I feel that I should preface this whole thing by pointing out it was written as a rebuttal to @Desert_Bell’s scathing, but not entirely unfair, condemnation of Bayonetta. You should probably read that first.
When confronted with a character such as Bayonetta, the easiest thing to do is be insulted. At a most basic level there hardly seems one aspect of the character that isn’t exploitative or sexualised. Her Liefeldian anatomy is ridiculous bordering on horrifying as she contorts through the moves of a martial art based exclusively on pin-up poses. As she pole-dances on a pike for the umpteenth time, or poses nude as her demonic hair finishes off a boss fight, the temptation to dismiss such a character as purely eye-candy overwhelms.
Now what I’m not going to do is pretend that Bayonetta somehow embodies female empowerment through sexual liberation. Not only is that the obvious argument to be made, but it’s also the wrong one. There’s no justification from a feminist perspective, Bayonetta is at it’s core the gaming equivalent of an exploitation film. It’s a ridiculous character fighting through a series of increasingly ridiculous set pieces, every aspect of which emphasises aesthetic over anything else. Equal parts crass and camp, you can either get angry at the game for being offensive, or laugh at it for being tongue in cheek.
The thing is however, the fact that it’s exploitative is not what makes Bayonetta funny.
If aesthetic is the core value of the game, there’s a lot more to look at than just Bayonetta. The character herself is gratuitous to the point of being offensive, but the character in her environment is glorious.
The plot really is just a token to drive a game where you play a witch ripping through the various angels and virtues of heaven. Each is named from parts of Dante’s Divine Comedy: Paradiso. The game drips with religious iconography and design in both the environments and the enemies. What we literally have is a hyper-sexualised witch fighting against the forces of a Christian god.
And it’s here where I think an overlooked aspect of Bayonetta’s character shines through. She’s a one-woman corrupting influence literally destroying all the things Christianity tells us to believe in and strive for. Sex is her weapon because Christian dogma frequently tells us this is how woman corrupts mankind. From original sin, to the overwhelming patriarchal structure inherent to religious hierachy. One could easily make the argument Bayonetta is fighting to be free of religious oppression.
And that’s where the true value of the character lies beyond the exploitation. Not as some strong feminist archetype to be looked up to or admired, but as a vitriolic satire of religion. To the same extent that much of Christianity is ridiculously afraid of sexuality and women in any combination. Bayonetta herself is painted as a equally ridiculous caricature of Christianity’s worst nightmare. That’s what makes the character funny, and worth more than the obvious controversies that are quick to be dismissive of her.