Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bayonetta | Sexpot Fail

One of the things that I genuinely enjoyed about Bayonetta was also a double-edged sword. While I still consider the character a titillating, exploitative, and one-note icon, she also formulated an undeniable 'shell' of empowerment for herself. This served as a lightning rod/catalyst for many 'beneficial or detrimental?' arguments that took place last year. Sex plays a large part of this game's appeal, but its actual use in the design is wielded with the sophistication of a twelve year old boy who has just found his first Playboy. This is why I came down on the side of her as detriment myself.

It shirks its own potential left and right, and what we're left with as an audience is a game full of nothing but gigantic and crass cockteases. The following is but a few of the most obvious ones.

Female Bonding

Bayonetta's only form of interaction with other females comes mainly in three forms (that are relevant anyway): her younger self, Joys, and of course---Jeanne. Now I've already seen what Kamiya thought he was doing with the Joy introduction (something about girls and competition) and I think it's safe to say that the man may have missed a few tenants on making social commentary on female interaction. Though, if we're going to get snooty with the game's own canon, Joys aren't technically female---they simply choose that form. That's besides the point though---what I'm after here is how solitary Bayonetta actually is in her own damn game (as a negative). I don't really count Joys because as I said, they're not technically female AND their only meaningful presence comes in the form of a humorous dance-off which is over just as soon as it starts.

I don't count young Cereza either because yes---it's Bayonetta herself, and anytime time-physics are essentially introduced anywhere, they just become silly story mechanics to be manipulated to the designer's artistic license (and I'm being generous there). At best, she irrationally plays out the mother trope towards herself due to an innate and subconscious recognition to who the child actually was.

And then there's dear Jeanne, the only saving grace in this situation is also tarnished by the fact that she's a brainwashed bitch who actually turns out to be Bayonetta's long-lost friend. Of course this is alluded to in the game's literal first five minutes---but consider this: Jeanne as a character doesn't make an actual appearance until the last two or three chapters of the game. The first thirteen chapters is her simply being controlled by Balder. The aforementioned opening sequence teases more of a relationship between the two and by the time the audience finds out what it is, the game is throwing about a dozen other things that cancel it out entirely. Jeanne's motorcycle sequence towards the end of the game do help things (especially considering the player actually controls her for that sequence) but only a minute amount.

The point here is that Bayonetta's sole feminine presence in this game makes her one big walking and unintentional 'fuck off femme fatale'. It's the equivalent of sticking something consumable such as pizza behind a fourteen-inch glass case and expecting its appeal to last. It's just simply not going to happen. If you're going to make a game (that isn't a nuanced character study) that plays off the sexuality of a woman or just general sexual feminineness, you kinda need more than one woman.

Cereza's Infuriating Figure

I'm going to snatch out my artist card here once again and simply say that Bayonetta's figure is fucking ridiculous. No, I don't necessarily mean her legs, head, or something specific that can't be rationally discussed.  I mean how's she was designed and placed into her own world. To emphasize, I'll quote my own Tumblr for a second:
"Something that bothered me about Bayonetta's figure is that her exaggerative features that accentuate her height (e.g. the legs) are still outclassed by characters like Luka. She looks as if she’s well over six feet tall (hell, probably seven), but when standing side by side, most of the others (with the exception of Jeanne I think) still come out taller. I don’t know if this was done to make said characters (namely Luka) appear sexier as males, but it was kind of weird that she’s freakishly tall but still not tall enough. Yeah, it’s kind of dumb on my part (not to mention the developers), but they cheapened her amazonian frame by pulling slights such as making the male co-star taller. Lame. Part of her sexiness to me is how absurdly intimidating she is/should be. Making the guy(s) just as tall to adhere to archaic styles (or even worse, sexist archetypes) is simply a gip."
This almost cancels out the next section but Bayonetta simply being taller than Luka would have done wonders for a game whose appeal lies so much on aesthetics and style. This is especially since we don't see such a thing that often, paticularly out a Japan. A strong woman? Sure, we've got a few. Promiscuous? Definitely. A sexually domineering icon of femininity? Nope, gaming has NONE---at---all, but Bayonetta was/still is ideally poised to take this title home for herself. Perhaps I am being demanding though, but quotes such as this one from The Game Overthinker gave her far too much credit in my honest opinion:
"Take a good look at Bayonetta in motion and ask yourself if you can imagine such a creature actually being eh—-satisfied by anything short of a six-foot seven teddy bear hooked up to a jackhammer."
She never approached that level of intimidation for me, but I actually wanted her to, which was kind of a letdown.

Sexual Intimidation

Personally, this was my favorite slip-up concerning the game's usage of Bayonetta as a sexualized symbol. She's untouchable in almost EVERY sense of the damn word (even by the game's own goddamn canon). Over the entire course of the game, she flirts, flaunts, and fraternizes, but she never ever capitalizes on what would seem to be a monstrous libido. This takes things beyond simple teasing too, in many ways this game places her in the same category as a stripper. Feel free to ogle, feel free throw your money at it, but never touch it---never engage it beyond anything that's purely on a superficial level.

It's a shame too, because what I'm describing isn't really meant to taken solely into context concerning the game's story. I also mean in play, during combos, and just random movements on her part. Like I said in last year's post, anytime I hit a Witch-Time clock or engaged a Wicked Weave attack, I would have honestly preferred her character model just appear entirely nude. IT WOULD HAVE ACTUALLY MATCHED THE CONFIDENCE SHE SEEMS TO SCREAM AT EVERY CORNER. She comes off as a lady who's got nothing to hide in that particular area, so why's she still doing so? Sure, there's a lot of practical answers to this, but it doesn't stop the odd and often dumbass execution from poking its head out dozens of times over the course of the game.

Of course this is something I don't expect to ever see corrected in a sequel or even later on, but as far as elaborating on why I took the silly and exploitive stance last year, I can back it up now that I actually own the game. Things like this---the ways that social context permeates such a game (from such a culture) across multiple countries, come off as FAR more absurd than the game's narrative.