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Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Roman Who Lept Through Time: Thermae Romae

Thermae Romae
Studio: DLE (Dream Link Entertainment)
Network: Fuji TV
Broadcast total: Three episodes

The story is a comedy about Lucius, an architect of public bath houses in ancient Rome, who time-travels to various modern-day baths in Japan. The author explores the two cultures in the world "that have loved baths the most: the Japanese and the Romans." (Source: Wikipedia)

Spoiler warning: Contains spoilers for the Thermae Romae series. Read on with caution!

I have to say, noitaminA has done it again. The premise itself seems rather ridiculous, I will freely admit that, but the series itself is a humorous ode to two different cultures across the bridge of time and how similar they really are when it comes to their love of the bath house. It's a short series, only three episodes long, so viewers really can't feel bogged down by the series even if they hate it. Personally, I'd love a second season. It is just too much fun to keep to only those three parts!

You can read the rest of my review of Thermae Romae after the jump!

Thermae Romae bills itself as a humorous series steeped in history and cultural references, but that doesn't keep it from being approachable by viewers unfamiliar with Japanese or Roman culture. A lot of the references to Roman history are summarily explained as soon as they are made, so those who weren't exactly paying attention in world history in high school will still understand what is going on.

There are also many references to modern Japanese bath house culture since Lucius spends so much time on-screen exploring this brave new world of the future, where people wear crowns when they shampoo their hair and no one bats an eye about monkeys in the bath. Really, if you don't know that much about how bath houses work in Japan or how much goes into their operation, Thermae Romae becomes a learning experience with the plus of being extremely entertaining.

Half of the humor in this series comes from Lucius' reactions to what he sees in the modern Japanese baths. He really makes no efforts to hide his utter surprise at how advanced the 'flat-faced' people's technology is. Of course, his best reactions come when eating the various new foods he comes across while in Japan. Lucius' expressions of pure joy at things like a bowl of ramen or fruit-flavored milk just makes the whole scene a hundred times better. He practically explodes with joy over the ramen, going so far as to start crying with joy! I guess it was some really good noodles, right?

One of the best aspects to Thermae Romae for me is how much respect Lucius grows to have for Japanese culture, to the extent that he brings back so many ideas from the future to help him create better bath houses in Rome. He thinks that the Japanese are geniuses that have mastered the art of the bath house beyond his own comprehension, and he often laments over the fact that his own Roman architects and designers can only imitate what he brings back (although to be fair to him, the future has something Lucius doesn’t – a hell of a lot better technology – as seen by the differences in their milk bottles).

The only off-point I can think of is the artwork. Maybe this is explained in the manga, but for some reason half the characters are drawn extremely differently than the other half, certainly on purpose but I don’t get why. Other than that, the animation is pleasant to look at, especially the buildings and backgrounds of ancient Greece and modern-day Japan. Lucius is actually pretty cute, especially when he blushes. Well, it’s true! The show also makes great use of art from ancient Greece to explain the more historical references, especially when it comes to the history of the emperors.

Thermae Romae is an usual program about, of all things, a time-travelling bath house architect who is awkward and clumsy and falls in love with the inventions of the country he keeps accidentally falling into and the baths they create. Anyone who likes a good historical comedy will certainly love Thermae Romae – and, like me, wonder when noitaminA will start airing new episodes. Definitely worth a watch for anyone with ninety minutes to spare. Keep a look out for the Blu-Ray extra episodes, although I haven’t had a chance to see them myself.