Of course, it terms of the marketing is was exploitative right down the line to appeal the adolescent boys – Warner Bros needed a return on investment after all, and cheerleaders and upskirts are an easy sell. But forget the marketing for a second, and look at the game itself – Lollipop Chainsaw, from start to finish, is not only turning the expectation that Juliet would be an airheaded piece of eye candy on the head; it’s actually laughing at the very audience it was marketed to.
Starting with the character herself; on the surface Juliet is indeed something straight from a 70s or 80s cheerleader film, but that’s merely a ruse; with surprising subtlety the game’s writer, James Gunn, reveals an intelligent, articulate and empowered character in Juliet Sterling. So for instance; early on in the game (early enough that any critic who actually played it before reviewing it should have noticed), Juliet asks Nick – the body-less head that she carries around with her – if he knows Japanese. He does not, but she does. There are plenty more examples of this interplay throughout the game where Juliet demonstrates a greater intelligence than Nick, and, of course, at a very basic level she is the one that understands how to combat the zombie threat.
|That wink... Juliet knows. And she finds you amusing|
Similarly her sisters – not brothers – are also zombie-slayers, and really the only men in this game with genuine power are the zombie bosses. All of which are challenging, but not through physical means. Those bosses are great at using the environment to rain death on Juliet, but in a one-on-one fight, Juliet has the advantage.
What does all this paint a picture of? Juliet is both intellectually advanced and physically superior. It’s also telling that she typically ignores the crude behaviours of the men around her – Nick tells her to kill a zombie because he “looked up her skirt,” and she doesn’t respond. A rescued classmate tells her that he’s going to “masturbate to her tonight,” and she ignores him. Juliet is positioned as a character above such antics, and since every single male character is driven by lust, Juliet is positioned as a character aloof of the juvenile behaviour of men in general.
|Clearly you're meant to take the costumes seriously|
Take for instance the trophy system. There is a trophy for panning the camera down and looking up Juliet’s skirt. It’s the first trophy a player can pick up really, since it’s obtainable the moment the game starts. And yet, on a gaming forum I saw a comment from one player that it is one of the few trophies they haven’t earned. Why? Because it’s embarrassing. That’s precisely what Suda wanted to achieve – earning that trophy is not a reward. It’s mockery, since the player’s entire social network (and possibly their Facebook friends too, since the PSN can link in to Facebook to upload trophy data) will find out that they’re perverted enough to look up a digital skirt.
Much has also been said about the alternative costumes – and indeed those costumes can be very revealing indeed. But they’re also designed to be jarring. In other words, they are so over the top and so erotic that it’s impossible not to notice them. By drawing attention to them, Goichi Suda and the team at Grasshopper Manufacture are once again pointing out just how ridiculous the player’s behaviour is. It might titillate some, but behind the scenes, those developers are having a cynical laugh at their expense.
But perhaps the most telling bit of evidence here is a comparison between two very similar-themed games (on the surface). Lollipop Chainsaw features an empowered, witty female lead character. Onechanbara Bikini Zombie Slayers, a PS2 and Wii game, is the reality of what critics claim Lollipop Chainsaw is. Onechanbara is genuine sexploitation. There’s no context or characterisation – it’s literally girls in bikinis killing zombies. Anyone who can’t see the difference between the two games just is not looking closely enough. Context is everything.
|And now for some real sexism...|
And for that, Juliet may just be the most important (albeit misunderstood) female video game character ever designed.