Summer 2017 First Impressions – Vatican Miracle Examiner

To detect lies, refuse fakes, and reach the miracle of God – that is their mission as Vatican Miracle Examiners. Hiraga, a scientific genius and Roberto, an expert on the decryption of cryptography and ancient documents are not only good partners but also “Miracle Examiners” working for the Vatican. They are secret examiners, who are requested to examine and identify the authenticity of miracles from all over the world.ANN

Copyright 2017 (c) J.C. Staff

Streaming: Amazon Anime Strike

Episodes: 12

Source: Light Novel

Episode 1 Summary: Hiraga and Roberto are Vatican priests with a very important job – when claims of miraculous events are reported, they travel around the world to investigate their veracity. Having just received word of a virgin impregnation, the two hop a plane to Mexico in order to examine all the evidence. Before they leave, though, they’re warned that they may meet with the Devil himself once they’ve arrived. The two enter the grounds of Saint Rosario church, which has an attached boys’ boarding school and a hospital that seems strangely well-equipped. They speak with the pregnant nun in question, who doesn’t seem to be lying and who greets them sporting stigmata, but Hiraga (the more scientific of the two) seems unconvinced. There’s also kind of an odd, unsettling atmosphere hanging over the estate, and as night falls the two suspect that word of the Devil’s presence might have been more than just a faint warning. Late at night a security guard comes upon the body of one of the priests, bloodied and sprawled across a pentagram on the ground. Murmurs of students playing at devil worship begin to rumble a little bit harder, just as a statue of the Virgin Mary in the chapel begins to shed tears.

Impressions: Oh anime, forever attempting to combine religious iconography with animated entertainment. I’m kind of kidding on that point, as this series seems to at least make a play at portraying some aspects of Catholicism in a way more accurate than many others (see Hellsing or Crono Crusade for some great examples of ham-fisted pasted-on Western religion). As the setup for a horror-mystery series, well, there are worse out there. But there’s something about this episode and the overall feeling it establishes that seems a little bit “off” to me.

The examiners pray in the chapel at Saint Rosario Church. Copyright 2017 (c) J.C. Staff

Though you’d be hard-pressed to find a whole lot of concrete evidence in this first episode, it has a very odd, pervasive sense of violent sexuality to it that rubs me the wrong way. This is possibly my mistake, but I’d sort of assumed before watching the show that the two male leads were supposed to be some kind of low-key yaoi bait; there’s obvious potential to frame up something that’s taboo and exciting between two attractive male priests. The first episode makes kind of a weak play at this sort of thing, with a shower scene in which Hiraga goes over his personal internal struggle while nude under the running water, and Roberto does domestic duties in the sitting room, ironing his companions clothing before they both go to meet their head priest for their assignment. There’s a lot of relationship coding, but absolutely zero chemistry between the two characters. I was left feeling kind of puzzled. It’s certainly not a requirement to feed shippers, and in fact I felt a little bit guilty going in with that kind of assumption. But on the other hand, why the weird fanservice? It left me feeling disoriented, like I couldn’t quite nail down the tone.

There are some other offhand comments and some actions that occur briefly that speak to kind of an unsettling view of sexuality. I was really getting uncomfortable when the protagonists and the related side characters started to get into the nitty-gritty regarding the nun’s pregnancy. The reference to her hymen (which isn’t examined on screen, but was apparently looked-at by someone at some point to verify her physical virginity) and the kind of faint suggestion of how she may have become impregnated (there’s literally no direct evidence, but I interpreted a few cues to mean that there may have been student involvement) made me really uncomfortable, and I would venture a guess that some people might even find themselves triggered by the entire situation. It should be news to no one that the religious view of women’s sexuality isn’t that great, but to dive right into it with episode 1 was something I wasn’t really prepared for.

Oh, and there’s also a bizarre and completely incongruous split-second scene of a nun suggestively and violently biting into a juicy sausage at the dinner table. I rewound the video a couple of times to try to see if there was some context for it, and other than just the overall creepy atmosphere, it doesn’t seem to be related to much of anything. She’s briefly introduced earlier in the episode and immediately reads as “sexy” and “probably not actually a nun,” but beyond that prepare yourself for a laugh and a great opportunity for a screen capture.

Dial “1-800-SATAN-66” to speak to the dark lord. Copyright 2017 (c) J.C. Staff

There are also some situations that came across as being (probably unintentionally) funny. For example, the episode begins with a group of cloaked figures performing a ritual around something that looks similar to any off-brand Ouija board you might find at a game shop. For a show that honestly seems a little bit in love with itself with its richly-depicted scenes of Vatican City and such, to represent occultism and Satan worship in such a cartoonish way just made me laugh. Next time they’ll be trying to find the name of Carlos’ crush or how many kids Steven will have, right after they bloody up another priest as sacrifice to Satan’s will.

One thing I did really like about this episode is the music that was chosen. The use of choral songs for many of the scenes that take place in religious houses of worship or similar environments is overbearing but very pretty in its own way, and gives a good feel for the looming presence of God wherever seems appropriate. As the priests arrive in Mexico, there’s also some pleasant Central/South American flute music to accompany them to their destination. Like the rest of the show itself, it’s sort of corny, sort of cheesy, and sort of try-hard, but I thought it worked well against how over-the-top some of the other content was.

Ah yes, I can see so much more with my monocle. Copyright 2017 (c) J.C. Staff

If I had to choose a word to describe how the first episode presents itself, I’d have to choose something like “goofy.” The characters are so serious that I can’t take them seriously, if that makes sense. Hiraga’s sad situation, as a scientist and a man of God who just knows there’s a way to save his younger brother from whatever kind of horrible bone cancer is plaguing him, is just over-the-top; it doesn’t really build sympathy so much as it paints him as kind of a madman with a penchant for playing made-up games with himself. Roberto seems like kind of a nothing person, serious and more fatherly but without even a strong backstory to distinguish him from others. Other than that, the flying rose petals that accompany the characters’ stigmata, as well as the over-the-top acting and really obvious use of color, shadow, light, and darkness, paints this as campy rather than serious. Not necessarily a bad thing so much as something I wasn’t really looking for.

With so few series starring adult characters, I had some hopes that this show might provide a more mature supernatural series to compliment all those that are focused on teens. I should probably know better that, just because an anime stars grown-ups, doesn’t mean that it’s made for grown-ups. This one might just be a little too weird for me to enjoy.

Pros: The soundtrack does a lot to create the proper atmosphere, at least in some situations.

Cons: The overall atmosphere seems in conflict with itself. There’s some weird-but-not-surprising treatment of women’s sexuality.

Grade: C-

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