Thermae Romae Novae Is Everything Weird and Wonderful About Anime


A man sits in an iridescent bath, water above his nose, with a white rag folded on his head.

Image: Netflix

If you’ve watched anime on Netflix recently, you might have been recommended a series called Thermae Romae Novae. You might have glanced at the picture, wondered, “Is this a series about a guy from ancient Rome taking a bath?” and immediately moved on. I’m here to tell you that’s almost exactly what this series is about, except the Roman is also a bath architect who gets transported to modern-day Japanese baths in this series. A bunch. That’s it. And Thermae Romae Novae rules.

If this sounds like an odd premise for an 11-episode anime TV series, it’s not; it’s an absurd premise. It’s so specific, goofy, and potentially off-putting that it feels like a minor miracle that Thermae Romae Novae—Latin for “New Roman Baths”—exists at all, let alone is airing on Netflix in the U.S. Based on the award-winning manga by Mari Yamazaki, Thermae Romae Novae stars Lucius Modestus, an architect who gets repeatedly commissioned to build increasingly difficult public and private baths for the populace, a nouveau-riche merchant, Emperor Hadrian himself, and more. Each bath has one unique problem that needs to be solved: one has a natural hot spring but its water is too hot, another is visited by foreigners who don’t understand Roman bathing etiquette, and other issues. The way Lucius solves these problems is by inevitably falling into a Roman bath or body of water, emerging in modern-day Japan, and getting inspired by the various marvels he sees there. When he’s sucked back to Rome, he does his best to make an equivalent of what he saw using ancient means.