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.