Thermae Romae Novae is an anime series in which a Roman bath architect gets accidentally transported to future Japan and gets amazed by the many bathing innovations of the time.
Lucius Modestus belongs to a family of thermae architects. His father and grandfather both built public baths, an important structure in ancient Rome. Instilled with pride, Lucius also grew up to become a bath designer.
However, he finds out that building an innovative public bath is not as easy a job as it seems. At his wits’ end, one day he dives deep into a public bath and when he rises out, he finds himself in a present-day public bathhouse in Japan.
Unaware that he’s been transported through time, Lucius explores the place and becomes fascinated with the many advancements in Japanese bathing techniques.
Inspired by these, he plans to implement them in his public baths in Rome. A moment of immense joy takes him back to his time. He then goes on to build some grand bathhouses in Rome.
Every time he’s troubled with a challenge, he finds himself accidentally transported to Japan. Soon he finds himself catching the eye of the emperor. He builds some bathhouses for the emperor. All this while, he continues to be fascinated by the inventions of the Japanese.
But as he grows closer to the emperor, he faces new challenges. At home, his wife is dissatisfied with him due to his dedication to work. Meanwhile, the emperor’s senate plans to overthrow the king’s heir.
For the uninitiated, the anime series provides a good peek into ancient Rome. The historical accuracy is pretty good. Even the various bathing techniques and bathhouse designs explored by Lucius are steeped in reality.
At the end of each episode, Mari Yamazaki, the author of the manga, takes the viewer through the Japanese bathing culture providing a further cultural dive through the inspirations behind the manga and consequentially, the anime.
The series banks its money on the obsession of the protagonist with bathhouses. His continuous endeavours to explore the bathhouses and then the hilarious fascination upon discovering them makes for the truly enjoyable moments of the anime.
The cultural clash which happens is rather remarkable too. When, Lucius, a man from ancient Rome, travels through time to Japan, he is not merely hit by the cultural differences but also the differences created by time.
In Rome do as the Romans do. The anime sets its tone right from the title song which has an opera tune. There’s also a difference in the colour and styling between the two settings of Rome and Japan.
After moving from the fascinating plot, there isn’t much on offer here in terms of the story. The episodic story arc is repetitive and ultimately underwhelming. Beyond a point, the episodes are filled with similar gags.
The one-liner logline is just enough to give it a watch. There is no attempt made to justify what’s happening and there is little justification to be found. Until the last two episodes, the story moves directionless just to arrive at a sudden conclusion.
Apart from the first episode, in which the character of Lucius and his background is minutely explored, there’s little in terms of character development. There is no major conflict to hold onto and no major resolution to be found.
Even with nearly half-hour-long episodes, the length doesn’t do any service to the characters or its story apart from constantly relying on absurd comedy and frequent bathroom humour to keep going.
The cultural exploration is restricted to the bathing culture limiting itself from the many possibilities the ingenious plot provides.
The anime evokes interest by blending the cultural nuances of the two distinct cultures further divided by time. But it’s rather disappointing the way it pans out due to its repetitiveness. The novelty of the plot is undone by the lengthy nature of the episodes and unimpressive writing. The one-liner logline makes it worth a try for everyone. But remember, the anime doesn’t take itself seriously. The viewer shouldn’t as well.