Way back in 2009, Platinum Games released a little known game called Bayonetta on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Full of thrills, kills, and *ahem* fanservice, this action-packed title starring an ass-kicking witch was met with rave reviews and soon became a cult classic to many. Since then, the game has received a much-anticipated and much-acclaimed sequel on the Nintendo Wii U in 2014, but the year before, anime studio Gonzo decided to produce a feature-length retelling of the first game’s story in the form of Bayonetta: Bloody Fate. While I’m somewhat late to the party, I’ve finally had a chance to watch this 90 minute animated adventure – but does it live up to the source material’s sterling reputation? Or does it follow the trend of most game-to-movie adaptations and leave nothing but a bitter taste of disappointment?
I’ll get this out of the way to start with – I’m one of the people who never played the first Bayonetta when it originally released, partly due to lack of awareness but mainly due to the lack of a suitable console. When the series jumped ship over to the Wii U though, I was quick to pick up the special edition bundle with both the first and second games included, and I found myself absolutely engrossed in this world. While I definitely hold a preference for Bayonetta 2, the original Bayonetta was a hell of a good time from start to finish. But how well does its non-stop action translate into an hour and a half of anime?
Surprisingly well, as it happens. As a retelling of the first game, it’s basically the same set-up – 500 years ago there were two clans known as the Umbra Witches and the Lumen Sages who were always destined to remain apart, however a child was born between them which upset the balance of light and dark. While the child was outcast and imprisoned, they inherited the Left Eye, one of the Eyes of the World that would one day summon the resurrection of Jubileus, a god who would wipe the world away to create a new history in its place. Following some witch hunts and a desperate bid by the forces of light to capture the child, we fast forward to the present day where an Umbra Witch has woken from a slumber 20 years prior, and is now going about her business kicking the living heaven out of Angels, all for the sheer fun of it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Bayonetta.
Thankfully, all of the background exposition is dealt with in a short opening monologue, and then we’re straight into some trademark Bayonetta action. Right from this first scene though you’ll realise that, while the events of the story are essentially the same, not everything is an exact rewrite of the first game – Bayonetta’s initial duel with the Angels now takes place in a church rather than in a graveyard, for instance. From here, it’s pretty much everything you’d expect – lots of high-octane fight sequences and cheeky wit. The back of the DVD cover warns of strong bloody violence, and while there definitely is a fair amount of the red stuff thrown around on screen, it’s never outright gory, even if Bayonetta does deal some really quite brutal blows to her angelic foes.
The impetus behind the plot is that Bayonetta has forgotten her memories, and she’s doing what she can to get them back. To do so, she decides to head to the city of Vigrid where the last of the Lumen Sages, Father Balder, is preparing for the resurrection of Jubileus. Along the way, she gets caught up with a journalist/pervert/delete as appropriate called Cheshire (sorry, I mean Luka), a mysterious little girl called Cereza who looks awfully familiar, and a woman called Jeanne who is very much her equal in strength and ability. Admittedly, the story in Bayonetta was never the game’s strongest point and it still doesn’t feel entirely convincing here, but Gonzo have done a decent job in trimming out the fat and making it a fun ride without too many pacing issues – the narrative may be a bit convoluted and muddled at times, but when it’s all moving so quickly and with plenty of flashy stuff happening on screen, it hardly matters. The highlights are undoubtedly the fights and the action – particularly when it’s Bayonetta versus Jeanne – but the enigmas surrounding Luka’s motives for stalking (sorry, following) Bayonetta and the truth behind certain characters’ identity are interesting hooks to keep you watching in between.
Of course, if you’ve already played Bayonetta, you pretty much know what’s going to happen, so why should you tune in all over again? Well, for one, there’s the impressive fact that the original voice cast has returned to reprise their roles here – Hellena Taylor is especially good as the returning voice of the titular Umbra Witch, playfully taunting her opponents and making suggestive quips with her smooth British accent. The animation itself, too, is pretty top notch for the most part – while there’s a few odd looking moments here and there, most of the time everything’s moving too quickly for it to make much impact. Like the source material, it’s quite the spectacle, with some fantastic art direction and excellent character designs. You’ll be happy to know that a lot of the game’s original soundtrack has made the transition too, so it really does feel like you’re watching the game whenever a familiar tune kicks in.
If there’s any gripes with the film, it’s that supporting characters like Rodin and Enzo (the latter in particular) get only very fleeting appearances, despite being fan favourite characters. There’s also, for some tastes at least, perhaps a bit too much of Bayonetta’s trademark fanservice on display – while it’s to be expected considering the tone and style of the character, certain viewers might find some shots a tad gratuitous, although nothing that you likely won’t already have seen if you’ve played through the series before. Everything else though mainly makes alterations for the better, and arguably expands upon some of the ambiguities left hanging from the original experience – for example, the truth about little Cereza wasn’t entirely certain in the game (even if it was heavily implied), whereas it’s explicitly cleared up here in case anyone was left doubting.
All in all then, Bayonetta: Bloody Fate is a faithful adaptation of the first game in the series, making slight changes to suit the shift in genre while retaining all the fun and charm that made the game so renowned to begin with. It’s by no means an anime classic and if you already know the original Bayonetta story to death then it might not do anything too new or exciting for you, but it’s 90 minutes of shameless pleasure that’s worth watching at least once, whether you’re a devoted fan or just someone with an interest in the games looking for an accessible entry point into what they’re all about.
Remember: don’t f*ck with a witch, because Bloody Fate is, well, bloody great.