When the film version of the comics series Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was released in 2010, I dove into Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series, which takes place over six black and white volumes. This post isn’t a recap of the series, but rather how Scott Pilgrim is literally and figuratively the perfect new adult hero, or more particularly, heroine (not in terms of age, but trope).
When we first meet Scott, he’s dating the high schooler, Knives Chau. All of his friends think this is a bad idea but he goes about it anyway until he meets manic pixie dream girl Ramona Flowers. Scott’s stuck in a Peter Pan rut; he’s fine living with his friend Wallace and not making much progress in his life. It’s not until he meets Ramona and has to face down her seven evil exes that he progresses on with his life.
How does this parallel the new adult prototype,you ask? In New Adult romance, the hero (or more often the heroine), continues about the day to day until something or usually someone acts as the catalyst for change. For example, take Jamie McGuire’s hugely successful Beautiful Disaster; it’s not until Abby meets the over-the-top Travis that her life changes into a world of emotional angst. How often does the back blurb of a New Adult romance novel read, “X was just living a blase college life until Y came along” or how often does the story of a protagonist come of age while taking on some emotional or actual life journey?
In addition to the New Adult journey, Scott Pilgrim shows a class consciousness to which New Adult readers can readily relate. In the beginning of the story, Scott lives in a ramshackle log cabin, he doesn’t work, and gets by living day to day. We’re told that at some point Scott went to college and met erstwhile and later evil, Envy or Natalie Adams. The college arc, while small, is huge especially in the New Adult world. So many NA protagonists work sham jobs for money until an opportunity working for a billionaire comes along or like Avery in the extremely popular Arrangement serial by H.M. Ward, do whatever they have to in order to get by. There’s also a feeling of lost potential. Scott is a great physical fighter, but emotionally he’s trapped in the lore of yesteryear represented by the great '90s and '80s video games that are represented, including The Legend of Zelda, Street Fighter, and others.
Envy Adams is an interesting character because she poses the New Adult trope of the confrontation with the ex. The most solid representation I can think of today is Robin York’s Deeper where Caroline faces her ex-boyfriend and tormentor, Nate, regarding the issue of revenge porn. While Envy doesn’t retaliate against Scott the same way Nate does with Caroline, there is still a deep psychological break where both Caroline and Scott have to face their exes respectively with the emotional support of a hero, West or heroine, Ramona, on their respective sides.
Perhaps the greatest message that Scott Pilgrim gives is not only belief in the power of love but belief in yourself. Yes, Ramona prompted Scott to change, but Scott was the one who had to do the growing up, he physically fights the Seven Evil Exes and emotionally battles with developing some sort of life, albeit as an assistant to the short order cook. There is a point in Deeper where Caroline cannot rely on West and has to “lawyer up” to come face to face with her demons, including Nate, her father’s approval and tackling the overall issue of revenge porn. Before they reach their HEA, NA heroines have the big emotional breakthrough (hopefully) where they have to conquer some sort of emotional demon in order to be in a relationship with their one true love. Scott’s confrontation is both physical and emotional in facing down Gideon, the last of the Seven Evil Exes while a NA heroine’s issues are often psychological where they break down barriers to make themselves vulnerable or sometimes strong enough to endure the travails of an adult relationship.
Do you agree or disagree? What New Adult tropes do you find in other works? Haven’t read Scott Pilgrim? Will you now?
Sahara Hoshi reviews for Wicked Lil Pixie and is a lifelong reader of romance. Favorite genres include new adult, paranormal romance, contemporary romance and erotica.