The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide
The Royal Tutor
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Royal Tutor ?
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How was the first episode?
Welcome to Weissburg Palace, where an assembly of bishonen (un)welcome the new royal tutor their king and father appointed after his misfit sons chased away every predecessor. As the show's title suggests, freshly recruited Heine Wittgenstein is different. He's here to stay, and it will take more than average adolescent rebellion to make him quit a job he has a few yet-to-be-disclosed stakes in himself.
Once introductions are out of the way, episode 1 is mostly dedicated to establishing Heine's unorthodox, yet rather successful way of forcing prince Leonhard into cooperation, all the while painting a rather human picture of the spoiled brat, who really is just a vulnerable teenager whose previous mentors failed him. Despite some deeper emotional issues touched upon in passing, The Royal Tutor is, at this point, primarily a comedy show. While some of the jokes linger too long on Heine's short stature, most of the humor comes from Heine's unfazed reactions to the princes' theatrics. Performance and timing are key to delivering these jokes, so how does Funimation's newly released simuldub compare to the Japanese version?
Micah Solusod's deep voice creates a similar contrast to Heine's stature as Keisuke Ueda's, but his more melodic intonation paints the character empathetic instead of surprised on discovery of Leo's hidden depths. Jokes solely built on the juxtaposition of Heine being deadpan while everyone around him is hyperventilating don't land quite as strongly as they did in the original. On the other hand, Solusod's Heine is more sincere than his Japanese counterpart, and depending on where the plot will take us, this might not be a bad thing. Alejandro Saab's Leonhard is equally arrogant as Daisuke Hirose, whose tantrums are slightly more on the poor abandoned puppy side of things. Christopher Wehkamp sounds older than Yūto Adachi, but his way of lending Bruno an extra snobbish touch of perfectly pronounced English tells the little side story of how desperately he's trying to be like his dad, adding a nice detail to the character I wouldn't be able to make out in Japanese.
The English track adds a slight echo to characters' internal monologues that wasn't present before. While helpful whenever lip flaps aren't visible on screen, I feel the effect takes away some of the nuances the actors could play with when switching between internal and external voices in Japanese. The English cast is on equal footing as far as semi-correct German pronunciation is concerned, with Licht's name being the exception. Leo's rejection of Heine has more references to the latter's common heritage, but all in all, it's a faithful adaptation that only had me puzzled when Heine referred to Viktor as "King Glanzreich", leaving me wondering if we should henceforth call royals like Queen Elizabeth by their house names instead. I, for once, have never heard of Queen Windsor, but maybe things work differently in fictional European anime kingdoms, at least when their residents are speaking English.
When my mother started teaching in the late 1960s, she was given this advice: don't smile until Thanksgiving. Clearly that's the basic philosophy employed by Heine, the new tutor hired by the king to teach his four younger sons as spares, just in case something happens to the heir. That the initial letter to Heine from the king basically phrases it like this – I have a perfectly good crown prince, but you know, he could die, so I'd better make sure the others are adequate backup – could contribute to the fact that princes Kai, Bruno, Leonhard, and Licht are less than enthusiastic about their lessons. The phrase “an heir and a spare” sounds funny when we read it in historical fiction, but imagine having to actually live it.
This kind of detail is what makes the first episode of The Royal Tutor interesting. While it is basically an iteration of “four guys who are hot in different ways doing stuff,” it also looks like it's going to take the time to pay attention to each of the princes, if not the eponymous tutor. Literary precedent is in line with this approach; we don't need to know who Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee, or Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle are when they aren't teaching, we just need to see their students grow. Of course, Heine is no Piggle-Wiggle – his early tactics include grabbing and reading Leonhard's diary in front of him in order to embarrass the recalcitrant prince into cooperating. That's a dirty trick no matter how you look at it, and it feels worse when you consider that the journal reveals that Leonhard has some deep-rooted insecurities. He seems to be lost in the middle, with younger brother Licht swanning around gloriously and older brother Bruno the model of a gentleman. From what we've glimpsed of the one princess, Leonhard is likely to feel overshadowed by her adorableness as well, and the fact that he thinks that denying himself his favorite dessert is a mark of adulthood says that no one's ever really talked to him. Granted, Heine does make amends at the end of the episode, but I don't quite feel like a piece of cake makes up for reading Leonhard's diary or using it against him. But Heine has been hired to do a job, and it looks like nothing, not rain, nor snow, nor crabby princes, is going to stop him from doing it.
The story seems to be set in a world somewhere between the 18th and 19th centuries, and the background details are really beautiful. From the intricate paneling on the walls to the screen Leonhard's bed is behind (for the all-important illusion of privacy), the scenery and its minutiae are a delight to look at. That makes it seem all the more jarring when the queen is dressed in a very plain housedress out of the mid-19th century and then spends the whole time she's walking holding the skirts out to the side in a gesture that makes zero sense. While this is at least partially related to one of my (silly) pet peeves about how full skirts function and misconceptions about curtseys, it mostly just looks weird, both in the context of royalty and the dress itself.
The Royal Tutor looks as if it is going to have potential, both as a decent story in and of itself and in the “teachers change lives” genre. As Heine gets to know the rest of the family, it should be interesting to see how the rest of the “spares” have dealt with their status, from overcompensating Bruno to Kai, who may possibly be saddled with some sort of speech impediment. This feels like it's worth keeping an eye on.
I feel like the gif to the right of this review will tell you all you need to know about whether The Royal Tutor will whet your whistle or not. If that blond prince's gentle gyrations and his tiny teacher's unamused expression makes you giggle, you'll probably find the episode that follows to be a relaxing and charming experience. If that sort of pseudo-Victorian fantasy isn't your cup of tea, then The Royal Tutor might leave you bored out of your gourd.
After the genuine shock of hearing a mellow baritone come out of our protagonist's shota-sized character model, there are no more thrills to be had from this laid-back character piece about four bratty royals learning to be decent human beings. (Seriously though, I was not prepared for that deep voice to come out of that little face, and apparently, it's the seiyuu's first named anime role, so I have no idea what the story is behind this casting choice, but it's hilarious.) The show's production values are extremely conservative outside of the necessarily lavish palace backgrounds, which means the animation is bound to worsen in future episodes, so you have to be here for the story 100% to hold your attention. It's a nice enough plot so far, as four distinctly beastly princes give us a glimpse of their charming sides for the tutor to exploit in their inevitable humbling, but the direction behind this capable script is so uninspired that it doesn't have the flair it probably should to sit alongside fangirl favorite contemporaries like Black Butler or Pandora Hearts.
Still, if you can get past the sluggish pace and janky animation, there's a familiar charm to this pseudo-fairytale premise that's easy to indulge, with just enough unique ideas in the mix to keep you unsure of where the story's headed. I wouldn't expect any more complex characterization than the standard reverse harem formula of conflicted but ultimately nonthreatening boys who learn to embrace their sensitive sides, but if you do fancy Black Butler and Pandora Hearts, this feels like the green tea to their black blends, a slighter shade of the same regal yet warm n' fuzzy dream.
The Royal Tutor opens with a reasonably unique conceit. The king of Grannzreich has five sons, and though the first in line is a perfectly behaved prince, the younger four could all use some work. And so, a tutor is assigned to nurture all four of them equally, and we meet our diminutive lead: Professor Heine Wittgenstein. Heine will have to do his best to tutor these princes, in spite of the fact that none of them actually want him there.
The Royal Tutor falls somewhere between a reverse harem, slice of life, and character drama, with each of the four princes possessing their own personality foibles that will undoubtedly be explored over time. This first episode mostly just introduces us to the main cast, along with depicting Heine's first breakthrough with the proud prince Leonhard. Normally I don't find these reverse harem shells particularly compelling - they generally suffer from the same problems as traditional harems, where the lead is too bland and the suitors too archetypal. But The Royal Tutor seems to gracefully evade the first issue, even if it can't entirely escape the second.
Our protagonist Heine is easily The Royal Tutor's strongest variable so far. His combination of keen character insight, unflappability, and deadpan delivery make him a great counter to the temperamental princes, along with an enjoyable person to simply follow around. Heine is professional but quietly funny, sympathetic but stern, and overall the kind of person you might believe could truly wrangle these princes. He's sold well enough through this episode that I actually found myself invested in how he'd solve these princely problems.
The show is also bolstered by its generally strong visual execution. Some of the background art here felt a little underwhelming, but the character designs and animation are very solid, and the direction energetic as well. The Royal Tutor segued confidently between intentional melodrama, quieter character moments, and breezy comedy, each of which were conveyed with their own distinctive visual tone. And the show's unique style of character shading felt distinctive and pretty without sliding over into visually distracting.
This premiere certainly wasn't perfect, though. The show's methodical pacing will likely turn off some potential viewers, and the comedy is fairly routine and sometimes misses its mark. Additionally, Heine's first clash with prince Leonhard was resolved with a convenience that rang a little false, relying on Heine literally tripping over Leonhard's diary. But overall, if you're in the market for a low-key character drama focused on a bunch of cute princes, The Royal Tutor offers a solid overall package with a number of unique charms.
The Royal Tutor's target audience is incredibly specific. They have to be down for 20 minutes of banter between a tiny man and four self-absorbed princes with mild S&M yaoi undertones. Our protagonist Heine is a highly competent tutor for a guy with no college education and hidden motivations. His wards are all variations on of the Do-S character archetype that's cropped up in a lot of female-targeted dating sims (think Diabolik Lovers) but in this case our protagonist isn't a hapless heroine, it's an unfazed man and he's determined to win their trust.
This is all fine, except Heine's methods are conversations I can only describe as beginner psychotherapy. He's their tutor but the second half of the show and its ending sequence hint that Heine is in it to work each individual prince over with a fine tooth comb, reveal their deepest insecurities, and heal them. This sounds very dramatic, but what it culminates into is Heine and his first patient-student Leonhard talking a lot. It doesn't make for a dynamic viewing experience and I can easily see even bishonen fans getting bored.
The Royal Tutor and this season's Bastard Instructor are attempting to fill two opposite niches but both are first and foremost fanservice shows just with different approaches. The latter's approach is pretty safe; the staff know what their audience buys and they can keep producing it. The fujoshi market can be a little harder to pin down as evidenced by hit-or-miss sports and male idol shows. I'm not convinced the attractive character designs and dangerous personality types are enough here to secure The Royal Tutor's place in female viewers' hearts if it can't offer up anything more than armchair character analysis and occasional super-deformed humor. The show will have to roll out a little more of Heine's personal motivations to prove the show is worth the time investment but the next episode is already looking like more therapy sessions with the other three brothers.
This show is a pass for me in a season that for once has a more generous offering of shows geared towards my taste.
The Royal Tutor is apparently based on a manga series, but I'm honestly surprised it's not an adaptation of a dating sim. The premise seems like it would lend itself to a game format: earn the trust of these four wayward princes and turn them into respectable nobles while keeping the rest of the royal family happy. Add in a few blindingly handsome characters and some potential romantic tension and you've got yourself an obvious target demographic. Regardless of the format, it's a premise that could also find a wider audience as a period piece. An overly simple premise, perhaps, but a functional one nonetheless.
My biggest problem with this episode is that it takes entirely too long to get moving. The series seems overly enamored with the idea of Heine being mistaken for a child because of his height; his encounter with the palace guards feels more drawn out than it needs to be. There's also some redundancy between his written summons to the palace and the information he receives before meeting the princes. We get it, the guys he'll be tutoring aren't exactly king material at the moment. Some snappier pacing would've helped out a lot in the early going.
Once we move past the princes' mandatory “we don't want a tutor” spiel, things start to pick up a bit. Heine's deadpan reactions, which initially seemed dull and emotionless, work much better once he has some obnoxious pupils to play off of. The writing and delivery strike a decent balance here, making him seem unimpressed by their threats while suggesting that he does actually care about his job. Heine's interview with Leonhard provides the episode's strongest comedic material, and again it's that clash between calm patience and hollow bluster that makes the scene entertaining. The image of Heine making sound effects with a straight face as he rolls under the furniture is a definite highlight.
The big question mark here is where the series intends to go with its premise. The writing doesn't seem nuanced enough to pull off a serious emotional approach, but it will need at least some personal drama if it's going to humanize the princes at all. Heine also lacks the comedic magnetism of anime's best quirky teachers; his impossibly calm demeanor is a decent gimmick, but he doesn't appear to have the staying power of an Onizuka or a Koro Sensei. There's definitely some potential in The Royal Tutor, but the leisurely pace makes me worry that we'll have to sit through some dull periods in order to get to the funny stuff. I'd give it another week or two before making a final call.
I've never understood the fascination in anime (and its source materials) with pint-sized instructors, but at least in this case the tutor is a fully-grown man who just happens to be short and look like a kid despite his fully adult-sounding voice. That seems like a purely made-for-humor element inserted into a series which otherwise looks like it's going to be about a teacher winning over a gaggle of difficult students – in this case princes – and I'm not at all convinced that it's a necessary one. After all, aside from the early scene where the gate guards (who are apparently going to be recurring characters based on the closer?) mistake Heine for his young son, many of the humor angles which play out in this episode could have been just as funny with a normal-sized instructor.
Aside from that, the first episode is a success because it does what it absolutely has to do for this kind of story: introduce us to four beautiful guys who each look like they are going to present their own brand of difficulties, show that Heine isn't going to be dissuaded in the slightest by dealing with them, and show off the pleasingly extravagant architecture and room arrangements of the royal palace. Unsurprisingly, the story jumps right into Heine trying to make a breakthrough with one of the princes, and while he doesn't fully succeed, he clearly makes some headway. Looks like episode 2 will focus on a different prince, so I expect the series to cycle through all four before getting into the larger story. Along the way we'll get to learn about all of their individual dysfunctions while occasional side characters get thrown at us. In fact, the whole thing is so reminiscent of an otome game set-up that I was quite surprised to find out that it's actually based on a manga instead.
Although the settings look quite pretty and there are some amusing moments, if I watch any more of this series then it'll be because of Heine. I like and admire his analytical, even-tempered approach and how nothing that the princes do really fazes him. Somewhat surprisingly for anime and manga, his pedagogical method so far is actually pretty sound; difficult students are often less difficult when they can be talked to one-on-one. Also somewhat surprisingly for all of the pretty boys vs. almost no female characters present, I'm not getting a BL vibe off of this one, which is a plus in my book but may not be for everyone. Regardless, this seems like a decent, inoffensive series for those who like their bishonen.
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