Scott Pilgrim (TheByteScene Review)

A-loonie-a-toonie-a-quarter-a-nickle-and-two-dimes out of 4 ($3.50/$4.00)

Is there really anything I can say about Brian Lee O’Malley’s six volume saga of a boy trying to win the love of a girl by defeating her seven evil ex-boyfriends that hasn’t already been said? Sorry, I mean her seven evil ex’s, because Ramona Flowers had a sexy phase during her time at the University of Carolina in the Sky with a half ninja. Did that last sentence make any sense whatsoever? Did that last sentence sound absolutely awesome? Did that last sentence intrigue every single part of you for no adequately explicable reason? Frankly, whether it did makes no difference to me because I must, under every conceivable circumstance, state that I love the Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels.

Certainly, every volume is crafted with fans in mind; comic book fans, video games fans, Nintendo fans, Sega fans, Sony fans, fans of Sonic and Mario, fans of Zelda and Double Dragon, fans of Mother and or Earthbound (as the distinction was made in the NTSC region), fans of everything and anything that effectively shows up at the San Diego Comic Con are Scott Pilgrim’s target audience. No, seriously, whatever “Geek and Nerd Culture” might be, whatever the current sociological definition of the term is, and whatever images the words “Geek” and “Nerd” conjure are all part of the Scott Pilgrim universe, and the series is, in a word, awesome because of it.

There’s a plot, yes, an overarching story that involves the titular Scott Pilgrim falling head over heels in love with Ramona Flowers attempting to defeat her Seven Evil Ex’s in order for them to be together; a rogue gallery consisting of seven of the worst, most despicably evil, revolting, astounding, fascinating, damaged, and heartbroken characters that could possibly exist outside of a video game (or a soap opera, really) stand between him, and true love. To be quite frank, they start dating immediately, and it seems that the Seven Evil Ex’s pose no real hindrance to the relationship, the second even making it a point of being fairly amiable to the Pilgrim-Flowers coupling.

In reality, the Seven Evil Ex’s act as the final bosses for each novel; they must be defeated by Scott once he advances in his personal, romantic, and professional lives. It sounds a lot like a video game for the simple reason that the series of novels is a video game. Characters are given video game like descriptions once they are introduced, with ratings, fun facts, and various other bits of trivia scattered on a black title card that appears when they do (O’Malley even makes a habit of updating the title cards every few chapters, as if to say that the characters have levelled up as much as Scott has), the main character has special attacks, earns weapon rewards, experience (both literal and figurative), and even money (in the form of Canadian currency, no less), his enemies all have special attacks and major weaknesses, there are bars for almost every conceivable human function, one ups are rewarded for certain victories, and the overarching plot involves the defeat of a league of evil beings.

The series is a video game, certainly, but it also invokes every trope that exists within the manga universe, and O’Malley does a brilliant job of writing everything in a deadpan sense of style. No joke ever goes too far, and almost nothing blatantly out of place seems to faze the cast. Scott Pilgrim is the number one fighter in Ontario, for the simple reason that he needs a cool sounding title, and the character who utters this line doesn’t seem at all baffled by the existence of such a designation.

Interestingly, buried beneath the infantile surface is a surprisingly deep coming of age story, that manages to combine wit, humour, and romance in an incredibly mature way. Reading through the novel, without understanding the not-at-all-scattered references reveals a story of a boy who feels very strongly for a girl who both have yet to understand what they want. Scott Pilgrim is in a band with his close friends from university, but they don’t really go very far. They get a few gigs here and there because of Stephen Stills (the talent), but apart from that, everyone except for Scott seems to have a relative amount of niche in their lives. Scott lives with his awesome gay roommate, Wallace Wells, but the apartment (and everything in it) belongs to Wells. Scott briefly dates a high-schooler, and explains to his sister that he’ll inform her once he’s got it figured out. This appears as a theme throughout the series; characters, beneath their cartoonish designs, have real problems that they need to get past, with the main couple being the two with the most issues.

In a strange way, Scott represents everything a hero shouldn’t; he’s weak, naive, whiny, selfish, scared, incredibly dim witted, easily susceptible to outside forces, has no idea what he wants, and effectively relies on those around him far more than he ever relies on himself. Oddly enough, Brian Lee O’Malley makes it a habit to point out these flaws in an endearing way; yes, Scott Pilgrim is, for all intents and purposes, just as bad as most of the other Evil Ex boyfriends, and he has an innate ability to make his girlfriends turn against him (or in certain cases, stalk him and his friends wherever they go), but as far as characters go, he really is one of the noblest. He’s idealistic, deeply romantic, friendly, kind-hearted, and fascinatingly intelligent in the simplest of ways.

Discussing the sixth novel when it was released, a friend of mine brought it to my attention that we’re not really cheering for Scott to succeed in defeating the Seven Evil Ex’s, so much as we’re cheering for him to get his life together. Each boss battle, and each step forward represents a personal growth for the boy. Each step forward represents a new understanding of the world around him, and while he is 23 years old during the start of the series, he doesn’t really start acting his age until book four. Scott’s character is the best part of the entire series, with his experiences and growth affecting the reader in a profound way; he effectively speaks and lives as the conduit of an entire generation of nerds, fanboys, and geeks with an infinite knowledge of things that hold little ground in the so-called “Real world.” He dumps a girl, finds another one, and then tells his friends that he’s learned the bass line to Final Fantasy II. Seriously, they’re the only ones that point out how horrifyingly cruel and unnecessarily hurtful his actions are, and he’s the one playing a Final Fantasy II tune on his bass.

I must make it a point to discuss Brian Lee O’Malley’s simplistic art style. The series begins with a realistic super deformed feel, with characters having accurate features combined with cartoon-esque proportions. At first it seems a bit out of place, but O’Malley’s style quickly grows on the reader, and by the fourth or fifth page of the first novel, the style seems intrinsic to the plot; absolutely, I can say that O’Malley’s style seems to evolve as Scott Pilgrim does. Whether this occurs on purpose or not is trivial as O’Malley’s story is backed up by his art, and his art helps create a fascinatingly interwoven tale of loss, heartbreak, adaptation, evolution, and acceptance.

That seems to be the main point of Scott’s entire journey: growing up and facing the world as an adult, even if it means having to take down your girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend using Ichigo Kurosaki’s Zangetsu.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

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