Ave maria. Gratia plenaaaAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING!?
Okay Bayonetta, you got me. That’s not an angel. I’ll just chill here till we get to the plot twist about the angels not actually being angels, but really being demons. Naw, it’s cool; I’ll just chill.
Wait, those are actually supposed to be angels!? Well, what the hell? That is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen.
So, Let’s talk about the mythos of Bayonetta for a moment. We’re never quite sure whether the angels are good or not, or if there is even a bad guy for that matter. The game seems to try and flip the script by having the angels be the antagonists and in the end have the demonically powered witches save the world. Now, I’m not gonna lie. This really turns into an indecipherable mish-mash. The light and dark are both important, sages and witches, maintain universal balance, blah blah blah. I’m not gonna go into all the details, but by the end, it’s not really clear who is bad and who is good, unless you wanna believe Bayonetta to be good by virtue of being the protagonist and everything she kills as being bad because, well, she killed it. In fact, the only person we seem meant to truly identify with as being bad is the only Lumen sage we see in the whole game, primarily becuase he acts like a total douchenozzle (note: douchenozzle follows the tried and true methods of creating insults by attaching “douche” to any other word. Try it out for hilarious results.)
|“Douche-tastic” “Flamboyantly-douchy” “The Douche of the Town” I could do an entire Comedy Central Standup show of this stuff. I have notebooks full of this brilliance.|
But, let’s get to the meat of this article. What I’m interested in is not trying to make sense out of the morality of the Bayonetta universe, but rather try and understand why the angels, in their seemingly attempted humanity, come across as being grotesquely disfigured.
There are several important things to note about these angels. The first is that, since the Great War, humans have been aligned with the angels of Paradiso. The most prominent religion is that of Laguna, namely the religion which worships the angels of Paradiso and Jubileus the Creator. So, we see firstly that these angels are closely tied to the world of humans. Though the don’t often cross over into the human world, we see that they do come to take souls to paradise, and have been seen by humans in the past.
The second important note is that the humans believe the forms they have seen these angels take to be a result of their true forms being incapable of being seen by humans. This is in keeping with older Judeo-Christian beliefs that seeing God would kill one, and likewise that angels in their appearances to humans were terrifying. So, when you gather information on the grand angels in Bayonetta, a similar theme seems to be that the humans believe the forms they see to not be the angels’ true forms. Given that we see the angels in more than just the human realm from Bayonetta’s point of view, it is safe to say that these somewhat horrifying forms are indeed the angels’ true appearances.
Finally, it is important to note that these angels all are meant to represent virtues, with one possible exception.
|Here we have the angel Joy representing the virtue of…invisible pole dancing?|
I would argue that the grotesqueness of these angels is meant to show that when ideal virtues are paired with human fallibility, the result is a perversion of holy nature. In fact, the demons summoned by the Umbra witches, which contain no pretenses towards any human form, come across as much less unsettling. An uncanny valley exists wherein we see the beastly nature of the demons for what it is, as represented by towering monsters; but the angels represent an attempt at being human which has gone horribly wrong. Sound a little far-fetched? Well, let’s take a look at a few things, shall we?
|To be fair, ironically awesome Halloween costume.|
First, especially among the more powerful angels, there is a theme of having human-like faces, often innocent cherubic faces specifically. Here is where we get one of the greatest hints towards the larger symbolic meaning of these monstrosities. There is a terrifying power in all of these angels, be it hulking and powerful bodies, titanic tentacles, twin dragon heads, gaping maws, etc. All of these have a distinctly inhuman quality. However, be it in a general human physique for the lower class angels, the aforementioned human faces for the more powerful angel, or the humurous car angel (which realistically is just a throwaway joke to have a racing level), there exists an attempted humanity in each. Unlike the demons, who don’t attempt to hide their bestial and violent nature, these angels seem to be wearing a mask. The question is, is it a monster wearing human mask, or a human wearing a monster costume?
To make my case, I’m going to refer to the angel Joy which I previously mentioned. It is without a doubt the least off putting angel, actually looking quite attractive if you’re into that sort of thing. When we are first introduced to this angel, it is masking itself as Bayonetta. After being caught it engages in a supermodel/stripper pose showdown with Bayonetta, and after its true form has been revealed, basically masturbates during the cutscene. This angel, which supposedly represents Joy, clearly has a much closer connection to sexuality, something not often looked upon as a virtue among Judeo-Christian religions. But in embodying a much more human trait, this angel loses the horrifying visage of many of the other angels.
So where do we go from here? Well, basically, I am arguing that in trying to embody the virtues of fortitude, prudence, justice, etc. as uniquely human virtues, these angels are actually perverting human nature. In doing so, their attempts at being human result in their altogether disturbing and entirely inhuman representation. The only angel exempt from this is one which embodies a truly human virtue to the point of being a vice. So, what are we to take away from this? Basically, that trying to impose a set of idealistic, decidedly unattainable “virtues” can only end in failure and a perversion of the human self. Hopefully, this two-parter has convinced you that even a game like Bayonetta, which seems to be only a mindless action game, has a lot to say, and deserves a much more serious analytical look. If you are not convinced, here is some mindless action.