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Thermae Romae, Vol. 1
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2012
The concept sounds weird, and it is -- but this seemingly narrow conceit gets expanded into something way more complex than you would expect. The scenes of time travel to the present are much funnier than they have any right to be, and you do start to care about the characters after a while. The story of Lucius's troubled marriage and rise as a genius engineer is quite engaging.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Lucius Modestus, a second century Roman architect, is fired when his designs for a public bath are deemed too old-fashioned and outdated. Frustrated, he joins his friend Marcus for a relaxing afternoon at the baths. As he slips his head under the water, Lucius gets caught in the suction of the drain and is pulled under. When he is finally able to surface, he finds himself surrounded by "flat-faced" foreigners in the strangest bath house he has ever seen! Somehow, the Roman has time traveled to the 20th century. Lucius cannot understand Japanese and his Latin passes right over the heads of his fellow bathers, but he is fascinated by the innovative bathhouse design and customs that he sees. When he eventually returns back to Rome, he implements these new designs and becomes the go-to architect for new and novel baths - eventually attracting the attention of Emperor Hadrian himself!

"Thermae Romae" is one of the strangest ideas I've ever seen for a comic series. A Roman who time travels via hot baths to modern Japan? When a Japanese friend first described the series to me last year, I seriously thought something had gone wrong in his Japanese-to-English translation.

The comic book is very well drawn, an interesting hybrid of Western and Japanese comic book styles. There are some color illustrations, but the majority of the pages are black and white. The Roman scenes and characters are very naturalistic; the chiseled features and muscled bodies resembled the Greek and Roman sculptures now found in museums around the world. By contrast, the Japanese characters are rendered in a much more cartoon-y and plastic manga style, which visually reminds the reader of the culture clash between East and West experienced by Lucius in his new surroundings.

Each chapter has a basic formula. Lucius is presented with some sort of architectural challenge, and as he's mulling it over he winds up in hot water, which transports him to a new type of Japanese bathing experience. Lucius is a mix of arrogant pride - he is, after all, a Roman citizen, and therefore superior to all other races - and naïve bumpkin fascinated by simple things like plastic buckets and bottles of fruit-flavored milk. His inability to communicate with the Japanese doesn't faze him in the slightest, because they're only "flat-faced slaves" anyway. Likewise, most of the Japanese that he meets just shrug off his ignorance, observing that he's a foreigner and content to leave it at that. After being sufficiently impressed and amazed by Japanese ingenuity, Lucius is transported back to the Roman Empire, where he puts his observations into practice. At the end of each section, the author has a brief essay talking about her experiences and/or research that influenced the chapter.

I initially thought this was too obvious to mention, but on second thought I should point out that as the majority of the action takes place in bath houses, there is a lot of nudity. There's also a chapter that goes into great detail about some of the phallic cults of both Rome and Japan so, y'know, penises. I think the only visible male members are on statues, but there are plenty of naked breasts, chests and bums to offend the shy and demure.

This comic is ridiculous, charming, and hilarious. It's a great way to start off the new year, and I highly recommend it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I'm a professional Japanese to English translator, so I could have easily chosen to read the originals. In fact they are at hand, as my partner is an avid fan of the series. But the English edition does the Japanese originals a great improvement: the size format is much larger. Probably a technical necessity, for squeezing in the translated onomatopoeia, but it makes it much easier and more enjoyable to read than the originals. Plus, you get four of the originals in one volume, I think.
Clearly the story's intent is to play fast and loose with history, so I can't fault Yamazaki for the little details that slip through (like Apollodorus, for example), but most of the time, her research is excellent, and the details of Roman life and attitudes come shining through. And it's excellently done, how the main character never realizes he is traveling through time (which would, of course, never occur to him). The explanatory section from Yamazaki at the end of each chapter was always fun to read and brought me closer to the author (and furthered my outrage over the pittance she received for the Thermae Romae movie).
By and large the translation is excellent, and I was glad to see the notes, although it would have been better to place them at the end of each section and not at the end of the book. Being a translator, I had minor quibbles on rare occasions with word choices, but nothing that would make me stop and pick up pen to write the editors.
As an indication of my overall experience, however, nothing says more than the fact that i finished the book within a few days. Can't wait for Volume 2, and pre-ordered it already.
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on January 28, 2013
Lucius Modestus is a Roman architect, living in the time of Hadrian (76 AD - 138 AD). Lucius is in trouble, as his recent idea for a public bath is dismissed as "antiquated." However, Lucius finds inspiration for new and innovative bath designs, when he takes a bath in ancient Rome and is mysteriously transported into a "sento," a modern Japanese public bathhouse, where he encounters "flat-faced" people and their "hedonistic" culture.

The idea of transportation through a bathtub is a novel one, but nothing new (remember "Girls Bravo"?). The strength of "Thermae Romae," Mari Yamazaki's culture-based comedy, lies somewhere else. Through the hilarious interaction with modern Japanese, including his occasional misunderstandings of their customs, the proud and idealistic bath engineer quickly learns how to improve the Roman public bathhouse, or Thermae Romae.

So "Thermae Romae" is a comedy about culture clashes and (more importantly) affinities between ancient Roman Empire and modern-day Japan, covering a variety of topics including phallus worshipping, water slides and crocodiles. Each chapter (all in ten) concludes with a two-page essay (with photos) by the author that is amusing and often insightful.

[ABOUT VOLUME 1] Yen Press's "Thermae Romae" Volume 1 consists of Volumes 1 and 2 of the original Japanese edition (English version's "Chapter 6" is actually the first chapter of the original second volume). Unlike most of the Japanese comics translated and published by Yen Press (and other publishes), the book comes in hard cover, about one inch smaller than A4. (See "Product Dimensions" above.) The book is larger and thicker than the same publisher's "A Bride's Story," and this means big.

Already made into a live-action movie, "Thermae Romae" is a huge commercial hit in Japan. The comic's artwork is good but not exceptional by today's comic standards, though her orthodox drawing style perfectly matches the content, delightful misadventures of a likable and credible protagonist Lucius, bolstered by creator Yamazaki's vivid descriptions of culture and people seen from the man's observant viewpoint. Enjoy it.
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on October 13, 2014
My 8,5/10 mangaupdates review: This and her Steve Jobs manga which is also reviewed need more love no question about that!
The realistic art is great, the setting is fully fleshed out and the idea itself is quite original too. It is also neat to see a manga about hot springs and nudity in general that isn't a softcore porno. Better slice of life exists(usually from Fellows) but the essence of the sub-genre is captured very well. I can certainly see where the recognition in japan came from. The research is also very impressive and the many editorials about japanese and roman culture are a very insightful. Overall a great read for culturally interested readers of all ages and genders.
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on May 8, 2015
The story is so original and hillarious. Makes you love bathhouses. Lucius character is very adorable, and the drawings were very sensible and nice
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