|It's no Hot Tub Time Machine, but still funny in its own right.|
It’s not every day you run into shows that are just plain eccentric, especially one that's centered on baths. Well that’s exactly what happened to me, thanks to a little TV special I stumbled upon called Thermae Romae, based on Mari Yamazaki’s award-winning manga of the same name. It may seem like just another low-quality show with no point whatsoever, but Thermae Romae is a fairly humorous show that has a surprising amount of depth to it. Set in ancient Rome, it follows the bizarre, time-trotting adventures of public bath architect Lucius Modestus to modern-day Japan.
Despite the seemingly dumb premise, Thermae Romae’s story is actually entertaining in its own right. Using time travel as a plot device is a pretty unique and comical way to teach people some casual, though intriguing facts about both Japanese and ancient Roman cultures. What’s great about Thermae Romae is that it doesn’t beat around the bush and gets straight to the point in exploring the similarities and differences between Roman and Japanese baths.
What’s the most enjoyable about Thermae Romae are Lucius’ reactions whenever he periodically has glimpses of a different and significantly more advanced society than his own. You could say the show indirectly addresses the issue of how a foreigner would react in a relatively unknown land, due to the extreme culture shock they’re experiencing, and vice versa. From generating your voice through an electric fan to having an exaggerated reaction to eating not-so-instant ramen for the first time; somebody’s bound to do one of these things or something similar when they’re put in the same situation as Lucius. Hell, I haven’t been to Japan yet, but I bet my first time will resemble the latter. Like something trivial as being astonished with voice-operated toilets or bidets…and the Japanese natives would just look at me like I’m crazy. It’s moments like this that make watching Thermae Romae amusing.
From a distance, it’s easy to dismiss Thermae Romae’s animation as terrible, but the show is more concerned with the method it presents itself. The flash animation style could be compared to other similar shows like it; FX’s Archer comes to mind or basically anything from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, such as Sealab 2021 or Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Also, the variations between the character designs is as deliberate as they get, serving to denote the physical, cultural disconnect between Japan and Rome. And probably, on a smaller note, poke some fun at the different drawing styles used by various animation publications.
Thermae Romae’s notable style fits the light-hearted, intentional tone it’s going for, I think. The classical themes help with that as well, and the appropriate one plays at just the right time. Some noteworthy ones include Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" and Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker." Chatmonchy’s ED song, “Thermae Roman” is excellent as well. Sure, the animation looks stilted. Environment’s not detailed enough. It looks unappealing. But, the animation does succeed in producing its intended comedic effect, which I think a show like this can definitely get away with.
Thermae Romae is one weird anime; probably the weirdest I’ve seen in a long while. It’s one of those shows that, at first, is difficult to pinpoint whether it’s amazing, awful or even both. Still, I enjoyed it for what it was, and what it lacks in animation, it certainly makes up for in substance. I can’t exactly recommend this type of show to everyone, though if you want to take a break from the more self-serious, dramatic type of shows, Thermae Romae is a good though surreal change of pace. I’m willing to go so far as to say that Thermae Romae has got heart, and you’re more than welcome to try it out to see if you have the same reactions as mine. Besides, 3 episodes (or 6-part, 10-minute chunks if you prefer it that way) couldn’t hurt, right?
On a slightly related note, I simply can’t wait for that live-action movie adaptation they’ve been talking about.