I played both Bayonetta games for the first time when they released on the Wii U. While I preferred the first game, which had a better sense of pacing, I love both games and was excited to replay them on their return to Nintendo Switch.
Would the slightly beefier machine improve Bayonetta 2’s frame rate? Had Platinum made any changes to the mechanics which, according to high level players, made the sequel’s endgame less satisfying? Does the characterisation of Bayonetta as a woman in command and control of her own weaponised sexuality still stand up to my world view which has only grown more woke in the intervening years?
There was something else I had to consider before I could get the games played, or even think about reviewing them. You see, there’s one thing people are really, really keen about when it comes to reviews of Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2: objectivity.
Was I equipped to offer an objective review of these games? What does it truly mean to speak without subjectivity? Would I need to eliminate all knowledge of videogames, storytelling and human characters in order to view it from a completely clear perspective? Surely they could never result in a better piece of criticism.
To achieve an objective viewpoint, there was only one course of action.
I travelled to the Shunko-In Zen Buddhist Temple in Kyoto Japan to undertake a zen meditation class from Rev. Takafumi Kawakami.
“People think zen is about no mind” Kawakami explains, “but actually it’s about no subjectivity.”
Myself and around twenty others were welcomed into a classic Japanese room; tatami floors, paper walls, small cushions on the floor for seats. We sat ourselves down, cross-legged, and Taka addressed us from the front.
He explained breathing techniques and the way one could use them to centre the mind. The concentration on slow, deliberate breathing served two purposes. Obviously, breathing more slowly has a neurological effect which makes one feel more calm. At the same time, concentrating consciously on this action, inhalation and exhalation, stops the mind from wandering.
As well as being a pleasant and calming man, Kawakami is incredibly knowledgeable about not only Zen Buddhism, its history and techniques, but the scientific study of the brain and meditation’s effects on it. He could espouse the benefits of Zen and also the dangers of treating meditation as a cure-all salve of life’s problems. He could speak as confidently about the garden outside the temple as he could the psychological and neurological effects of different stimuli, and has done in TED talks and with MIT students.
I entered a twenty minute meditative period. I closed my eyes for a time, opened them at others. Always I tried to concentrate on my breathing. Naturally I found difficult to clear my mind, as someone as restless as I am, but over time I did find myself feeling clearer.
After the meditation came the actual important part of mindfulness.
As Takafumi explains: “Meditation is just the preparation for the important part, questioning yourself and how you feel. Mindfulness is about freeing yourself from subjectivity and preconceptions. When you are stressed, you focus on the stressor. When you are calm, you are able to let go and see the bigger picture.”
He spoke for some time, on the nature of what is and isn’t real, our limited ability to perceive the universe but our constant need to explain it. He was passionate about the importance of reflecting not just on events, but how they made us feel. Good emotions can have their side effects, just as bad emotions can have their benefits. He warned us of the danger of always forcing happiness without allowing ourselves to feel.
After our class, we walked out and observed the gardens and paintings of the temple. Taka spoke some more, about both the history of the temple and the lessons the paintings sought to share. As we stood and quietly soaked in the atmosphere, Taka and his staff prepared tea and sweets.
Matcha green tea was brought to Japan alongside Zen Buddhism. With a combination of both Caffeine and L-Tanin, the tea helps with wakefulness while also maintaining a degree of calm. Even here, Taka had advice: avoiding excessive consumption of caffeine, and combatting desensitisation not with upping the dosage but with taking a break.
I can’t say I left my morning at the temple as a master of Zen Buddhism, or as a completely changed man. I’d like to say I did take some lessons with me that I can apply elsewhere. Calming myself, preparing myself before making decisions and hoping to see more than the snapshot I am afforded in the moment.