The drama around how the animation offerings of Netflix will be changing now that the company has stopped growing its userbase continues to unfold, as they cancel some animation projects to prepare for a more competitive environment. Since Netflix has become known as The Place Anime Goes to Die, because of the difficulty the company has generating buzz around its offerings with its approach to streaming, I wanted to do my part to help bring quality shows airing on the platform to your attention. One such show is Thermae Romae Novae, a relaxing and entertaining anime about an ancient Roman who travels to modern Japan where he learns about bathing culture.
Thermae Romae Novae: The Roman Who Leapt Through Time
Based on the popular manga by artist Mari Yamazaki, a fascinating woman who spent a decade studying art history in Italy, Thermae Romae Novae is a remake of a 2012 anime that was adapted into one of the most successful live-action anime adaptions ever.
The year is 128 AD, and we follow an engineer named Lucius, who is trying to build a career designing public baths just as his father and grandfather did…but he’s just not coming up with any inspired ideas. Happily for him, he discovers a gateway deep inside a bath that transports him to modern Japan, where he can observe elements of modern Japanese bathing culture. In each episode, Lucius makes a visit to a different period in Japan — sometimes the modern era, sometimes earlier — each time learning a valuable lesson that he can incorporate into his bath designs back home.
In one episode Lucius might visit Japan and learn about roten-buro, the outdoor baths popular in Japan that let you bathe while contemplating the moon and stars above you. Or he might travel to a Japanese inn in the late Edo Period and learn a lesson on the importance of omotenashi, Japan’s extreme dedication to hospitality, and translate this idea into an inn that wins praise from Emperor Hadrian. Lucius also visits the famous monkey hot springs in Nagano prefecture.
The best thing about Thermae Romae Novae is enjoying the confusion Lucius experiences as he visits yet another new time period in this mysterious technologically advanced land, judging everything through his own eyes. In his world, slaves are everywhere, so he assumes that a toilet that magically lifts its lid when he approaches must have a hidden slave behind a wall who is pulling up the lid manually.
After each episode there’s a short segment in which creator Mari Yamazaki visits a different famous onsen town in Japan, including Kusatsu here in Gunma Prefecture, which has been famous as a hot springs town since the 2nd century A.D. It’s a great way to help us understand the artist’s feelings about Japan’s unique bathing culture, as well as to promote tourism.
One anime I’m enjoying is #ThermaeRomaeNovae, which Netflix has done a great job on. It’s the story of an ancient Roman engineer who travels to modern Japan where he learns about Japanese bathing culture. pic.twitter.com/4JopSlRYRx
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) May 20, 2022
A Mirror to the Japanese Self Image
As a nation, Japan positively worships Rome and Italy as the birthplace of Western culture. Part of the fun of Thermae Romae is the interaction between the hulking Lucius and the “flat-faced people” he encounters in Japan. Being a hulking foreigner myself, I can say the kinds of situations poor Lucius gets into, the misunderstanding about how to wear clothing properly, what’s appropriate for a given social situation and so on, are completely accurate, as is the willingness of Japanese people to help a foreigner in need.
The animation by NAZ, who brought us the excellent Hajimete no Gal and the not-so-excellent My Sister, My Writer, is acceptable, and actually “outstanding” by the standards of most Netflix original anime series. The highlights of Thermae Romae Novae are the length and writing, properly adapting the original manga work instead of giving us a truncated series like we got the first time around, and the obvious passion for history and accuracy the creator has put into the work. Also, the deadpan voice acting by Kenjiro Tsuda as he discovers more wonders of the “flat-faced people” is lots of fun.
Thanks for reading this post about the Thermae Romae Novae anime created by Netflix. Are you going to watch the show? Tell us below, or reply to us on Twitter!
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