Bayonetta

Helen McCarthy ponders a Bloody Fate

Twenty years ago, the witch Bayonetta was hauled out of a deep lake, with no memory of her past, how she got there, or who might have hated her enough to put her there. She has in her possession half of an artefact known as the “Eyes of the World.”

Joining forces with information broker Enzo, she sets off to find and steal the other half. But powerful forces are moving against her, forces known as the Angels.

Game-based anime share common problems. The first is the difficulty of creating a story that fulfils fans’ expectations without leaving them feeling left out for no longer being able to directly control the action. The second, increasingly, is to get the anime to look as good as the game. Anime budgets are tight, even at the movie end of the scale, and a top-selling game often throws far more money, time and talent at its animated cut-scenes. Moreover, games, even more than anime, are frequently made for an audience that lives and dies by fan service.

Bayonetta is a 2009 PS and XBox game that succeeds again as anime – at least for its target audience – by being no more or less than its source. A basic action game with strong visuals and comfortable stereotyping, it ports the basic plot, character and weapon sets over into anime and ditches unnecessary details: bosses, gameplay, locations. Presented as a standard cyberfantasy tale, it’s clichéd, but tightly paced and enjoyable enough. Even the fan service is presented as almost ironic, as though our heroine is sending herself up. It has a 1990s vibe in both design and plot, an atmosphere enhanced by the awe-inspiring voice of Norio Wakamoto, who voices Balder in the Japanese versions of both the game and the original film. The biggest shock for game fans may be the anime’s Japanese dub replacing the English voice track they’re used, with Atsuko Tanaka (the voice of Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell) playing the leading role.

As befits both a combat game and a Gonzo anime, the fight scenes are the chief focus, and they’re impressive. Fans of the game will find all their favourite weapons put to the uses for which they were designed in fast-paced and largely well-animated combat. The character development is minimal – memory is lost, memory is regained, people die but nothing changes and there are still enemies to fight. What Bayonetta does, and does well, is to deliver a narrative version of the game that’s satisfying and fan-friendly enough to fill cinema seats and sell product. And it does so with an oddly endearing old-millennium style that took us back to the 1990s.

Bayonetta: Bloody Fate is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.

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Bayonetta (the Movie): Bloody Fate Trailer

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