Friday, November 22, 2013

Thermae Romae vol. 1 and 2 Review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Thermae Romae vol. 1, by Mari Yamazaki, Grade B+
I mentioned Mari once before in my review of Sekai no Hatedemo Mangakaki (Drawing Manga Even from the Ends of the Earth). Born in Tokyo, she's currently living in Chicago. She debuted in 2001 with Yuumejin, and has 17 titles listed in the wiki entry. Her most popular is Thermae Romae, which started out as kind of a sitcom revolving around Lucius Modestus, an architect working in old Rome around 128 A.D. It's been turned into a live-action TV drama, and there was one live film in 2012.

(Modestus time travels to a sento in modern Japan for the first time.)

The first chapter kind of sets the pattern for the rest of the volume. Lucius is a minor architect working on a roman bath. His sponsor rejects his designs as being too old fashioned, and Lucius goes into a funk. At one point, he's under water, inspecting the base of the bath, when he discovers a hole in the wall. The suction from the hole pulls his hand forward and he starts fighting for breath. When he surfaces from the water, he's suddenly in a sento - a Japanese public bath. He freaks out, as do the customers in the bath. There's a series of comic interchanges as neither side understands what the other says. But, the Japanese patrons share a refrigerated yogurt drink with him, and he takes notice of things like the tiled image of Mount Fuji on the wall and baskets to sit on while washing the street grime off before entering the bath. The bath area is hot and he passes out. When he recovers, he's back in Rome. The chapter ends with slaves carrying bottles of milk around the bath to sell to the patrons.

(To prove that Lucius isn't simply dreaming, a Japanese monkey sneaks into old Rome with him.)

Later chapters involve the use of soap instead of a scraper, and bidet-style toilets. With each new innovation, Lucius' fame grows and he starts getting requests from richer and more powerful leaders. The time travel sequences vary from chapter to chapter, with the only consistencies being that Lucius is pulled or pushed under water when he leaves Rome, and he passes out on the floor when he leaves Japan. Generally, it all feels like a dream each time, except that he keeps bringing back proof of his travels, like a soda bottle, a bath towel or a stray monkey.

(Example article.)

The artwork is shojo-style, and the stories originally ran in Comic Beam from 2008 to 2013. The lines are thin and wavery with lots of cross hatching. The pictures look a little washed out to me, but there is a lot of detail in the faces (in the close-ups) and in the backgrounds. Mari took pains to make the stories historically accurate, so TR works as historical fiction. The covers are all visual jokes, pairing Roman statues with modern bath accessories. Between chapters there are short articles by the artist talking about the research she did, including photos of both ancient and modern bath artifacts. The Japanese isn't that difficult, so it's good if you're a beginner to reading kanji. Recommended.

Thermae Romae vol. 2, by Mari Yamazaki, Grade B+
At the very end of vol. 1, Lucius finally comes home and sees a dear John letter from his wife. Part of the problem in the marriage is that Lucius isn't that good in bed. His friend, an overly-lusty stone carver, takes him to a witch that promises to give him a larger manhood. During the ritual, which includes sitting in a barrel of heated water, Lucius time travels again. He shows up in the middle of Kanamara a Japanese phallic worship ceremony and becomes an instant celebrity. When he returns to the past, he's better endowed and his friend drags him to the building where his wife is hiding. Unfortunately, the reason she ran away is that she was sleeping with someone else, got remarried, and is now pregnant. So, Lucius goes back to his house to live alone, while his fame as a groundbreaking bath house designer continues to spread.

("You were gone too long, so I remarried. I'm due next month.")

There really isn't a lot of nudity in the stories, despite the fact that they take place in baths where everyone is naked. Most of it is just implied, although the Kanamara is a bit graphic. If you're recognized as an adult in your country, and you like sitcoms involving frustrated adults, then this series is recommended.

(A modern Japanese guy introduces Lucius to bananas.)

(Lucius tries to get a glass worker to start mass producing Ramune bottles.)

I like this one. This is a flier included in the manga advertising both Thermae Romae and Uchuu Kyodai (Space Brothers), with the main characters from each title cross-dressing as the other. On the back are ads for the live-action movies.

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