I might be a pervert.
But c’mon. Look at that. Something about a well-endowed glasses-clad pixie woman breaking her back while blasting firearms is simply astounding. It’s like watching a magic S&M librarian perform unsafe acrobatics. “Who cares about spinal health,” she bellows, “I do what I want!” And as she chortles, her butt seam splits. Every guy’s dream, right? Right?
Ok. Guess I’m a pervert. But… HOWEVER! I MEANT HOWEVER!
This week I’m defending Bayonetta 2, the new action video game on the Wii U. In many ways, it’s flawless. I’m actually not alone in this opinion. But most of those reviewers praise the gameplay alone, leaving the main character and story ignored on the sidelines. However, I love everything about Bayonetta, broken butt-seams and all.
So clearly I need to defend myself.
Why do I love this series, this game, this concept, this sexy giraffe-legged woman? With my feminist views, isn’t this rampant display of sexualization something I should despise? Maybe. And maybe I’m just a degenerate. But spinal health to the wind, I’ll bend over backwards to defend this thing. ‘Cause I do what I want.
See what I did there? heheha, OH… oh my, pardon me…
As I mentioned, most reviews of Bayonetta 2 talk about the unparalleled gameplay. And holy crap. It’s entirely comprised of what would be final bosses in other, less insane entertainment. Most of Bayonetta 2 is dodging giant swords, slowing time and massaging your jaw. Poor thing hits the floor regularly.
So what is the story connecting this insanity? Most reviewers say something like, “It’s ridiculous and doesn’t matter,” but it does to me, dammit! So here we go. By the end of this next paragraph, I’ll likely regret defending this. But here goes…
Bayonetta is part of a clan of witches who summon demons using their hair (stay with me). These Umbra Witches were almost exterminated by their male counterparts, the Lumen Sages, who use feathers to summon angels. The leaders of the clans had magic eyes, and in Bayonetta 1 you killed your time-traveling pop who had the right eye of light (you have the dark left one) which threw the world off balance and now your demons won’t listen to you and Mr. Demon Dragon kills your BFF Jeane so you go to hell to save her and meet a dreadlocked squirrel boy and get wrapped up in a ghost prophet’s plan to rule reality.
Oh, and in addition to summoning demons, your hair is your clothes. So summon a demon with a lot of power, you end up kinda… nude.
So the story is mind-melting craziness. But… HOWEVER, it is important. And I would argue, not at all at odds with my feminist leanings. I realize I made this statement under that picture. Shut up.
Here’s the thing about video games. Females are, in most cases, either an object or a male substitute.
Video game women are most typically a prize to be won, or a goal to be achieved. Mario’s beloved up there is an easy example (though Peach did star in a title featuring her super-powered mood swings), but many games have “girlfriend smooch” as the end goal. The damsels can’t save themselves, and therein lack the agency that creates a substantive character.
On the other side, we have Ms. Pac-Man. She’s arguably the first playable female video game character, but is defined entirely by the addition of a bow and lipstick. She’s the female version of another character, or the “default” Pac-Man. In this subset, personality is derived from being a girl, and ends there. Even when done well (Mass Effect‘s “femshep” is superior in every way), it’s still the female subset of another creation.
There are notable exceptions, but these types are pretty standard. If you want more info, Anita Sarkeesian at Feministfrequency.com outlines some good points. Bayonetta, though, falls into neither category.
The Umbra Witch always has agency, always has power, and is attempting to save her best and only true friend. She’s not defined by her relationship to any man. The males in Bayonetta are either arrogant sticks-in-the-mud, a powerful demon shopkeep, a Danny DeVito-like bumbler, an amnesiac child or an idiotic journalist. The last one crushes on Bayonetta, but she shows no romantic interest in him. He’s comedic relief, like most of the in-game males. Bayonetta has an independent goal, and the independent means to achieve it. That is refreshing for a video game female.
She could be called a sexy vixen-type (another common misrepresentation), and… that’s the stereotype she edges most toward. The game reminds you constantly of her sexuality. As if you needed a reminder…
But… HOWEVER, part of this comes from character confidence. As this IGN video puts it, Bayonetta is winking at player weakness. She’s confident and in control, but the cameraman (you) is a total pervert. Which is kinda neat, considering she’s a video game character controlled by the player. Yet somehow, Bayonetta has both confidence in her abilities and faculty in her story. Neither trait is dependent on some pervert (you, or probably more accurately, me).
This GameTrailers recap illuminates some other points. While most of the staff creating Bayonetta 2 is male, both the producer and character designer are women, meaning her creation doesn’t hinge on the male gaze. And Bayonetta uses sexuality, but much in the same way as Elvira, Pam Grier or Beyoncé. And if a game staring those three doesn’t sound awesome, I cannot help you.
So even with all the sexuality and over-the-top perversion, there’s something special about Bayonetta. She’s a different force in a misogynist industry, an icon that is decidedly female without a male equivalent. Plus, she’s a thoughtful reminder that sexuality is not the same as sexism. One is about empowerment and confidence, the other about subjugation.
Could those finer points be lost? Absolutely. And not every female character should take a page from Bayonetta. Imagine Peach with that personality…
But… HOWEVER, for males, we have many role model variations. Bayonetta is a different type, a new type. She’s foul-mouthed and sexy, but oddly empowering. She’s beyond norms and hyper-unrealistic in some ways, but relatable in others.
After all, in the ridiculous story I outlined, Bayonetta is shown to be sarcastic, loyal, friendly, powerful, motherly, domineering, overconfident, self-assured, wounded, joyous, accepting, just, empathetic… and she’s a witch who summons demons with her hair. It’s weird and crazy and contrasting, and that is deserving of appreciation.
Granted, Bayonetta is not for everyone. I understand where complaints could surface. But I needed this. I needed to prove that there’s more to this game than mere deviance. Like the contrasting, confusing Bayonetta, I think I’m a feminist and a slight pervert. But… maybe that’s okay.
If you don’t agree, I don’t care. I do what I want. Heheha…