Vatican Miracle Examiner
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Vatican Miracle Examiner ?
First off, there's a little bit of house-cleaning to get through before we dig into the newest episode of Vatican Miracle Examiner. Due to some personal confusion regarding Japanese naming conventions versus the way these priests are referred to throughout the series, I've been referring to Hiraga Josef Ko a bit inconsistently, as I assumed his first name was Josef, though I appear to have been mistaken. As such, I'll simply be referring to him as Hiraga from now on; apologies for any confusion there. Also, I completely failed to realize that last week was not our introduction to Lauren, as he was the tech expert Hiraga maintained contact with in the first arc of the series. Honestly, I simply forgot Lauren even existed in that first arc, which I'll choose to blame on my brain not being able to retain much beyond the beautiful madness of episode 4. With that out of the way, we can get on to this sixth episode of the show, which was quite the mixed bag. To be more specific, everything up until the last few minutes of the episode was just boring and badly written, with the final moments of the episode finally bringing back some of the craziness the show was missing last week, though I feel much more reserved about what happens here than I did about Crazy Exploding Hitler Spawn.
Simply put, Vatican Miracle Examiner has intentionally constructed a murky relationship with fact and history. So often it has felt like a story written after its author skimmed through the Wikipedia pages for Catholicism, the Vatican, Nazis, and the like; the show has the basic imagery, vocabulary, and cultural signifiers of those things down, but its understanding of them is so completely off the rails that they become almost unrecognizable. Up until now, this has made made for some campy schlock fun, but this most recent episode tries to juggle too much and takes too many liberties with the cultures, characters, and imagery it just doesn't understand. The red flags first started flying with the general premise. This is an episode that sees our priests traveling to the Republic of Sofuma (a completely made-up African country) to visit the St. Carmel Church (named after a completely made-up saint), to investigate the miracles allegedly performed by the now deceased Father John Jordan. The dead priest had been living among the local people (a completely made-up culture following a fictional native religion) and was obsessed with painting visions that he believed were prophecies from God.
This is all nonsense, of course, but for the first time this week, I stopped finding the show's nonsense charming and instead found it irritating. VME spends so much of its time espousing random Catholic trivia and preaching the value of logical investigation, and yet the show itself plays very fast and loose when it comes to the history and culture it borrows from. The show has gone from being geographically and culturally vague to just straight-up inventing saints and countries and religions, which completely clashes with the show's obsession with historical and cultural trivia and minutiae. I know that this is an absurd complaint to make after everything the show has given us already; it's been obvious for weeks that Vatican Miracle Examiner doesn't care about being culturally or historically accurate any more than any other supernatural anime. The issue is that when VME spends so much time presenting Hiraga and Roberto as Real Priests doing work for the Real Vatican, using their knowledge of Real Catholicism, it proceeds to throw away a lot of its credibility when it reveals just how little it knows or cares about the world it's writing about. Having Nazis show up to be their usual self-parodic evil selves is one thing, but the waters get much murkier when the show just lumps a bunch of cultural and racial stereotypes together, slaps a couple of fake names on there, and calls it an African country.
It's not just the show's approach to its own subject matter that's sloppy and unconvincing, either. Vatican Miracle Examiner feels like its treading water in its best moments, but it seems especially ill-equipped to handle this particular story. Most of the priests' adventures in Sofuma feels like a rushed rehash of the first arc, with all of the setup being sped through so we can get back to the creepy cults and Roberto's ominous hallucinations. Hiraga and Roberto are both as lifeless and thinly written as ever, and the way this episode throws missing documentarians and American FBI agents into the already busy script makes me think that this arc is going to be just as chaotic and incomprehensible as the first one. The show's visual direction also continues to oscillate between flat lifelessness and blatantly cheap shortcuts. The cribbing of the stigmata scene from earlier in the season to stage Father Lauren's inexplicable floating concert, for instance, felt less like a callback and more like an obvious instance of recycled animation.
Much like how the Republic of Sofuma is an unintentional parody of African people and cultures, Hiraga and Roberto are parodies of priests who work for a parody of the Catholic Church that we're supposed to believe is just like the real one, and Vatican Miracle Examiner wants us to take all of it Incredibly Seriously. The show is campy exploitation pretending to be a culturally literate and thoughtful detective story, as if it's ashamed of being trashy, but it's also unwilling to do the research or commit to the kind of nuanced writing that could make it better than schlock. This lack of self-awareness can sometimes make a bad work of art all the more endearing, but Vatican Miracle Examiner mucks it all up by being so darn self-serious. More than just being a poorly written and shoddily directed anime, Vatican Miracle Examiner is a poser, and nobody likes a poser.
Vatican Miracle Examiner is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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