"Thermae Romae is the perfect manga for fans of a) classical history and b) taking baths." Well, who doesn't love both of those?
Reviewby Melissa Harper, Nov 1st 2006
After living in the United States for most of his life, Hyun-min Kang has returned home to attempt living a normal high school life. Upon joining the kumdo team, however, he becomes obsessed with the team's enigmatic captain, Lena Ha. Lena is a proud, strong girl with the power to command the whole team in a single word, but she seems lonely, and avoids getting close to people. Even her roommate, Hee-soo, who would do anything for Lena to notice her, can't get her to open up. However there is a connection between Hyun-min and Lena that neither of them can ignore, and it goes deeper than either of them expected.
First and foremost, don't trust the synopsis on the back cover. While it does outline roughly what happens in the volume, the actual reading of it is totally different than what you would think based on that summary. Lena does indeed fall in love with her half-brother, but the back cover leads you to believe she runs away because of it, when in reality she runs away because people are trying to kill her. There is quite a big difference between those two stories. The cover synopsis also promises that Lena travels to a new world after running away; this first volume doesn't actually get to that. Other than a flashback in the beginning, and a short, rather confusing break to it in the middle, we don't actually get to visit whatever that place is in volume one.
The half-brother thing isn't really as bad as it sounds. It manages to be pretty unimportant, unlike some other shoujo that make a huge moral deal out of it. The problem isn't really that they share the same DNA; the real problem is that the legit mother is a horrible person who can't stand her husband's illegitimate family. So, when she finds out her son is in love with the other woman's daughter, she goes rather ballistic, and much violence ensues. That's only in the last third of the novel, however.
The first chapter of the novel deals with Hyun-min crushing on Lena, Hee-soo crushing on Lena, and everyone else hating Lena for being either a stoic block of ice, or for being an illegitimate child. This is an all-drama novel, so there is no intentional humor anywhere, but there is some great un-intentional humor, when Hyun-min finds out Lena is actually a girl. It reads something like this: Whoa, she's a chick? Great. I was concerned about my sexuality there for a moment. Awesome. I'm still a man.
Chapter two includes relevant information such as the fact that Lena's father only acts like a jerk because it is somehow his duty, and that he is disappointed in his son, who we later find is Hyun-min. Also, it teaches the life lessons that being a girl is pretty rocky business, and that being in the right place at the right time can get you the girl you want, as Hyun-min discovers. He rescues Lena from a gang of thugs who have a grudge against her, after which she passes out. When she wakes up, apparently they have become a couple.
As previously stated, it is in the third chapter that things get good. The action really picks up here. It seems that the main story of this series isn't actually about the world the characters live in through this volume, so Eun-Young Lee doesn't have a huge ethical problem absolutely obliterating Lena's life in this world. That makes chapter three really fast paced and exciting, but you have to read through two rather mundane chapters to get to it.
Visually, this novel is average fare. The characters are all very pretty, but they also all tend to look alike. On first read, it is actually quite difficult to tell the difference between Hyun-min and Lena, which is never a good thing. When Lee actually uses backgrounds they are nice and detailed, but there are a lot of blank panels as well. Sound effects are rather sporadically translated; sometimes the English equivalent is written under the Korean, sometimes the Korean is replaced with English, and the rest of the time the effects are left un-translated.
One small problem that is difficult to determine who is responsible is a bit of confusion in the text. The reader is privy to the thoughts of all the characters, not just one or two, but sometimes it is really difficult to tell whose thoughts you are getting access to. Many times this problem is fixed in the original language by putting the thoughts of each character in a different font, but sadly this never seems to get translated with the rest of the text in English releases. Another minor inconsistency is the translation of the name of the sport Lena is captain of. The editors can't decide if they want to call it by its Korean name, kumdo, or the Japanese name, kendo, so both terms are used frequently throughout the novel.
This seems like it could become a fairly solid series, but this first entry feels more like doing homework than actually getting to enjoy the true fantasy plot that it seems bound to get to in later volumes, and the small bits that are included here seem out of place with the realistic nature of the rest of the content. It could be interesting, but it isn't yet.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Great second-half plot twists.
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