This article contains major spoilers for Bayonetta 3.
Throughout the entirety of Bayonetta 3, multiple characters state they are on a quest to discover the truth. However, by the time the game has run its course, it is firmly established that the truth--particularly in a world abundant in alternate universes and timelines--is both subjective and personal. For this dimensions' Luka, the "truth" is he exists "to get Bayonetta to where she needs to be." Bayonetta's truth is never explicitly stated. However, in her final encounter with the game's big bad, she delivers a powerful line following her realization of what her quest for truth has led her to: "I prefer to make my own truth."
In Bayonetta 3, truth is perception. And when seeking out the truth of who Bayonetta exists for--a hotly debated topic in games media--I'd argue the very same can be said.
Upon release, the Bayonetta series was met with criticism from feminist media critics such as Anita Sarkeesian (as seen in this video preserved by NastyOpinions) for creating a female protagonist who appealed to the male gaze. However, as noted by Polygon, it didn't take long for the lovable dominatrix to be claimed by LGBTQ+ circles who began to herald her as a queer icon and a woman in complete control over her sexuality. For those who are a part of these communities, it's not hard to see why: much of the game's campy and theatrical nature comes across as a sort of performance piece on sexuality, creating a parallel between the series and the bravado of musicals or drag shows. As such, there has always been an interesting tension and conversation surrounding Bayonetta and which community has, for lack of a better phrase, more claim to her--which is absolutely a statement that would cause her to both roll her eyes and unleash some demonic monstrosity upon us.
In Bayonetta 3, this conversation resurfaced with fervor as Polygon's Bayonetta 3 review, which expressed discontent at her journey down a heteronomative path, began to circulate. You see, in Bayonetta 3, we come to discover that a Bayonetta in some universe fell in love with Luka, resulting in the series' newest character, Viola. In the game's final two chapters, this family and their love for each other comes to the forefront as the world begins to collapse around them. Ultimately, Bayonetta and Luka die saving the life of their daughter. As their bodies are slowly coated in hellfire, Luka tells Bayonetta, "Fate brought us together and it will never tear us apart. We'll always be together, Cereza." Bayonetta then sweetly smiles at Luka, and says, "No, Luka. We've always been together. My clumsy, lovely fool who'll forever be in my heart," before ultimately perishing alongside him.
This interaction has led to some fans of the series expressing frustration and heartbreak over Bayonetta's choice to be with a man after earning a reputation as hypersexual, independent, and flirtatious--particularly towards women. Some find it contradictory to her character, while others see it as a slight at Bayonetta's close friend and somewhat canonized love interest Jeanne. The idea, at least inferred, that fate would bring Bayonetta and Luka together time and time again, has led some to feel as if her sexuality has been erased. However, this all feels a bit diminishing.
As a bisexual woman in a relationship with a man, I enjoy a great deal of privilege that women in relationships with other women can't claim. On the surface, my sexuality appears heteronormative. My relationship is monogamous, and our child--in the eyes of those scrutinizing--appears to be pretty damning evidence that we have committed ourselves to a standardized way of living. However, while I'm spared the wrath of conservative thinkers, I've had to deal with a lot of not-so-great takes on bisexual women who settle down with men. Was it just a phase? Have I been in actual relationships with women? Have I had sex with them? At times, it feels like you're applying for a pretty crappy job with the most exhaustive background check imaginable, and your exes are the only people you can list as references.
Among some bisexual women, there is a sort of unspoken rule that, even if you are with a man, you need to not enjoy them as a collective--you need to resent the fact that you can't shake that bit of attraction and commit to a fairer sex. Treating men tenderly can be viewed as a weakness, and proof that you aren't truly aligned with where you should be. This then reinforces two frightening notions: that men do not need or deserve tenderness from partners, and that bisexual women must ward off softness and romance in order to embrace being a powerful, sexual force. And while the latter can sometimes feel like empowerment, it can just as easily feel like pigeonholing or, even worse, fetishization.
So, as Bayonetta lovingly teases and expresses affection for Luka, playfully remarking, "I can imagine worse men to spend my moments with," and their story comes to a close, I see a healthier take on that dynamic--one where it becomes an inside joke and Luka doesn't dare say, "Not all men" because he knows better, even if he is a clumsy goof. I see the comments I make to my husband, who like Luka and Bayonetta, I would like to imagine I'd find and love in every universe, even if I have also had relationships with women.
However, it's also important to acknowledge that these moments of romanticism are the feelings of this Bayonetta and this Luka--not all of them. Throughout the game, there appear to be universes where they are not together, this would just not be the way these particular variants would want it, though the other versions would know no better. In the universe set in Egypt, it is heavily implied that Jeanne and Bayonetta are together. As that version of Bayonetta dies, she even calls out to Jeanne to be proud of her accomplishments--to be proud of her "princess." And this isn't the first time Jeanne and Bayonetta have been depicted as a couple. As noted by Ophis on Twitter, official artwork exists that portrays their union. Regardless of what this universe's Bayonetta's relationship might look like, there is sufficient evidence that--as a multi-dimensional character--she has feelings and attraction towards women as well, making her presumably bi- or pansexual.
There have also been claims on Twitter and in Kotaku’s review of Bayonetta 3 that Luka--a character who was never significant in previous entries--has been overpowered to appeal to men and act as a sort of stand-in for the average guy, serving as proof that they could get with an untamable woman such as Bayonetta. However, I don't find this to be true. Luka doesn't save the day, nor does it feel like he alone takes center stage at any part of the game's conclusion. As one of Luka's final acts, he explicitly states he will dedicate his efforts to getting Bayonetta to where she needs to be to take care of things herself and will always strive to protect their daughter. In addition, it is two alternate dimension Bayonettas--touchingly depicted as the game's previous protagonists--and Viola that ultimately provide the greatest amount of aid. Luka never feels like a man to take particularly seriously, or like someone with inexplicable and unjustifiable power. This Bayonetta, despite admitting to having feelings for Luka, isn't even with him, keeping in line with creator Hideki Kamiya's past comment that they would likely never be a couple since Bayonetta would greatly outlive him.
However, I think the sheer importance of what this story does and how it's being overpowered by this debate is even more concerning. For years, we've been asking for more AAA games about motherhood. In series like God of War and The Last of Us, we've seen powerful and at times morally questionable men become strong parental figures, but there is still a lack of women picking up this role. First and foremost, Bayonetta is a story about motherhood, and a damn good one at that.
More often than not, motherhood is depicted in a sterile way. Mothers are not sexual, deviant, violent, or dark. However, Bayonetta is all of these things while also being a character who is still cherished and a "mum" who is absolutely adored by her daughter. And not only do we see Bayonetta interact with Viola and treat her maternally, we also see Bayonetta as a young girl and daughter herself. While the parts of the game where you briefly play as Bayonetta as she solves puzzles frozen in time might seem a bit out of place, it feels like a brilliant way to draw attention to Bayonetta as a woman who was once a young girl and not just a confident, sexual force to be reckoned with. We also encounter Bayonetta's mother, who shares a soft moment with her daughter before the two are forced to part. And hearing Bayonetta call out "mummy," with unparalleled vulnerability, adds so much dimension to her while also evoking strong emotion in the player.
There seems to be such an emphasis on figuring out what gaze Bayonetta appeals to--what people she loves and whether her lascivious nature is something she owns or was forced to hold. It seems like people strive to place her in a box when she's always been a woman who, as she puts it, is creating her own truth. I get the hunger to see more lesbian relationships depicted in media, particularly within games. I get the frustration of seeing so many characters who are coded as gay never getting the chance to confirm or commit to it. But bringing that battle to this game feels wrong.
I don't know the right way to interpret Bayonetta and I won't dare to tell you how to feel about her or the events of the latest game. Hell, I have my own qualms with the sheer lack of chemistry between the game's pairing. But I also have my own "truth" that lends me a deep connection with her following the events of Bayonetta 3, and you have yours. Bayonetta is a character designed for absolutely no one and, as such, is for everyone.