Anti-Climax in Scott Pilgrim VS The Universe
In spite of the spectacular show put on by the series’ fourth installment, the fifth volume, Scott Pilgrim VS The Universe, doesn’t live up to that standard. I would rank it at the bottom of the series in terms of quality, below even the underdeveloped first book. Much of this has to do with how the book’s focus purposefully ignores the Evil Ex narrative conceit that serves as the framing device for the volume structure. This was done well once, in the second volume, where Evil Ex Lucas Lee defeated himself in an anticlimax. Anticlimax is useful when actually done at, well, the climax, but this volume uses both off-screen fights and focus shifts to ruin it at every turn.
The volume’s biggest problem is the under representation of two interesting villains who have insight into Ramona’s recent past. Let’s take a look at the anti-climactic encounters with them individually. Like Todd, we get introduced to the villains in the opening of the novel, and Scott deals with them throughout. It becomes a running joke that the twins, Kyle and Ken Katayanagi, never get properly introduced, which is a shame, considering that they know the most about Ramona as a person, and aren’t as foolishly arrogant as Gideon, so they’re capable of insight into her character that hasn’t been delved into before. In true video game fashion, they throw robots at Scott to fight him that are weaker than their own combined power. I think that the robot fights are worth some examination, especially the first.
The first fight with a robot doesn’t occur off panel completely, but it does happen in bits to the sides & corners in panels where other characters are the subjects. What is the purpose for this misdirection? Mostly to set up the two main sources of conflict for the novel: The idea that Ramona doesn’t know about Scott’s affair with Knives is clumsily brought up in a conversation between Stephen and Knives. The other source of conflict comes from Ramona’s glow and her own hypocrisy, which is touched on by Kim and Ramona’s conversation on the balcony. So in this first fight we basically get the thesis of the novel, that defeating the Seven Evil Exes isn’t as important as Scott & Ramona’s ability to handle relationships, namely their own. The formula for the series is turned on its head in this volume, and while that’s an important shift, it is clumsily executed, and what was lost in the focus shift is a disappointing omission.
During the second robot fight, Knives reveals Scott’s very brief and nearly inconsequential cheating to Ramona, which really causes her to reexamine herself. Ramona is, in fact, a serial cheater, and she prefers to run from conflict. In addition, her glow keeps her stuck in the deterministic mindset that she can’t change. This information gets to her for quite some time after Knives drops the bomb. In the third fight, Kim gathers evidence of Ramona’s head glowing, but this does nothing to put Ramona at ease. During the fight with the twins, we switch form, as the fight is what gets focused on this time. However, the more important plot element, Ramona’s decision to leave, is done off panel. We only get the tail end of her saying goodbye.
So, now I find myself asking, does the anticlimax help the story and would more focus on the twins help this story? I would say that it could have. Indulge me as I reimagine the story a bit.
Let’s say that the Katayanagis are still robot experts, but are also a bit more willing to get their hands dirty. They sick the first, and only, robot on Scott at Julie Powers’ first party. The fight goes on in the same style, and the same plot points are hit, but the twins are actually properly introduced. A run in with Ramona would be needed though perhaps they could interact in Stephen and Knives’ conversation. Perhaps one of the twins could taunt Stephen with the fact that Julie is now interested in the them, in order to build up their villain cred.
The second fight would then be Scott versus one of the twins, maybe one that is presented as more aggressive, let’s say Kyle for the example. This second fight at Sneaky Dee’s could go about in a similar fashion, perhaps even largely off panel as Knives drops the bomb on Ramona in the bathroom. Scott and Kyle could start off their fight with Kyle taunting Scott in a crude and aggressive way about Ramona’s past. Then the actual confrontation can be done off panel, to reveal that Scott has beaten Kyle, but hasn’t defeated him to the point where he exploded into coins. Kyle retreats, and the story goes on as normal.
The third fight would then feature a calmer, more prophetic twin, let’s go with Ken. Ken would hint before Scott and he fought, that Ramona is going to leave Scott because that’s just the way she is. One of the twins does this already in the original story, but directed at Ramona. Once again, not much attention needs to be paid to the fight, but Ken will retreat before being defeated.
In the last fight, both twins will fight Scott and receive a stat boost from fighting as a team. This would go about in a similar way that it does in the original volume, but I think more attention could be paid to Ramona’s preparation for leaving. The fight sequence and Ramona’s departure could be intercut simultaneously, revealing the futility of the Evil Ex fights. As I see it, Ramona’s escape has been foreshadowed for long enough, why not add in the heart wrenching juxtaposition as the fight is going on?