Let’s get ready to rumble … again! Friday brings the premiere of “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” an anime series based on the comic book about a young, lollygagging amateur bass player battling seven of his new love’s exes.
It is the second major screen adaptation of the six-volume “Scott Pilgrim” series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, which were published from 2004-10. A live-action film by Edgar Wright titled “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010), was a critical favorite, and the eight-episode anime reunites most of the movie cast including Michael Cera as Scott; Mary Elizabeth Winstead as his girlfriend, Ramona Flowers; Kieran Culkin as Scott’s pal Wallace Wells; and Chris Evans and Brandon Routh as two of the former flames.
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” was written and developed by O’Malley and the writer-director BenDavid Grabinski (“Happily”), a longtime friend. It is produced by Netflix, Universal Content Productions and Science Saru, a Japanese animation studio. At a panel about the show at New York Comic Con last month, the creators said scheduling a cast of actors who have gotten much more famous since the film was one of the most difficult aspects of making the series.
“You end up with this weird game of Tetris trying to get everybody,” Grabinski told the audience.
Even for those who have read the comic, seen the film or played the video game version, the anime will hold surprises. (There was a robust list of topics and guest voice actors that reporters were asked not to spoil.) O’Malley and Grabinski came to the New York Times offices last month to discuss the new series, reuniting the movie cast and what comes next for Scott Pilgrim. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How did the anime come about?
BENDAVID GRABINSKI Bryan found out that Netflix and Science Saru were interested. We went to dinner to talk about the pros and cons of doing a straight adaptation.
BRYAN LEE O’MALLEY This was like a year after they asked. So I was a little reticent because I didn’t have a great idea. But then BenDavid had a series of great ideas at this dinner. He’s a traditional Hollywood screenwriter who will just walk into a room and make up a bunch of stuff.
Were there specific characters you knew you wanted to focus on in this version?
GRABINSKI I wanted to spend as much time as I could with the ensemble. The main appeal of the show to me was to dig deeper with the exes, with Scott’s friends, with Ramona.
O’MALLEY People always ask, “What’s your one regret?” I wish I could have done more with the evil exes, partly because I didn’t fully understand them. The first thing I think of when I think of anime is villain scenes. That was my first way in, and then BenDavid blew the doors off after that.
What’s new about the series?
GRABINSKI We will say that there are some big twists and turns that no other adaptation of this story has done yet. The great thing about making this show and having Bryan sitting five feet away is I have the guy who can veto things and say, “I never would have written that joke,” or “I don’t think that guy would do that.” As much as I would like to feel like every single thing in there is my idea, there’s an equal amount of ideas that I pitched where Bryan would politely text me back and say, “That’s not ‘Scott Pilgrim.’”
O’MALLEY And sometimes less politely.
GRABINSKI Yeah, I’m just trying to be nice about it. That’s the benefit of knowing each other for so long: You can be a little bit more blunt. This would not have worked if we didn’t know each other very well, because we’re both incredibly opinionated people. We just had a rule from the beginning that nothing could go on the show that either of us hated.
O’MALLEY You want it to be unpredictable, but the surprises have to be satisfying. That’s the goal every single time.
Were there conflicts?
GRABINSKI Our episodes are very different, as the audience will see once they watch it. We never want it to feel stale, but it does need to feel consistent.
O’MALLEY We both love episodic TV, so we wanted to embrace that.
GRABINSKI I didn’t want to have something like, “Oh, it’s a four-hour movie that’s split into chunks.” We wanted the episodes to feel like episodes, but the season is one story with a beginning, middle and end.
What was it like getting the film cast back together?
O’MALLEY They’ve all blown up.
GRABINSKI I have to give thanks to Edgar Wright. One, he put together one of the best ensemble casts of all time. And two, they all loved the experience so much that we benefited from that. After we started making the show, he reached out to the cast. He sent them the scripts and they immediately all said yes. We can’t take credit for the returning cast members. Guest stars, yes.
O’MALLEY I had some involvement casting back then. He showed me every casting tape. So it’s really cool to have seen all those people flower so much and to get a chance for them to come back and revisit that work with their newfound maturity. The same way I feel about it, looking back and revisiting and finding new shading, the way we were finding it in the writing, they found in the acting. There’s a profound feeling to it and I love that.
Is it the art that makes it an anime? Or is it more about the sensibility?
O’MALLEY For me it’s just because we’re working with Science Saru: They are an anime studio. There’s a certain method of production and we had to slot ourselves into that. We’re not telling them what to do, other than giving them scripts. They are very autonomous.
GRABINSKI Our feedback is about emotion or plot points. We wanted it to feel specific to their sensibilities. A lot of the time it became like a feedback loop where we would rewrite our scripts to match the things they were doing.
O’MALLEY Abel Góngora is the director, so we wanted to give him all the autonomy. Each episode is storyboarded by different artists. They’re all Japanese artists, other than him.
GRABINSKI The music and the cast, we’re extremely involved with.
O’MALLEY That was the one aspect we wanted to control, because it’s so crucial to the tone of “Scott Pilgrim” to get that music correct.
Are any of the characters more fun to write than the others?
GRABINSKI I love Lucas Lee [played by Chris Evans] just because I’m pretty obsessive about action movies. There’s a tone to that character that is so fun to me. But honestly, the great thing is that they’re all so different. I’ve worked with Brandon Routh a lot and I knew he could be really funny, and we got him to do a bunch of stuff that I think is unexpected and very silly, and he embraced it.
O’MALLEY It’s like each of the exes has their own genre, and it lets you mix it up.
GRABINSKI That was the thing that was most exciting to me: pairing up characters who had never been seen together. What if they fought or what if they became best friends?
O’MALLEY But not making it feel like fan fiction. Really bringing weight to it.
GRABINSKI The difficult thing is trying to make sure it all feels like an organic part of the story. As much as we think, “Oh it would be really fun to have these two characters fight,” we can’t do that unless there’s a real reason that they want to fight that comes from the story.
What’s next? Will there be a Season 2?
GRABINSKI I can’t think about anything beyond this. I’m glad that we told a story that has an ending for all the thematic things that we’re exploring. So if TV stopped existing on Nov. 18th, I’d feel really proud of what we did.
O’MALLEY We wanted to be satisfied with what we get if we never get more. I don’t love it when a show feels like a setup for Season 2. We just wanted to have a complete dramatic and comedic arc to everything.
How long did the entire production process take?
GRABINSKI It was a few years to go from the beginning of doing outlines to the finish.
O’MALLEY But it was also fast. We started writing in January 2022. We met Science Saru in June 2022. We were seeing episodes by spring of this year. We were pretty much done recording the voices before the strike started. So it was like 18 months. Saru is very fast, which is part of the appeal of this whole process. That’s what they pitched me: “We’ll do a season a year!” It took a little longer than that, but it’s pretty magical to get something this beautiful this quickly.
Will you revisit “Scott Pilgrim” in comic book form?
O’MALLEY Even if I was super inspired, I wouldn’t have time for it right now. But I think it’s definitely possible. And we’ve talked about other episodes. If those never got to fruition as TV, then I would definitely consider doing a comic and co-writing with BenDavid.
GRABINSKI I hope that someone, someday, does a manga adaptation of the show.
O’MALLEY If someone in Japan would want to do their own adaptation without any input from us, that would be really cool.