At its core, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” is a romance comic. For all its video game-fueled fight scenes and manga homages, the foundation of the series is driven by Scott and Ramona’s relationship. As much as Scott is literally fighting for Ramona’s love, his battle is also on a more allegorical and emotional level.
What I found most interesting is how O’Malley explores the concept of the past through Scott and Ramona’s relationship. Scott ignores the past, he’s oblivious to how it has affected his current friendships and refuses to learn any life lessons that’d allow him to mature, while Ramona cannot let go of the past — both figuratively and literally — which stunts her growth in a similar way.
SCOTT PILGRIM: QUARANTINE THE PAST
“Scott Pilgrim” starts with the eponymous character dating a high school student, Knives. It’s befitting of a character who is a self-absorbed man-child, the type of guy who describes himself as “Awesome,” in a non-ironic way. Is he endearing? Yes; you want to see him succeed. While he does grow in a positive way throughout the series, those first few volumes are very relatable to those that have experienced the same troubles when finding themselves.
Scott spends half the series unemployed, mooching off his roommate Wallace. The only thing of Scott’s in Wallace’s apartment is his lame teenage-boy wet dream poster of two girls kissing, which is a good indication of who he is. It’s also the only thing he brings when moving in with Ramona, and it’s trashed before it can enter her house. When he finally scores a job and starts to get his life together, he still manages to make really simple mistakes; forgetting his keys, or spending the entire day playing games on a mobile phone. For every step he takes towards maturity, there are at least two more steps backward.
He uses Knives as an easy excuse for a relationship, taking advantage of her genuine infatuation with him and his band. Everyone is aware of his exploitation of her obsession because he doesn’t want to commit to a legitimate adult relationship and the complexities involved. Upon the reveal of her age, 18, Scott’s instant reaction is to ask her for casual sex. As expected, she turns him out, showing that she has outgrown him.
For most of the series we’re presented with the narrative that Envy Adams is a jerk, the most diabolical of all exes. That she broke Scott’s heart and took him for granted. In ‘Volume 6’, Envy confronts Scott’s retelling of events and reveals that Scott was just as bad as her during the relationship. He’s the one who started the fight that led to them breaking up. Knowing this, it re-colors everything we know about Envy. You realize that she didn’t ask Sex Bob-omb to open for them at Lee’s Palace to embarrass them; she genuinely wanted them to play. It turns out Scott isn’t the paragon of virtue he thinks himself to be. Envy was just as heartbroken and hurt as Scott.
Envy grows up, first it’s trading more childish items like anime posters and figures for CDs and cooler clothes, then it’s signing wanting to sign Kid Chameleon to an actual label because she’s serious about making it as a musician. Scott’s response to the latter is that he only started the band as a means to pick-up girls.
When Ramona confronts him about cheating on her with Knives (he conveniently “forgot” to break up with her), he attempts to calm her by telling her that he cheated on Knives with her. His thought process is that Ramona wasn’t wronged, so therefore what he did was acceptable. It’s some absolutely immature and toxic thinking, to spurn Knives and try to steady his current relationship. Ramona isn’t too far from the truth when she calls him, “An evil-ex waiting to happen,” in response.
It’s not until volume six that Scott finally grows, finally facing Nega-Scott, who is the embodiment of all of Scott’s flaws and bad memories. If Scott can defeat his shadowy doppelgänger, he can forget about Ramona and move on much like he has with every previous relationship he’s had (get off Scott-free). Kim tells him that, “If you keep forgetting your mistakes, you’ll just keep making them again.” But Scott rebuts her, telling her that he’d rather forget everything that happened so he doesn’t have to live with the memory of his mistakes. That’s why he’s so immature, because he actively refuses to grow.Continued below
By finally fusing with Nega-Scott, Scott finally accepts himself, that maybe he isn’t the, “paragon of virtue,” that he thinks he is. He’s finally able to see and accept his shortcomings and mistakes, that maybe he isn’t and because of that he’s able to actually work to improve them. He stops running from the past and instead uses it as a means to reshape his future for the better.
RAMONA FLOWERS: THE INFINITE SADNESS
While Scott has perfected the art of editing his past and straight up cutting those tougher and less ideal memories out, Ramona can’t escape them. She literally cannot avoid them because each of her Seven Evil Exes return to challenge her current boyfriend to a fight to death. Her memories of the past are closely tailing her. She’s afraid of change – and it’s easier to run away than to face your actual problems (which is what Scott was also doing, albeit in a different way). As she later puts it, she’s always the one who leaves her relationships. Ramona avoids the future because she can’t let go of the past and her insecurities won’t let her get comfortable with Scott.
Gideon implants himself into Ramona’s mind, so she’s never fully able to get over him. Her head glows when she’s insecure, because that’s Gideon praying on her insecurity she refers to their relationship as being, “Like some sick experiment to him,” an indication of the emotional scars that haven’t – and possibly will never– heal. While fitting him in her subconscious, Ramona tells Gideon that: “A part of me still belongs to you.”
Dating and relationships leave marks – sometimes they’re big, sometimes they’re small. I can’t listen to Natalie Cole’s “Orange Colored Sky” without tensing up, in the same way Scott can’t even bear to hear Envy’s name without becoming an anxious mess. Ramona can’t get over Gideon because he literally won’t let her, and because try as she might, she can’t rid herself of all her memories of him.
In ‘Finest Hour,’ Gideon slashes Ramona’s subspace bag causing it to rupture and explode, filling the Chaos Theatre with all her stuff. By this point O’Malley had established that subspace travels through a person’s mind (Ramona uses Scott’s subconscious as a shortcut and Scott stumbles into Ramona’s in ‘Gets It Together’). As Scott and Ramona go to leave the Theatre, he asks her what she wants to do with all of her stuff. Ramona tells him she’s not interested in picking it up, and that she was looking for an excuse to get a new bag anyway. This is Ramona finally moving on from her past. As much as her stuff is her literal possessions, they also represent her memories (they were kept in her actual subconscious). She’s no longer constrained by her past so she’s able to move on.
GIDEON: WHAT A DICK
In the great hierarchy of dick moves, getting a group of jaded assholes together to fight anyone who wants to date your ex-girlfriend is somewhere in the top-tier.
Gideon is a composite of Scott and Ramona. He mentally rewrites his past to make himself look like he was never the bad guy (he blames everything on Ramona, even though he’s the one who started The League), but he can’t let go of the past either. He literally keeps every girl who has ever dated him frozen in cryostasis as though they are a possession, with the delusion that someday they’ll wake up and realize they love him. He isn’t in love with Ramona, he’s obsessed with her – and those are two very different things.
When Ramona started dating Gideon he might not have seemed like a bad person, and the same can be said for all the other evil exes. It’s not as though she’s actively choosing to be with jerks, (Ramona: “Maybe they turned into assholes later!”). You’d think a famous skateboarder/film star, expert in roboticists, the bassist of a poplar band, a guy who’s mastered mystical powers and a ninja could use their talents for anything but harassing someone who broke up with them, but here we are. Apart from Ramona, the League all share the inability to move on. Instead of getting over Ramona, that chose to obsess over her. She’s the problem, not them.Continued below
Gideon is Scott’s “One Bad Day” potential future – The Joker to Scott’s Batman. What separates them is that Scott is now able to see and accept his flaws, and that he genuinely does love Ramona in a romantic, non-obsessive way. Even though she left at the end of ‘Vs. The Universe’ he still chooses to face Gideon in combat. It’s a fight he doesn’t have to fight, but he wants to because Ramona is worth fighting for. Scott gains the Power of Understanding, because he realises just how much he and Gideon have in common but also how he can learn from this and not become Gideon 2.0.
INTO THE UNKNOWN
Scott accepts his past, flaws and all, when he finally combines with Nega-Scott – while Ramona attempts to break the cycle of insecurity by coming back and fighting for and with Scott. The series ends with them both aware of their flaws and the potential pitfalls they’ll face as a couple. Will everything work out? Maybe, maybe not – but they want to try.
Relationships can be hard and sometimes they can hurt, but that’s just how they are. By the end of “Scott Pilgrim” both Scott and Ramona have grown as characters and learnt important lessons. As much as you need to learn from the past so you don’t repeat it, you need to learn to let go of it as well.