Vatican Miracle Examiner
Episodes 1-3

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Vatican Miracle Examiner ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Vatican Miracle Examiner ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Vatican Miracle Examiner ?

Of the many criticisms you might rightfully level at Vatican Miracle Examiner, a lack of ambition isn't one of them. From the outset, the premise seems to be focused on Father Nicholas and Father Hiraga's investigation into a Mexican conservatory and its reports of a virgin birth. However, things quickly became much more complicated. In the first three episodes alone the following plot elements have also been introduced:

– Students obsessed with rituals involving Ouija boards and séances, who may or may not also be Satanists

– Students who may or may not be afflicted with the Holy Stigmata, where they receive the wounds of the Crucifixion on their hands and forehead

– Priests who are involved in a student molestation/drug trafficking ring

– A serial killer targeting said priests, with the deaths of the holy Martyrs being their M.O.

– A sex cult that may or may not be involved with birthing the Antichrist or the ancient Roman deity known as Janus

Also, the Nazis seem to be involved somehow, because of course they are. Though ostensibly a technologically minded procedural with a flair of Catholic intrigue, Vatican Miracle Examiner is quickly starting to feel like the mad lovechild of Hellsing and The Exorcist, and the jury is still out on whether or not this is a good thing, to be honest.

The biggest problem Vatican Miracle Examiner has so far is that it spent so much time laying the groundwork for all of these different mysteries that it hasn't really taken the opportunity to get the audience invested in its characters. Fathers Nicholas and Hiraga are our leads, yet we know next to nothing about them. The very brief downtime we're given in between their investigation scenes has shown us a little of Nicholas being more lackadaisical and Hiraga being motivated by personal tragedy, but these are just footnotes on their character profiles. In action, they have yet to be more than quick-witted Sherlock Holmes analogues decked out in the vestments of the clergy.

Speaking of the clergy, I'm also of two minds about how this show is utilizing its pretty unique framework, at least for an anime. While I give it props for feeling more well-researched than many of its forebears (hey there, Hellsing), a lot of the Catholic imagery and story tropes in play feel inconsistent, or at least like missed opportunities. In most stories, the exorcism that the Fathers engage in would be the focal point of a whole episode if not several, but there's just so much going on here that it gets brushed under the rug as another Catholic Thing that out heroes do before going out to sleuth some more. Also, despite being ordained priests who report directly to the Pope, neither of our heroes seem too nonplussed about the students engaging in suspicious séances or the fact that the church seems to have mummified a dead priest in order to keep a pagan shrine to him. This could be a matter of the author not being familiar with the nitty-gritty of Christian dogma, or it could just be a result of the very rushed storytelling. Either way, it comes across as awkward and doesn't do the show any favors.

The story of Vatican Miracle Examiner so far is little more than a series of plot points, explained by the eternally monologuing Nicholas and Hiraga, so there isn't too much to say about it. Every character is more of a chess piece than anything, and watching them be moved around or killed off in quick succession gets old after a while when you don't actually care about them as people. The fact that we're only three episodes into the season is something of a double edged sword. On the one hand, the show still has some time to flesh out its characters and give the audience an emotional attachment alongside the many mysterious goings-on. On the other hand, the plot already feels overstuffed, and I'm nervous about how many other horror tropes and clichés Vatican Miracle Examiner might try to throw at us before the season is up.

The series is just as much of a mixed bag artistically, with a stylish sense of art direction and atmosphere marred by rushed editing and overreliance on Dutch angles and overwrought closeups. The animation itself is fairly limited and unimpressive, and the quick cuts and constantly tilting camera only worsen the rushed pacing and crowded plotting of the script. It isn't a bad-looking show by any means, but it is the kind of show where the faults in the art only highlight the faults in the writing, which isn't doing Vatican Miracle Examiner any favors.

All of this criticism may paint VME as a bad anime, but it isn't really terrible at any of the things it's trying to do. The art and animation work well enough to convey the story, and the story itself has moments of creepiness and interesting procedural investigation. It's just trying to do so much, in a sandbox that it might be too unfamiliar with, that it comes across as a campy cheese-fest with little depth to speak of. Time will tell if things can straighten out over the course of the season, but for now Vatican Miracle Examiner just isn't doing enough to get into my good graces.

Rating: C+

Vatican Miracle Examiner is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.

James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life, and he spends way too much time on Twitter and his blog.

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