Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is one of my favourite movies of all time. Not only does it warm my ever loving gamer heart, but it also makes me realize how much I enjoy watching Michael Cera being awkward on the big screen. Because seriously, no one does awkwardness on-screen better than Michael Cera.
So, when I got the chance to purchase the entire six-volume graphic novel series for a steal of a price ($30 for all six volumes – meanwhile, it goes for nearly double on Amazon Canada), I didn’t pass it up. While the movie (which is on Netflix, by the way) has its charm, I found out that there were certain characters omitted and certain events changed. Even so, three volumes in and I’m totally hooked.
SPOILERS: Before you go any further, I’m going to spoil both the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley and the movie. If you haven’t seen either and don’t want to be spoiled, GET OUT NOW!!
I should probably start off by saying that I don’t read every series in order to compare it to the magical girl narrative. I didn’t buy Scott Pilgrim with the express purpose of comparing him to Sailor Moon or Utena. But after three years of studying the narrative and seven years after seeing the movie initially, I couldn’t help but see similarities. But I promise you that I didn’t spend my hard earned money just to make Scott Pilgrim into a magical boy.
The eponymous hero, a 23-year-old slacker who plays bass guitar with his band, Sex Bob-Omb and lives with his gay roommate Wallace Wells in Toronto. I’m not going to mince words – Scott is a bit of a douchebag. Okay, maybe not a bit – he’s a full-blown douchebag. He’s weak, he’s non-committal, and he’s pissed off a lot of people – namely his ex-girlfriends, including Kim Pine, the sourpuss drummer in his band. As the series begins, he’s dating Knives Chau, a seventeen-year-old high school student who thinks Scott is the best thing since sliced bread.
Already, my Magical Girl senses are tingling. A few pages in and we’ve met the quintessential magical girl (boy?) series protagonist – the hapless individual who can’t seem to do anything right and is pitied by those around him (okay, Utena, Cardcaptor Sakura, Kill la Kill, and Madoka Magica don’t count). Scott is all of these things and then some. Oh sure, Knives may be into him but everyone else is fully aware that he is anything but ideal. Including Scott himself – but he won’t admit that.
Everything changes one night when he meets Ramona Flowers, Amazon courier and dream girl, at a party. No really, she’s his literal dream girl – he sees her in a dream before he meets her in real life. One look and his hopelessly in love with her, even going as far as to stalk her at the party and buying CDs online via Amazon (with Wallace’s credit card) in hopes that she will deliver the package to his house. He wishes to date her, but unfortunately, it’s not that easy. If he wants to date her, he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – how on earth is this anything like a magical girl series? Well, before I can answer this question, I need to introduce you to a man named Joseph Campbell, an American Mythologist who wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In the book, Campbell argues that myths from all around the world share a similar structure, which features the hero leaving his ordinary life for the promise of a adventure, essentially experiencing apotheosis (becoming god-like) in the process. Campbell says it best on page twenty-three:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Though people take issue with the masculine connotations associated with the world “hero”, magical girls experience the same thing. The heroine, a girl who is otherwise troublesome or considered to be “nobody special” is suddenly very special with an otherworldly being bestows her with the power to become a magical girl. Another version involves the majokko (“little witch”) – a little girl born in an extraordinary world who ventures to the ordinary human world to grow up. In both cases, the heroine must weather many storms to either defeat a physical enemy or to go through a rite of passage before adulthood. If they overcome all adversities, they become a strong individual, and sometimes, they even save the world.
Getting back to Scott Pilgrim, well, Scott Pilgrim is very much the magical girl of his series. Ramona is his otherworldly companion (come on, she can open doors via the subspace highway and her hair is an unusual colour. Dude). Furthermore, by meeting her and being chosen by her, he is given the involuntary task of facing her seven evil ex-boyfriends, one more powerful than the next. At first, he doesn’t take his new role very seriously – when the first evil ex-boyfriend, Matthew Patel, emails him about what is to happen, he doesn’t even bother to finish the email. Rude. But when Mr. Patel attacks, Scott doesn’t back down.
Scott is very much an extraordinary hero in an ordinary slacker body. He’s aimless, unmotivated, and a douchebag, but he’s also a tenacious opponent. The series doesn’t explain how Scott manages to kick so much ass – I mean, he kicks a formal rival off the roof of his high school – but he does. It’s almost like it sets him up to be the hero and insists that he’s the only one who has a chance to defeat the evil exes.
Kinda like how the flawed magical girl heroine always seems to be the only one who can save the world.
The only thing that separates Scott from the Usagis, Utenas, and Madoka’s of the animated world is that he’s really unlikeable for at least the first three volumes of the series. Usagi was blessed with kindness, Utena with bravery, and Madoka with compassion. Scott has none of these things. I love this series, but I really felt the utter desire to slap the hell out of him several times. The graphic novel attempts to illustrate the reasons why Scott is the way he is, but it ends up falling flat. Especially when it comes to his relationship with Knives Chau (though she’s a bit tenacious herself). Kim Pine says it best.
But for what he lacks in character, he makes up for in power. He is the chosen one, has the power, and man, does he use it! And with every battle, he learns more and more about himself – he levels up. It even gets to the point where he in addition to fighting the evil exes, Scott must also face the evil version of himself.
Oh, and there are the obvious references to magical girl series in the movie – like this gem right here.
Throughout the series (or the movie, pick your poison), we see Scott transform before our eyes in a magical, extraordinary way. We see him gain the power to defeat his foes as every battle forces him to look inside himself. The movie kinda glazes over this, but the graphic novel is every bit the bildungsroman it’s supposed to be. What’s a bildungsroman, you ask? Simply put, it’s a “coming of age” tale. We watch Scott come of age through his magical ability to invoke video games and kick butt which forces him to come to terms with himself.
Magical girl narratives are bildungsroman, too.
In the next part, I’ll apply Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale to the Scott Pilgrim series while comparing it to other magical girl series. In the meantime, I will go ahead and finish the last three volumes and really let all of this sink in. I wonder what Scott’s Henshin phrase would be…