With the re-release of her first two games on the Nintendo Switch, a third on the way and her creator already musing ideas for a fourth, Bayonetta is in the news again. And, as is typically the case with Bayonetta, she’s drawn quite a crowd and her fair share of controversy and anger. But of course, you can’t be a powerful, confident and self-assured woman and not.
Bayonetta is the modern day evolution of the archetype pioneered by Lara Croft and Rayne, and is the most honed, polished and refined version of that concept. She is an overwhelming, overclocked, unstoppable, inescapable feminine force of nature, and that confuses and frightens lesser people. The protagonist of an eponymous series of action games created by Hideki Kamiya and his studio Platinum Games (formerly Capcom Clover Studios), known for Resident Evil, Viewtiful Joe, Devil May Cry and Okami, Bayonetta is a witch who carves out her own niche in the war between Heaven and Hell by laying waste to legions of angels and demons as a one-woman mercenary army. She is pure magick, and, like all witches, she is liminal figure who stands outside of social norms and conventions. She makes the existing order profoundly uncomfortable because her very existence is an affront to their worldview and long-held assumptions.
From a video game history perspective, the best point in Platinum’s oeuvre with which to compare Bayonetta is the Devil May Cry series. A hallmark of the sixth generation, those games featured platforming and puzzle solving elements as a loose framework to show off their combat: An action system involving a complex mixture of light and heavy attacks triggering breathtaking combo moves. There was exploration, but the game generally progressed through a linear series of arenas where protagonist Dante would have to square off against wave after wave of enemies. The Bayonetta games are a spiritual successor to Devil May Cry and play the same way, but that’s not the only way they’re comparable: Devil May Cry’s story, and especially Dante, were known for being deliberately excessive camp parodies of melodramatic narrative.
Calling Bayonetta “over the top” is a horrible cliché that does not in any way convey the extent to which she absolutely revels in exaggerated camp. She is a magickally-infused exotic dance battler dominatrix who wears pistols for stiletto high-heels and summons Eldritch Abominations and medieval torture devices made out of her own hair. Hair that she also wears as a backless jumpsuit, and without which she is entirely naked. Bayonetta is the woman who codifies the phrase “orgasmic combat” par exemplar, she knows it, and she loves it: She spends every battle moaning and grunting in very specifically suggestive ways, her finishing moves all involve punishing her enemies in exactly the way you’re thinking and one of her in-game taunts involves her lying on her back, spreading her legs wide and shouting “Come On!”. And that’s not even just the beginning.
Obviously sexuality is a primary theme in the Bayonetta series.…