It’s a work like Thermae Romae that proves to me that anime still has so much to offer, despite the slew of look-a-likes out there. If you are able to set aside your art style preferences, then I think you’ll find this to be one of the funniest bits of warped history and culture since, I don’t know, anything!
It’s the art that seems to turn people off when trying this anime out. It’s a given that anime should include a specific type of appealing character design. One of the other markers for well done art is the smoothness of the animation. Thermae Romae challenges both notions, almost mocks them. Instead of the pretty, moe facial features, we have a protagonist whose expressions range a very limited set of templates. Everyone else’s expressions around him are as flat as their dimensions. Likewise, the animation is restricted to the bare minimum of cardboard cut outs turning their heads from one direction to another and figures bouncing across the background. These limitations effectively support the simple, yet gut-busting, humor that pervades every scene. Thermae Romae does not depend on its art to charm the audience, and the jokes work even better when joined with the perfectly timed looks of shock and pleasure on Lucius’ face.
This short show consists of three episodes, whose “stories” are split in half, feeling more like a 6-episode anime. The very first half episode introduces Lucius Modestus, a Roman architect struggling to survive amongst his competitors. Combine a dated Roman bathhouse and a dangerous drain, and we have one of the most unique instances of time travel ever created. So begins both Lucius’ and our journey to rediscovering the art of bathing through archaic Roman eyes and modern Japan. Japanese settings include the bathhouse, a hot spring, a home owner’s bathroom, a toilet store, and an entire village dedicated to its natural hot springs. Not only are we treated to various aspects of Japan’s bathing culture, we also get to see some famous locations and people of the Roman Empire, including Mount Vesuvius and Emperor Hadrian.
The most hilarious aspect is the clash between the two, one that Lucius acts out perfectly. As over the top and ridiculous as the reactions and exclamations are, I was still able to relate to them due to my unfamiliarity with anything outside of the Westernized shower. I’ve washed in a generic bathtub, soaked in a bubbling hot tub, and visited the local, man made hot springs, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like the Japanese bath. The process looks complicated, but the payout so worth it. Although I stated that I have tried a hot spring before, it didn’t look nearly as clean and soothing as those of Japan. While I enjoyed the temperature of the water, it was awkward since there were no actual places to sit. I spent my time walking around up to my neck and going back up to the surrounding boulders only low enough to let you dabble your feet in the water.
Another feature of Thermae Romae that I absolutely love is that bathing and food go hand in hand. Fruit milk, beer, red bean cakes, and ramen all serve to perfectly complete you from the inside as much as the bath did on the outside. Anime B&B would utterly fail itself if it didn’t acknowledge the food and drink! I’m a die hard lover of strawberry milk, so the fruit milk is an obvious must. I only hope when I drink some for the first time, that my pleasure in the ice cold sweet milk rivals that of Lucius.
Overall: A must see for any professed fan of cultual and intellectual humor.