The state of Noitamina and Thermae Romae

It’s fair to say that, critically, 2011 was a poor year for Noitamina and (with Guilty Crown in tow) is currently at its lowest ebb. It’s now suffering from an identity crisis, no longer the bastion of josei anime it once was. Chihayafuru is a good example of what’s meant by that; a series that would be a shoe-in for the old Noitamina, but that now, especially in comparison to Guilty Crown, just underlines the confusion one feels about its current state.

That’s important because, for years previous, Noitamina was a convenient rallying point for fans not so taken by J.C. Staff’s latest. It was, for the most part, anime made for adults (especially women,) free of the debilitating self-awareness that renders so much TV anime nigh-on inaccessible to casual viewers.

For many, a series associated with Noitamina was a mark of quality. It was elite, separate and different. I’d often go along with that, too, conveniently forgetting about the likes of Jyu Oh Sei. Noitamina was never about good anime, though, but rather, an unspoken adherence to the idea of making anime accessible to adults. If it ever pandered, it was to adult women, not otaku.

After Fractale, however, things changed. Next came AnoHana, Guilty Crown and Black Rock Shooter. AnoHana was quite good, but as it went on, it became clear it wasn’t a good fit for Noitamina. I’m not even convinced that The Tatami Galaxy was, either: as great a series as it is, that was the moment Noitamina first tried tinkering with the formula, but rather than produce more unique, cool series like that, it went in completely the opposite direction; making safe choices and going for the otaku audience.

Alas, they still have it in them to present the odd gem like Thermae Romae.

It’s such a shame that it’s only 3 episodes long.

Like Trapeze and Astro Fighter Sunred before it, Thermae Romae has a serious dude (bath-designer Lucius) for a main character caught in a crazy situation: he’s from ancient Rome and is thrown back and forth in time to the bath-houses of contemporary Japan, where frank nakedness and modern technology abounds.

As is befitting of a citizen of the Roman Empire, Lucius’ arrogance prevents him from realising what’s actually happening. He sees the modern Japanese as “flat-faced slaves,” and rather than worry about getting home, he’s more interested in such delicacies as ramen and fruit-milk. His experiences with them are accompanied by brilliant reaction shots as he tries to comprehend it all and how he might copy it Rome (because if the flat-faces can do it, he sure as hell can, too!)

It’s the type of comedy that makes the everyday things we take for granted in life, like toilet paper, a constant source of wonder and, well, relief. I loved it!

As for Noitamina, 2012 may yet salvage some much-needed dignity. In April, Sakamichi no Apollon marks the return of none other than Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo,) whilst with Kenji Nakamura (C, Mononoke, Trapeze) at the helm, Tsuritama seems promising, too. Only time will tell, though, if it ever reclaims the consistent sense of purpose it once held.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

12 thoughts on “The state of Noitamina and Thermae Romae”

  1. I think that when Noitamina went from a half hour slot to a one hour slot they started experimenting.
    A lot of people cite Fractale as the start of the rot, but really you can go back to the live action version of Moyashimon which was completely misguided, and on the whole complete rubbish. Probably the worst Noitamina show ever, and I think most people would much rather have had a second season of the excellent anime series.

    Apart from this season, I think of the two shows there’s always been the most ‘noitamina-ish’ show and the other less noitamina-ish show. One show more like core values, and one show something else.

    Still, next season looks very promising. Maybe they’ve ended the experimentation and reverted to core values. Sakamichi no Apollon sounds like exactly the kind of show Noitamina should be doing, and Tsuritama is also interesting, on account that Kenji Nakamura’s last three Noitamina shows, Mononoke, Kuchuu Buranko, and [C] were all very different from each other, so this one could be very different from his previous shows too.

    1. Yeah, I’ve no idea how Tsuritama’s going to turn out, but you know that with Kenji Nakamura on it, there’s going to be some interesting twist. Based purely on the impression I get from the preview art, it looks like another “boys doing cute things” satire/parody of anime like K-On. Not sure how excited I am about that premise, but… Nakamura :)

  2. I don’t think Noitamina was ever a place for specifically josei shows. I think that the only reason you view it as such is because it’s really one of the only places that josei anime run. So it’s more that all josei shows play on Noitamina, but not all shows on Noitamina are josei.

    1. I would argue that up until 2009, it was pretty much all josei. I’ve not seen Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, but looking at the Wikipedia article for Noitamina, that really seems to be the point where things diverged.

  3. Loved Thermae Romae too. It was a shame that it was such a short series, but, upon reflection, it was probably the right length, given how much the the whole thing relied on repetition for much of its comedy, so I can see how that might’ve got pretty old pretty quickly. I’m not that familiar with the noitaminA back catalogue (I’ve only been keeping up with seasonal anime for the last year and a half), but the name always makes me do a double take and give the show a chance, even if I may not have given it any kind of second look otherwise. Saying that, I was also burned by Fractale and Guilty Crown (bailed after the first episodes), so we’ll see how long my patience lasts. However, I am looking forward to their offerings in the up-coming season.

    1. Hana-chan, Noitama has given us Honey and Clover, Nodame Cantabile, Mononoke (the one with Kusuriuri) and more recently you might know of Shiki- just to name a few.
      I’ll disagree it didn’t have as purpose to promote quality series. If you search Wikipedia under Noitama, you’ll easily see a great list. For some reason, perhaps financial, they destroyed what good they had to offer. But lately it seems that Noitama comes back. Sakamichi no Apollon will be great for sure. I’m not so sure about Tsuritama, but I should set aside any bias of mine that have to do with character designs.

      Thermae Romae was good, but I didn’t like much the flash style it adapted. Plus it was used to promote the movie as it seems. Which is not bad by itself, but certainly it makes people see it through other lens.

  4. I do agree Noitamina was never about “good” anime, but I don’t necessarily think it was so much about making “accessible” anime as it was about making “ambitious” anime; stuff that was a little more off the beaten track, that grappled with issues, human concerns, and so on. Noitamina’s done plenty of stuff other than josei – Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, Eden of the East, Mononoke and Trapeze, House of Five Leaves, Shiki, and so forth.

    1. That’s true, although my argument pretty much revolves around a pre-2010 Noitamina. As I’ve said above, it seems like Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 was the point at which it stopped being just josei and more ambition/quality. We’ll see what 2012 brings :)

  5. I’ve heard that noitaminA’s goal was to produce josei anime, that it meant to produce ambitious anime, this and that, and you can easily find series that contradict each of these claims, even if you exclude 2011. I’ve since given up on trying to figure out their motives.

    I wonder how much of this is their fault? Okay, Guilty Crown was a bad choice, not fitting in with their mission statement, whatever you think their mission statement is. (Oddly enough, Black Rock Shooter at times seems like a fitting series–the real-world events reflected in a world of constant battle. I found this interesting, though less so now that they’re having to go around explaining everything) Thinking of Fractale and C: these two shows had good concepts behind them, they failed in execution. The noitaminA people surely couldn’t have seen all the finished episodes when they chose them. I’d include AnoHana, too, but I think I’d be in the minority.

    1. “The noitaminA people surely couldn’t have seen all the finished episodes when they chose them.”

      Anime episodes are finished in the days if not hours before their TV airing, and programming blocks are announced months earlier, so noitaminA didn’t EVER see a finished episode of anything before approving it.

    2. Fractale, C and AnoHana (and even Guilty Crown) are original anime; I love to support anime that aren’t adaptations of manga, etc, but these haven’t been the best. Even still, they could end up with a Madoka on their hands, too. I suppose that’s the gamble you take; hence, Tsuritama next season. Mononoke was a great success for them, too.

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