endings…Posted: July 30, 2010
I have been sitting on this review for over a week. I haven’t been entirely sure what to say. Finales are always the hardest things to review: by this point either you are a Scott Pilgrim reader or you are not. Often times with these things you are speaking to the converted.
It is remarkably hard to say good-bye to Scott Pilgrim, for it is the defining pop-culture experience of my early twenties. Which is a remarkably pretentious thing to write, now that I have typed it out. However, that doesn’t make it any less true. What’s most impressive about the overall Scott Pilgrim experience is how O’Malley so successfully synthesized the pop-culture detritus (video games, shonen manga, superheroes) running around in the brains of males in their 20s and 30s into a such a successful relationship drama and coming of age story. The final volume puts an very good cap on all of this. Things end as they should and as you would expect.
What’s most interesting, in some ways, about Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour is what’s not in the book. After Volume 5 I would have bet the bank on O’Malley giving us a detailed exposition of Ramona’s backstory. That, however, isn’t the direction he went in. Which, at first glance, left me disappointed. But in the end I think it was a far more successful choice. Looking back on the entire series it is amazing how well characterized Ramona is even though most of her characterization comes from snarky asides, O’Malley’s art, and, of course, the evil exes. This often placed the reader in the same place as Scott – knowing Ramona but never quite having the final answer about what’s going on with her. In the end, this was a very successful artistic choice by O’Malley for it gave the relationship between Scott and Ramona an edge (perhaps, dare I say, a realistic one) that many in these sort of stories lack.
The most successful elements of the book were the very beginning, – where we see a Ramonaless Scott – the very middle, – where Scott and Ramona reunite – and the very end – after Gideon is defeated. What’s so striking about O’Malley’s writing is that by exaggerating and snarking up much of the character interaction in the book he is able to hit more emotionally compelling notes than if he had played the same story beats “straight.” For example, Scott’s behavior while on a break from Ramona – hitting on every woman that he has ever known, for example – is extremely exaggerated but remarkably true to life. Thus, like in Volume 5, the finest moments of book are the more quiet, character based ones.
This is not to say the high flying action that makes up about 50 percent of the book is bad – not in the least. It is just surprising in the wake of the previous two volumes where O’Malley seemed to be moving in a quieter direction. There are moments in the book where one almost feels that O’Malley wants to get all of the shonen influences out of his system in one go. I mean, honestly, much of the fight between Scott and Gideon wouldn’t have been out of place in a volume of Bleach. O’Malley pulls it off quite well but it is a bit jarring of one was expecting something more along the lines of Volume 5.
However, to engaging in a bad pun, not everything was Scott Pilgirm’s finest hour here. I think the character of Gideon was mostly a failure. He ended up being such an over the top shonen villain (or if you prefer, super-villain) that it felt, almost, like O’Malley was moving backwards in his storytelling. That all of that build up over 5 previous offerings was for naught. I can’t quite figure out why Envy returned in this volume. Outside of the very beginning, her presence seemed unnecessary. She is a very visually compelling character, perhaps O’Malley simply liked to draw her? Perhaps her presence stood out to me because I never found the character particularly compelling.
Like in Volume 5 there are times where the book feels more than a bit rushed. This, like the ending of the Volume 5, leads to some very awkward artwork. Which stands out so clearly because this volume features some of the strongest art in the series. O’Malley’s “mature” style is very compelling and promises to improve in future works. However, unlike the previous volume, this rushed quality seeps into O’Malley’s writing at some points. A feeling of just wanting this whole thing to be over haunts much of the plot of Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, especially in the middle parts of the book. O’Malley is clearly not interested in the ‘mysteries’ he set up in previous volumes (such as Ramona’s head glow) – even if they were major elements of the plot of the volume immediately previous to this one. I was always far more invested in the characters than the “mysteries” of the series, so this didn’t bother me too much, but it did stand out.
Perhaps the best part of this final volume is that the ending is happy and hopeful. It is not overly so (unlike, some would argue, the end to other popular series) for O’Malley only gives us the beginning to what might be happily ever after. There both closure and an openness to the final pages of the book that serves as fitting cap to Scott Pilgrim. You really couldn’t have expected anything better.