The Spring 2022 Preview Guide
Thermae Romae Novae

How would you rate episode 1 of
Thermae Romae Novae (ONA) ?
Community score: 3.1

What is this?

In Hadrian Rome, Lucius was a Roman architect whose designs often got rejected by builders. To cheer him up a friend of his invited him to relax at a thermae (public bath). Inside the bath Lucius was accidentally trapped in an underwater hole by suction; when he finally managed to emerge on the surface he found himself in a very different bath: in 20th century Japan.

Thermae Romae Novae is based on Mari Yamazaki's manga and is currently streaming on Netflix.

How was the first episode?

James Beckett

One of the things that comes with having major ADHD is learning how to manage constantly shifting hyperfixations, which is to say that I can totally understand how something like Thermae Romae Novae could come into existence. I've spent a frankly embarrassing amount of hours obsessing over kaiju movies, tokusatsu shows, Gunpla models, and The Muppets (and that's just the stuff I've gotten into over the last five years or so), so I'm not all surprised to learn that there exists at least one person in the world whose love for ancient history, architecture, and public bathhouses intersected with such ferocity that an entire multi-media franchise was born.

Here's my main issue with Thermae Romae Novae: While I'm certainly always down to dig into some history and culture lessons, I myself don't particularly care about architecture, and I've never even stepped foot inside of a public bathhouse. Our main character, Lucius, has precisely two personality traits: He freaking loves architecture, and his dream in life is to—and I quote—“Build bathhouses that make everyone smile!” Even when you include the series' novel time-travel angle (which doesn't really impact the first episode of the show at all), the core of Thermae Romae Novae's appeal lies in its unapologetic obsession with bathhouse cultures past and present.

What that means is that, outside of the very specific niche appeal of the bathhouses themselves, I'm not finding much else to latch onto with this story. The historical drama isn't well-written enough to hold up on its own, and there's not much humor to be found outside of that. In short, while the material here is perfectly fine for an educational documentary, I'm not sure it makes for the kind of anime that I want to sit down and watch on a regular basis.

Heck, the anime actually comes with live-action documentary segments that close out its episodes, and I find those much more compelling than the rest of the show that they're attached to. The segments that follow author Mari Yamazaki's quest to “rediscover Japanese bathhouse culture” are genuinely interesting and feature some lovely footage of real-world bathhouse settings, and the anime's relatively drab and uninspired visuals simply don't hold up in comparison. It doesn't help that, in all of the scenes set inside the thermae themselves (of which there are many), the show slaps this hideous and cheap looking steam filter on top of the screen.

I've heard that Thermae Romae has a sizeable fan-base, so it's quite possible that future episodes of the show would give me more of a reason to stick around and get invested in the bathhouse mania of it all. As it stands, though, I don't think Thermae Romae Novae is for me; at the very least, if I ever do come back to the show, I can easily imagine skipping all of the anime parts to get to the documentary bits. That's apparently where the real bathhouse action is at.

Caitlin Moore

The manga of Thermae Romae is a critically-acclaimed award winner. The first anime adaptation was a low-budget short that developed a cult following for its quirky humor. The new series that just premiered on Netflix, Thermae Romae Novae, has a TV run's worth of full-length episodes, complete with attempts at pathos and backstory, and has the same director as the critically-panned Africa Salaryman. It is also boring.

For a series with a concept as weird as “Roman architect time travels through a portal in a bath for inspiration,” you really don't need to put a lot of effort into building up character motivation. Yet for some reason, they felt the need to give Lucius a reason to really love baths and a tragic childhood involving a dead father and bullies. Can't he just be a dude who loves soaking in hot water and designing new ways to do it? The first episode has no jokes and just feels long, drawn-out, and pointless.

Yet somehow, that's not the most baffling decision the anime staff made. You see, the people in togas and marble buildings with columns aren't enough to make us realize this shit all happened a long time ago. We couldn't possibly manage to figure that out on our own. The distant past was all sepia-toned, right? They didn't invent bright colors until the '50s! Everything up until then was muddy and dim. Unfortunately, the half-assed color design, along with the pen-and-ink style shading, makes it look like everything has been rubbed with dirt. In a series about bathing and cleanliness. It's silly.

Maybe Thermae Romae Novae picks up after this. I hear it has Kenjiro Tsuda yelling in Latin, so that's something.

Richard Eisenbeis

It's funny, Thermae Romae is so mainstream here in Japan that despite never having read a page of the manga nor having seen the live-action film, I already knew the basic setup through cultural osmosis alone—which is why watching this threw me for a bit of a loop. What I was expecting was a time-traveling Roman being awed by some facet of Japanese hot spring culture over and over again. And while that may be what the series turns into, this first episode was most certainly not.

Rather, this episode gives us the backstory for our series' protagonist Lucius, showing why he became a bathhouse architect and where his philosophy on bathing came from. But more than that, this episode is about how blue-collar workers find importance and pride in their daily toil. For a mason, it's knowing that their work will record the past and inspire the future. For Lucius' father and grandfather, it's about creating a place where people can be purged of stress and be ready to face a new day. In other words, they may be cogs in Roman society, but they know that they are vital to its functioning.

It makes for a solid setup to the series, even if it's ultimately not representative of the rest of the show. It's just a shame that the animation doesn't really hold up. In wide shots there is a noticeable drop in detail and in scenes with any kind of quick movement, it looks choppy to say the least. And the live-action ending with the author of the manga is pretty much Japanese TV in a nutshell—i.e., a person traveling around Japan talking about how cool some aspect of Japanese culture (usually food) really is.

All in all, I don't know if it's my cup of tea but it certainly wasn't bad.

discuss this in the forum (309 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url

this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history

back to The Spring 2022 Preview Guide
Season Preview Guide homepage / archives