Bondage Gear: For the Glory of Mankind!
Spoiler alert: This post contains some spoilers for Nier: Automata. I suggest playing through ending E before reading to avoid any spoilers.
My partner, Alex, is home, and that means we can finally start chipping away at the ever-increasing backlog of games that I collected over the year that he was studying abroad. The first game we tackled together was the sequel to the first game we played as a couple. And let me say, I have a lot of feelings about NieR: Automata, almost as many as I had about NieR: Gestalt & Replicant.
Not all of these feelings are good, however. So I might be talking about this game for a bit.
As usual, since I was heavily invested in the plot of this game, I went in as blind as I could. And, remembering how things went with the first game, I literally avoided almost everything about it, down to the name of the soundclips. No demo videos, no E3 trailers, nothing. Hell, I did my best to avoid looking at people’s character designs. But one thing I ran into was Ozzie Scribbler’s post at Bikini Armor Battle Damage. In it, she discussed how Yoko Taro had justified the protagonist’s 2B’s outfit, and why it created problems for the whole industry. Basically, Taro’s justification was “I like girls.”
I wish I was kidding.
Scribbler discussed how Taro’s justification rings similar to Hideo Kojima’s attempt to justify Quiet’s scantily clad design, but also tries to excuse bad character design and design for objectification. I wondered at the time if they would also try to explain the poor choice in character design within the world of Automata, just like they had with Kaine in Gestalt. More on that later, though.
I didn’t really notice anything too overtly wrong, because the game starts out with these pretty cool Gundam-like flight suits. Sure, the robots’ feet are designed to look like high-heels for some reason, but I grew up with mecha anime, so that’s not the weirdest thing I’ve seen on a robot. But then 2B crash lands, and that was the first time I’d seen 2B. And I found myself looking up her skirt and suddenly I was very uncomfortable.
I had time to ruminate on 2B’s design while Alex learned the fighting mechanics of the game. I tried to let it go–a lot happens in the first 30 minutes, so focusing on why 2B’s skirt literally has a split that goes up to her waist, and has some of the whitest underwear I’ve ever seen, got kicked to the back burner. But not for long, as her Lolita-clad sidekick 9S was introduced, and…well at least he had pants..well, shorts really. But his outfit seemed a little more practical.
Maybe it didn’t really hit me until we met the rest of YoRHA. The android army fighting “For the Glory of Mankind!” And yet, we were also immediately introduced to a room full of robots in what appeared to be BDSM or Lolita gear. Apparently, 2B, in her almost-evening gown attire, had the most practical of outfits. But it was completely impractical for what she was designed for.
YoRHA, to me, is the pinnacle of when you sacrifice functionality and practicality for a “sexy” aesthetic. No one in YoRHA had practical outfits. From the skin-tight leather fight-suit clad combat units to the rigid veil-wearing operators, everyone looked nice, but it definitely didn’t seem like it fit. Additionally, we were literally in a bunker in space. These people are fighting a war. Would it hurt to give them combat fatigues? Perhaps the only people I could give a plot reason for the outfit were the scanner units, of which 9S was apart, because they were specifically built for hacking things and not supposed to be in direct conflict with “The Enemy,” but you would still think that their outfits wouldn’t be something out of the Harajuku district in Japan, and would be something more out of a “how to not stick out when standing in the middle of a run down city” catalog.
In short: aesthetically pleasing, completely impractical. But also, objectifying everyone.
It wasn’t like they couldn’t make practical designs. In fact, the first set of non-YoRHA androids you meet, from the Resistance, are dressed like you would expect anyone fighting a post-apocalyptic war against alien robots to be. Fatigues, weatherproof gear, various weapons, and sensible shoes. Additionally, outfits weren’t modified to be able to tell gender. Everyone was neutral until pronouns were used. It was amazing. It was also incredibly confusing. How could a game that blatantly threw practicality and design sense out the window also have tasteful, aesthetically pleasing, outfits that make sense?
Even when Devola and Popola are introduced (I warned you about spoilers), they somehow avoid the sexy trainwreck that befell YoRHA units. In fact, the twin androids have one of my favorite designs in the game. They are even wearing boots!
And then there was A2. I’ll be the first person to compare A2 to Kaine, from NieR: Gestalt & Replicant. And honestly, Automata parallels the two as well. And I think it’s important to discuss the idea of outfits that make sense using these two. When (discuss if something “makes sense,” I mean that it fits within the world and the narrative for the character. Kaine,ran around wearing lingerie. Like, 1 square yard of fabric, tops.
The narrative said that it was because she didn’t care for her appearance and wore whatever she could find. It was taken as strange, and the other characters commented on it. However, the only thing you can find living outside of ‘civilization’ being blue and white sexy lingerie and heels doesn’t make sense, and was obvious that Kaine was used as the fanservice.
A2’s design fits Kaine’s narrative better, and, by extension, her own; A2’s and Kaine’s basic plots are very similar. A2 is basically running around in spanks and a sports bra. It’s implied to be a ruined YoRHA fight suit, and A2 has betrayed YoRHA and the Resistance and is trying to avoid them all and do her own thing. Thus, she’s still got the unsensible heels, but, in a way, her outfit design makes sense for the narrative and the world. A2 doesn’t–and can’t–repair her clothing, and cares nothing for her appearance. She cannot ask the Resistance for more protective clothing, as she is a fugitive. And when she finally is in everyone’s good graces, YoRHA is gone, 9S is losing his shit, and people have significantly bigger problems than what everyone is wearing. Not that anyone really had a problem with what people were wearing in the first place.
A2’s outfit would get a pass, if the world she was built into wasn’t already flawed from a design standpoint. In a way, A2 is the most sensibly dressed and least sexualized of all the characters, at least to me, because she is run down and requires significant maintenance. This is a direct contrast to characters like The Commander and 2B, in their shiny, sexy uniforms, or even to Kaine, who stood out against Nier and Emil’s designs in Gestalt of the post-apocalyptic medieval future. A2’s outfit fits the narrative: it’s a falling-apart, dirty version of her old uniform. The only problem is, her old uniform didn’t make a lick of sense in the first place.
It doesn’t help, either, that the game has built-in mechanics that seem to exploit the rather revealing nature of 2B and Co.’s outfits. The camera angles that are automatic when jumping, climbing ladders, or riding animals around the world lend themselves to a series of continued up-skirt and butt shots. The outfits take battle damage, but only in locations that can reveal more of intimate areas…well, really, just pants. It doesn’t matter what sort of damage you’re taking, eventually, it’s going to result in 2B losing her skirt (giving you a great shot of those white panties that can be seen from space), and 9S will lose his pants. A2, in her negligee, also loses some sort of fabric, but she was wearing so little in the first place, it’s actually hard to tell.
Additionally, there are achievements that take advantage of this. There is the achievement “What Are You Doing?” (Description: 2B’s “secret” discovered 10 times), unlocked after you attempt to look up 2B’s skirt. There is also “Not that I Mind”, another achievement obtained after playing the game with 9S running around without pants for an hour.
I didn’t even really touch on Adam and Eve. I mean, when you first fight them, they’re completely naked. Sure, I guess that makes sense, because they were kind of born in front of you…well, born completely formed and the size of grown adults, but born nonetheless. But over the course of your meetings with them, they never really get any sensible clothing either, as both of them end up in leather pants and shirtless, and that seems to be the culmination of their design. Well….Adam gets a shirt and glasses. I guess that’s something.
I’ll be honest. There’s a lot for this game to offer. It’s fun, it’s got a great narrative. The music and visuals are fucking fantastic. It was almost everything I wanted in a sequel that I never thought would see the light of day.
But, god damnit, why did this have to be at the expense of objectifying the main characters?