The Charming Empire is an otome visual novel that does not shy away from darker elements of life as a member of the royal family. While these are themes that can come up in many of its storylines, it is especially evident in Kei Yoshimine’s storyline. After all, he is a kidnapped prince who was brought to Japan in the Taisho era, held as what is basically a prisoner and is left to act as a tutor to players’ avatar as the story begins. The sides of court life players see here and the lessons learned offer an insight into a plausible world that is not as bright and lavish as people might expect.
All of The Charming Empire‘s routes hint at some element of danger. Our heroine is largely confined to the castle in various storylines. We even see an attempted attack on her journey to the capital in one route. But Kei’s path lends extra gravity to the situation. This young man has been living as a forgotten reminder of a fallen empire that was considered a traitor. He has been left behind and forced to deal with the poisonous snakes in the court and in other positions in the palace, and much of his route has him not only teaching our avatar languages, manners and practices, but warning her about life in the palace.
Kei’s first lesson has to do with knowing how to wear the mask to get by. Our avatar in The Charming Empire is told multiple times that she is a pawn. She will be seen and not heard. He advises her to know how to use her smile. He stresses how important impressions are and how easy it is to fool people. It is because of him that she learns how to smile to get what she wants. She can soften up a maid and get a little nicer treatment by tactically employing one. When forced to participate in a special event and dance, being pleasant can help her endure upper class people who would want to exploit her.
The second lesson is to exercise caution. Kei warns her not to trust anyone in the palace. Not the servants who work around her every day. Not her brother, who disrupted her life in the countryside to bring her there and use her as a tool. Not the people in the upper classes who try to curry her favor. Not even him, who seems to have her best interests at heart. This is hammered home when a stray dog Kei had been caring for in the palace garden disappears. Kei saw the princess’ brother, Soshi, catch it. This is a world where everything can be disposable. If people get attached to something, they risk losing it.
There is also the element of loyalty. Throughout Kei’s storyline, people will get to see how alliances shift. The nation of Yako, Kei’s home country, is painted as a traitor. During one party, Soshi recounts what happened to cause its downfall, Kei being taken as a prisoner of war and the current state of affairs. Other events, ones that are rather large spoilers, show how alliances of different people are tested. Everyone in this court has an agenda. It is very rare for the desires and objectives of those around the princess to align with her own happiness and wellbeing.
This means the budding love story between the princess and Kei is only one of the compelling tales unfolding. Watching what is happening around her, the slips of the tongue and actions of these people, and seeing how everyone reacts to events shows how many dangers lurk around this young woman. It gives us an opportunity to look beyond idealized notions of royal life and understand what someone might experience.