‘Thermae Romae Novae’ Review: Ancient Rome, Japan, and Baths Make For Great Comedy

'Thermae Romae Novae' Review

Manga, more than any other medium in fiction, has the most varied set of stories ever told. Unlike movies or TV, manga doesn’t have to deal with things like budgets or running times. The author can make their story as small or as big as they want without expending an extra dime. A manga can also basically run as short as a couple of months or as long as decades, depending on the success of the story itself. All that you need is a good premise, good characters, and a lot of passion. Thermae Romae has all of those. 

Thermae Romae is a manga series written and illustrated by Mari Yamazaki, and it has one of the wackiest premises ever. It tells the story of Lucius Modestus, an architect in ancient Rome who specialized in the construction of thermal baths. When Lucius finds himself without a job after not being able to come up with innovative ideas, he is transported to modern Japan, where the thermal bath culture is still thriving. Lucius marvels at the multiple modern innovations and then uses them to propel his own achievements back to ancient Rome. 

Yes, Thermae Romae is a gag manga about thermal baths. From outside, it seems like a crazy premise, and it is. However, once you get into the characters and story, the manga, and now the new Netflix adaptation, will make you appreciate bath culture and the small innovations that make our lives so much easier. These are things you probably wouldn’t have noticed before watching the anime, but they are all real and present in our everyday lives. 

The original manga for Thermae Romae ran from 2008 to 2013, and it is compiled into six volumes. The manga made such a splash that it was adapted into a series of six short episodes way back in 2012, and it even got a live-action adaptation in 2012 as well. Both the anime adaptation and the live-action film had good reception, and they maintained the story inside people’s heads. 

'Thermae Romae Novae' Review

Now, with Netflix making some serious investment in anime as a way to inject content into their streaming platform and with the manga run over, Thermae Romae can have a proper adaptation and this is what Thermae Romae Novae represents. 

The show is produced by studio Naz, which is relatively new in the anime production space, having only less than ten productions under their belt. It doesn’t really matter because they have really done a great job of creating a sense of atmosphere that makes each of the situations in the show feel funny and refreshing. The show uses a mixture of both 2D and 3D animation, and the balance is quite good. You will not find huge animation set pieces like the ones you could find in an anime action series, but the animation serves well enough to tell the story of Lucius and his journey. 

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Now that we’re talking about Lucius, he’s the perfect protagonist for the show. He’s a highly intelligent man for his time, and when he crosses through time and ends up in modern Japan, the passion for his work as a bath architect still motivates most of his actions. It is quite amusing to see how he researches and examines the innovations and then tries to replicate them as well as he could, back in his time.

You can even say that his journey is not only filled with funny moments, but also educational ones. As the journey keeps going, you will find yourself feeling more and more knowledgeable about ancient Rome and about current Japanese bathing culture. It makes the show feel more than just simple entertainment. 

The plot for the show falls mostly into the “slice of life” kind of material, but there is a continuous arc that goes through the whole season. The stakes are raised with each episode, and Lucius goes through all kinds of feelings and internal conflicts that make him a compelling character. By the end of the show, you might even end up admiring Lucius for all of his faults and strengths in an equal manner. He feels like a very human and real character, even if he’s trapped inside such a crazy premise.

Alongside the normal narrative, each episode of the show also has an attached section led by Thermae Romae’s mangaka, Mari Yamaza. In these sections, she travels through Japan’s most famous thermal baths in order to learn more about the bath culture of that particular place. These sections are quite unique. You won’t find any other anime out there where the mangaka creates this type of content for the anime adaptation of their work. It’s comfortable and captivating. 

Theme Romae Novae ends up being a great new adaptation of the manga, and one that distinguishes itself by adding more info on its topic than any other manga does right now. If you’re looking for something you have never seen before, then this is the show for you. Thermae Romae might not have the best animation or the most amazing action sequences, but it is unique and entertaining, there’s no doubt about it.

SCORE: 8/10