Rainbows and Rollerblades: The queer evolution of the Scott Pilgrim series

By: Beatrix Kondo February 14, 20240 Comments
Lineup of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off's main cast, including Ramona, Knives, Stephen Stills, Wallace Wells, and Kim. Scott is peeking out of Ramona's bag.

Content Warning: Discussion of queerphobia

Spoilers for Scott Pilgrim vs the World and Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

The year was 2004 when the whirlwind journey of Scott Pilgrim began as a comic series, catapulting readers into the “precious little life” of its titular character: a 23-year-old bass guitarist who must level up in life and love when he’s tasked with defeating the seven evil exes of his new girlfriend, Ramona Flowers. This story has since transformed and evolved, adapted as a live-action movie, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and most recently as an anime, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off. Cracking open the narrative vault and taking a wild ride down memory lane, it’s clear to see that from 2004 to 2010 to 2023, each new iteration of Scott and Ramona’s epic tale is an artistic product of the era it was produced in. One area where this is abundantly clear is the way queer characters, and queer identity more generally, are handled. This charming series serves as a reminder of the evolving nature of storytelling and inclusivity, highlighting growth in both characters and our understanding of narrative representation over the past two decades.

As I cracked open the narrative vault for this article (cue dramatic entrance music), I couldn’t help but notice that diving into the past is like navigating a cosmic rollercoaster—daring, tricky, and with loop-de-loops through stereotypes and tired jokes that come out the other side into nuance worth cheering for. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare as we embark on an extraordinary adventure through the rainbow-tinted realms of Scott Pilgrim‘s multiverse.

ROUND 1, FIGHT! – Scott Pilgrim, the comics

Cover of Scott Pilgrim volume 5 showing Ramona with her blue hair and purple and pink bag

The early 2000s, a time of flip phones, dial-up internet symphonies, and the birth of MySpace profiles, saw Bryan Lee O’Malley crafting the first pages of the Scott Pilgrim comics—a cultural icon of its era. Amidst the Y2K transition, Scott Pilgrim became a magnetic force field, blending ’90s grunge vibes with the neon glow of the emerging digital age. O’Malley wove together video game aesthetics, music subcultures, and everyday life into a narrative quilt that screamed, “We are the youth of the year two thousand!”

Yet, these early comics had quirks—cringy sexist comments, stereotypical sketches, and heteronormative vibes reflective of their time. Amidst these moments, however, the series rebelled by introducing some authentic queer characters, injecting much-needed representation. For me, venturing back into the comics was less disheartening than the film, as characters progressed without succumbing to tired tropes. The comics, flawed yet endearing, maintained a bittersweet charm. 

The first and most obvious example of queer rep in the series is Wallace Wells, who is literally introduced as Scott’s “cool gay roommate” (and/or as a “drunk homosexual” depending on the comic panel). Wallace, though at times dancing along to the “my gay friend” stereotype, exuded lively energy and is treated as a serious character rather than a one-off joke. In fact, he’s often the voice of reason and (ironically) the “straight man” to Scott’s dopey antics. If Scott is a quintessential slacker, Wallace has his life together. While he’s not the protagonist, Wallace is definitely a beloved main character in the series, and O’Malley generally avoids reducing Wallace to his sexuality or making the fact that he’s gay the butt of the joke. 

Comic panel showing Wallace waving towards the camera. A box that says "Wallace Wells, drunk homosexual" points to him

This is helped by the fact that Wallace isn’t the only gay character in the series, as several others are casually included—including Scott’s bandmate Steven Stills, who is seen kissing his boyfriend in the final volume. This is part of a joke, but the actual punchline is that Scott is surprised to discover Steven dates men because Scott hasn’t been paying attention to his friends’ lives. There’s also a scene at a party where Scott catches Knives and Kim drunkenly kissing (Knives has joined in the revelry despite being underage), leading to a dramatic shift in the beach party atmosphere and the promise to “never speak of this again.” 

Also of note are Roxie (Evil Ex #4) and Ramona herself. Their relationship is introduced in Volume 4, following the Kim/Knives kissing session. Amidst casual banter, Scott spontaneously asks Ramona about her experiences with kissing another girl, eliciting a shiver of delight from him. Suddenly, Roxie makes a stealthy entrance, reminiscent of a ninja, casting a mysterious shadow.

Scott’s subsequent encounter with Roxie involves an accidental punch to her chest, a scene later mirrored in the film. Roxie, with ninja-like finesse, engages in conversation with Scott before disappearing in a puff of smoke, leaving him pondering her identity. Later, Roxie and Ramona meet at the restaurant where Scott works, revealing their history as a former couple. Ramona corrects the term “evil ex-boyfriends” to “evil exes,” and Roxie is surprised that Scott was unaware of their past relationship. Ramona doesn’t hide her past romance with another woman—at least, not any more than she hides information about her past with her ex-boyfriends. If anything, she seems closer and more casual with Roxie.

Coloured comic panels showing Ramona and Roxie squaring off, about to fight. Scott is hiding in Ramona's magic bag

Scott’s realization of Ramona’s past sapphic relationship is humorously portrayed as a brain cracking open to reveal a tiny chick. Still, despite Scott being a goof about this, the battle with Roxie is just as tense as any other climactic showdown with a member of the League of Evil Exes. Roxie and Ramona face off in the subspace, exchanging verbal jabs about the complexities of their past relationship. Roxie, displaying a mix of love and restraint, ultimately concedes. 

The Roxie arc reaches its zenith with a face-off in the real world, pitting Scott against Roxie without Ramona’s involvement. Scott emerges victorious, yet the encounter leaves him with a forewarning of the impending challenge posed by the mysterious twins. The comic, in its distinctive fashion, delves beyond this tangible confrontation, presenting a detailed and multifaceted portrayal. During a surreal dream sequence triggered by a disagreement with Ramona, Scott finds himself navigating the intricate recesses of her mind. The revelation of Roxie’s presence in Ramona’s house, suggesting an overnight stay, adds a compelling layer of complexity to the narrative. This occurrence underscores the nuanced and multifaceted dynamic between Roxie and Ramona, a glimpse of the complexity often inherent in queer relationships. 

The cool queerness in the comics was a delight—characters unfolded their sexualities with genuine ease, and even if there are a few jokes (or shocked reactions from Scott) that seem tacky today, there’s something special about the casual inclusion of queer characters in a piece of 2000s genre fiction like this. As we unearth the early days of Scott Pilgrim, it’s a chance to salute the series as a funky relic, reminding us that cultural attitudes, like mixtapes, are ever-evolving, and the quest for more inclusive and diverse narratives continues to rock on.

ROUND 2, FIGHT – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Ramona in the live-action movie

In the cinematic whirlwind of Scott Pilgrim‘s multiverse, the film adaptation offers a rollercoaster ride of hits and misses, with the cinematic journey stumbling all over representation hurdles, leaving a lingering sense of missed potential.

It’s not all bad news: Wallace, the effortlessly cool gay character, largely avoids stereotypes and is still one of the funniest and most sensible voices in the cast. Transitioning from comics to cinema, Wallace’s coolness endures. However, the movie erases Steven Stills’ coming out, steering him on the straight and narrow, and leaving Wallace isolated as the only gay character in the main cast. Still, he fares way better than the film’s queer female characters. The movie’s script introduces sexism, misogyny, and biphobia, creating an uneven dance of LGBTQ+ representation. 

Overall, the problem is that the film’s reduced runtime means that characters are squashed down into shallower versions of themselves. Ramona’s portrayal in the movie is dulled down. Her characterization lines up with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trend of the era (something the comic arguably tries to unpack), a trend that treats neurodivergence like a glittery filter, romanticizing it as whimsical and charming and neglecting the real, nuanced experiences of audiences. Even Ramona’s color palette—which, by the way, has been very bisexual flag-like since day one, with her iconic pink-and-blue subspace bag and purple hair—is muted. Naturally, the depiction of her actual queerness doesn’t fare much better. 

Ramona about to bonk Roxy on the head with her massive battle hammer

Things take a nosedive when the film tackles Roxie, her dynamic with Ramona, and Ramona’s reaction to their reunion. The nuanced character I loved in the comics gets squished into a one-dimensional version on screen. Ramona and Roxie spar—unleashing the full extent of their verbal and physical artillery—but the film skips their connection’s emotional intricacies and depth, turning Roxie into a mere shadow of her comic self, and ultimately into a joke. The movie’s portrayal of Roxie also diminishes her autonomy, tying her motivations to Gideon and perpetuating a trope that weakens female characters.

The reveal that one of the evil exes is an ex-girlfriend is treated as an over-the-top shock. “You had a sexy phase?” asks Scott, flabbergasted to learn that his girlfriend “experimented” with dating women in the past. Ramona shrugs that she was “feeling a little bi-curious.” While, yeah, Roxie’s reply “I’m feeling a little bi-furious!” is kind of funny, it doesn’t change the fact that the whole Roxie fight scene is a slapstick mess steeped in stereotypes about sapphic women. Roxie—who we’re probably meant to assume is a lesbian—is tough, angry, and man-hating, while Ramona is the cool girlfriend who just “had a phase” and is now more exciting to her straight boyfriend. Like everything else, the movie’s pacing means their conflict is over in just one scene, and Roxie is quickly defeated (in an embarrassing way) so the story can move on. 

As this tumblr user puts it, Roxie here is “an unfortunate victim of [being written in] the 2000s.” It’s like the film traded depth for brevity, leaving us with a watered-down representation of diverse relationships.

ROUND 3, FIGHT – Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Closeup of Ramona as she first appears in the anime Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, a glowing out-of-focus background behind her head

From the studio that brought us the mind-bending Devilman Crybaby comes the unexpected reimagining of Scott Pilgrim‘s epic tale—not a new adaptation of the comics, but an alternate telling that expands the world of Scott Pilgrim into an explosive multi-media multiverse. This is exciting for all sorts of reasons, but for our purposes here, this new version treads some new ground and reframes the queer characters done dirty by the previous adaptation. 

Ever wondered about the untold story behind Ramona Flowers in the Scott Pilgrim movie? A decade down the line, the anime swoops in like a colorful superhero, fixing the film’s missteps with its vibrant storytelling and metalinguistic nods. It’s not just a visual love letter to the source material; it’s a rebellious remix that adds layers to the characters and themes I fell for. Unlike the film, this anime refuses to put Ramona in a clichéd box, steering clear of the MPDG trap. Amidst these dynamic visuals and vibrant hues, the characters authentically resonate, enriching a tale as queer as time.

In the comics, Ramona already defied simplistic archetypes; however, it is in the anime adaptation that the true symphony of her story unfolds, amplifying her narrative, and allowing it to blossom into a more nuanced and authentic portrayal. This narrative shift marks a departure from stereotypes, leading her into a metaphorical garden of self-discovery and empowerment. This positive transformation celebrates strength and autonomy, challenging norms and giving life to a character that transcends the confines of traditional roles.

Title card announcing that Roxie and Ramona are about to fight, in the style of a fighting game intro. Roxie looks intense and Ramona looks exhausted

In the anime, unlike the movie, Roxie also shines through! First of all, she simply gets more screen time and is painted as more of a badass—closer to her comic counterpart (who had become a successful fine artist, actually) if not even tougher. At the meeting of the members of the League of Evil Exes, she even provokes Gideon Graves, saying “Sounds like somebody is scared,” which the other guys repeat to him when Mattew Patel challenges him to a winner-takes-all fight. The best line of Episode 2 comes from her, the awesome Roxanne (Roxie) Richter, “I don’t need a league to get a girl.”

Episode 3 also gives her time to shine and focuses on her relationship with Ramona in a way the movie would never even think to. Not only do they get one of the most epic and imaginative fight scenes in the series, but they also get to talk about their past romance and unpack it beyond “it was a phase.” It’s a college confessional that spills the tea on Ramona and Roxie’s undercover dorm drama. Imagine it: roommates turned lovers until Ramona pulls a Houdini without even a “see ya later, roommate-gator,” leaving Roxie with nothing but a final glum glance. The heartstrings get a workout when Roxie spills her feelings, longing for Ramona to see her as more than a blip on the roommate’s radar. Ramona, in a rare tearjerker, issues an apology that hits harder than a bad breakup playlist. Kudos to voice actors Winstead and Whitman for turning this tête-à-tête into a heartbreaking masterpiece, making it the series’ MVP moment.

Closeup of Roxie smiling happily, wrapped in a blanket

In a TV magic trick lasting less than a sitcom snack break, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off flips an old bad joke into a glittering gem of queer storytelling. It’s a dive into a doomed dorm dalliance, where Ramona does a classic disappearing act and Roxie’s left with a broken heart. The episode finally gives this duo the screen time they deserve, unveiling Ramona’s knack for ghosting when love gets too real. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off treats this connection like the important piece of backstory that it is. No more cinematic disregard—not to say biphobic approach, as it can be perceived—here; this relationship gets its moment in the spotlight, shining brighter than a Hollywood premiere. 

And to cap it all off, Roxie shares a kiss with Kim, an interaction that doesn’t end up going anywhere but is expressly a fun time for both women. Undeterred, Roxie joyfully departs, her exit marked by whimsical vocalization—a melodic punctuation to their unique interaction and her closure with Ramona. Notably, Ramona doesn’t reduce Roxie to a bicurious experiment. While Roxie and Kim’s moment might have been casual experimentation for Kim, it was portrayed naturally without problematic undertones. In the anime, there’s closure and potential for a future friendship, presenting a more inclusive and respectful perspective, and breaking away from harmful stereotypes. As a bonus, the episode’s credits roll under the vibrant tunes of Tegan and Sara; the use of this iconic queer artist underscores the series’ commitment to inclusivity.

Todd haphazardly lifting his shirt to show off his tattoo of Wallace

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off not only has more queer content but generally treats queerness with more nuance. Kim and Knives share a sweet moment when they play music together. This iteration presents a reimagined and heartwarming counterpart to a similar scenario in the comics, where Kim and Knives engage in a drunken make-out session. Opting for a more intentional and genuine bonding moment, the anime captures the essence of their relationship, allowing it to unfold with authenticity. In the multiverse of Scott Pilgrim, this scene stands as a shining gem, portraying Kim and Knives in a genuine and tender light, showcasing significant character development and emotional resonance.

Meanwhile, Evil Ex #3, Todd, has his own bisexual awakening at the hands of, you guessed it, everyone’s favorite gay character, Wallace. But Wallace isn’t just here for sexual experimentation: in the anime, he gets to shine as his usual cool and funny self, but he’s also allowed moments of tenderness and a shot at a romantic future. Time travel shenanigans allow the audience to see an older and wiser Wallace settled down with a husband, someone he has “sparks” with despite not originally believing those existed. Wallace isn’t wildly different in the anime, but O’Malley writing him a happy, queer future rather than leaving him floating forever as Scott’s cool gay friend is a lovely touch.

FINAL ROUND – Conclusions

Lineup of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off's main cast, including Ramona, Knives, Stephen Stills, Wallace Wells, and Kim. Scott is peeking out of Ramona's bag.

In Scott Pilgrim’s multiverse, it’s been a neon-soaked journey with cinematic missteps and anime charm. Ramona, our kaleidoscopic heroine, defied tropes, blossoming into self-discovery. The anime’s cleverness shines, skillfully dodging tasteless jokes. My notes on this topic could fill Ramona’s bottomless subspace bag. 

This series has always been queer, it’s just been handled in different ways, with earnest character writing that nonetheless reflected the stereotypes and assumptions of the early 2000s, before unfolding into a more careful, nuanced narrative of sexual fluidity and love in the 2020s. Seeing these changes, and seeing characters like Roxie and Ramona get their dues, is deeply cathartic, and one of the many things that makes Scott Pilgrim Takes Off so wonderful, and will ensure that the franchise continues to endure as a pop cultural icon.

About the Author : Beatrix Kondo

Meet Beatrix Kondo, your friendly neighborhood storyteller who, much like a Digimon, evolved from a chibi writer in 2022 into a seasoned wordsmith. Her portfolio is now bursting with cool narratives that rival monsters in a dungeon, all within the intersection of geeky realms and the vibrant threads of feminist, queer, and inclusive perspectives. Let's celebrate the growth, one cool story at a time!

Read more articles from Beatrix Kondo

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