The Royal Tutor
by Anne Lauenroth,
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Royal Tutor ?
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Royal Tutor ?
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Royal Tutor ?
I wasn't originally planning on watching The Royal Tutor, since it's not something I'm prone to be interested in genre-wise. Still, here we are at the Granzreich family's Weisburg Palace (which really should be romanized as Glanzreich and Weißburg in proper anime German) with our assembly of bishonen archetypes – the cold intellectual one with the scary glasses, the innocent playboy, the scary quiet guy, and the proud jerk – all having apparently practiced posing like a proper boy band to (un)welcome their new tutor. Maybe the ability to summon enough feathers to fill an eiderdown quilt just comes with their fabulous Granzreich genes. But what do you know, after a day of getting to know our misfit princes, our pint-sized professor will have thrown most preconceptions about his students out the window, and I'm happy to say my own prejudices against this particular installment of cute boys doing bratty things have been disarmed in a similar fashion, as the princes evolve from boring clichés into the troubled and troublesome teenagers they truly are.
As a fellow dog person equally addicted to squeezing funifuni paws, Kai's an easy favorite for me. His routine revealed the "Glaring Prince" as a misunderstood sheep in wolf's clothing, and for now, that's enough. As the "Browbeating Brainiac Prince", sharp-witted Bruno's superiority complex is in need of readjustment, which happens much more quickly than expected when Heine sets the hoops Bruno intended for him to jump through on fire while riding a lion. (Metaphorically speaking, but reality isn't far behind those extremes.) Rarely has the obligatory chess match as a measure of communicating a character's intelligence been so tongue-in-cheek. "Playboy Prince" Licht is certainly as vain as Heine's nickname for him would suggest, but despite his slightly hyperactive disposition (or his name), he's too shrewd to be taken lightly, no matter how approachable his appearance.
The prince that The Royal Tutor spends the longest time establishing is Leonhard, the "Everest-Proud" fourth prince, whose arrogant facade can't hide his vulnerabilities from Heine. Neglected and abused by the ones who should have helped raise him into a responsible human being, all Leonhard can do is cling to being spoiled by birth to save him from continuous humiliation. His philosophy of veggies = bad, sachertorte = good, and teachers = the enemy is as telling as his tendency to run away from failure before it can happen. He isn't sulking because he's arrogant; he's using arrogance as a defense mechanism. His trauma is real and life-sized, leaving him to suffer from the tricky burden of too much privilege and replaceability, alongside his siblings.
Luckily, our part-poet (Heine), part-philosopher (Wittgenstein) professor knows how to deal with royal teenagers, and while he has no intention of becoming buddy-buddy with any potential future king, he takes his job very seriously. His process of assessing the fruits of the princes' prior education is proof of his excellence, but it also shows that, no matter how unfazed he may seem, Heine is far from indifferent.
"A teacher's task is not to wound a student's heart, but to nurture hope." Aww.
To win over Bruno, Heine has to prove himself worthy of teaching Mr. Genius, whose competitive streak might just be his way of craving recognition as a distant third in line for the throne. Finally finding someone who's not only able to teach him stuff, but is actually interested in him as a person has Bruno sparkling with admiration in no time. With Leo, Heine's initial approach is more stick than carrot. Instead of pretending that doing things for his own sake would lead to satisfaction (like Bruno), Leo mastered the art and sport of running away. His trust is won only when Heine demonstrates flight's futility both physically and psychologically, reaching out to Leo instead of leaving things at the stage of humiliation this fourth prince so desperately tries to get away from. As a fellow educator, I pity Leo for his discouraging experience with the very people who should have supported him. He's still a tsundere with a long way to go, just as his brothers are still the spoiled, bratty, horny, misunderstood know-it-alls many teenagers tend to be. But none of them is truly unlikable, even if the fact that they all act their age makes their hotness evaporate into thin air to my tastes. I'm secretly waiting for the king to make his appearance, for reasons ranging from him being an adult to having Toshiyuki Morikawa's voice.
Heine's true comedic potential can shine when his deadpan attitude clashes with the princes' theatrics. The contrast between his stature and Keisuke Ueda's deep voice is amusing without straining viewers' nerves, unlike the dangerously repetitive short jokes. They're the only hit-or-miss thing in an otherwise continuously entertaining flow of chuckles that are never achieved by selling the characters short. The chibi bits work well, and The Royal Tutor knows how to set up jokes by betraying expectations or create drama without taking itself too seriously. I have my doubts if the mystery of Heine's origin, personal agenda, and brilliance can be addressed in a one-cour adaptation, but too much secrecy and doubt have been introduced to leave things at the Mary Poppins level of background disclosure.
The show's production values are somewhat conservative, the animation (apart from anything involving horses) is serviceable but effective enough not to get in the way of delivering jokes or telling the story. Unfortunately, what are supposed to be lavish castle backgrounds suffer from slightly flat-looking CGI that lacks in depth and shadows, with these red curtains being the worst offenders. These shortcomings make the world of our princes appear unnecessarily sterile in a way that doesn't match the story. Outside, things are more lively, with Leo's hilarious swing set deserving special mention.
Keiji Inai's soundtrack has a fantastical, almost Disney-esque feel to it that services the show's setting (especially the more kitschy moments) extremely well. Period instruments conjure up a pleasant (if vague) historical vibe, and a sensitive piano is ready to take over whenever things get more serious. So far, the nuanced yet rounded score is elevating a solid production at least half a grade.
As the three-episode trial period concludes over the course of one day in-show, Heine has more or less won over all of his new students. Since deep-seated issues won't all be resolved through a horse race, this doesn't mean it's smooth sailing from here. In fact, episode four will probably reveal a lot more about the show's general direction. How fast will some jokes get old, and how much room for character drama is there between the lighthearted banter? With only two director's credits listed on ANN, I'm curious to see where Katsuya Kikuchi will take our unfazed tutor and his bratty students.
The Royal Tutor is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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