Otaku USA Magazine
Vatican Miracle Examiner [Review]

The anime version of a Dan Brown thriller

The depiction of Catholicism in anime is infamously light on accuracy, as fans of Hellsing or Trinity Blood can attest. Only about 0.4% of Japan is Catholic—being one used to be punishable by death—and so Christianity in general and Catholicism specifically exist in anime as a cool aesthetic more than anything else. Keep that in mind with Vatican Miracle Examiner. Despite dealing in papal matters, every episode opens with a disclaimer that “the names, characters, and organizations in this work are fictitious” and you really should accept this. Otherwise, you’ll be incensed over matters such as “that’s not an actual Catholic saint!” “That’s not historically factual!” “That’s not a respectful depiction of an indigenous culture!” etc.

Adapted from a series of light novels by Rin Fujiki, Vatican Miracle Examiner is basically the anime version of a Dan Brown thriller such as The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons. Much like the real institution, this Catholic Church has a branch dedicated to verifying the authenticity of reported divine miracles—a prerequisite for sainthood. Therein lies the pretense for a pair of attractive BL-baity priests, Josef Kou Hiraga and Roberto Nicholas, to be dispatched around the globe from the Vatican. But much like the classic Scooby Doo, the alleged paranormal turns out to be a ruse for human misdeeds. These are detective capers through and through; Vatican Miracle Examiner isn’t attempting to nail the fine details of ecclesiastical accuracy any more than The X-Files was trying to accurately portray the FBI.

This should be obvious from the fact that Hiraga is a portable CSI lab of the Lord: able to do medical examinations, blood work, fingerprinting, chemical analysis, and other such scientific forensics on the go, by himself, in the span of a few hours. Roberto specializes in code decryption, analysis of ancient tomes (which includes the ability to pick the exact book needed out of the centuries-amassed libraries of tomes each church they’re sent to has), being placed in life-threatening peril, and cooking elaborate Italian dinners for Hiraga while wearing a dainty apron over his priest cassock. If they ever need someone to ship them—no, not like THAT—some sort of elaborate technology or perform a superhuman feat of data lookup, Hiraga can email the mysterious hacker “Lauren” and get it done within a day.

What I love is that these mysteries don’t play out like we’re used to. It takes about three or four episodes to crack each case, so it’s a natural binge watch; the series is streamed courtesy of Amazon Strike. Nearly all deductions are based on observations previously shown and statements previously made, aside from whatever Lauren sends along. Practically every person our holy duo encounters looks obviously guilty despite the cast consisting nearly entirely of priests, but a lot of these suspicions turn out to be unfounded or red herrings… usually because the scope of the examination quickly expands to include multiple murders before culminating in something with massive, globe-spanning implications! Along the way there are often some knife-wielding skeletons or scythe-wielding clowns for good measure, plus a couple of heartfelt scenes of “admiration” between fellow priests. Look: guys don’t just casually shower around each other and do each other’s ironing. It was highly suspect when it was Char Aznable and Garma Zabi, and it still is now!

Vatican Miracle Examiner is fundamentally about exposing supposed supernatural phenomena as deception. Sure, the way they do so plays fast and loose with reality—I don’t think cocaine is a hallucinogen, guys—but for a series so rooted in religion, skepticism seems to win out quite a bit. Truly divine miracles are quite rare, after all, but perhaps that can change should future seasons be made. With animation production by JC Staff and direction by Yoshitomo Yonetani, further examinations probably have to wait until in between seasons of Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma though.

studio/company: Anime Strike
available: Now
rating: TV-14

This story appears in the February 2018 issue of Otaku USA Magazine. Click here to get a print copy.