Vatican Miracle Examiner Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 321 minutes approx.
Religious themed anime aren’t as plentiful as mecha, slice-of-life, or harem comedies, since the Japanese view Christianity a little differently than here in the west. Therefore, when they do use it is as central premise they tend to suffuse the stories with fantastical elements to offset any gaps in their knowledge and possibly avoid causing offence.
Vatican Miracle Examiner as the title implies revolves around Catholicism, as two priests – Hiraga Joseph Kou and Roberto Nicholas – travel the world to investigate claims of miracles to verify if they are genuine or not. Through a mixture of faith and scientific analysis, our intrepid duo encounter curious scenarios of extraordinary occurrences that somehow leads them to uncovering a sinister plot of devilish or human creation.
Split into three mini arcs, the first sees Joseph and Roberto head to Northern Mexico to investigate a report of an immaculate conception of a young nun, Sister Dolores, but shortly after they arrive, one of the resident priests is brutally murdered. Then two more priests are murdered, leading the Miracle Examiners to suspect an evil force at work.
As it transpires they are partially correct – there IS an evil presence behind the murders but it isn’t Satan. A look into the history of the abbey reveals its founder used it as a shelter for rescued orphans during World War II but further probing, along with the ramblings of a mental patient, expose something far darker, and, well, frankly a little daft actually.
Or maybe it is subversive enough to be an inventive twist with fertile possibilities; I suppose it is a matter of taste. The problem is it is presented with zero sense of irony and played completely straight, yet could easily have been a plot from an episode of South Park, or a bad taste 70’s exploitation movie. I can’t quite make up my mind and for that reason, I’m not going to spoil it so you can make up yours.
Following a standalone episode with Joseph and his behind the scenes tech expert Lauren di Luca (a male), imprisoned for bacterial weapon trafficking (I guess the church takes in anybody these days) the Miracle Examiners are off to Central Africa to confirm a corpse of a clairvoyant, Father John Jordan, is still not showing signs of decay after 18 months.
Predictably, just as our heroes arrive, they find the FBI investigating the murder of a young woman which overlaps to the Examiners mission when a local priest is beheaded. Ironically, it is discovered Father Jordan was the subject of his own final presage, fated to die by snake bite on the day of a local festival, but when it is Roberto who is mysteriously bitten by a snake, fresh questions about the prophecies are raised.
With four episodes out of twelve left, not only has the formula of the show been well established – arrive for one reason, stumble upon a bigger mystery, solve it – but also a bigger weakness in the scripting. The source material is the light novel series by Rin Fujiki which we can safely assume has a lot more room to tell these stories than three or four 23-minute TV episodes.
Where this is exposed the most is in the conclusion of each arc – the story is gathering some nice momentum and heading for a climatic crescendo, but instead the scene jumps to the summing up, explaining what the Examiners have discovered, what the outcome was and how the aftermath will take shape. It’s the equivalent of sex without the orgasm (with apologies to any female readers nodding in disappointed agreement).
The final mission, with elements carried over from the previous one, is set in Tuscany where the apparent return of an old legend, a murderous Motley Clown, is terrorising the region. True to form, a young lad is soon murdered and a priest goes missing, and just like before, members of the church are found to be involved in nefarious activities I’m fairly sure aren’t encouraged in the Bible.
I’m not sure what the message is supposed to be imparted when it comes to religion – on the one hand the Examiners battle through because of their unwavering faith, ensuring good always triumphs over evil, on the other, the Catholic church is full of corrupt, pernicious, and distinctly perverse people abusing their positions for their own gain.
Of course, this is hardly breaking news, but this show inadvertently does a better job of supporting this viewpoint than the positive one, even if it is entirely fictitious. Similarly, the attempts at proselytising are a rather messy mix of blatant simpering and the sort of anaemic preaching likely only to impress five year-olds. Not quite Ned Flanders level piousness but not exactly subtle either.
Given most people don’t watch fictional entertainment to be sermonised, this is always a tricky line to walk in trying to espouse positivity in something so patently divisive and subjective. It makes us question why the theological angle was ever necessary if it was to be a conduit for fantasy and not explored within a singular overarching plot of greater depth.
Whether by design or just a typical “anime” whim, there is a tacitly implied subtext to the relationship between Joseph and Roberto beyond the Senpai/Kohai tropes that is all but spelled out in the closing standalone episode. Nothing comes of it before, during, or after it and you can’t attach a “BL” label to this show but the vibe is definitely palpable, buttressed by the effete character designs.
Production values by J.C Staff are decent enough for a premise that demands aesthetic beauty although the animation is often underwhelming. Vatican Miracle Examiner could have been so much more with just one storyline to focus on, whilst its religious centre is neither controversial or patronising enough to create a stir. A fine enough if muddled distraction but you won’t be praying for a second season.
Japanese Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Disc 2 only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
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