The religious mystery-solving anime, Vatican Miracle Examiner, certainly stands apart from the other anime starting this summer anime season. The voice of its protagonist, Kou Joseph Hiraga, is Nobuhiko Okamoto—an award-winning Japanese voice actor who is a person of Christian faith himself. He sat down with us to talk a little about his thought process regarding his character and the work as a whole.
“When I first saw the title, I got the impression that it was some kind of an anime where the characters used holy magic powers to fight evil. But when I looked closer, I found that it was actually more of a story firmly set in reality rather than fantasy,” he told me. “In Vatican Miracle Examiner, the protagonists Roberto and Hiraga solve mysteries like detectives.”
Despite the characters’ almost antiquated (but very fashionable) clothing, Vatican Miracle Examiner is a story that takes place in the modern day, with the protagonists’ home base being in Vatican City. The protagonists are Roberto, a 27-year old Italian priest, and Hiraga, a 24-year old priest who, while brilliant in the mind, has a little bit of trouble interacting with others. Okamoto went as far to describe him as a genius child who is in an adult’s body—a man who never really grew up in terms of his thinking.
“By ‘kid,’ I mean that his way of thinking is childlike. When he talks with people, he always does so with a certain self-centeredness. He also doesn’t really have an interest in anything besides what he likes personally,” he explained, “He has an interest in mysteries from the very beginning, and yeah, he is very skilled at solving them. But when it comes to things like the real world and common sense, he’s kind of lacking. At least, that’s the impression I got.”
With hundreds of roles and the honor of winning the Best New Actor Award at the Third Seiyuu Awards in 2009—an award ceremony that gives recognition to the most skilled voice actors and actresses—Okamoto has played character personality types from gentle and kind to off-the-wall psychotic.
However, he explained that Hiraga is a little bit different from characters he’s done before. Okamoto tries to put a piece of “humanity” into every character he does to give the feeling of reality, and while he said that he does do that for Hiraga as well to a point, he focuses a bit more on portraying the vibe of “godliness” he gives off.
“I want to give the feeling that Hiraga is a character that doesn’t have much human weakness in the tone of my voice,” he told me, “I’d like the fact that he’s a genius and an introvert to really shine when he talks–especially when he talks to himself.”
In terms of recording for Vatican Miracle Examiner, Okamoto told me that it’s a very friendly environment. Recording booths in Japan are usually split up into two areas: the place with the microphones and the place behind soundproofed glass where the staff listen to the performances and give orders.
In the case of Vatican Miracle Examiner, director Yoshitomo Yonetani often goes into the recording booth to talk with Okamoto and his co-star, Junichi Suwabe, the voice of Roberto. (We interviewed Mr. Suwabe last year.) Because the three have been on projects together in the past, they end up talking about rather normal topics, including what movies they’ve seen lately.
In the animated world on the other side of the screen in the recording booth where Hiraga and Roberto live, their job is to bust fake miracles. While that might make them sound like they’re doing their faith a disservice, it’s actually to keep the balance within their religion. If fake miracles exist, they might contradict parts of their faith. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to see a real miracle. Okamoto says he wouldn’t mind seeing a miracle himself someday.
“I’d like to meet a ghost.”
Okamoto, a Christian, does believe in “onnen,” a Japanese term meaning “malice” but also “grudge.” He believes that the malice of ghosts born from a person when they were living that comes to cause trouble for the person it’s aimed at does exist—but he’s still not 100% sure about ghosts that are able to take on human form and talk with the living. And if they did turn out to be real?
“I think that I’d have a high possibility of becoming a ghost when I die,” he smiled, “So I’d like to ask how to become a ghost. When I die, I want to become a ghost that can talk.”
As a Christian (and quite a knowledgeable one), there wasn’t a lot he didn’t know about the terms used in the show, though while he said he has heard of exorcists (he’s also played one in a different work), “miracle examiner” wasn’t a job he had ever heard of.
He said what intrigues him about the religious aspect of the show, however, is the full name of Hiraga: Kou Joseph Hiraga. In the Christian religion, there is the belief that the child may grow to have some of the same traits as their namesake. Okamoto, for example, is named after Saint Francis of Assisi (San Francesco d’Assissi), who is the patron saint of ecologists, animal welfare, rights workers, and merchants.
“I don’t know if that’s his baptismal name […] but the name Joseph refers to the father of Jesus, who was a carpenter. So that gave me the thought, ‘Is Hiraga a carpenter?’ Usually, the impression of the name of Joseph is that it’s given to people who will become carpenters. I’m interested in how and if this will play a role in the story.”
Even though he’s religious, Okamoto also showed that he has a sense of humor when asked what kinds of goods he think would be cool to have for the show.
“Maybe an official rosary? But I wonder if that’s really OK. I mean, rosaries are super religious. So maybe like, the scarves that Hiraga and Roberto wear?” He laughed.
The first case Hiraga and Robert have to crack is currently in full swing, with the anime airing on television in Japan as well as on streaming sites overseas.
“I’d be really happy if fans outside of Japan would watch Vatican Miracle Examiner, too.”
Vatican Miracle Examiner is currently streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike service in the United States as well as on HIDIVE in the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, Central America, and South America. The anime is streaming on both HIDIVE and AnimeLab in Australia and New Zealand.