Bayo-Sutra · Games Criticism

Lights, Camera, Bayo (Bayo-Sutra, Verse 4)

[“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 I’m going to come close to breaking my own prohibition with this post, because the topic is going to make it impossible not to discuss, in some small way, Bayonetta’s physicality as a character. However, I’m going to hope that instead of masticating endlessly over the Is it okay to like this?! question I am now entirely bored of (as are plenty of others), it will be a consideration of a design element that I think is really interesting.

To coin a phrase: the camera loves Bayonetta.

If the earlier post on music didn’t make this apparent, Bayonetta is a performer. Her fighting style is based on dance-like movements and they are filled with excess. Her movements are huge and dramatic when they don’t need to be; she is highly vocal and playful (one of my favorite additions in Bayonetta 2 is that when Bayo succeeds a Witch Time-enabling dodge, she’ll make a quip, like “So close!”); the combat is characterized by excess and being over the top through things like Wicked Weaves. This is the essence of combat in the Bayonetta games: it is as much spectacle as it is combat. In fact it might be more spectacle than it is combat.

One of the cute and interesting ways this plays out is in the use of the camera, both as a literal thing and as a metaphor. More on this after the cut:

Hilariously, one of the best displays of this isn’t even from one of the actual series games; it’s from Platinum’s multiplayer brawler, Max Anarchy. Bayonetta as a playable was a pre-order bonus for this game, and this was one of the announce trailers for that fact:

Notice what happens around the 0:30 mark, when she does her throw technique on Black Baron? Right at the end she drops into a cat-like pose, taps her glasses, and there’s a flash and the click of a shutter. Bayonetta is looking right at the camera with a knowing smile. And that’s how you know: the camera loves her. There’s also the fun fact that the trailer’s tagline for her appearance in Max Anarchy is “She’s a fucking celebrity in this town, too.”

The very last image you see is one I’ve already used in this blog post series: Bayonetta blowing a kiss right to the camera.

Bayonetta blowing a kiss

In the actual Bayonetta titles, this isn’t an uncommon occurance. Her “Breakdance” technique, found in both games, ends with this same cat-pose, camera-shutter finish… following a wild spinning maneuver full of kicks and bullets.

That’s not all. At the end of a Verse (the series’ name for chapter subsections), when Bayo delivers the final blow to the last standing enemy, we’re treated to something similar. We hear the mechanical *click!* *click!* *click!* of a camera shutter, and we’re treated to three different camera angles of the final blow with ultra-brief white flashes between them. The entire effect simulates the idea that a photographer is right there, capturing the dangerous beauty of Bayonetta’s dance battle style. And these are just the commonly-repeated examples. There are scattered moments in each game where Bayonetta will turn to the fourth wall and react, or better yet, pose or move in a way that is clearly designed to be “watched.” She is performing for the camera.

In its own way, this is what sets Bayonetta apart, for me, from other characters in the genre. She isn’t here to “do battle” though clearly she has incredible power and lethal combat prowess. She is here to put on a show. She is here to entertain, and that’s why the camera loves her. More to the point, Bayonetta the character constantly displays that she is aware of us, that she knows she is being watched. I think this helps to disrupt the read of her as a passive object we merely consume for our pleasure; it paints her as an active, agentic participant who is following her own desires. She knows we are watching her, and she is confident that she can put on a good show. It becomes a push/pull between us and her. Rather than being a puppet on strings, Bayonetta is a dance partner with whom we are moving.

In my opinion, that’s pretty great.

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