Bayo-Sutra · Games Criticism

Let’s Dance, Boys (Bayo-Sutra, Verse 2)

[“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.]

So if you’ve never played a Bayonetta game you probably don’t know the extent to which music and dance are integral parts of both Bayonetta’s character design, and even the way that she moves in combat. If you’re not a fan of video game music, you might be know about or appreciate the intense amount of music that goes into these games; both Bayonetta titles have soundtracks that are 5 CDs’ worth of songs, which is actually kind of a lot. The typical Japanese video game soundtrack is 1-2 discs, usually, for even particularly long games. Final Fantasy soundtracks of yore are the real juggernauts, with FF6-FF10 having 4 CD beasts chock full of songs for games that could take 50 hours or more to finish. Bayonetta, by contrast, takes about 10-12 hours on average to work through.

Suffice it to say: it’s a lot of music for such a short game.

The importance of the music to Bayonetta‘s ability to bring a smile to my face is the subject of today’s Bayo-Sutra post. But since it contains spoilers for both games, read more after the cut!

So it’s difficult to have a discussion of Bayonetta‘s music without pointing to the most iconic examples of it: the two theme songs for the titular character in both games.

First, her theme from the original game, “Mysterious Destiny”:

There are lyrics included in the video, and they’re pretty telling. “Girl when you fight, it looks like a dance, you’re magic… you’re magic.” This song is pretty dense, musically. There’s a lot going on here, multiple instrumental lines underneath the vocals, and the whole thing is moving at a pretty fast clip. The tone is upbeat, cheerful; the instrumentation is this combination of synthy pop and jazz piano. It’s a feel good song, really.

And then there’s her theme in Bayonetta 2, “Tomorrow is Mine”:

While this is a different song, the general tonal theme is the same. It’s an upbeat tune, a jazz/pop fusion with lyrics emblematic of the character. “You better run; don’t wait, here I come! No, the fuel in my fire won’t run dry. You better hide; I came for a fight… until tomorrow is mine. (Don’t miss me too much!)” It’s a fun, active song.

What’s distinctive about both of these songs, though, is that they are primarily combat songs; these themes play under fights, for the most part, against normal mooks/enemies. That makes sense, if you think about it, of course; these are both songs about how Bayonetta is a graceful, powerful, ambitious character. But they are a very, very stark tonal contrast to a lot of the combat system and the visual representation of the enemies she fights. The primary antagonists of the series are various Angels, but the series conceit — one I’ll discuss in a later post — is that angels are only beautiful on the outside. Thus these peppy, somewhat silly songs play, Bayonetta is frequently doling out violence in the form of torture attacks and gigantic demonic punches to enemies that explode into fountains of blood and have been beaten into monstrous, twisted visages by battle damage.

That line from “Mysterious Destiny” is important there. When Bayonetta fights, it does look like a dance, because it is. The aesthetic of combat in Bayonetta has much less to do with the actual violence — though said violence can be pretty gruesome, if cartoonishly so — than it does with trying to express grace, beauty, and mastery. Bayonetta the character is supposed to be untouchable, flitting adroitly between everything that would harm her with a smile (hence the focus on evading and Witch Time as a mechanic). The music fits that; big, dramatic songs are saved for fights with bosses and those are almost always huge, sweeping, horrible Latin choruses reminiscent of hymns because Bayonetta is fighting… well, gigantic Gothic angelic beings. That said, when Bayo fights against a boss that isn’t that — like, say, her recurring battles with Jeanne in the first game — the music totally and utterly changes tone.

One of my favorite pieces of Bayo music is the first game’s “Battle for the Umbra Throne”:

This tune plays under Bayonetta’s first fight with Jeanne in a flashback at the beginning of chapter 2. As you find out later in the game, the “antagonism” of this fight is mostly illusory; Jeanne and Cereza are friends, and this is more friendly rivalry than actual combat. The music is appropriate; it retains the jazzy nature of her theme song, but since this fight is about the relationship between the two women, it can’t be that sort of cheerleader theme song you got before. Instead there’s some tension to it, but the tension isn’t exactly “serious;” it’s playful, with enough echoes of, say, Spanish guitar that we should see this fight as an Errol Flynn movie duel than serious combat.

Once Jeanne becomes a little more central to the plot, the fight themes ramp up in seriousness; for an example, listen to a later Bayo/Jeanne fight theme, “Red and Black.”

You can see this principle at work in Bayonetta 2, too; when Bayonetta fights Alraune, the demoness who’s holding on to Jeanne’s trapped spirit, the first phase of the fight is backed by this song, “Alraune — Whisperer of Dementia”:

Unlike the fights she has with angels, this is a much more jazzy tune, equally playful, but unlike “Battle for the Umbra Throne” there’s an edginess to this song. Of course, this is just the first round of the battle, the “easy” round; the song for Bayo’s battle with the second form is back to the Latin chorus silliness, a note taken right out of the “One Winged Angel” playbook.

If you can’t guess, I find these rather too typical action game/movie moments where Big Dramatic Moments involve Dramatic Latin Chorus to be where the Bayonetta game soundtracks are the weakest and most predictable.

But in closing: the music of Bayonetta is important. Rather than loading the game down with METAL! GUITAR! and other stupid action game staples from the Big Burly Manpain Brawler school of thought (looking at you, Kratos), Bayonetta fights to uptempo jazz about how awesome she is. Her musical motifs are flute, jazz piano, and marimba rather than heavy guitar or too-synthy electronica. The songs establish her character, set the tone, and help provide a sense of fun… one of the things about Bayonetta that makes me smile.

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