by Mari Yamazaki
published by Yen Press; $34.99 US
This second volume in the series has all the same great elements from the first book — the oddly addictive story of an ancient Roman using baths to travel through time, the wonderfully detailed art, the author’s notes “Rome & Baths, the Loves of My Life”, the oversized hardcover format, and the translation notes in the back. About the only thing that isn’t as good as the first book is the cover — the nifty clear plastic overlay has been replaced with a more conventional glossy paper dust jacket. It’s still a welcome, upscale presentation that’s a pleasure to read.
Thermae Romae Book 2 opens with politicians plotting against our hero, the bath architect Lucius. They don’t like Aelius Caesar, who is popular with “the common people” because of the creative baths Lucius has built. To get him out of the way, they have Lucius sent to an area frequented by bandits on the premise of building a new bath.
The resulting trip through a hot spring gives Lucius his longest stay yet in modern Japan, a time during which he enjoys a meal of ramen (the most delicious food he’s ever tasted), journeys into a local town, and does some shopping. Of course, he brings back what he’s learned, turning an attempt to harm him into a revitalization of the local economy. As he instructs, “It is the power of the bath. Quarrels cannot foster where the hot water flows.”
That’s shown beautifully, yet humorously, in another story, where Lucius winds up assisting a modern engineer who’s working on a replica Roman bath for a nouveau riche Japanese man. The tale reminds us of the virtue of a reserved aesthetic, one where restraint makes gaudy golden artifacts all the more impressive.
We also get to see Lucius finally encounter someone who speaks Latin. The prodigy Satsuki has studied ancient Rome and adores the Emperor Caesar. She’s thrilled to meet the odd foreigner, although he wants only to get home. (Which leads to a ridiculously funny sequence of Lucius dunking himself in various vessels of water.) When she points out to him that he might have to accomplish or learn something before he’s allowed to return, he agrees and gets work as a laborer at an inn.
The first author’s note is particularly insightful for this audience, as Mari Yamazaki compares the experience of a hot spring town, with its pastimes of relaxation and even dissipation, to moving to Chicago and its stressful non-stop activity. There’s also a defense of the geisha that reminds us of their artistic skill.
This volume is quite the entertaining read, expanding on the original concept by extending Lucuis’ visits to our world and giving him more interaction with sympathetic supporting characters. It’s branched out from comedy manga to taking seriously some of the science fiction aspects. (The publisher provided a review copy.)