Yen Press's shojo offerings have always been hit or miss, but today's review covers one of the more notable ones, not the least of which is because it was originally one of their digital exclusives.
THE ROYAL TUTOR (Oshitsu Kyoshi Haine), by Higasa Akai. First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2017.
Heine Wittgenstein has been summoned to the Royal Palace of Granzreich for a daunting task: to become the royal tutor and turn the king's four younger sons into men worthy of the throne. This is no small feat, as he has to deal with the stubborn and childish Leonhart, the quiet and taciturn Kai, the scholarly and competitive Bruno, and the flirtatious and flippant Liche. It will take all of Heine's intellect and wit to get past their defenses and prove to them that he is worthy of the role as their teacher.
I wonder if that description is not a little deceptive. While it does accurate describe the plot, what it doesn't capture is that The Royal Tutor is mostly a silly frothy comedy with a secret, sentimental heart.
In a rather appropriate touch, the structure of this first volume is as tidy as any lesson plan: Heine is introduced, he meets the princes, he has his one-on-one interview with each of them, they all meet together, then have a welcoming party afterwards. Where the charm lies is in how Akai twists the reader's expectations of each of the boy for the sake of comedy. They clearly got the most material out of Leonhart,which is why his interview ends up stretching out for almost half a chapter as well as the most dramatic moments with him afterwards. In comparison, his brother's gimmicks don't support nearly so much screentime, although the occasional hint of Liche's cunning promises some more interesting content further down the line.
What about Heine himself? Well, he works well as the straightman to all the nonsense around him. He's stern and unflinching when he needs to be, but also perceptive and clever enough to grasp the boys' true personalities and rework his plans to get to the heart of their issues. Yet the last page indicates that he's got a few insecurities of his own relating to his station. He's also sensitive about his tiny height, something that is endlessly milked for humor. This contrast isn't handled any differently or more deeply than the princes and none of the jokes rise above a mild chuckle, but it serves the same purpose: to anchor these silly, silly boys with a bit of sentiment.
The primary visual draw for The Royal Tutor are its pretty, delicate bishonen. Each of the princes is prettier than the last, and even Heine is drawn with a certain, doll-like beauty. Unlike a lot of pretty boy artists, though, Akai is able to maintain their looks during the comedic bits. The boys may grimace, run, fight, yell, or simply flail about, but their lovingly styled locks and sparkling eyes stay on model. In contrast, a lot of the jokes about Heine depend on him being drawn in chibi mode. It's used not only for reaction shots, but for more interactive gags such as one of the boys picking him up like a ragdoll or him getting wedged between his bed and the wall due to his size. Aside from that, there's not much more to say about the art. It's all drawn in a very lively manner, but not a remarkable one.
The Royal Tutor isn't quite substantial enough to shine, but it's charming and funny enough to work as a pleasant trifle to pass the time.
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is ongoing in Japan with 8 volumes available. 3 volumes have been published and are currently in print.
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