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Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s eponymous rat bastard hero chowing down in front of Ottawa’ notorious Rideau Street McDonald’s. Graphic by Evan Robins.

Cinevangelism Vol. V: The Scott Pilgrim Cinematic Universe

Written by
Evan Robins
and
and
April 18, 2023
Cinevangelism Vol. V: The Scott Pilgrim Cinematic Universe
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s eponymous rat bastard hero chowing down in front of Ottawa’ notorious Rideau Street McDonald’s. Graphic by Evan Robins.

Within days of the publication of this installment of my monthly film column, the Rideau Street McDonald’s which has long connected Rideau Street to the Byward Market in downtown Ottawa, Ontario will close. This hallowed Ottawan institution has served the weary wanderers of Canada’s capital for thirty-eight years, bearing with it all the accrued memories of every pit-stopper, field tripper and woeful drunk who has patronized it since 1985. It’s the kind of place with its own storied oral history embellished by generations of storytellers and passers-by, the sort of place which would more than merit inclusion in any telling of it’s host city. If Scott Pilgrim vs. The World took place in your Ottawa, you can bet your ass it’d make an appearance. 

To those having never read Scott Pilgrim, or else having bemusedly watched the 2010 movie adaptation it inspired, the franchise and its associated “lore” prove rather impenetrable. Even those having seen the movie probably describe it conservatively as “quirky,”—an adjective prolifically employed by those older than age thirty not knowing how else to quantify their bewilderment at something squarely aimed at the youth of today. Still, for some reason my parents rented it from the Rogers Plus video store in the strip mall near our house (before it inevitably shut down); they seem to have somehow seen every movie and television series in which Michael Cera starred between 2006–2010. On a years-later occasion of our family scrutinizing the endlessly side-scrolling Netflix catalogue in the same manner one might peruse the shelves of a video store, this instance of history effectively repeated itself. 

My parents suggested we watched Scott Pilgrim. They told my brother and I they’d seen it before; they said it was “quirky”. We watched Scott Pilgrim. I sat rapt for its runtime vibrating with bodily excitement, the like of which not even caffeine can induce in me, whilst my feeble tweenage mind leaked out of my ear-holes and slack-jawed face orifices. Scott Pilgrim kneaded the soft tissue of my yet-to-be-fully-developed pre-frontal cortex in a way unlike any media property since THE BIG ONE™, my original special interest of years-long obsession which I am outright refusing to name here out of mercy for my readership. Point being, I was awestruck. I’ve gone so far as to call Scott Pilgrim vs. The World the first good movie I ever watched,” which—while facetious—illustrates the point I’m approaching trying to make: 

Scott Pilgrim is weird.

Not only is Scott Pilgrim weird, it’s weird in a way that’s off-putting to those not willing to bring themselves down to its level. In spite of its weirdness, it remains earnest. This is what makes the series outstanding. 

Scott Pilgrim is superficially the story of its eponymous worthless layabout’s attempt to prove his worth to a woman with coloured hair who is leagues hotter than him—a tale itself as old as the internet, if not prefiguring it. However, a slight problem presents itself in that the seven (evil) ex-boyfriends* of his would-be mommy domme goth gf, Ramona Flowers, have unionized, and intend to serve him a murder-based collective bargaining agreement. In order to date her, Scott has to Mortal Kombat his way through these suckers in six sequential volumes, all while generally making a mess of his life and the lives of all his friends because Scott Pilgrim is—charitably—a piece of shit.

 If you’re thinking “that’s stupid,” or else find yourself asking “why did that happen?” at any point when reading or watching Scott Pilgrim, you’re doing so wrong. It is beholden to its own logic, and it cares not for your pretenses of rationality. Scott Pilgrim is Seinfeld in Canadian simulacrum, down to its retinue of recurring characters with one defined character trait to play comedic foil to our hapless protagonist. Just as everyone knows a George in real life, everyone knows a Scott—and trust me, you don’t want to be a Scott. 

For a story about a nominally heterosexual man symbolically conquering his prospective girlfriend’s evil ex-boyfriends in to-the-death combat, Scott Pilgrim is also remarkably gay. Ramona Flowers has a particularly bespoke transsexual vibe which compliments her potent bisexuality, and consequently makes her the subject of two men’s competing affections. Not only am I positive she has a penis (and if the size of her *ahem* hammer in Volume 4 is anything to go off of she’s packing, I assure you), I am willing to place a sizable bet that between her and her loser boyfriend Scott is not the one topping. Scott Pilgrim is thus a parable about chasers. Gideon Gordon Graves—the kind of guy who asks you “pre-op or post-op?” as his opener on Grindr—is naturally a chaser who tops (it’s why we find him dating the equally well-endowed Envy Adams in the final volume), whilst our pathetic puppyboy protagonist Scott Pilgrim makes himself the preeminent poster boy for pegging. Maybe some take issue with this assertion but in my defense, if Brian Lee O’Malley didn’t want his manga series to be a little fruity, he should not have written it while listening to Neko Case or stolen half the character’s names from Plumtree songs. 

Exhibit a. Scott Pilgrim ain't beating the puppyboy allegations.

And make no further mistake, Scott Pilgrim is manga. Just because you read it left-to-right doesn’t change the unmistakable structure of a serialized shonen series, albeit displaced such that its principal subject is some snivelling slacker from Sudbury. The closest analogy I have then to describe Scott Pilgrim to the uninitiated (or otherwise agnostic) is that it’s like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable for Canadians.

The fourth part of its genre-defining manga series, Diamond is Unbreakable is a character study of the semi-rural Japanese town of Morioh. Any given Part of Jojo’s typically follows the format of a core group of characters (one of whom is usually named Jojo) engaging in a series of one-off fights with enemies who wield the same psychic-ghost-punching-powers as them (don’t ask, just accept it) until ultimately a big-bad is revealed and the narrative is hastily concluded through handwaving plot holes away and implying that the villain was somehow responsible for siccing a series of otherwise-unrelated guys dressed somewhere on the spectrum between male strippers and drag queens upon our rag-tag group of do-gooding assholes (also dressed like strippers, for the record). 

Throughout the duration of Diamond is Unbreakable’s narrative, however, the background characters in the incidental fights for which Jojo is notorious continue to populate the narrative even after their defeat. These characters are (appropriately) bizarre, larger-than-life personalities, often tied to a particular location. Diamond is Unbreakable features such memorable characters as a guy who lives in the superstructure of an electricity pylon, an invisible baby, an eccentric manga artist who eats spiders and plays the recluse in his mansion, the ghost of a dead girl who lives in an alley, and a plant containing the soul of a dead cat. Protagonist Josuke and his entourage of schoolmates (not to mention his years-older-than-him nephew who serves as their mentor, all while writing his PhD dissertation) tend to hang out in any of half a dozen recurring haunts, and the development of the city takes just as much (if not more) precedence as the development of the characters themselves.

Exhibit b. POV: Yoshikage Kira uses Sheer Heart Attack to find out you're gay

Diamond is Unbreakable ultimately closely resembles an archetypal investigative crime drama—an unseen evil stalks a small and unsuspecting town, where a handful of characters colour a diverse ensemble cast. This evil—in this case a hand-fetishizing David Bowie-look-alike serial killer with the power to “explode” durations of time using the psychic manifestation of his will, which takes the form of a humanoid avatar named after a Queen song (they don’t call it Bizarre for nothing!)—touches each character in different ways, compounding to speak broadly about the impacts of trauma upon the community in which it resides, and specifically to examine the development of its protagonist in the face of this disproportionate adversity. 

Basically, Scott Pilgrim does that for Toronto. 

Both in film and in and in the graphic novel from which it is adapted, Scott Pilgrim is a city symphony for Toronto. The city of Toronto is itself as much of a character in Scott Pilgrim as any other person introduced by name. Perhaps even more so. 

This is unfortunate, because I despise Toronto. Among all the great Canadian metropolises I find Toronto the least redeeming—I can and will talk about this at length if you ask me to explain. It’s for this reason that I now live in Peterborough, of all places, even though if I had half a brain about me I’d presently reside in Montreal. For now, though, let me put all this aside and tell you about the city where I grew up. To properly explain everything which Scott Pilgrim means to me in its various derivative forms, one first needs to understand the city of Ottawa.

To understand Ottawa, I need to tell you about high school.

In high school I was a boy. I dressed in flannel shirts unbuttoned over band tees and skinny jeans. I wore a toque that I called a “beanie” in an effort to make it less decidedly uncool than it already was. I used to dress like a faggy Scott Pilgrim. I did all this because I hated myself. I hated myself because I was a boy.

Upon the day of mine writing this sentence, I was wearing an ensemble comprising an XXL flannel work shirt over mom jeans and a CBC Kids crew raglan thrifted from the Society of St. Vincent De Paul. I still dress like Scott Pilgrim, however, this style feels more potent now that I’m a lesbian, and not a pretending-to-be-bisexual teenage boy.

High-school-boy-me straddled a number of social circles and strata. I was a tourist in culture as I was a tourist in my gender. My presentation was low stakes insofar as it was inauthentic—my personality façade, my masculinity conjecture. This is the truest expression I can concoct to explain the state of “living” a “lie.” 

It’s not even that I was particularly bad at maintaining this lie. Internally? Sure, I resented myself plenty for maintaining the pretense, though nonetheless my disguise was impenetrable to all but a select few. I was all told, a tough egg to crack (no less to myself than to others). If anyone suspected anything it was likely just the popular assumption that I was gay. Still, the spectre of my subconscious desires would well up now and again. I was throughout my life an effeminate boy who hung out mostly with girls and maintained ambiguously close relationships with many of them—which, in hindsight, seems exemplary of my current dykeish proclivities. I’d routinely permit my friends to paint my nails or put makeup on me. I would cross-dress whenever the opportunity presented itself, even if I claimed it was only as some practical joke. This went so far as to result in mine chairing my high school’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance despite using (he/him) pronouns and dating a woman in an arrangement which at least superficially appeared heterosexual. How exactly I got away with that, even I’m unsure.

At this time, I used to hang out with art school kids. None of them actually went to art school, though the archetype serves an illustrative purpose. Together we’d bus downtown, and they’d smoke ill-begotten cigarettes, take shrooms and walk around the National Art Gallery. The National Gallery is free on Thursday nights after four. In order to get the most out of the gallery one needs several hours, which meant I needed to miss dinner. By consequence, my friends and I would invariably find ourselves at Rideau McDonald’s. 

Exhibit c. The McDonald’s in question. The original file name of this image was “rideau-mcdonalds-stabbing-2017.jpg,” which tells you just about everything you need to know.

The location tag which denotes Club Rockit in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World roundly declares that “this place is a dump.” “This place is a dump,” scarcely begins to contend with the depths of festering decrepitude borne by Rideau McD’s. The first time I went to this particular McDonald’s, a man wearing an oversized North Face jacket tried to sell me cocaine. Petty criminals seeking to evade Ottawa Police would use the buildings odd, backrooms-esque tunnel to flee from law enforcement, at least until management were forced to hire a security guard to clothesline any would-be ne’er-do-wells. The franchise has even earned a colloquial epithet: “McDonald’s UFC,” so dubbed because of an infamous occasion whereupon—in the midst of a no-holds-barred-brawl in the restaurant—a man brandished a baby raccoon like a weapon.

In the same way that Scott Pilgrim is deeply and inseparably tied to its living and breathing Toronto, I cannot separate this shittiest of all McDonald’s franchises from my teenaged years. In spite of everything, I’m still sad to see it go.

While I currently live life as a woman of an entrancing mystique with a fetish for leather jackets and a penchant for combat boots, in high school I far more archetypically resembled Scott Pilgrim’s eponymous hero prodigal than I resemble Ramona Flowers today (and believe me, the comparison has been made). The truth is, despite mine having been the object of the (unwanted) romantic advances of a number of men whose behaviour I’d categorize as being somewhere between “just normal misogyny” and “peak weird penis worship” on the Evangeline Robins Patented Chaser Taxonomy Scale™, I don’t have seven exes of which to speak (well, at least not evil ones), nor do I one day aspire to.

Exhibit d. This sentiment is one commonly shared by transgender women. 

Even now though my life resembles Scott Pilgrim. Heck, if one considers the fact that I associate mostly with gay people and PhD students and have taken up a semi-permanent residence in the crow’s nest at the Only Café, I’m scarcely one degree removed from Pilgrim and Co.’s morose habitation of Toronto’s Sneaky Dee’s, or, for that matter, the cast of that most mimetically referenced Shonen anime.

I wrote this column staring down the barrel of twenty-one years of age, a number which somehow scared me far more than twenty ever did. By the time this column sees the light of day I’ll have once more passed that annual threshold by which we measure one’s inexorable progress through life (or towards death, should you take a more morbid attitude towards these things).

It seems fitting that the same month I release this column, the long-awaited animated adaptation of the Scott Pilgrim series has been officially announced, produced by Science SARU, co-written by series author Brian Lee O’Malley, directed by Edgar Wright, and featuring the return of the cast of the 2010 movie in their entirety. 

Scott Pilgrim is a relic of my teenagerhood, grounded in that nonspecific nostalgic past which bridges the gap somewhere between Y2K and whenever things started falling off the rails—politically, pandemically, atmospherically, you name it. If Hot Topic has distilled the essence of the years between 2005 and 2014 into a commercially viable retail store, Scott Pilgrim serves as written record of Canadiana for the same stretch of time. It’s a time capsule—a world where Gord Downie is still alive, CDs are still a thing you can buy in retail stores and Greyhound still services most of Ontario. All of the characters still use flip phones. In 2019 I replaced the flip phone I’d had through high school up until then with a smartphone. Weirdly enough, I think I owe a considerable portion of my desire to transition to that phone, since October of that year would mark the first time I saw the legendary tgirl heritage image of the pumpkin fucking witch, all because having a smartphone permitted me to download Instagram. Scott Pilgrim does not exist after 2010. I, however, keep growing older. 

As human tendencies go, nostalgia is a pretty useless one. It’s an instinct which goes against every fundamental understanding of nature and of entropy. Now matter how profound the yearning to, I can’t go back to then—to high school, to being someone different than I am now—nor, if I’m being honest, do I particularly want to. Still sometimes those memories wash over me from time to time, and when they do, I could swear my head had started glowing.

I’m not yet as old now as Scott is in either the film or comic book series, though one day—luck prevailing—I will be. I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t know what I should do about that. In full transparency, I wasn’t sure I would live to be as old as I am now, let alone to be living the embodiment of a gender which suits me for as long as I now have been. While it’s weird to think in a measly three years of transitioning, I’ll have outlived something as seemingly immutable and ubiquitous as a McDonald’s franchise, to be able to sit here in the meantime and watch the edifices of my childhood crumble is a curious privilege. I’m not sure I’ve gotten used to it just yet.

I’m not old, and I’m certainly not wise, though I’m by no means opposed to the possibility of one day being one of both of those things. Thus, I say now with the utmost sincerity that I hope one day I may learn to be so, and moreover, to learn to be so graciously.

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