On balance, the first episode of Inu X Boku left a pretty flat impression on me. Visually, aurally and intellectually, my immediate reaction was “generic”. There was generic fanservice, very standard seiyuu performances, unexceptional visuals (somewhat surprising from David Production) and what passes for a plot is a stretch. I generally like Hidaka Rina, who plays the lead Ririchiyo – she’s a very young seiyuu with some fine performances under her belt. But she fails to elevate the material here, and not much stood out – there are big names in the cast like Kana Hanazawa and Miyano Mamoru, but it doesn’t feel like that’s going to be enough. The story of an ojou-sama who goes to the Maison de Ayakashi – a house full of secret service half-youkai – to get away from her rich family and learn how to deal with her social dysfunction isn’t enough to excite me either – it has a “what hasn’t been done yet?” feel to it, especially when you add in Soushi (Nakamura Yuuichi) as her obsequious servant/agent. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t especially interested in what was happening and that’s a pretty tough flaw to overcome.
Thermae Romae – 01
What looks on paper like the least interesting NoitaminA season ever kicks off with its shortest series ever, a three-episode adaptation of Yamazaki Mari’s manga Thermae Romae, winner of the 2010 Manga Taisho award. This is an odd project all-around – it’s seemingly the time-filler until Black Rock Shooter is ready, and appears to be little more than an advertisement for the manga and the upcoming live-action adaptation. In addition it’s done completely in flash animation, and it’s pretty obvious that no corners were uncut in saving money for the production. It’s certainly as basic as anything you’ll see on TV in 2012, much less in the NoitaminA slot.
In spite of all that, I liked it. The format is as odd as the rest of the it, the first “episode” being cut into two mini-episodes (one 13 minutes, the other 9). The conceit is actually pretty clever – a Roman named Lucius, a bath enthusiast, is dissatisfied with the state of the bathhouses of Rome. He’s magically transported through a drain to an onsen in modern-day Japan, which he mistakes for a slave bath due to the “flat-face” inhabitants. The wonders of the modern world as reflected in an onsen – movie posters, murals of Mt. Fuji – which Lucius mistakes for Vesuvius) electric fans, and especially fruit milk – send Lucius (Ono Ryo, better known as “Frogman” and primarily a director) into an orgiastic state, and when he wakes up back in Rome he implements all the wonders he’s seen. Or at least the closest equivalent he can manage with 2000 year-old technology.
Thermae Romae – 02
This was actually my favorite of the two eps. A year has passed and Lucius has become a famous bathhouse architect based on his Japanese-style bath. A rich noble named Lepidus (Shirokuma Hiroshi) summons him to the countryside to build him a rotenburo in sight of the real Vesuvius. There’s also Lepidus’ servant Regulus who for some reason appears to be Steve Buscemi, and a troop of snow monkeys who’ve taken over the spring that feeds the pool on Lepidus’ property. After Lucius pulls the same trick and ends up at a rotenburo in Japan, he discovers the miracles of hot spring eggs and sake, and once again co-opts them when he returns to Rome – and later to Vesuvius where he finds a now-healthy Lepidus who’s recovered miraculously and “fathered” a child who looks exactly like Regulus.
Yamazaki-san has stated this manga is a sort of homage to the two cultures that love bathing the most, the Romans and the Japanese – and a lot of the cleverness of the manga is evident even in this crude packaging. As a foreigner who loves onsen, I was frequently amused by the hilariously friendly-condescending tone the modern Japanese took with the man they thought was a gaijin tourist. There’s a sly recognition of the almost maniacal obsession the Japanese have for ritual, specifically where the bath is concerned, but as well of how that makes the experience magical. I also enjoyed the classical soundtrack. In it’s way, this could be another Hyouge Mono if it were full-length and animated in a traditional style – an esoteric and extremely brainy historical satire with no evident natural viewing audience. I’ll give NoitaminA credit at least for airing something so bizarre, and it is well-written and entertaining. I just wish it were going to be more than thee episodes and cost more than three-hundred yen to produce.
ED: “Thermae Romae” by Chatmonchy