Saturday, March 8, 2014

Thermae Romae vol. 3

When I first heard of this "manga about bathing", I never would have imagined that it would become one of my all time favorites. Any synopsis you could give this story wouldn't do its comedy, charm and true passion for bathing culture any justice. And with the final omnibus from Yen Press, I feel that 'Thermae Romae' has solidified itself as one of the best manga licensed in English, and a modern classic. I really loved it.

The first two volumes were all about Lucius learning about modern bathing culture, and applying what he had learned to his Roman style bath houses. Things mostly felt episodic in nature, but Mari Yamazaki managed to keep things fresh by introducing a few minor twists and surprises while still keeping the same format. This volume however, freshened things up even more by focusing more on story continuity, making things interesting up to the very end.

When we last left off, Lucius was seemingly stuck in the modern day hot spring town of Ito and had struck up a relationship with the lovely scholar, Satsuki. Always the bath enthusiast, Lucius took advantage of Satsuki's knowledge of Latin to help him learn as much as possible about modern bathing so that he could utilize it to make the city of Baiae the best hot spring resort possible, and soothe the health woes of Emperor Hadrian. Needless to say, a time traveling Roman was a lot for her to wrap her mind around. Not to mention, the town was being overrun by extorting gangsters. With these developments, Lucius concludes that he must have been brought to Ito by fate, so that he can help preserve their wonderful bathing culture from the intruding criminals trying to tear it down to create their own resort that disregards the rich history already present. At the same time as he gathers more bathing knowledge and fights off the thugs, his relationship with Satsuki progresses into romantic territory.

Besides the change of focus to plot progression, one of the most welcome additions to this volume is a new character. That is, Satsuki's grandfather Tetsuzou. He's a hardboiled old man and he looks just like Tommy Lee Jones! I just thought his demeanor was really cool. He helps fight off the gangsters, and will do anything to help his granddaughter. And he didn't even bat an eyelash at being sent back in time to Lucias' era, keeping his cool and handing out chiropractic adjustments where needed. I liked this character a lot and would have loved to see more of him. If I'm lucky, maybe I will one day because in Mari Yamazaki's afterward, she states "I hope to wrap up their stories as well when the time is right.", referring to Tetsuzou and the other side characters.

One curious thing I noticed, and this isn't a criticism, is that the art seemed to change a little towards the end. I feel like the lines got thicker and darker, and I may just be imagining it, but the architecture seemed to get a little more detailed. There could be any number of reasons for this, and it may just be in my head. Either way, I like both the thick and thin line style of art, and while in a past review, I said the art is well done but doesn't stand out, I've really grown to appreciate it especially with this volume. Mari Yamazaki is truly a master draftsman.

Well, all good things must come to an end. And 'Thermae Romae' was a really good thing indeed. I'm thankful that I got to read this wonderful series. While this final volume ended on a really good note, reading more of this time traveling, bath loving universe would make me very happy. As I understand it, there is a spin-off in the works, so hopefully Yen Press will keep an eye on that and keep 'Thermae Romae' fans like me in mind.

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