again would be a mistake, because the movie works so well, the video game is great.
“It’s like, ‘What is the new way into it?’ I had a bunch of ideas immediately that he loved. It got to the end of it and he’s like, ‘I want to do that version of the show.’ So, he went back and told Edgar about it and talked to Netflix and told them that it really was important to him to work with me and do this version of the show that we come up with.
“We had a meeting where we were just talking through our reasoning for doing this because we wanted to do a version of the story that was very surprising at every turn. Everyone seemed to understand it, to give something that fans would love and be surprised by or the people who’ve never seen any version of the story will react to. When Edgar had our back and vouched for our version of the story, it just came together.”
While Grabinski and O’Malley certainly found a new way into the story, they relied on the cast of the original 2010 film to bring the characters to life once again… and we do mean the ENTIRE cast.
“We didn’t know that we would have the cast immediately, we had to start writing it and planning it without knowing,” admitted O’Malley. “At a certain point we were like, ‘If we can’t get one of them, we probably shouldn’t use any of them.’
“We should just recast the whole thing because it would feel so weird to have almost everyone and then one person clangs. We definitely talked about it, but fortunately they all said yes pretty early on, and I’m just blessed to have them.”
Since this is a Netflix series, the writers decided to change Ramona Flowers’ occupation from Amazon.ca delivery girl to Netflix DVD subscription delivery girl. Ironically, that DVD mail-in service recently came to an end, signifying very clearly that Scott Pilgrim Takes Off takes place more than a few years in the past, probably the early 2000s when flip phones were still prevalent.
“It is not product placement, Grabinski says of Ramona being a Netflix delivery person. “There was a Twitter account called like, ‘product placement’ or something and then they have this listed. This is just something that Bryan and I thought was funny and a good way to let you know this is not a present day thing.
“When we initially presented it, Netflix was like, ‘Oh… you want to do something else?’ I was like, ‘No.’ They’re like, ‘Well, we’re gonna talk to legal about clearing,’ and I was like, ‘You can figure it out.’ It just felt to us like a great signifier that this is a nostalgic piece of a different time. Now you definitely know that it’s a period piece, but that stuff was out of my hands.
“It just felt like a fun and funny way to signify when it took place, but you need enough because sometimes people might think maybe someone’s just being retro. But I think if you have something immediate in the first episode where she’s delivering DVDs, you’re like, ‘Well, this takes place not too long ago, but it didn’t take place this week.”
We got to ask O’Malley if there were any ideas he developed but left out of the original comic series that he was able to bring back into the animated show. “The only thing I think about is maybe a bit of Roxy and the twins later in the comics,” O’Malley confirmed without getting too spoilery. “I had more flashbacks and more of a backstory in mind for Ramona and those characters, Ramona’s college journey.
“I had kind of mapped it out, and I never got to use it in the book. So that was something that I wanted to shoehorn in here somehow, and I think we got it in. Maybe not as much as I would have originally thought I would have done, but I think you get the gist of it in this version, which I’m happy about.”
One thing fans will be happy about is the new series gives a lot more of a spotlight on Ramona Flowers, as portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The series makes her much more of a character with depth as opposed to the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl-esque figure she resembled in the movie.
“We never thought about her in that way, because I always think that she’s more complicated than that,” Grabinski opined of the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl label. “The most important thing to us -and the most exciting to us- was to try to do more stuff with Ramona this time.
“Every version of the story so far, just by virtue of you’re trying to do all the books in two hours or doing the video game and you got to beat the **** out of people… we felt like we really had a good opportunity to try to add more shading to her and make her more complicated and interesting. That was really one of the biggest north stars for the project.”
We ended by asking O’Malley if he felt Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is closer to what he had in his head while making the comics, by nature of it going from manga to anime as opposed to manga to live-action film. “On some level I guess that might be true, yeah,” confirmed O’Malley.
“I mean, what we had to do was just write. What I had to do specifically was write the characters the way that I would have written the characters back then and try to not think about the actors and fans and everything that’s happened in the past 15 years or however long it’s been. Then you bring the actors in, and they’re doing this version that is so close to my heart, but then they bring something new to it.
“So, I think anytime you’re doing something like this, it’s just going to evolve in its own direction. We really had to embrace that, but I think hearing the actors and… they’ve all grown up. They’ve all gotten better at acting, but also age… their voices sound a little different. Hearing that paired with the drawings, that’s the magic of anime. I’m super happy with how all the characters feel. They all feel like themselves to me.”
In the upcoming series, Scott Pilgrim meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers, but learns he must defeat her seven evil exes in order to date her. Then things get even more complicated.
Based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is voiced by Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Satya Bhabha, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber, Mae Whitman, and Ellen Wong.
Bryan Lee O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski are the executive producers, writers and co-showrunners of the eight-episode series. The director is Abel Gongora (Science SARU).
Also executive producing are Marc Platt, Jared LeBoff, Adam Siegel, Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright, Nira Park, and Eunyoung Choi. The animation studio is Science SARU (DEVILMAN crybaby, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, The Heike Story, Inu-Oh). The series comes from UCP, a division of Universal Studio Group.
Max Evry has been a film journalist since 2005, serving at various times as a writer, interviewer, graphic designer, podcaster, video creator, features editor, and managing editor. Past media outlets have included MTV, /Film, IGN, and Fangoria. For home video companies Arrow, Kino Lorber, Indicator, and Via Vision he has provided Blu-ray audio commentaries as well as featurettes for classic and contemporary films including “Flatliners,” “Blackhat,” and Best Picture Oscar winner “Marty.” In 2023 he released his first book “A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune – An Oral History” to considerable acclaim.