It was not at all surprising for me to find the Heavenly Host of Angels coming from On High to be the villains in Bayonetta. She is not only a witch, but a rather violent and provocative dominatrix — one whose very breath exhales promises of leather, lace, and handcuffs to the bedpost whilst administering the ball gag with a cheeky smile. If you're going to have such an action heroine battling supernatural creatures, then the most Holy of Holies is an easy source for your Army o' Mooks.
Let's speak honestly here. There are aspects of the Divine that could use a new PR manager (he wrote, blaspheming at his keyboard whilst darting nervous glances towards his Holy Bible, thinking to check the Weather Channel for any potential lightning storms coming his way). Strict, lawful authorities have a tendency to walk the line between fair and fascist, and when it comes to a fascist foe that denies you the simple pleasures the human body craves, well, you have yourself an instant villain.
Upon my second replay of the original Bayonetta — all in preparation for the title vixen's new adventure — I began to take greater note of what the game was communicating to me about our protagonist (or rather, about the organization she was once a part of). Bayonetta, our heroine, was pushed through a rigorous training regimen from birth in order to become an Umbra Witch. If she wanted to be a part of the order, she had no choice but to sell her soul for her powers on Earth. Upon death, her soul shall be trapped in Hell, tortured by demons for all eternity. The game is quite clear on this, ensuring that the player recognize the demons as savage, hateful creatures that will provide endless pain to those condemned to "Inferno".
Is it possible that I've been playing the bad gal all along?
All of my previous efforts in understanding Bayonetta were placed into comprehension of the story. There's a lot of exposition that gets dumped and, the first time through, I was not quite sure what I really accomplished or what the antagonist's goals were. Returning to the game a second time, I was suddenly encouraged to really think on the game's setting more. To try and figure out who was really the "bad guy" here.
Turns out this was the incorrect way to really look at things. The world of Bayonetta isn't about right and wrong at all. It doesn't concern itself with notions of good and evil. The world of Bayonetta simply is, and the forces within it are working towards their own ends.
It is hard to argue that the beasts of Inferno could, in any way, be "good", especially when it comes to Bayonetta 2. The documentation discovered throughout the game, as well as biographies on each type of demon encountered, are quite clear that Inferno is a place where people suffer. If you're lucky — or rather, if you're a twisted, damaged, vile soul upon the Earth — you become a creature that inflicts all of the suffering. The forces of Hell most easily fit into our preconceived Sunday School notions of "bad".
So what of the Angels of Paradiso? The curious thing about Paradiso is that, across two games filled with documentation about the setting, there is no mention of human souls actually occupying the Heavenly realm. Plenty of documentation of the Angelic hierarchy can be discovered, but not of the paradise that humans get to experience once they pass on from their mortal life. It begs the question of whether anyone manages to reach Heaven after all.
There is, however, one shared element across the two games. The "Eyes of the World", one light and one dark. They are an essential plot element to both Bayonetta titles, pieces left behind of the original deific creator of the Trinity of Realities — Paradiso, Inferno, and Earth — the Human Realm. On Earth, each eye is possessed by a human faction that aligns themselves with the forces of the other realms. The Lumen Sages possess the "Eye of Light" and are servants of Paradiso, while the Umbran Witches possess the "Eye of Darkness" and are "servants" of Inferno.
I use quotations because, unlike the Lumen Sages, the Umbran Witches seem to act without the influence of the source to their powers. They are not obedient to demons. In fact, the conditions of their contract makes those demons obedient to them. While there are hardly any specifics as to the relationship between the Lumen Sages and Paradiso, it seems that the Sages follow the Will of Heaven, working to achieve their masters' goals.
Ultimately this is the core conflict within each Bayonetta game. It's not necessarily about Good vs. Evil, but about the Divine against the Trinity of Realities. In her piece for PASTE Magazine, Maddy Myers observed that the character Bayonetta "just doesn't care what you think". This assessment can work towards the universe as a whole: Each side is fighting the other out of their own personal desires, apathetic to those caught in the crossfire.
Bayonetta, as an Umbran Witch, is confident. She is sexy and powerful and she knows it. She doesn't care what you think. However, she also doesn't care about the Divine Will of Heaven or the Infernal Machinations of Hell. She's not fighting for any righteous cause. She's fighting because these sides keep interfering with her way of life, and she's not about to let them stop her.
If we really want to put moral labels on the factions, then none of them are truly "good". If you simplify the very basics of morality down, "evil" tends to be acts grounded in selfish desire, while "good" tends to be the result of selfless actions. To say that these characters and factions are selfish, even the forces of Inferno, is inaccurate. I'd rather say that the many characters in the world of Bayonetta are myopic.
The forces of Paradiso, and by extension the Lumen Sages, believe they are acting for the Greater Good. Those that suffer in the wake of their goal are merely sacrifices or collateral damage. They firmly believe that a better existence for all lies just past the finish line. The powers of Inferno simply yearn to absorb more souls that they can make suffer. However, in order to achieve this goal, they willingly offer their services to the Umbra Witches, a temporary sacrifice in an effort to achieve that goal. The Earthly desires of the Witches may be meaningless in that greater cosmic struggle, and their servitude may be for their own ends, but they are still giving something of themselves for the benefit of another.
Which leads to the Umbra Witches, an organization that, if anything, embodies Earthly desire. The Umbran Witches know they'll die one day, but until then they'll use that contract to manage long-lasting life and enact worldly goals. It is that tie to the world that encourages Bayonetta to fight. She may die one day, but until then she's going to secure herself a comfortable, pleasurable life on Earth. If the Lumen Sages and forces of Paradiso threaten that goal — or, as it turns out in the second game, even the forces of Hell — then she'll show her claws and fight tooth and nail to maintain her way of life, as well as to protect those she cares about. After all, she literally goes to Hell and back to save the soul of her dearest friend.
So is Bayonetta a "good gal"? Such a label feels almost childish in the way it wants to categorize into a good/bad binary. Whether she is good or not doesn't matter so much as that, because of her tie to the Earthly realm, she is a relatable character. You, reading this article, most certainly wouldn't want your family, friends, and way of life wiped out simply because some supernatural force dictated it was an acceptable sacrifice for the greater good, would you? Nor would any player holding the controller, manipulating Bayonetta across the battlefield in her struggle against the Divine and the Damned. That's the point. She is a protagonist because she is in a position more empathetic to the player, and the armies of the supernatural are antagonists simply because they oppose her.
Good, bad, she's the one with the guns.