Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thermae Romae vol. 2

'Thermae Romae' was easily my favorite new series of 2012. As soon as I finished volume one, I could not wait to get my hands on volume two. Nearly six months later, the wait is over, and I'm happy to say, it was worth my patience. Now I just have to reign in my anticipation for the third omnibus by Yen Press, which doesn't yet have a release date for me to look forward to...

At the end of volume one, we were left with the ominous cliffhanger of a man planning to make Lucius "disappear", and that's exactly where we pick things up in volume two. Men from the senate who hate Emperor Hadrian's choice of successor, Aelius Caesar, are furious to find that all of the bathing innovations Lucius has made are increasing the popularity of the future emperor. They conclude that the only way to make the public see the truth of Aelius' shortcomings as a leader is to attack his popularity at its source and get rid of Lucius. Their master plan entails tricking Lucius into going out into the bandit ridden wastelands by himself under the impression that Hadrian wants a hot spring villa built out there. Surrounded by deadly bandits who are out for blood, Lucius does what he does best and wins them over with the power of the bath! When I finished volume one, I thought that this new development of a dramatic, overarching plot line could add a lot to the largely episodic story, but now that I read volume two, I'm kind of glad that it didn't last and it ended the way it did in comical fashion. A continuous threat of murder conspiracy just wouldn't allow for some of the fun bathing adventures we got in the rest of the book.

One of the most interesting developments in this volume came when Lucius was commissioned to create a very gaudy and tasteless bath house for a newly rich freed slave. Lucius was reluctant, but agreed in order to help his friend Marcus. In an argument with his new employer, Lucius yet again is thrust into the future by nearly drowning in a fish tank. Cut to modern day Japan, and we are shown an interesting parallel to Lucius' situation. A young engineer named Yoshida, who has a similar passion for baths as Lucius, is also forced to create a distastefully designed hot spring for a newly rich employer. Yoshida is lamenting the job he has to do when out of nowhere appears our Roman bath expert, Lucius. With Lucius' help, Yoshida is able to create a more modest and authentic Roman style bath, and even though it wasn't what his employer originally wanted, it ended up being a big hit. In a nice change of routine, I found it fun that in this excursion to the future, it was Lucius who was able to impart his knowledge of bath engineering on to the "flat-faces" who have previously been the ones to inspire him. And even though their designs were inaccurate, Lucius was just over the moon that the Rome he is so proud of had finally reached the land of the "flat-faces". Yoshida and Lucius' interactions were also very nice and genuine. Though they could not speak to each other, as fellow bath engineers, they bonded and communicated well.

Another very interesting development occurred when Lucius time traveled to the seaside Ito Hot Springs. Emperor Hadrian was just about to make an important request of Lucius when he was transported to the future, so he was in a hurry to get back, but no matter what he tried, he couldn't make his way to Rome again. That's when he met the lovely Satsuki Odate; A lover of ancient Rome who happens to speak Latin! Satsuki is an interesting new character who I hope to see a lot more of in the future. We did get an eleven page, detailed back-story about her, so I'm sure she will be even more important than she ended up being in this volume. The bulk of this latest excursion to the future had Lucius reacting to other modern things besides baths, like television and what not, so we didn't really get to see as much of Satsuki as I would have liked. But, there did seem to be a bit of romance in the air. Lucius is the very image of Satsuki's idea of a "indomitable, spartan" man, and Lucius was captivated by her beauty like he had never been before with the "flat-faces". Even while trying to think of how to get back to Rome, Lucius didn't like the idea of leaving her behind and even thought about taking her with him. And best of all, since Satsuki spoke Latin, they were able to talk to each other. Never before has Lucius been able to speak with the "flat-face" people he has visited, so this was an exciting advancement. Though an advancement that was also underused and that I'd like to see more of in volume three. This journey to the future is also the longest Lucius has been gone from Rome. He seems to be stuck in modern day Japan. So that leaves even more to look forward to from future chapters.

This volume came with a lot of the same laughs that came from Lucius' episodic adventures in bathing that I loved from volume one, but it also had some surprising and enjoyable new aspects. Presumably, there is just one more omnibus volume for Yen Press to release. Ideally, Lucius and Satsuki's relationship will be further explored in the final volume. I can't wait to find out.

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