Scott Pilgrim, from the book series, to the film, to the video game, has become one of the most popular franchises in recent memory, and for good reason. From its immediately interesting premise of “guy fights his new girlfriend’s seven exes” to the stylish video game aesthetic and references to its colorful cast of characters, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series had a recipe for success from the first page turn. Every character is interesting in their own way; Scott’s journey from charming idiot who is incapable of recognizing his own faults to a hero worth rooting for is deserving of it’s own analysis, but today we’re going to look at love interest-turned Tagalong Kid-turned fully fledged character in her own right, Knives Chau.
Knives, particularly in the books, has a subtle character arc, that if you pay enough attention to, pays off and really shows what is very much a realistic depiction of what coming into one’s own looks like; well, as realistically as a series that features actual Marvel vs Capcom style air combos, people exploding into coins, vegans having psychic powers, whatever “The Glow” actually is, and Roxie Richter actually can.
When the reader first meets Knives, she’s very meek and has never really ventured outside of the bubble of her school and sheltered home life. Scott is 1) the first “boyfriend” she’s ever had and 2) her very first glimpse into the outside world. In a way, Scott becomes the gateway to Knives’ series spanning journey of self-discovery, something that becomes apparent in the very first book: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life.
In that first book, the relationship between Scott and Knives is treated by all the other characters, the narrator and to a degree, Scott himself, as either a joke, as it should have, or wildly inappropriate, as it also should have. Scott is a 23 year old jobless loser “dating” a 17 year old. The first chapter is literally called “Dating A High Schooler”. The first bit of dialogue is literally “Scott Pilgrim is dating a high schooler”. Wallace outright tells her that she’s too good for Scott! When Scott’s sister, Stacey, asks him why he’s doing it, and if he’s “legitimately moving on [from Envy] or [if he’s] just being insane”, he doesn’t have a straight answer for her, because he knows that the whole thing is ridiculous! The only person that doesn’t think so in the slightest is Knives herself, a fact that cuts to the core of her as a character and the through-line of her character development.
Knives is, as the book continually reminds us, seventeen years old. For those of you who have previously been 17, remember who you were, or rather, thought you were, at that age? And for those of you who haven’t been 17 yet, hoo boy, are you in for a ride. Knives doesn’t really know herself yet. She knows she’s smart and likes doing yearbook and listening to the Clash at Demonhead, but she doesn’t know anything else about herself or the world outside. Because Scott is the first guy she’s ever dated, she, as, 17 year olds are wont to do, becomes irrevocably infatuated with him and will do whatever she has to in order to keep him around, showing her first major character trait: adaptability.
Everyone who has read the books or seen the film is familiar with the scene in which Knives begins colors her hair and begins dressing like Ramona and dates Young Neil, who looks similar enough to a younger Scott (in what is objectively a much more age appropriate relationship and probably healthier for Knives but that’s neither here nor there) in an attempt to make Scott jealous and win him back, a scene that is the evolution of something that begins much earlier in the books, albeit not in the film.
Knives’ chameleon tendencies start to rear their head for the first time after meeting Kim, and finding out that she dated Scott. Very subtly, she begins to wear clothes that, as pointed out by Sex Bob-Omb’s resident redhead, resemble Kim’s, something ignored by Scott and Stephen, because hey, why on Earth would they listen to Kim, right? (It’s okay, Kim, we love you.) Knives is full blown Sandy Olsson at this point. She’ll do whatever she can to keep Scott around, because a) this is the first guy she’s ever been with and 2) she’s SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD. She has moved on from not knowing who she is to desperately trying to be someone else to adapt to this whole new world that has opened up to her and to keep her tie and tether to it all.
After the attempts to change into someone else fall short, Knives discards her new looks (albeit unintentionally in one case) and relationship with Young Neil, although she still hangs around the Sex Bob-Omb gang, and progresses into another phase of the breakup phase (despite this being some three or four months after the fact, but y’know..seventeen); drunkenly making out with her ex’s previous ex.
But seriously, Knives’ infatuation with Scott has grown into an obsession that only Kim and Stephen show any real interest in curbing, in their own ways, since Scott is too busy off with the plot to have an actual conversation with the girl that he for all intents and purposes lead on until someone he liked better came along. Kim’s apparent method, drinking with her, worked to one end, but probably not the desired one (or maybe it was, who knows?) and Stephen’s may have been, while disastrous for her in the short term, exactly what dear Ms. Chau needed to hear. Which brings us to Knives’ second notable trait: Responsibility.In telling her of Scott’s unintentional infidelity during their brief time together, Stephen seems to send Knives into a bit of a depression. The next two times we see her, she’s attempting to rationalize Scott’s behavior and mistreatment of her by shifting the blame on to Ramona, and then confronting her in a public bathroom to tell her about Scott’s cheating (and thus setting up the plot of the last book, but hey). Knives now knowing what happened enables her to make the decision to tell Ramona what she frankly deserved to hear and no one was going to tell her. Not Kim, not Wallace, not Stephen, not Stacey, and not Scott himself. All of them were more than willing to let Ramona not know what happened, despite Stephen being the one to tell Knives! The only person out of the cast that 1)knows about it and B) is willing to tell Ramona what happened is the only other person wronged by Scott, who, I’ll remind you, is SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD. All of these adults who are close to Ramona, or at the very least, Scott and aware of what happened, and the only one responsible enough to let her know that she was wronged almost a FULL YEAR after the fact isn’t old enough to buy cigarettes yet.
After all this, Knives peaces out again until Book 6 with a new look and what appears to be a new outlook on life. She’s had a birthday, is smiling again, has a new look all her own and talking about how she can’t wait for the next big change in her life; when Scott, fresh off of his breakup with Ramona and trying to follow Wallace’s terrible advice, propositions her for casual sex, she’s the one who acts maturely and lets Scott hear something that he needed to hear.
Knives shows one of the best examples of one of the core values of the series: Forgiveness. Knives does what a lot of adults, both in-universe and in real life lack the ability to do, and forgives Scott for his transgression against her, and even admits that she still loves him, she just doesn’t want to be with him anymore.
Compare that to the other in-universe examples. Todd cheating on Envy with Ramona and later Lynette is what ultimately gets him killed, Envy’s cheating on Scott with Todd (or vice versa) makes her persona non grata with Scott and company for upwards of a year, and as it pertains to Ramona, Scott’s failings lead to him being told that he is “an evil ex waiting to happen”. Not to say that the other’s methods of dealing with the same things are inherently wrong, but there’s something to be said for the way Knives, now an eighteen year old, dealt with it. Here’s a guy who very much treated her as the human equivalent of a filler arc until the plot picked back up and then didn’t even have the common courtesy to tell her that he was leaving until he was presented with an ultimatum by someone else who didn’t even take the two seconds to tell her what was up. She takes in all of this, takes the responsibility to let the other wronged party, mourns and forgives, and gets back to being a young single girl. Knives evolves as the series goes on in a way that other characters don’t and at a rate that the others don’t. She starts as a naive, fresh faced seventeen year old with stars in her eyes and becomes a jaded copycat, once afraid of losing the first boyfriend she’s ever had, and later hyper determined to get him back, and grows into beginning to really find herself and matures the whole way through, and that’s really fun and special to read. If O’Malley had ever decided to make “Knives Chau vs The University”, I don’t doubt for a second how well it would have sold. Then again, maybe I’m just over analyzing things.