Vatican Miracle Examiner
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Vatican Miracle Examiner ?
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Vatican Miracle Examiner's run is that instead of saving its most ridiculous material for last, the show's final episode is maybe the closest thing to “good” the series has ever been. It's still incredibly bad, mind you, filled with enough Dutch angles, sparkly flashbacks, and ear-bleedingly (or is it eye-bleedingly with subtitles?) awful dialogue to maintain the show's reputation as one of the worst anime of the season. Still, there are some ideas here that might have made for good stories in a better show. Unfortunately, VME just doesn't have the subtle plotting or compelling characterization needed to make this material anything other than a complete bore. This might not be the worst episode of Vatican Miracle Examiner, but that doesn't mean the series is ending on a high note.
The problem is the episode's decision to try and kill two birds with one stone by ostensibly focusing on Hiraga's younger brother Ryota, while also telling a story about a deep “friendship” that Roberto experienced when he himself was a boy. I put friendship in quotes because, despite the show's insistence that young Roberto's relationship with Joseph Bartrich was platonic, the visuals and innuendo strewn about the episode make it very clear that the two have a love for each other that definitely transcends into something "bromantic". Not only are portraits of both boys etched into the sky as constellations, but there's even a moment where Joseph describes his feelings for Roberto as being akin to the actual act of Holy Sacrament. This is both hilariously blasphemous and intensely sincere, which means that even if the two boys aren't lovers, they're at least some kind of soulmates.
All I'm saying is that Hiraga had better watch out. In a story like this, I wouldn't be shocked if Joseph's ghost shows up as romantic competition down the line. To drive the point home even further, both the men in Roberto's admittedly limited emotional circle share the exact same first name.
Now this story on its own isn't inherently terrible; it's just deeply boring. Vatican Miracle Examiner has managed to make a lot of things exciting and weird before, but its leading men have never evolved beyond their roles as featureless bishonen blobs that stumble into bizarre situations. Since this episode is almost completely devoid of anything wacky or over-the-top, we instead get to watch as Hiraga's sickly brother talks to the ghost of another sickly man, who talks to yet another young man about books for twenty minutes. Dialogue has always been VME's biggest weakness, and devoting an entire episode to pseudo-emotional treatises on romance and literature is maybe the worst path the show could have gone down for its finale.
The present-day story involving Ryota doesn't fare much better, if only because his supernatural affliction is so tame compared to what VME has been delivering for the past twelve weeks. Ever since he was constantly haunted by faceless specters (three ghostly figures cloaked in red, black, and white), Ryota has been plagued with visions of death. After being unable to do anything about the death of a friend, and then eventually his mother, Ryota slips into despair and disease himself. His encounter with Ghost Joseph has something to do with learning that his gift isn't about helping the living, but communicating with the dead, which would be all well and good if he weren't a pointless side character. His only purpose up until now has been to serve as a sickly human MacGuffin to drive all of his older brother's actions. Shining the spotlight on him only highlights how little there is going on there. He's essentially a smaller version of his brother, equal parts tortured backstory and completely indefinable personality.
The only twist to his story that might matter to the grand scheme of Vatican Miracle Examiner at all is the fact that his illness is cured at the last minute by Father Julia, of all people. Has this villainous, murdering psychopath turned over a new leaf? Or does Hiraga's brother serve some purpose in his larger schemes, a tool to lure Hiraga over to the Dark Side (of Priesthood)? It's impossible to say, because this is where VME leaves us, as both Roberto and Hiraga sit together on a bench, declaring that the events of the episode are “true miracles”. Blegh.
Vatican Miracle Examiner has been many things over its twelve-episode run, but I don't think “miraculous” is a word I would use to describe any of them. The closest to greatness the show ever came was the now infamous Hitler Arc, which I must admit will stick in my memory for a long time to come. But for the most part, VME was a sometimes nonsensical, frequently ugly, and usually just boring mess. Its characters were vapid, its plotlines were incoherent, and its understanding of even basic theology was hilariously questionable at best or irresponsibly ignorant at worst. Vatican Miracle Examiner was an awful show, but at least it gave me a lot to talk about every week. I won't call that a blessing, but things could always be worse.
Vatican Miracle Examiner is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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