“There’s no shame in being yourself, Ramona.”

I was able to get my hands on a copy of Scott Pilgrim vol. 5 (Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe), thank the gods.

Below the cut will be a discussion of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s latest. Beware a huge number of spoilers.

What happens after you make the right choice? When you finally decide to grow up, get a job, and decide to act your age (mostly)? Does this act of will make everything better? Does saying “I’m an adult now” – with a snap of your fingers – really make it all better? And besides, can people really change?

These are just some of the questions O’Malley is playing with in SP5. O’Malley’s answers ring very true to life for a book where the main character kills a giant robot with a bass guitar.

Basically Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe argues that doing “the right thing”, falling in love, and taking some responsibility are the easy part of “growing up”. As hard as those choices may have seemed at the time (see Scott’s struggle in Volume Four) the real hard work is dealing with the consequences of that choice. Giving yourself a fresh start doesn’t make the past go away. Trying to change yourself doesn’t change the past or the universe.

Scott Pilgrim learns this – in heartbreaking detail – in Volume 5.

The real villain of the piece is – as the title suggests – “the universe” (the Twins are O’Malley’s least fleshed out and most “villainous” bad guys yet). Scott makes the “right choices” throughout the book – he keeps his job, tries to make his relationship with Ramona work, etc. – but things still do not work out how he’d like. It is almost as if the universe – his past, Ramona’s past, their friends – are conspiring against him.

The biggest theme of this book is the question: “can people change?” People can choose “to grow up” but does that really change anything? Is there such a thing as a real clean break from the past?

Scott would say yes. Ramona would say no.

As much as this book is about it’s titular character, most of the character development in this book is spent on Ramona (and Kim, who I’ll come back to). The previous volumes have been explicitly about Scott and he’s gotten virtually all of the character development. Ramona has been an important but relatively static character. We know virtually nothing about her (except that she’s 24, American, hip, and a ninja).

What’s funny about Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe is that – at the same time – we learn an absolute ton about Ramona and learn nothing new. Her past is still mostly undeveloped and though characters are explicitly talking about it we don’t really know what’s going on with that “glowly thing” that happens to her head. And despite that Ramona’s character is revealed in leaps and bounds in SP5.

Ramona and Scott’s relationship is pretty serious as the volume opens… they are living together, only three “evil exes” are left, and Wallace goes as far to ask Scott if they’ll get married when it’s all over. Scott seems mostly ok with this – he chose to go down this road consciously.

But, shortly into the book the reader can’t help but be left with the impression that things are moving too fast for Ramona. She’s changing. Her hair is longer, she’s settling down with Scott and his friends, her life with Scott is remarkably domestic. The question Ramona is asking herself it seems is “are these changes for the better?” Is this new Ramona the real Ramona?

Her answer by the mid-point of the book seems to be “no”.

What’s so amazing about O’Malley’s characterization of Ramona in SP5 is that most of it is implied through pensive looks and bits of dialogue (O’Malley’s art has improve immeasurably and is remarkably subtle at points). Unlike Scott’s characterization – which relatively explicit – O’Malley leaves a lot up to the reader to figure out.

So what you have really with Scott and Ramona is two young people at a crossroads who choose different paths. Scott wants to grow and change so that he can “deserve” Ramona. Ramona isn’t sure with this is the sort of change she wants. And so things end (for now) in heart break.

The reader can’t help at some points to ask themselves: whose love story is this anyway? There is a third main character in volume and that’s Kim Pine (Scott’s bandmate and long ago ex). Kim (who is one of my favorites) gets a lot of character work and we seem to really get a read on her character. Kim’s story here is very sad and heartbreaking; but hopeful too – since she decides she needs a change and starts to move on with her life. The dynamic between Kim, Scott, and Ramona in this is very weird but emotionally honest and true to life. In earlier volumes (before I came to like Ramona as a character) there was a part of me who thought Kim and Scott would make a better couple. O’Malley is – at this point – implying that such a thing might be the case. Or not. There is still a sixth volume to come.

Beyond the changes that happen to romantic relationships as you grow up, O’Malley touches on another theme that hits home: how friendships evolve and change as people grow up. Wallace and Scott are still close but both have new priotries. Stills is sick of his friends but can’t seem to escape them. Young Neil is bitter and feels left behind. Who could have guessed such things circa volume 1 or 2? These changes in the dynamics between the characters feel very true to life. As a person in his early twenties they hit a very raw emotional place.

In fact the entire book was a very raw emotional experience for me. I think it captures perfectly the chaos and uncertainty of being in your early twenties – trying to figure out how to be an adult in your life and your relationships.

There is a lot of cuteness in this book – along with its emotional and characterization weight. The fights between Scott and the various robots are hilarious. The jokes about how long each volume took to come out were cute. O’Malley’s dialogue remains as sharp and clever as always. Every scene between Wallace and Scott is pure giddy amusement. Perhaps because I have been playing World of Warcraft again (horrors upon horrors!) the “Achievement Unlocked” bit at the end made me giggle to no-end.

In the end this might be the best volume of Scott Pilgrim yet – I’m not sure. Repeated reads are required.

I’ve promised this before: but I think I’m going to revisit all of the volumes of Scott Pilgrim again and finished what I started in reviewing the entire series in detail. Every time a new book comes out I’m refreshed in my knowledge as how brilliant O’Malley is as a writer and artist.

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