[“Bayo-Sutra” is a week-long series of short blog posts on Bayonetta that leave discussions of her body and sexuality behind, in the hope of finding more about this fascinating game series to discuss than one issue alone.]
I want to close out this week-long project with a discussion of one of my favorite things from the Bayonetta series:
For those of you who don’t know the lore of the series, history knew two “clans” that kept the balance of the world as we knew it: one clan of light, called the “Lumen Sages,” and one clan of the darkness, the “Umbra Witches.” Each clan possessed one half of the “Eyes of the World,” a treasure that granted them great power. However, 500 years ago the clans, which had to that point paid each other respect, suddenly began to fight amongst each other. The Lumen Sages were wiped out by the Umbra, but the Witches were in turn wiped out by humans during the “Witch Hunts.” The premise of the original Bayonetta is that only one Umbra Witch survived: Bayo herself. But that’s not actually the case. Very early into the first game, another Umbra Witch — the platinum-haired Jeanne — appears.
Sadly, I can’t say much more without spoiling both games, so if you’re interested, follow me after the cut.
For most of the first game, Jeanne serves as a rival-antagonist character. She pokes, prods, and pushes Bayonetta to continue to explore her memories and recover her past. It’s actually quite effective; there are multiple times when confronting Jeanne results in Bayonetta recovering powers she didn’t know she had, such as the ability to walk on walls in full moonlight or to turn into animal forms. Over time the game tries to sell us that these two are long-time rivals and that Jeanne might have a genuine reason to kill Bayonetta — consider this flashback from early in the first game:
It reads like Jeanne might be bitter about losing leadership of the Umbran Witches from “the outcast” (who is clearly past!Bayo), yeah? The next time they meet, this is an impression the game goes out of its way to confirm. Bayonetta finds Jeanne talking with one of the leaders of the Angels that are hounding her, and Jeanne proceeds to share even more about their past:
But the truth is, they’re not rivals at all. Jeanne has been brainwashed by Balder, the major villain of Bayonetta who is not only Bayonetta’s father but also the last remaining Lumen Sage, to fight Bayonetta and try to awaken her power, as Bayonetta happens to have inherited the Left Eye of Darkness, one of the Eyes of the World. Balder’s plan requires Bayonetta to become her “true” self, and he uses Jeanne to make that happen. However, over the course of the game and through her battles with Bayonetta, Jeanne herself is freed from Balder’s control and actually saves Bayonetta not once, but twice, during the game’s extensive ending sequence.
Jeanne is an interesting character. She is consistently portrayed as one of the only people Bayonetta thinks of as an equal or even a friend; other than Cereza in Bayonetta, Jeanne is absolutely one of only a handful of people in the world Bayonetta seems to give a damn about at all. Certainly, Jeanne is a very powerful witch, on par with Bayo herself. It was Jeanne who sealed Bayonetta’s powers 500 years ago to prevent Balder’s plans, even though in the process she appears to have set herself up for her servitude to him in the first game.
The sistership that Jeanne and Bayonetta share has always been one of my favorite points of the series. Bayonetta is not a “pure” Umbran child; her mother, Rosa, dallied with a Lumen Sage, and so her blood is “impure.” Yet Jeanne sees her for what she is: a one-of-a-kind person. Instead of recoiling from her, as Umbran tradition would demand, Jeanne draws close to her and they create a bond. In truth, that bond of sisterhood is perhaps the only thing that endures across the entire timeline of the Bayonetta series, which is itself a huge time loop, the events of Bayonetta 2 giving rise to the events of Bayonetta and so on.
One of Bayonetta 2‘s plot drivers is the early-game kidnapping of Jeanne by demonic forces, for example. In the series lore, Umbran Witches get their powers by contracting with demons, and when a Witch dies, her soul is dragged to Inferno for all eternity. Early in Bayonetta 2, Jeanne pushes Bayonetta out of the way of an out of control demon that was about to attack her and, for lack of a better way to say it, has her soul knocked clear out of her body where it is then dragged to hell. The whole reason Bayonetta travels to Noatun is to visit the holy mountain, Fimbulventr, which is said to have an actual gate to Hell in it. She’s determined to save Jeanne.
Which she does, and then gets kinda tsuntsun about it, too:
But even this is coming full circle from Jeanne saving Bayonetta at the end of the first game. I’ve joked a few times on Gayme Bar that she and Jeanne are basically married now (at the beginning of Bayonetta 2 they’re preparing for Christmas together; Jeanne forgot the caviar) and I’m mostly being silly, but it is really refreshing, to me, that the Bayonetta/Jeanne relationship and sisterhood is at the core of the Bayonetta series. I feel like kinship between women that isn’t played as a joke or is only for men’s benefit is really rare in games (my other favorite example is the party dynamic of Final Fantasy X-2). More to the point, their relationship is one of mutual support. They can count on each other.
To put this in perspective: toward the end of Bayonetta 2, Bayo and a young Balder return from an accidental jaunt to the past. They need to return to Noatun from Vigrid before it’s too late, which has Balder in a panic. Bayonetta isn’t concerned, however. Why?
Because the newly-rescued Jeanne literally drops out of the sky with a fighter jet mere seconds later to pick them up and fly them there. The game gives you no indication that this is coming until it happens. But I like to believe that Bayonetta just knew that in her time of need, her Umbran sister would be there to support her. She’s able to be confident and strong because she has a similarly confident and strong partner behind her. Which is, all told, pretty great.