The Inexplicable Sexiness Of Ivy Valentine

From the first day I played Soulcalibur in the early 2000s up to playing Soulcalibur VI in the present day, I have felt every possible feeling about character Ivy Valentine’s tits and arse. Alienated. Angry. Sad. Jealous. Embarrassed. Bored. Horny. Amused. Jaded.

Ivy hasn’t changed much throughout the life of the series, but I’ve changed my mind about her many times over the years.

Ivy wears a purple thong leotard with cut-out pieces that bare her cleavage and midriff. The detailing and cut of her bustier has changed slightly from game to game, but every version of her look keeps the full curve of both buttcheeks and breasts in view. She pairs this with thigh-high boots, shoulder armour, and a sword that transforms into a whip.

When she slings that whip at her opponents, she points her toe and rests a hand on her cocked hip, as though posing for the camera - or the player.

Usually, if a female character is that sexy, there’s some sort of narrative reasoning, however thin. Soulcalibur, now on its sixth entry, has had many opportunities over the years to justify Ivy’s overt sexiness.

But, no: she’s still just as I remember her as a high school girl playing the first Soulcalibur on the Dreamcast. This is also true of the rest of the female fighters in the game, but Ivy has always been the least subtle of the bunch.

Ivy’s aesthetic began with her convertible whip-sword. The design team had multiple concepts for the kind of character who might wield it: a mummy, a young girl, an armour-clad guy. In the end, they chose Ivy Valentine: a tall, silver-haired woman in a waist-cinching, bust-baring thong leotard.

Although Ivy’s core look hasn’t changed much since those initial drawings, there is one detail that has since faded away. There was once an alternative outfit for Ivy, which ended up appearing as a secondary option in the first three Soulcalibur games: a butch pirate suit, complete with breeches, a lacy neck ruff, and golden-fringed epaulettes.

She still wears her high heels, eyeliner, and earrings, but she slicks back her hair, looking severe and cold.

Ivy Valentine’s alternate costume in Soulcalibur II. (Screenshot: YouTube)

This outfit makes sense for her storyline. It fit her aristocratic upbringing and foreshadowed the reveal of her biological father, the undead pirate Cervantes. After the first couple of games, though, Ivy’s alternate outfit design stopped being as butch and slid back over to more conventional and feminine. From Soulcalibur IV onwards, her secondary outfits featured fishnet stockings and bodysuits with plunging necklines.

In Soulcalibur VI, Ivy doesn’t get her pirate suit back, even though the story revisits the events of Soulcalibur I and II. Instead, in her story mode, she alternates between low-cut gowns and her usual BDSM clubwear.

Why does this woman, who was raised by an aristocratic family, waltz around medieval Europe in lingerie and knee-high boots? Her paper-thin backstory doesn’t offer much explanation. She has no romantic or sexual storyline. She can be quite condescending, but ultimately, she fights for good and chooses to help rather than hurt. So why the whip and the whole domme vibe? It feels like sexy for sexy’s sake.

Since she’s wearing the most impressive push-up bra of the cast, Ivy is the most obvious scapegoat when it comes to pointing out Soulcalibur’s inexplicably sexy designs, but the game’s treatment of other, less busty female characters is not an improvement.

It’s never explained why Seong Mi-Na is wearing an underboob-baring top that offers her breasts no support whatsoever, and which is made all the creepier by the fact that she’s only 16 when the story starts. Wind priestess Talim, who is just 13 in Soulcalibur VI, wears a tiny X-shaped tube top that criss-crosses over her nipples and a string bikini bottom that pokes out of low-slung shorts. Putting the series’ two youngest and most innocent characters in bikinis seems unnecessary.

It’s also not clear why Taki’s erect nipples are always visible through her cleavage-hugging bodysuit, nor why Sophitia can’t seem to find a lace-up top that contains her cup size, but at least they’re both adults.

These outfits don’t tell us anything about the characters wearing them. Sometimes, they directly contradict the stories and personalities of the women in them (insofar as anyone in Soulcalibur has a personality). The teenage Seong Mi-Na hopes to enlist in the men’s only coast guard, while also wearing a bikini, which - fairly or not—does seem like it would add a layer of difficulty to succeeding in an ancient patriarchal society.

She complains often about still being seen as a child, but in her storyline, she’s being romantically pursued by a man who is nine years older than she is. Maybe he sees her as an adult, or maybe he gets off on Seong Mi-Na’s naivety - either way, it’s rough. If this storyline gave Seong Mi-Na any agency, then maybe the decision to put this insecure teenager in this outfit would feel less tragic.

Dude, move your right hand. Either a couple inches higher or lower. You pick. (Screenshot: Soulcalibur VI)

Over the years, I’ve seen fans create comparison charts of the female characters’ boobs and outfits in each successive Soulcalibur game, trying to map their changing cup sizes and the relative revealing nature of each outfit. This sort of comparison tends to be done with good intent, as though there could be a mathematical equation to dictate when the plunging neckline on Sophitia’s blue lace-up top goes from “classy” to “trashy.”

But that dichotomy spirals out into suggestions that certain bodies are inherently inappropriate and shameful, with no regard for the actual women in the world who also share Ivy’s cup size, who grew up playing this game and hearing pejorative descriptions of her body.

A ComicBook.com article about Soulcalibur VI refers to Ivy as a “scantily clad boob monster” not once but twice. Metro’s coverage of the game described Ivy’s “design and attire” as “problematic” without mentioning the other female fighters, presumably because Ivy is the go-to example.

In one Twitch stream that I watched of Soulcalibur VI, the hosts joked that Ivy Valentine was “not stream-appropriate” and didn’t select her, although characters like Talim and Seong Mi-Na didn’t seem to embarrass them.

This question of “appropriateness” isn’t about Ivy’s outfit, because there are other girls in bikinis in this game. It’s not about her storyline, since Ivy’s backstory doesn’t involve her getting disempowered or disrespected. It’s her breasts. The implication is that the only way she could be respectable would be if they were covered up, or reduced in size—something closer to the cup size of bikini-wearing tots Talim and Seong Mi-Na.

After battle damage, this is what the 13-year-old Talim looks like in Soulcalibur VI. (Screenshot: YouTube)

That’s why, even though it would be more interesting visually and more logical narratively for Ivy to put on her full pirate suit, I’ve grown defensive of Ivy’s tiny bustier. It makes no more or less sense than anyone else’s low-cut top in this game. When I see other players on Twitch or in real life expressing discomfort over Ivy, my hackles rise on her behalf.

But I also understand the snap judgements people make about her unapologetic, unjustified sexiness. At one time, I felt that way about her, too.

As a young teen girl playing Soulcalibur for the first time, I had a knee-jerk, naive perspective on all of this. Back then, I hated and resented Soulcalibur’s women. It bothered me that every one of them had the same exact body type: a model hot body that in no way resembled my own.

Even back then, Ivy was seen as the sexiest, at least according to the guys I knew. I felt embarrassed about selecting any of these women as my avatar, thinking it would only invite an unflattering comparison between their digital perfection and my prepubescent gangliness.

My male gamer friends teased me enough as it was, and, more than any other game we all played together, Soulcalibur felt like a long list of the things I wasn’t.

In my late teens, I finally made friends with some other girls who played competitive games. One of them, to my shock, chose Ivy every single time, even as Soulcalibur II, III, and IV brought Ivy’s breasts and bustier into increasingly higher and sexier detail. My friend never seemed embarrassed by her choice.

When we went to arcades, she’d take on any foe, defeating boy after boy while standing triumphantly at the arcade cabinet. Ivy would sling her whip with a sneer and make men kneel, weeping, at her feet.

I started to see Ivy a little differently after that. She was still a sex symbol designed predominantly by men. But, in my friend’s hands, she had become something else.

By Soulcalibur V, I had stopped feeling so resentful and bitter about the women in the game. I stopped being so angry at women in real life, too; I even started dating them. As an adult, I learned that the popular girls who I’d once resented, the ones who’d gotten bigger breasts ahead of me, hadn’t exactly enjoyed it.

They’d had trouble finding clothes that looked “appropriate.” Their bodies had become fetish objects, tools outside of their control. It wasn’t fair, I thought. And someone else should suffer for it, possibly with a whip involved.

Ivy’s head-stomping special move in Soulcalibur VI. (Gif: Soulcalibur VI)

I like seeing my female peers reclaim Soulcalibur’s characters without shame—characters who weren’t created “for” them but who became weapons in their hands. The most recent time I played Soulcalibur VI at a party, the room was full of my queer friends, all of us hooting and hollering at Ivy’s slow-motion breast jiggling.

“My girlfriend! My queen!” we screamed in delight every time she stomped. She was part of us, one of us.

After writing so many words about the portrayals of sexy women, especially dominatrixes, in games like Bayonetta and Drakengard 3, I want to be able to analyse Ivy Valentine with the same rigour.

But much like her adorable bustier after a hard hit, she’ll snap under the pressure. She can’t withstand scrutiny.

No Soul game has ever humanised, or scarcely even personified, Ivy Valentine. Soulcalibur VI had the chance to do it, since the game revisited the early events of Soulcalibur I and II, casting new light on the characters’ backstories and also putting them back into their old outfits once again. But the opportunity went unfulfilled. Ivy is still the same. She is still no one.

And yet, she is someone whenever I select her. She’s me. Of course, I’m the one doing all the work in that equation. I’m the one manifesting her humanity. Soulcalibur hasn’t done that for her. Maybe it never will. At least my own journey with Ivy Valentine has had more than enough plot twists to last a lifetime.


Comments

    So why the whip and the whole domme vibe? Because teenage boys get paid pocket money.

    The boys you knew are weirdos. Me and every boy I knew was way more into Taki and Sophitia than Ivy. We all thought Ivy was there for our Dads rather than us.

      If you're referring to my post, why weirdos? Everyone has different tastes. Personally they don't do much for me, they're just characters in a game. When I was in the age demographic I'm talking about, VIC 20's were the computer of choice, so I'm certainly not talking about my friends.

      Main point though was that sex sells, particularly to young boys. DOA was another game that took advantage of that with its 'jiggle physics'. And despite various peoples outrage at showing some skin on female characters, sex still sells. This is just a part of that mentality, nothing more.

      You can say the same thing about womens armor in just about every MMO that's made as well. Highly stylistic versus functional, designed to emphasis the female form. Given how many female characters there are versus female gamers, I'm pretty sure plenty are guys wanting to check out their digital butts.

        I was referencing a line in the article. Sorry for the confusion :)

          All good :) Being straight after mine confused me...

    Yeah it's pretty much "why are they sexy??"
    uhh, cause a lot of guys like sexy characters lol. that's the only reason there needs to be.

      Did you know that Females are also capable of sexual attraction towards people?

      What an amazing fact! More at 11

    This was a good article.

      It's pretty bad actually, full of a lot of misinformation (see my post below about incorrect information regarding Seong Mina as an example). I'm sure the point the author was trying to make is important, but they didn't even understand the game's story properly before they started complaining about it.

        Well, that's a shame then.
        I'm not a player of the series, I just thought it was nice that the author wasn't just "sexy lady bad" (even if she was once, by her own admission) for once. The conclusion was "sexy lady could be better" and that's good enough for me.

    It's too bad that Soul Calibur is just hard to enjoy. Bought it for my brother who loved the previous game, but neither of us are having fun with it. Clunky, poorly designed and worst of all laggy menus make character customisation a chore instead of fun. Top that off with bad, aliased graphics and a lack of VS AI modes that are interesting enough (used to love collecting titles) and you've got yourself a pretty dud game

    I played as Ivy a lot in SC1 because I thought the sword-whip was so cool. Her design has got more ridiculous as the series has gone along.

    havent read the article yet, but why does everyone always talk about Ivy yet not talks about her counter part Voldo

      Voldo isn't presented as sexual for the purpose of titillation, but sexual for the purpose of being strange and otherworldly. He's like a cenobite.

    That character is the only reason I’d play a fighting game; otherwise, I have no interest.

    Her 2P costumes from 1 and 2 are superior, more than one thing can be bad about something at one time.

    So when straight males like Ivy it is bad but then queers like Ivy it is all "yass queen, slay!"

      Hahah, I know that you want to be angry and cynical but please read these articles more carefully; that's nowhere near what she said. First, she was talking about her own journey in the perception of the character, so it's unfair to try to point contradiction in evolving opinions.

      Second, she never said that it's bad that men like her? The only thing that she criticised, and only lightly so, is that the character is so thinly veiled designed to titillate men without even an attempt to work it into somebody whose personality justifies it (like for example, Bayonetta).

    Interpret the art as you will. Impose whatever story makes sense to you.

    Videogame culture straddles adults and adolescents. The young need that backstory, they need to be told what things mean, they want to join the tribe of "likers" or "haters" because they are only on the cusp of working things out for themselves.

    Adults take what they need from any form of art, impose their own meaning, do what they want to do with it, and put the rest aside. This article more or less maps that journey of reclamation.

    And why does Ivy have to explain herself anyway? What kind of society insists we must account for the kind of clothes we like to wear?

    It’s never explained why Seong Mi-Na is wearing an underboob-baring top that offers her breasts no support whatsoever, and which is made all the creepier by the fact that she’s only 16 when the story starts.

    She's 16 when SOUL EDGE starts. She's 19 by the time Soul Calibur starts, and SC6 is a retelling of Soul Calibur, not Soul Edge.

    The teenage Seong Mi-Na hopes to enlist in the men’s only coast guard, while also wearing a bikini, which - fairly or not—does seem like it would add a layer of difficulty to succeeding in an ancient patriarchal society.

    She adopts the outfit when she realises she won't be accepted into the guard, so went with something more female.

    She complains often about still being seen as a child, but in her storyline, she’s being romantically pursued by a man who is nine years older than she is. Maybe he sees her as an adult, or maybe he gets off on Seong Mi-Na’s naivety - either way, it’s rough. If this storyline gave Seong Mi-Na any agency, then maybe the decision to put this insecure teenager in this outfit would feel less tragic.

    Hwang doesn't have any interest in Mina - he's more like a big brother to her. If anything it's Mina that might have an interest in him but that's not confirmed either, only possibly implied.

    Even if he was interested in her (he's not), and even if she was 16 (she's not), the story is set in the 16th century. That kind of thing was *normal* back then.

    You think that's sexy? Haaaaaahaha! Weirdos, weirdos everywhere.

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