The Bawdiness of Bayonetta
Bayonetta is a rare breed – a sexually aware video game character in the mainstream in 2022. It’s absolutely unheard of, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be hearing much more at the release of Bayonetta 3 this October.
There will be a lot of handwringing about whether this is okay. Is it offensive? Is she empowering or is she titillation? Does it matter?
And don’t get me wrong, both sides of this issue will be insufferable. It’ll bounce between embarrassed Americans (be honest) and masturbatory anime fans ad nauseam – with the emphasis on nausea.
I’m resisting the urge to get my 500 words on this issue out early – we’ll wait for October for that. I already have images ready with all the naughty pixels blurred out.
Instead, this article is about the wonderfully fine line that Bayonetta walks between that femme fatale style that was such a mainstay of cinema for decades (and still is in some ways) and a kind of bawdiness, a cheeky sexuality that is almost completely missing from the video game industry. Why? Because it takes skilled writing, it takes the ability to paint a female character in grey and it takes an audience that is willing to accept that. And I’m just not sure those things really exist.
That’s not to say Bayonetta always gets it right. I’m not going to put my neck out that far. The above is an ideal. And even then, you can do all that, and still get called out on using troublesome tropes or whatever else people get upset about.
Male characters aren’t usually any better. One-dimensional is probably overstating it by most of a dimension. Even something like The Last of Us Part 2, which was pretty excellent, has major problems with character. They bounce from scenario to scenario regardless of if it makes sense, because a game, first and foremost, needs to be a game. The story needs to enable that, and that probably isn’t going to work every time. That’s not a reason to let them off the hook.
The Femme Fatale character is specifically gendered though. Male characters don’t get to use their sexuality as a weapon or shield unless it is literally a weapon. So Bayonetta is in a unique position.
There are lots of characters who probably embody similar things to Bayonetta. Few of them are in popular franchises, published by a console manufacturer best known for its family-friendly stance. She was in Smash Bros., for God’s sake.
It doesn’t take long to find articles upset or confused that Bayonetta exists. She is a sexual character that isn’t as overtly titillating as something like Lollipop Chainsaw. Her clothes are her hair and as she fights she becomes increasingly naked, but somehow she doesn’t seem as overt as some of the characters from, say, Danganronpa. Maybe it’s just the English accent.
The next game will contain a modesty mode, in which less skin will be displayed. I would argue against the need for this. It’s nothing about the purity of the original vision or anything like that. It’s more than if you’re happy to play a game about stomping demons through endless violence, if you’re happy to play games with bad language and adult themes, you should be able to handle nudity. You don’t have to approve of it, but you should be able to handle it.
I guess this is another roundabout way of saying you should go and buy Bayonetta 3 later this year. It’s a franchise that I’m outraged is still locked away on Nintendo consoles, even though the reasons behind that make it unlikely it’ll ever be any other way. But in its own way, it’s more important than the discussion about offense will ever let on.