Vatican City—Holy Land of the Catholics. Amidst the land, there is an organization that conducts rigorous investigations on "claims of miracles" from all over the world to ascertain their credibility. The organization is referred to as "Seito no Za" (Assembly of Saints) and the priests that belong there are called miracle investigators. Robert Nicholas, an ancient archive and cryptanalysis expert is partnered and good friends with Hiraga Josef Kou, a genius scientist. Together, the brilliant duo investigates the "miracles" and uncovers the incidents and conspiracies hidden behind them.
The fierce orange glow of lit candles shatters the cold darkness of the night. A group of strange hooded figures circle around the Ouija board, put forth their hands and begin their chant. Suddenly, a guard picks up on the sight, boldly confronting them with a blinding blue flashlight as they run off. “Damn brats! Playing demon rituals again, huh?” The guard continues his work. Craving a drink, he enters the large, creaky door of the chapel.
DRAMATIC MUSIC rings out as he stands at the entrance gawking at something-or-other?! Several awkward seconds pass before the cameraman remembers he’s supposed to be showing what
on earth is so shocking!! INTENSE CLOSE-UPS ensue of majestic, sparkling blonde hair?! Buckets of deep red blood gracefully drift down from some man’s hands like soft rose petals?! In light of the HORRIFIC sight, the guard utters the first thing that comes to mind:
“They’re floating in the air!!” …I mean…huh? Oh, yes, that is what he says, because that’s what the script demands that he point out to the audience. Never mind the blood; that apparently doesn’t faze a guard like him.
This first minute perfectly encapsulates what the more enjoyable parts of Vatican Miracle Examiner are all about: campy mystery-horror shenanigans as the show tries its hardest to be dark, edgy, intriguing and dramatic, posing as if it knows what it’s doing when it clearly hasn’t a clue; sloppily pretending to be well-directed and pulling at all possible drama strings with its presentation, no matter how silly it comes off in practice; cutting corners wherever possible and masquerading as gripping mystery brilliance as viewers laugh at how stupid and absurd it all is. At its “best”, Vatican Miracle Examiner is enjoyable for almost entirely the wrong reasons… and I love it, or at least the first third of it! But that doesn’t mean I enjoyed all of it, nor do I consider it to be a well-made show... by any stretch.
The “so bad, it’s good” pool of titles holds a rather niche appeal. Many simply aren’t interested in watching shows because they’re laughably bad, and even among those who are, what one finds hilarious may induce groans of annoyance or soul-numbing agony in others. But for those intrigued enough to find out, I recommend trying out the first 4 episodes and then skipping the rest. I say first 4 because they, by far, best encapsulate what makes this show such a riot at times, while I found the rest far less consistently enjoyable. For now, let’s focus on the opening arc, and how it manages to be so extraordinarily good at being entertainingly bad!
At the center of the early appeal this show held for me was a constant sense that it’s trying way too hard, while paradoxically being as lazy as possible… or just not knowing any better. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell.
Imagine a teenager who just started using a new curse word, whether to feel grownup or just to add emphasis to everything. But the person gets too excited and overuses it, throwing the word into every sentence multiple times, trying so hard to use it everywhere whether appropriate or not, without realizing that they’ve effectively destroyed its emphatic nature. The result just becomes silly. The word loses all its meaning when the person uses it all the time without rest.
Apparently, the director’s new curse word was the Dutch angle, a cinematic technique in which the camera is positioned at an angle on its roll axis, which can be used to show psychological unease or tension… when used properly, anyway! Vatican uses so many Dutch angles, even in mundane situations, that it becomes downright ridiculous, like it wants to add as MUCH UNEASE AS POSSIBLE, failing to realize the importance of moderation!
Sometimes it even ends up disorienting the viewer… or perhaps that’s just because in all the excitement about showing off this new skill, fundamentals like establishing shots or proper timing and lighting are often neglected. It also uses a lot of very noticeable cheap tricks to save on animation, chief among them being an excessive number of extreme slow-panning close-ups so only characters’ lips ever have to move (no, these slow-panning close-ups don’t mesh very well with all the Dutch tilts).
At times this leads to hilarious failed attempts at a shocking or dramatic scene. I mentioned the intro scene above. In another episode, the show tried to pull off a SHOCKING CLIFFHANGER where… well, I think it was trying to make us think one or more major characters had suddenly been killed by some Dagger Ex Machina figure in the woods (with absolutely no buildup, I might add) for the sake of a cheap end-of-episode cliffhanger. But it was so badly shot with disoriented-tilted-sideways-panning-hyper-close-ups that I genuinely couldn’t tell what on earth these yelling characters were doing until the scene ended on a vague slow-motion blood splatter that obviously wasn’t going to be from one of the established characters. It was only then, that I realized, “wait, that was supposed to be a cliffhanger?” It’s safe to say it was a failed one.
But the real riot comes from the show’s content, and more specifically, how it handles its mystery elements.
Throughout its first arc, Vatican Miracle Examiner likes to subscribe to what I can only describe as the mystery-horror equivalent of how an inexperienced student of Michael Bay might try to write a series, going for spectacle above anything else at the expense of integrity or non-superficial viewer interest. Vatican is far from the only anime or even mystery anime to do this, though the degree to which it does so in its first arc and its commitment to it (almost) commands respect.
The show’s modus operandi is to simply spout as much exposition in as short a time as possible, and act like it’s supposed to be intrigue. Then when it comes time to reveal the unbelievably over-the-top and ludicrous “answers”, you only occasionally get some semblance of proper buildup and deduction. More often than not, the show just asspulls tidbits of information that somehow never made it into the expository typhoon for the viewer to be aware of it or be able to in any way reasonably deduce it for themselves (usually because it’s too out-there and stupid to cross the viewer’s mind), then acts like Josef and Robert are oh-so-clever for figuring it out!
In addition, even in the more “fair-play” micro-mysteries, the solutions tend to either leave unanswered questions or rely on real-world knowledge of physics or history yet manages to fudge the details to the degree that it no longer makes any sense. The weeping statue incident is a good example of this; it was seemingly an attempt to incorporate real-world miracle reports from the Vatican, but went with a not-quite-historically accurate explanation that ended up being hard to buy into.
Other times, it will seem to contradict its own premise, with apparent “miracles”, which would normally be investigated to determine their validity, being either accepted or denied without a second thought for the sake of the plot. One egregious instance of this was when one of the main miracle examiners had a dream about a hooded figure, then later accepted that dream as a premonition just because someone happened to say he might have seen a hooded figure in the distance one night, and apparently a person who happens to have a hood is just that unusual of a sight.
Tying all this faux-mystery together is a cast consisting entirely of sticks and mouthpieces, or, in more technical terms, walking plot devices and expository figures. They display minimal personality, minimal development, and no reason to exist other than to move the plot along, pull solutions to mysteries out of thin air, or become another SHOCKING DEAD BODY COVERED IN BLOOD! Typically I’d complain about how this makes it impossible to care about anyone, but here, it just made things funnier, because in place of actual character writing, the cast is merely a clumsily-used tool to vomit out the show’s aforementioned exposition!
The only thing to come out of any character’s mouth in a typical scene is a shotgun spray of expository verbal diarrhea that comes up without any provocation! Character A will simply ask about someone’s name, and then Character B will go on an extended ramble about how much of a fantastic war hero and carer of children he was, among other backstory details that would never naturally come up in that context! Everything in this show has to be spelled out in blood no matter what; there’s no restraint to be found.
This applies even to the most mundane topics of discussion, which are usually treated with the gravity of the decisive evidence kick-starting a hot pursuit of a serial killer; the show’s distinct brand of dramatic music shines through to amplify this effect, and it fits right into the silliness of everything else! In fairness, the soundtrack itself is almost quite good; pleasing to the ears with lots of mood-setting themes and suitable (if safe) choices of instruments. The issue is that, like most things in the show, it tends to try a little too hard at what it does, becoming overbearing or unsuitably dramatic and adding to the overall sense of pseudo-dark silliness.
Making all this even better is the absolutely breakneck pacing of the first arc! Its barrage of ironic entertainment is nonstop; like a crazy highlight reel of all the best-worst parts of the story, because who cares about fleshing out the world or the cast? Let’s just keep things insane and escalating constantly! Normally I’d say this was a problem, but in this case I think it was the right choice, because it helped eliminate even short moments of boredom that would otherwise exist in such an incompetently-written arc. It even adds to the otherwise limited non-ironic fun factor a fair bit. This show barrels through its early material blisteringly fast, bouncing between set pieces and piling on bad mystery after bad mystery that I knew by episode 2 were going to lead to some hilarious attempt to tie it all together, and likely a spectacular failure to do so with any sense of tact.
Gosh, was I ever happy to be right!
Episode 4 is the real goldmine; it was the pinnacle of my experience with this show, is one of the greatest “jump the shark” moments in anime, and is so baffling, it’s absolutely amazing! All those insane mysteries, and all the forced exposition, get shoddily smashed together into a splatter of sex cults, faux-history, voodoo magic, physics-busting, deranged psycho-faces and self-contradictions, pulling out exorbitant amounts of information from a zeppelin-sized ass to create a perfect storm of laughter and disbelief! It boisterously puffs out its mystery-writing chest thinking it’s so amazingly clever for bringing all this together in a way its audience never could have seen coming because it’s not a fair-play mystery! It proudly shows off answers more far-fetched than simply throwing one’s hands up and saying, “It was indeed a miracle after all!” I dare not spoil those answers here. They’re worth experiencing firsthand! This episode alone managed to set new standards for what I look for in ironically-enjoyable bad anime! Summed up in two words, one might say the episode was “Holy Crap!”
The degree of ineptitude and absurdity were so high at times that I seriously questioned if the show was actually presenting and scripting itself this way on purpose – intentionally being as stupid and hilarious as possible while taking itself seriously as some sort of twisted satire of the mystery/horror genres, or just for the fun of it. I simply couldn’t fathom the idea that the show was somehow blissfully unaware of it all, and if I had seen any indication after the first arc that this lunacy was indeed self-aware, I may have been more kind in my judgement.
Alas, such indications never came, and I was forced to accept that it appeared to be genuine. It was actually trying to be dark and serious and dramatic while tackling concepts that would make Santa flying off to the moon and bringing a giant cannon used to fire moon dust at the earth and suffocate the population in lunar ash because climate change made him run out of snow seem sensible by comparison. As if to confirm its earnestness, everything after the first arc seemed like it actually started trying… somewhat… to make something not terrible, albeit still fairly unsuccessfully.
Unfortunately, the show never quite recaptures the side-splitting insanity of its amazing first arc, becoming more hit-or-miss in its entertainment value, ironically through its efforts to make something somewhat closer to being within sniffing range of competent. The pace drastically slows to something more conventional but less fun, and the dialogue is, at the very least, closer to believable, but less hilarious and still almost entirely composed of exposition dumps without a single bit of meaningful characterization or character development in sight. The series even comes up with a few interesting ideas, like the psychological effects of having all of one’s wishes immediately granted against one’s control, but instead of leveraging them to create a more fleshed-out cast, it just explores these ideas in the same exaggerated, barely-thought-out fashion all the way through, so none of it is able to resonate properly. The show had a glimmer of a chance to pull off its own miracle and become something genuinely decent, but that never quite happened.
That said, the questionable direction, the hilariously stupid concepts and same bad mystery habits remain in places, as the show continues to overuse its Dutch angles even in the most mundane of discussions, spout nonsense desperately trying to be intrigue, then answer the nonsense by pulling crucial information out of a hat when it decides to “solve” the mystery and act like it’s being clever. And as always, the show still takes the ideas of a decapitating murder-jester and a glowing Jesus statue making weird horn sounds and erupting in sparkles and rainbows each morning just a little too seriously. But this only makes up a fraction of the remainder of the show, with the rest being disappointingly dull.
I’ll say that despite frequently leaving loose ends or forgotten plot threads, the later episodes were overall a technical improvement over the early ones, and somewhat closer to almost-not-terrible as well, but they never quite get there. It’s definitely not worth watching Vatican Miracle Examiner for its own merits, since it never manages to grasp the fundamentals of proper intrigue; rather, its first arc is best watched for a good laugh, and perhaps the show as a whole could be examined as a glimpse at how not to write a good mystery horror, but frankly, it’s a bore at points coming off the first arc, and it’s up for debate whether it’s worth sitting through its lows just for highs that don’t come close to episode 4’s gambits. To be honest, I’m a little disappointed.
Enjoyment: 6/10 (8.5/10 for the first arc)
At the end of the day, unintentional comedic gold is still comedic gold. Even when Vatican’s breakneck pace slowed down a bit after the first arc, its ludicrous concepts, plot twists, laughable mystery writing and ham-fisted “dark” tone as the show appears to take all its nonsense seriously ensured at least some continued entertainment value, though admittedly with many lackluster moments in between. As for the first arc, it’s a nonstop hilarious brand of stupid, and I had a blast with it! I encourage those interested to give the first 4 episodes a go for this very reason, though the rest is probably skippable.
Vatican Miracle Examiner loses steam fast after its first third, but that initial third is either the spawn of Satan or a glorious gift from above, depending on one’s perspective! Between its clueless presentation, forced exposition, rushed and sloppy direction, mishandled cast, impressively nonsensical script and revelations too bafflingly ridiculous to articulate with words alone, Vatican Miracle Examiner’s first arc is the most spectacular mess I’ve seen all summer, but that’s exactly why I loved it! It tries SO hard to be dark and serious but its inept absurdity and complete lack of subtlety just make it a campy 50-pound cheeseball… if the cheeseball were shot out of a blood-soaked cannon into a dumpster full of corpses and sulfuric acid and set ablaze! A bloody mess, yet impossible to look away from! The rest of the show, on the other hand can be safely discarded.
This is actually my very first review so bear with me.
-No spoilers in this review
Vatican Miracle examiner is quite unique for an anime in that it explores Christianity, and more specifically Catholicism. There are a few other I won't bother naming, but this one does it quite well I think. It manages to present interesting plot arcs and stories that explore the idea of holy miracles but at the same it doesn't to shove it's religion in your face. What I mean is that anyone who isn't Christian can enjoy this show without ever feeling uncomfortable or offended.
The show has a few distinct
arcs within it; in each arc the main characters travel to a different part of the world and do what Vatican Miracle examiners do. The story arcs are loosely tied together, but for the most part are separate. Not every story arc is created equal but none of them are "boring".
One thing you will either love or hate about the show is how absolutely insane some of these story arcs are. You would be surprised how convoluted these things can get. Personally I love these over-the-top plots.
Nothing too noteworthy or pleasing but it isn't bad by any standard.
The settings are usually done pretty well and set a nice tone for what is going on.
The main character designs are rather good, but the side characters are lacking. Too many of the side characters look the same or don't stand out.
OP and ED are quite good. The ED is sung by one of the main characters which I love and it's very cheerful and pleasant. It's especially good to hear the sweet ending right after a very dark and somber episode.
The background music is not something worth talking about but it serves it's purpose. I never thought to myself "this background music is bad" so therefore it's fine by me.
The two main characters are really good and well fleshed out, but beyond that there is almost no other significant character besides the main villain.
Hiraga- He is naiive, enthusiastic, intelligent, trusting, and kind.
Hiraga is a real pleasure in this show as he is always in good spirits and he is so filled with faith and hope that it seems like almost nothing can ever get him down. He is incredibly attached to his co-worker Roberto and they share a very strong bond; the bond they share is really easy to appreciate and it is especially highlighted in the ED and the dialogue the MCs share after the ED.
Roberto- Intelligent, calculating, strong. Roberto is Hiraga's rock. He is incredibly reliable and trustworthy. He is also endlessly knowledgeable about old books and runes, which is much more helpful than you would expect. Roberto had an incredibly difficult childhood and it is no wonder he works so differently than Hiraga. The two main characters essentially complete each other so they can work in a perfect partnership
It is lightly hinted at that Hiraga may be gay for Roberto but it is never mentioned directly or explored. Personally I'm glad about that.
Never was this anime boring. The characters are likable and the stories are interesting. The settings are well done and the plots are well thought out.
I almost always rate shows based solely on my enjoyment, but trust me, this show really isn't so bad.
Vatican Kiseki Chousakan is a guilty pleasure watch. It’s wildly fun and falls somewhere between “so bad it’s good” and “better than it deserves to be.”
Before I start picking Vatican apart, I want to say up front that, despite all the faults, it’s a lot of fun to watch. The eerie atmosphere and easy-to-like lead characters help make this anime more enjoyable, but what really makes it stand out (for better or worse) is the crazy plots and break-neck pace.
Anime often flirts with Christianity, usually through very liberal use of well-known imagery or characters (like the devil), but hardly ever in a semi-realistic
light. So I was curious to see what Vatican would do with it.
Thankfully, instead of just having exorcists stand in gothic cathedrals hunting down famous demons, Vatican incorporated other, creepier, and less well-known Christian mysteries including things like stigmata and incorruptible corpses. As someone who’s fascinated with that sort of mystery, it was a lot of fun seeing an anime deal with it.
Likewise, our two priest characters were a refreshing change from the “hard boiled” priests about to give up on their faith or the “I’m just in it for the power” type priest characters Western media can’t seem to get enough of. Instead, Father Nicholas and Hiraga seem to actually believe in the religion they’re part of - which is nice. The anime actually strikes a good balance between letting their faith play a role in their motivations, but never getting preachy.
Even outside of comparisons to their Western counterparts, Hiraga and Nicholas are both intelligent, decent people. At first, they start a little too plain (especially Nicholas), but later both continue to develop as the story progresses. They’re also heavily ship-teased, which is always a plus for me.
Father Hiraga and Nicholas could’ve been even better characters if the anime ever gave them a chance to breathe. The anime moves at a breakneck pace most of the time, quickly jumping from one conversation to the other. Unfortunately, instead of actually seeing anyone solve any mysteries, we mostly get bombarded with characters summarizing their findings and given brief flashbacks showing them investigating while they’re talking. Information is often coming at you constantly, never really giving the viewer enough time to really immerse in any one scene.
The solutions to the mysteries are either the best or worst part of the show pending your personal opinion. Why? Because they’re usually just barely within the realm of plausibility. This applies to the overall mysteries and the smaller ones. I have a healthy imagination, but at times, even I was left wondering “uh, what?”
However, I don’t think this detracts from the story. I found the crazy theories and solutions and the almost unbelievably fast solutions our MCs came to a thrill to discover alongside them, because you never knew what would happen next.
This aspect is where the “so bad it’s good” comes into play. Not everyone will enjoy it and might get frustrated by how out-there things can get, but, for me, it took the story from what would’ve been a generic mystery show to something that stands out. It’s up to the viewer to decide if it stands out in a good way or a bad one.
The setting is cool and somewhat unique for anime, and the characters are solid enough to invest in. Sadly, the anime is weighed down heavily by it’s major pacing issues that keep it from being the fully immersive experience it should’ve been, but makes up for some of that with it’s crazy solutions that save it from being generic - for better or worse - you decide.
Vatican Miracle Examiner is the bravest anime in recent times for daring to show a Jewish secret organisation fighting the racism, bigotry and evil of the anti-Semitic remnants of the Nazis that migrated with Adolf Hitler to Argentina.
In the current political climate of bigoted, racist, alt-right radicals, Vatican Miracle Examiner touches upon very taboo subjects and challenges the political narrative run by the alt-right to show the truth of the situation.
It is a show with a diverse cast and it embraces the ideas of rabbis. For all the good that this show has done, it still manages to fail by giving legitimacy to
old-fashioned and archaic practices observed by Catholics.