Before we begin, I’d like to tell you something: Scott Pilgrim is a hard sell.
It’s something of an eclectic, cross-cultural amalgamation. This description holds for almost all the IPs (Intellectual Properties) that the name is attached to, be it Edgar Wright’s live-action film adaptation, Ubisoft’s 2D beat-’em-up video game and the original graphic novel itself. You wouldn’t find anyone nonchalantly mention it as something you should check out unless it pandered to their very specific tastes in very specific ways…
…which, as it turns out, it does for me in spades.
The Graphic Novel:
Bryan O’Malley, the artist/writer of Scott Pilgrim, has frequently mentioned he took ample amounts of inspiration from the extensive world of manga and anime. Tracing back these sources had led me into some interesting rabbit-holes.
Keeping spoilers at bay, suffice to say that Scott Pilgrim is a boy-meets-girl story, interspersed with well-written character drama about aimless youngsters set adrift in 21st century Toronto, occasionally sprinkled with bits of existentialism. This summary might not make you wrinkle your brows as you try to fish out which part of it is off-beat.
To get to the core of Scott Pilgrim means you’d find yourself wading through a myriad of other bloated ideas. For the titular Scott to win over his newfound love, he must battle the “League of Ramona’s Evil Exes”, a coalition of supposedly heartbroken individuals who still pine for their lost wayward romance. They decide to put Scott through a succession of 1v1 battles that escalate in intensity and absurdity.
This structure of incremental power levels might feel familiar to anyone who’s read/watched Dragon Ball, or any Shounen (young adult in Japanese) media. O’Malley states that the manga Ranma ½ was a very big inspiration, and it shows. The pros of this would be the almost Impressionist-like artwork that feels very unique with its high contrast shading (and is also lost in the coloured version). But it also has Scott be this negligent basement-dweller playing old Final Fantasy video games (which also feature bosses with ever-increasing health bars), while also being the cool kid who plays bass in a band and has girls falling all over him while he tramples over their feelings.
You wouldn’t be wrong if you called it a male wish-fulfillment power fantasy. That’s why the biggest surprise that the story held in store for me was that it calls Scott out on his being a downright jerkwad. Unlike its manga counterpart, Scott Pilgrim wants to explore the uglier side of these characters, and it makes the bloat worth it. It pulls Scott’s narcissism-fueled spaceship back to earth masquerading as a unconventional coming-of-age tale disguised as a homage to old-school video game adventures and shounen manga.
Mind you, I’d never attempt to objectively call Scott Pilgrim a masterpiece of its medium when the comic-scape is home to the likes of Maus, Watchmen and Persepolis. But as someone who follows indie rock-bands, emulates SNES games on his PC and reads manga, experiencing something that set all these things on a collision course was a really, really great time.
If my opinions on the graphic novel seems iffy, or if you happen to abhor the medium, I present to you, the brilliant Edgar Wright’s live-action take on Scott Pilgrim.
Edgar Wright is a British filmmaker renown for his Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End) and most recently helmed Baby Driver in 2017. His specialty is comedy and homages, and is the kind of genius who wrings laughs out of fast-paced editing and perfectly-synced music. And Scott Pilgrim is his crowning achievement, as far as visual fidelity and inventiveness go.
The movie manages to be an impossibly faithful adaptation, providing motion to almost every panel transition with gusto. I’d even go so far as to say it tops the source material as far as raw energy is concerned. Scott’s fictitious band has their music scored by Beck, an indie rock artist who’s albums I’ve listened to and have a fair appreciation of. Wright even had the actors imitate facial expressions and body language from anime, giving it that extra absurdity it inherently demands. The battles are choreographed to be multiple-phase video game boss fights, with Scott levelling up and acquiring high-scores.
If you’ve watched any of Wright’s other films, chances are you might feel that Scott Pilgrim sticks out like a sore thumb, even amongst his other outlandish ideas. I urge you to give it a fair shot, it’s a hard wrought work of passion through and through. You might stumble upon something you’d grow to love.
The Video Game:
The game is not an alternative to get the complete Scott Pilgrim experience in the same way the movie is. It’s more of a spin-off that’s loosely based on the source, and its quirks and eccentricities are merely set dressing to the side-scrolling, beat-’em-up gameplay.
There’s also the fact that the game isn’t legally available anymore after its delisting from the PlayStation Network store, so unless you have a PS3 with the game pre-installed, you’re not in luck.
What I do want to talk about is the game’s phenomenal chiptune soundtrack, which is reminiscent of older games from the 90s. For those who don’t know, chiptune is the subgenre of electronic music composed and recorded using the sound chips in older video game consoles. So, expect to hear a lot of bleeps and bloops.
Composed by the indie outfit Anamanaguchi, the soundtrack is extremely unique in that it fuses regular percussion-driven punk rock with Nintendo sound chips, and quite frankly, it’s glorious. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind dipping their toes into uncharted musical waters, go for it. Every single song is an earworm and they’ll be on loop for weeks on end.
Even if you don’t find yourself liking Scott Pilgrim for what it is, I hope its weirdness rubs off on you and leads you down fascinating rabbit-holes. That’s what this semi-review/ recommendation hopes to accomplish.