Thermae Romae Review

Hello there. This is review number twenty four of my goal to reach a thousand. The spring line up is almost at an end so I really can’t wait to review all those great shows. The summer line up is also starting to get its groove on and the anime in that line up a pretty nice. In the meantime though, back to reviewing the rest of the Winter 2012 line up.

This time I’m reviewing Thermae Romae. It’s a three episode anime about a Roman learning the Japanese bathing culture. I really liked the premise that I read on MAL but is the anime really good? Let’s read on.

Story

A Roman architect named Lucius becomes depressed after his designs where rejected because it wasn’t Avant-garde. He decided to calm his mind in the public baths but found it to be crowded and loud. He dove his head down in the bath and noticed a hole in the wall. He got too close and the hole sucked him in. When he reemerged, he is now in modern day Japan.

The baths are unique and certainly Avant-garde. The perfect kind of bath Lucius wants and aims to achieve.

Taking the Pants Off

When I saw this in the Winter line up, I actually liked the premise. A roman guy discovering the Japanese culture sounds nice. I thought the anime would be a compare and contrast kind of story that tells both the Roman and Japanese bath culture. For what I read in the history books (forced to read), Romans bathe in public baths as a form of community center. The baths where big having atriums and the like so there are room for libraries, art displays and even a gym. Romans believe that a bath is part of your overall health so they value it as much as eating and drinking.

In Japan, bath is not for cleaning the body but for soaking in it to relax the muscles after a hard day’s work. They have proper etiquette in bathing that is prevalent in the Japanese culture. Public baths is also a form of social medium where the Japanese develop skinship or emotional intimacy.

As you can imagine, there is deep cultural story that can be told in the Roman and Japanese baths. I researched this intensely one time because I was curious why no one would find it weird bathing with other dudes. Anyways, I was hugely disappointed by the story in Thermae Romae. First of all, this is another “Japan culture is so cool and it’s the best and nothing can beat it” kind of anime. The Japanese culture is indeed fascinating but glorifying it is just mean and ignorant. Instead of a proper compare and contrast, the anime had an ancient Roman guy visit modern Japan and just be in awe at the culture of Japanese bath. He would find out door hotspirngs incredible. He would find hard boiled eggs boiled in the hot springs incredible.  Heck, he even marveled at the freakin Japanese toilet.

I do understand that the anime is a Comedy and perhaps the over exaggeration of the character’s reaction serves at the funny bit. I just didn’t find it funny. It especially got under my skin when Lucius would feel defeat at the innovations of modern Japan. A Roman, one of the innovative races to ever grace the earth, would be in awe at modern day plumbing. Ok, it is funny but it isn’t funny at the same time. I bet the author has never tasted pasta as she would let Lucius almost die in happiness while he eat miso soup ramen. Miso is an acquired taste. So someone who has lived of the bounty of Rome suddenly thinks it’s the Holy Grail?

The story irritated me. I wanted to get that out of the way. Thermae Romae is a comedy anime and it often pulls the laughter from Lucius’ reactions and over exaggerated narrations. The animation is limited so it’s all about dialogue. If you’re a huge Japan culture fanatic- and there are people like that- then you’ll enjoy the way Japanese culture is put on a high pedestal on this anime. If you’re looking for a good anime with a decent plot then it’s hard to say if this anime will impress you.

Sight and Sound

The anime is flash animated. A lot of the scenes are the same faces with only the eyes, mouth and eyebrows moving. It’s the limitation of flash animation. I’ve dabbled with it a bit and the movements are only side to side. The camera angle is fixed at the front and the characters don’t really move at all.

Some scenes have CG in it like the outward panning scene in episode one. Lucuis’ reactions are also nicely animated where he would spin several times and the camera angle shifts from front view to overhead view. The facial features of the Roman is nicely detailed while the “flat faced” Japanese are often drawn crudely. Some of the minor characters are drawn crudely with heavily outlining that is unappealing to the eyes.

There is no opening theme to the anime. The ending theme, “ThermaeRoman” by Chatmonchy, has a catchy beat and it well. The ending sequence is weird but ultimately fits the anime’s flash animation. Some of the background music involve classical music like Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyrie” and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker. When the anime shifts to modern day Japan, they play a familiar shamisen guitar.

Overall Score

5/10 “I appreciate its uniqueness but it’s comedy is a little flat. The art style isn’t very anime too.”

Thermae Romae is a good show. I won’t deny it. It didn’t appeal to me but the anime had something to offer regarding Japanese culture that many people would be interested in. The animation needs a little getting used to though. The anime is short so it wouldn’t hurt picking it up.

Thoughts~

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