The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Thermae Romae

Title: Thermae Romae
Genre: Comedy
Company: DLE
Format: 3 episodes
Dates: 12 Jan 2012 – 26 Jan 2012

Synopsis: It’s 128 A.D., and a Roman bathhouse designer named Lucius is struggling for ideas after his designs were labelled as “obsolete”. Discontent with the noisy state of Roman baths of the day, Lucius is one day mysteriously teleported to a current-day Japanese bathhouse. There, he is inspired by the aesthetics and relaxed atmosphere of Japan’s humble baths, and seeks to take his newfound ideas back to ancient Rome.

The Highlights
Animation: Paid for with a little over the price of a Flash software license.
Comedy: Absurd and well-timed, but anything but elaborate.
Expressions: The super serious facial expressions and stilted movements make it all the funnier.
Music: A decent selection of easily recognizable Classical and Romantic songs.
Length: Keenly aware of its premise’s limited lifespan.

When I say that one of the best things about Thermae Romae was that it was only three episodes long, I intend it to come off as praise, and not a backhanded criticism. The comedy genre in anime is doing OK at the minute. Sure, obnoxious fanservice anime with one rotted joke are still around, but they always will be and can therefore safely be ignored as background noise. However, anime has seen a solid handful of very charming sitcoms recently, such as Squid Girl and Working!, as well as witty, more sardonic titles like Level E and Penguindrum. The problem with anime comedies that doesn’t seem to go away is that most of them don’t know when to say “enough”, and hang around long after the wellspring of creative humour has been sucked dry.

So when Thermae Romae picked the perfect time to pull the plug – just long enough to squeeze everything out of its absurd premise, but not after its audience still wants more – it’s a refreshing change. Thermae Romae knows that the idea of an ancient Roman bathhouse designer being magically transported to modern Japan has limited mileage, but it still makes the most of what it has. The jokes themselves are anything but elaborate. The most elaborate things about Thermae Romae‘s set-ups are the ways in which Lucius is sucked underwater and taken to future Japan, and the items he takes with him when he returns. Instead, the key to Thermae Romae‘s humour is in the absurdity of the events, and the good comic timing… along with the juxtaposition of said absurdity with everyone’s permanently affixed super serious facial expressions.

The animation style (which one might kindly call “minimalistic”) is worthy of mention, because the show wouldn’t have been nearly as funny if it had been animated more conventionally. Thermae Romae was produced in Flash, which means the most fluent animation you’ll see here are mouths opening and closing during dialogue. The stilted, linear fashion in which characters move across the screen (when they move at all) just looks funny, in and of itself.

In contrast, the choice of music is much more elegant (even if one might suspect they deliberately went for public domain pieces), with the soundtrack featuring Wagner‘s “Ride of the Valkyries”, Beethoven‘s “Symphony No. 9” and Debussy‘s “Clair De Lune”, among other Classical and Romantic hits. Thermae Romae probably isn’t the funniest thing you’ll see this year, and it’ll strongly contest the award for the cheapest anime made this year (which the show somehow spins into a positive). It might be short on big laughs, but it’s good for a chuckle or two, and at three episodes, it’s not asking for a big investment.

The Rating: 6

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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