Thermae Romae Novae is one of the most peculiar anime you’ll ever see on Netflix. What other word would you use to describe a show about a time-traveling ancient Roman bath architect who brings back ideas from modern Japan to use in his baths? And yet, the result is one of the funniest and yet most thought-provoking anime in existence.
Thermae Romae Novae: Details
Thermae Romae Novae is an 11-episode anime adaptation of the Thermae Romae historical comedy manga series by Mari Yamazaki (Olympia Kyklos). In fact, it’s effectively a reboot of the first (and very crudely animated) anime by DLE (Eagle Talon) back in 2012. This recent anime adaptation now features NAZ (Hamatora: The Animation, Id: Invaded, Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer) as the animation studio behind it. Tetsuya Tatamitani is the director, with Yūichirō Momose as the writer. Ryo Kawasaki composed the music in the anime, including the very catchy opening theme song “Toreador Song ~An Aria for Bath House Manners~” sung by Paolo Andrea Di Pietro. Lastly, Netflix licensed this anime for its global release.
Thermae Romae Novae premiered on March 28, 2022. You can watch it only on Netflix, just like all the other titles Netflix is streaming. This means that you’ll have to pay up for an account to watch this anime.
Warning: spoilers for Thermae Romae Novae are below. If you want to watch the ancient Roman time travel hijinks for yourself, then stop there, and come back once you’ve enjoyed your nice long soak in the hot baths.
Thermae Romae Novae: Plot Summary
Thermae Romae Novae starts us off by introducing us to our main character Lucius Modestus. Unlike in the first anime though, we get to see him in his childhood. Little Lucius is small and weak, thus making him a perfect target for bullies. However, this is also when he first discovers his love of baths and shares that love with others. This leads to him studying in Athens to learn bath architecture and even leads to him making amends with his former bullies. However, no one in Rome wants his bath designs. They see such old-style Greek baths as antiquated. After quitting in a huff, Lucius takes a hot bath with some friends to try to relax. This leads him to discover a hole in the bath’s bottom, and he gets sucked in. This is where his life changes forever.
Lucius finds himself sucked into a modern-day Japanese public bath. Once there, he learns about modern inventions and customs, such as fruit milk, posters on the wall, and baskets for clothing. He returns to his time via another hot soak and then uses his acquired knowledge to build a new bath mimicking the modern things in a Flintstones-like Bamboo Technology way. The result is the new bathhouse becoming a big hit. However, it’s Lucius’s later work on a personal bath for his best friend and stonemason Marcus Pietras’s teacher that earns him imperial attention.
The Emperor’s New Bathhouse Architect?!
Lucius’s fame is such that Emperor Hadrian himself commissions Lucius to build him a personal bath at his villa in Tivoli. After another bout of time travel inspiration. the resulting bath impresses Hadrian so much that he hires Lucius permanently as his own imperial bath architect. This results in Lucius traveling all over the empire to build baths for Hadrian, including on the front lines. Unfortunately, this also leads to rumors of him being Hadrian’s new lover. That combined with his constantly being at work causes his wife Livia to leave him.
Fortunately, after designing a new bath at Vesuvius, Hadrian himself explained the situation to Livia. She travels to Vesuvius herself to apologize to Lucius, and the couple reconciles. Thermae Romae Novae ends with all of them, including Lucius and Livia, relaxing in a hot springs bath together.
Thermae Romae Novae: The Good
The story of Thermae Romae Novae is the best part here, which is fitting as it’s a direct adaptation of Mari Yamazaki’s manga. I would best describe the plot as Hot Tub Time Machine: The Anime, but with a more subdued/subtle sense of humor. Oh, and with the main character being an ancient Roman. Seeing Lucius’s reaction to modern-day stuff is one of the biggest part of the humor here. However, I would say the funniest parts are when he tries to copy that modern stuff with Roman technology levels. That Roman-flavored Flintstones look ends up being as funny as it is thought-provoking.
Speaking of Lucius though, he’s also a big part of why this anime is great. Lucius is a pretty relatable character, with a bunch of likable personality traits. His character flaws like his Roman patriotism add to both his character and the humor. Combined with his time travel woes, it results in us following Lucius’s tale with a certain enthusiasm and sympathy.
Finally, the animation quality of Thermae Romae Novae is another reason why the anime is so great. It’s not that the animation itself is spectacular, although it is pretty good. But rather, it’s just so much better than the original 2012 anime. To be fair though, that original anime was done entirely with Flash animation. Practically anything would be better than that. There’s a reason why it’s a bit of a meme that most of the animation budget for the original anime went into the ending sequence. I’m glad to see this isn’t the case for the Netflix version.
Thermae Romae Novae: The Bad
The one and only complaint about Thermae Romae Novae is that while it mostly remains true to the source material, there’s a big exception to it. The ending where Lucius reconciles with his wife Livia is not canon. In the manga, Livia divorces Lucius because of his work. It results in Lucius having an entire story arc where he meets a new girl (from modern-day Japan, no less), falls in love with her, and lives happily ever after with her. I find it a bit disappointing that Netflix didn’t choose to follow this storyline.
That said though, this isn’t a big deal for me because I actually like this new ending. I found it more than a bit heartwarming that Livia understood how much work Lucius had foisted on him, and chose to reconcile with him. Conversely, it’s also an opportunity for Lucius to acknowledge how much of a workaholic he is, and make amends for that as well. This partially negates the non-canon nature of the Netflix ending for me, resulting in the 95% score I’m giving it.