Heine Wittgenstein is a pint-sized man given a monumental task. He’s recently hired by the King of Grannzreich to whip four of his five sons into royalty material as their tutor. At first glance, the princes have all the allure and refinement Heine would expect, but underneath their manicured exteriors are four potentially terrible tyrants.
Source: Anime News Network
There’s a subgenre of anime that I’ve recently become quite fond of, which I like to call “cute girls behaving badly.” The idea is simple but subtly subversive: Take your standard cute-girl character designs and then imbue them with traits that aren’t considered cute at all. No wide-eyed innocence or endless compassion here; nope, these gals are selfish, short-sighted, egotistical, and/or just plain lazy. They’re rarely malicious and they often have redeeming or (sym)pathetic qualities, which makes them relatable or at least funny, but they’re hardly what you’d called heroic ideals. They are, as we’ve talked about here before, trash characters.
The Royal Tutor is that, but with pretty boys.
In this premiere, we’re introduced to Heine Wittgenstein, an adult man who looks like a child, and the four princes he’s been hired to teach. While the series is adapted from a manga that runs in a shounen magazine, the premise and character designs are pretty clearly tailored to appeal to (straight) young women, and the first 5-10 minutes feel discouragingly calculated: Here we have the Shota, here the proud jerk, here the ditzy playboy, here the cold intellectual, and here the scary silent type!
It’s like a cornucopia of my least-favorite shoujo romantic hero tropes–until, it turns out, it isn’t. As our undaunted protagonist takes one of the princes aside for a one-on-one interview and placement test, he also learns more about him, and we discover that this bland trope is actually a trash bag wrapped around a cinnamon roll. He’s a petty, lazy, anxious ball of self-reproach, and his increasingly flustered interactions with Heine (himself unflappable and ruthless) are the highlight of the episode, both amusing and endearing. If the same thing happens with the other princes, we’ll have a cast of A+ trash boys on our hands.
The Royal Tutor may try to tug at the heartstrings at some point, as it definitely seems to be setting itself up as a story about how Heine earns the trust and respect of the hostile princes. For now, though, it’s content to present itself as an energetic comedy full of chibi sight gags and rapid-fire exchanges, with Heine playing the deadpan straight-man to the prince’s theatrical fool.
Admittedly, the premiere relies a little too heavily on the audience’s familiarity with archetypes, which may lose less genre-savvy viewers. That said, those tropes do fit well with what seems to be our underlying theme: “never judge a book by its cover.” Most of the conflict and humor comes from how each character’s appearance, status, or public persona contrasts with their internal reality, which holds all kinds of potential for both future gags and character development. How well The Royal Tutor balances its jokes with its story will likely determine whether it sticks around or fizzles out in the coming weeks.
While the premiere is sadly lacking in female characters (although the opening theme promises that both the doting grandmother and an as-yet-unseen little sister will be regular cast members), I’m happy to report there’s really nothing here that would chase away a feminist-minded viewer either. Heine’s youthful appearance is played for laughs but never sexualized (and he’s voiced by an adult man, so really doesn’t seem childlike at all), and there’s nothing to indicate any oh-so-unpleasant romantic rumblings between him and his students. So far this strikes me as very much a teacher-student story, and probably a family story; a goofy, slightly snarky comedy with an optimistic heart.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I liked this premiere a whole heckuva lot. Its gleeful silliness and good good trash boys put it squarely in my wheelhouse, and I spent the second act giggling pretty much nonstop. As long as it avoids the potential pitfalls built into its premise and finds a way to keep its characters and comedy from stagnating, The Royal Tutor could easily become an enjoyable fixture on the spring schedule.
Read the ANN Preview Guide review.
Dee is a nerd of all trades and a master of one. She has bachelor’s degrees in English and East Asian studies and an MFA in Creative Writing. To pay the bills, she works as a technical writer. To not pay the bills, she devours novels and comics, watches far too much anime, and cheers very loudly for the Kansas Jayhawks. You can hang out with her at The Josei Next Door, a friendly neighborhood anime blog for long-time fans and newbies alike, as well as on Tumblr and Twitter.
Want to see feminist reviews of more anime by more people? Make it possible for us to pay multiple people to review shows by becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month!