This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.
Scott Pilgrim‘s wild and retro-infused world is populated with sociopathic, cruel, and disloyal people, and that’s not even counting the literal league of evil exes. In a tale about 20-somethings learning to become less terrible, only one angelic character lies within the ensemble, and she’s a few years shy of 20. Call me Alanis Morissette because of how ironic that is.
That person is none other than Knives Chau, the bubbly 17-year-old Chinese-Canadian high schooler obsessed with her 23-year-old boyfriend, Scott Pilgrim, to the extent she fights others to regain the love he never reciprocated. Before Ramona Flowers roller-skated into Scott’s life, Chau was just peachy keen on being a groupie to Pilgrim’s rock band, Sex Bomb-Omb. However, when she’s whisked away from Scott’s life, across each iteration –– the book, the movie, and the latest anime adaptation for Netflix Scott Pilgrim Takes Off –– Knives Chau quickly finds self-assessment and independence. Arguably, at a much faster pace than the titular character.
Every version of the Scott Pilgrim story starts the same. Scott is already seeing Knives, inviting her to see his band rehearse. At least to build their moral cause, they all assume they suck (that’s how you know they’re good musicians). Everyone surrounding Scott, including his sister Stacey, roommate Wallace, and ex-girlfriend/bandmate Kim rightfully chastises him for going out with a high schooler. All think it’s a ruse for him to recover from his devastating breakup with his most recent ex, Envy Adams. Scott himself doesn’t know why he’s seeing Knives, either.
Despite being introduced as the quintessential happy-go-lucky adolescent, Knives is on the opposite end of the spectrum. During an early scene in the comic (and a deleted scene from the film), Knives emphasizes to her nagging mom on a bus ride home that she isn’t interested in dating anybody. When she drops a bunch of books, Scott, on the same bus, helps her, and she’s instantly smitten with him. The only people in her orbit before that moment were her schoolmates and family, but her entire world changed when she had her first boyfriend. The more writer Bryan Lee O’Malley offers glimpses into Knives’ inner life in the comics, the more it’s revealed she wants to be liberated from her sheltered existence. In the context of Knives listening to Scott’s band early on, she’s so dazzled that her eyes literally twinkle. Who doesn’t love a little liberation through the power of music?
Through Scott, she discovers her interests and has someone close to talk to. While still problematic today, their relationship was not an Elvis/Priscilla Presley situation by any means, for even Scott comments that the only thing they’ve done was hold hands. Upon meeting everyone in Scott’s life, they value her, sometimes offering warnings for her. One highlight from the film adaptation is when she meets Wallace for the first time, and he tells her, “You’re too good for him. Run.” with Scott present.
When Scott dumps Knives in favor of Ramona after cheating on her, she still hangs around Sex Bomb-Omb. At first, it is a ruse to make Scott jealous by dating the clueless Young Neil, who looks like Scott. In the earlier volumes, she attacks/protects Ramona several times for Scott’s happiness. Over time, though, Knives moves on from her feelings towards Scott and Neil and still hangs with the band as friends. As time passes in the volumes and Knives becomes 18, she and Scott try to make out, and it’s so bad the reader is disgusted.
To spin it personally, when I was young and reading graphic novels, I was envious that Knives hung out with 20-something-year-olds who liked her for who she was. Plus, her first time drinking alcohol was with a band. It’s every young person’s dream to hang out with older people who they think are cool, and Knives instilled that delusion in me.
That element pours over to Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, which shapes Knives splendidly. At the end of the first episode, Scott is presumed dead after his battle with Matthew Patel, altering the story as we know it. With no Scott in the picture but grieving nonetheless, Knives still hangs around Sex Bomb-omb in his absence. Through the encouragement of Kim, Knives quickly becomes a pro at bass in four hours and with a fantastic musical sequence to boot. Recognizing her talent, Stephen Stills asks Knives to write a musical with him, and the two start a songwriting career. Bryan Lee O’Malley tried distinguishing Stephen and Knives’ budding platonic friendship through the later volumes, but it wasn’t concrete. However, the anime nails it down ideally by essentially making them a musical theater songwriting duo. Watch your backs Pasek & Paul, Chau & Stills are coming at your throat.
In the anime, Knives quickly gets over her feelings for Scott and, in a fresh route, becomes less boy-crazy and more ambitiously career-centric, with Stephen as her business partner. The two make an entire Scott Pilgrim musical and pitch it to the new G-Man media head, Matthew Patel, who Knives knows will greenlight it in a heartbeat due to her extensive research on his musical theater dreams. Despite feeling scorned over Scott’s cheating on her with Ramona, often referring to it as “emotional business,” she can still progress and find her true calling in the music space.
Eventually, upon Scott’s return from the future, they finally have a relatively mature breakup discussion where Scott apologizes for even dating her in the first place because “a 23-year old dating a 17-year old is looked down upon in society.” She replies, “Scott, I’m glad you’re alive but also glad you died. It gave me a lot of space to reflect and grow. So thanks!” It ain’t the same significance as her saying “You’ll always be my Clash at Demonhead” upon her departure with Scott at the end of the books or “I’m too cool for you anyways,” at the end of the movie but it still boils down to Knives finding her joy and peace without Scott.
Throughout the many iterations of the classic story, Knives Chau receives a subtle, resonant coming-of-age story where she finds her independence. The best Scott did do for her, as the terrible boyfriend he was, was get her out of her shell. Whether she’s written out of Scott’s life or Scott vanishes, all Knives needed to do was fly in a world without him. Either way, Knives will always retain her vibrant spirit; not even the world can take that away.
All eight episodes of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off are available to stream now.