Recent releases like Thermae Romae Novae, Drifting Home, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, and Uncle From Another World show a lot of promise for the streamer
Anime has long been an important part of the streaming wars, and things have only become more complex of late: Sony bought Crunchyroll; Disney is testing the waters; and new players have jumped in. Through it all, Netflix has been trying to build itself into a viable anime destination. The streaming service has released a lot of anime over the years, and the results have been pretty mixed. (This is a common theme for the company as a whole.) But the last few months have seen Netflix go on a surprisingly good run of both movies and series. Perhaps the most impressive thing is how diverse the offerings have been, ranging from a hyper-violent sci-fi series to a time-traveling story about an architect from ancient Rome.
Here are four relatively recent releases that show the breadth and potential of Netflix’s ongoing foray into anime.
Uncle From Another World
There are lots of stories about people from the real world being sucked into a fantasy universe, but Uncle From Another World takes the trope in a slightly different direction. The titular uncle wakes up from a 17-year-long coma, and during that time, he was transported to a D&D-inspired alternate universe, where he survived as an adventurer of sorts. When he awakens in the real world he… immediately wonders what happened to Sega in the console wars.
It should go without saying that Uncle From Another World is an extremely goofy series. The uncle makes a living in the real world by showing off his fantasy magic skills on YouTube and uses a DVR-like ability to showcase his adventuring exploits — which almost always have a ridiculous twist — to his nephew. He’s lived an incredible life, but most of the time, he just wants to stream Gunstar Heroes.
Like the game it’s spun off from, Edgerunners doesn’t necessarily do much new within the now-familiar confines of cyberpunk. That means that the series follows some pretty familiar narrative threads, like the overreach of megacorporations and the future confluence of humans and machines. Even still, it’s a very well done example of the genre. The series is produced by Studio Trigger, the same team behind Kill la Kill and Promare, and it looks incredible, somehow making the standardized visuals of cyberpunk — think lots of neon signs and flashy weapons — feel fresh and interesting.
The action is thrilling, and the show really digs into the various ways that everyday life has been monetized, from an obscenely oppressive healthcare system to the future of remote schooling. (Imagine flunking out because you couldn’t afford a software update.) The 10 episodes zip by with so much momentum that I jumped back into the game just so that I didn’t have to leave the world so soon — and I’m not the only one.
Thermae Romae Novae
Thermae Romae Novae is a series about a Roman architect named Lucius who a) is absolutely dedicated to his career as a bath house architect and is completely obsessed with bathing culture and b) is able to randomly time travel to modern-day Japan once per episode. Those two things form the crux of the show. In each episode, Lucius faces a particular problem — like designing a small personal bath or creating an entire spa town — which he solves by stealing ideas from the future.
His unparalleled skills end up catching the eye of the Roman emperor, and before you know it, Lucius is influencing an entire country, solely by building baths. The real joy of the show, though, comes from seeing how much he truly loves bathing and the excitement he feels when learning new ideas and concepts. In a charming addition, each episode ends with author Mari Yamazaki, who created the original manga, visiting a real-world spa or hot spring to discover new things about the wide world of bathing culture.
On the film side, there’s Drifting Home, which comes from Studio Colorido, the same team behind 2020’s Netflix movie A Whisker Away and one of the better entries in Star Wars: Visions. It’s a coming-of-age tale mixed with some magic and an almost post-apocalyptic vibe. The premise is unique, to say the least. A group of friends sneaks into an abandoned apartment building, thinking it might be haunted. Instead of finding ghosts, they find themselves stranded in the building amid a vast ocean.
The childhood story of Drifting Home covers some well-trod territory, but it’s told with an earnestness that really helps you connect with and root for the kids. What makes the movie particularly striking, though, is how fully realized this strange alternate world is and how it forces the kids to not only face extreme danger but also confront the truth of growing up. I’m not sure what it is with Netflix and floating buildings this year, but it makes for some great animation.