REVIEW: Citrus

Citrus | シトラス
Release: 2018

It was the probably the most anticipated yuri anime this year. Based on Saburouta’s popular yuri manga running from 2012 and concluding just last month. I’m going out on a limb here and guessing that the 12-episode anime doesn’t cover the full story, but we’ll go with what we have.

Our leading ladies are Yuzu Aihara, a blonde and outspoken gyaru fashionista, and Mei Aihara, a beautiful but stone cold bitch. Yes, they have the same last name, and no, it’s not a coincidence, but don’t worry: they aren’t sisters. Sort of.

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There’s no point in a drum roll when the opening credits are comfortably explicit, but for the sake of thematic uniformity: is it gay?

IS IT GAY? 10/10

Yep.

It’s a sappy romance, so GL doesn’t just dominate the story, it is the story. Not only between the two main characters, but several supporting characters indicate their romantic or sexual attraction to Yuzu or Mei.

DIVING INTO CITRUS

The story begins when Yuzu and her mother move to a new town, due to the mother recently marrying a mysterious rich guy whom Yuzu has never met and whom will not be living with them. Somehow, Yuzu takes the fact that she doesn’t know anything about her new step-dad beyond his last name in stride (and she only picked up that much only because it’s now her own last name), and at any rate, she’s got more important things to worry about, such as falling in love and instantly ascending to queen bee status at her new school. A fashion-lover, she adds her own flair to the school uniform by changing most of it, and adding gyaru-signature accessories and makeup. Turns out, the new school in question is a conservative all-girls school, and she doesn’t make it through the gates before the student council president Mei reprimands Yuzu. Mei confiscates her cell phone by groping her, leading to Yuzu staggering between being offended and weirdly turned on. Yuzu reminiscences on the casual molestation all day, and is in for just one more surprise when she gets home: Mei is her brand new step-sister, and is moving in.

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Mei is a stoic young woman and doesn’t show much emotion, except when she’s making it clear she hates Yuzu’s guts. Things get weirder when she hears that Mei is the granddaughter of the school chairman and is already engaged to be married to a school teacher. She catches the teacher in question making out with Mei behind the school. When Yuzu needles Mei about it back home, Mei responds by pinning Yuzu down and kissing her.

(Mei doesn’t mean it in a nice way.)

Yuzu’s candid personality causes a social hurricane at the glumly traditional school, eventually leading to her being temporarily expelled. She manages to catch Mei’s fiance talking about how he’s only in the engagement for money, which neatly nixes that awkward child bride development (because marrying off young girls is fine unless the older guy is in it for the money and not because he is attracted to teenagers.) Mei is single again, and pulls a few strings with her grandfather to un-expel Yuzu, but the relationship is still sour. Mei is unfriendly and overworked. She is busy doing important student council things, like balancing the school’s budget, attendance and admission records, attending board meetings, and other normal things that you’d naturally entrust unpaid 15-year-old girls to do in a professional setting.

Yuzu’s trying, though. Because every time Mei tries to sexually assault Yuzu into leaving her alone, Yuzu falls more in lust with Mei. Despite being such an asshole, Mei is secretly a very sensitive girl who just wants the love and validation her wayward father isn’t giving her, so she starts to warm up to the persistent Yuzu just a little. Sparks fly but sputter out, since they never seem to be on the same page at the same time (with the two pages in question being “act like sisters” and “fuck like rabbits”.) Yuzu’s pretty much madly in love at this point, but Mei, despite being the one to repeatedly initiate sexual advances, tells Yuzu they should just act like step-sisters.

But her attitude changes pretty quickly when a childhood friend of Yuzu’s comes to town and starts macking on her in front of Mei. Enter Matsuri, a 14-year-old pink-haired clinical psychopath whose part-time job is selling panty photographs to old perverts and who decides she’s in love with her old sempai Yuzu. Upon noticing Yuzu’s got it bad for Mei, she declares war on Mei for Yuzu’s affections. Jealous Mei responds to the Matsuri’s repeated baiting by launching one of her infamous non-consensual kisses at her, in order to “take back the kiss she stole from Yuzu”. Matsuri, who planned this from the start, catches this casual sexual assault on camera. Oops.

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I bet her parents don’t love her, either.

Armed with this incriminating photo, Matsuri stalks Yuzu and harasses her into a Christmas date, and blackmails Mei into prostituting herself with one of her pervert clients. (I’m dead fucking serious.) It’s unclear if Mei actually slept with the client or not, but Yuzu realizes something is up and goes to find her. Yuzu makes Matsuri apologize to Mei and they all go home friends again. (?!)

Mei is pretty pleased that Yuzu was worried about her and that Matsuri’s more or less out of the picture. It’s a romantic Christmas night, so Mei strips and suggests they do it. Yuzu gets cold feet. It’s awkward. Fizzle, fizzle.

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Next, it’s a class field trip to Kyoto, but a spurned Mei is not talking to Yuzu. This means Mei doesn’t wake Yuzu up in time to catch the train with the rest of the group, so the chronically-late Yuzu has to travel by herself. Luckily, she runs into another stray from another conveniently Kyoto-bound school group named Sara, so the pair bonds and boards the bullet train together. Sara chatters that she fell in love with an awesome girl she just met at the station, but doesn’t know her name. Yuzu is surprised but pleased to meet another lesbian, and reveals that she, too, is in love with her sister.

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Loli-aesthetic Sara also has a taller twin sister who has big boobs and a habit of flailing around and crushing people against her chest in tearful emotional hugs. Just in case that’s your thing.

The pair meet up with their respective classes for Kyoto sight-seeing, and we find out, of course, that the girl Sara fell for is none other than Mei. (Collective audience gasp.) Yuzu wants to apologize to Mei about that whole Christmas no-sex thing, and also verbalize her real feelings, but doesn’t know how since Mei bounces between making out with her and telling her they should just be normal step-sisters. Sara has no such incestuous holdups, and confesses her love to Mei when she spots her again. Mei is more irritated with Yuzu than ever, who botches her own confession attempt by telling Mei she cares about her as a sister, and so accepts Sara’s request for a date.

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It’s symbolic, see? Get it?

Yuzu, determined to get it right this time, goes out to crash the date, but Mei’s already parted from Sara. Sara, who is really very gracious about the whole thing, tells Yuzu to find her at Yasaka Shrine. Yuzu hurricanes herself in that direction and chases Mei down. A very vulnerable Mei tries to run away, but Yuzu blurts out all of her confused feelings and finally makes the big confession (as though Mei wasn’t already aware). Mei gets shy. They kiss.

That’s pretty much it.

THE LADIES: YUZU

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Yuzu Aihara was, despite a few minor hitches, a fucking fantastic protagonist. Unapologetically fashionable, charmingly rebellious, and shamelessly outspoken, Yuzu is a gem of a personality rarely represented as MCs in the yuri genre – or, to be honest, in anime in general. She’s adorably animated, featuring a new outfit or hairstyle every episode, and despite her disregard for rules and her slight self-obsession, she’s so bubbly, warm, and caring that you want to root for her. Yuzu does amazing things, like initiate important but difficult conversations about feelings, and embraces open communication to clear up interpersonal misunderstandings. Yuzu is the hero we’ve been waiting for.

It’s just a mystery and a goddamn shame that she fell in love with Mei.

THE LADIES: MEI

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I’m being a little mean to Mei – I guess it’s because of the repeated sexual assaults – but I get it. Mei’s cold exterior hides a sensitive girl who wants to do her duty and excel, especially in the student council, in order to protect her father’s honor. (He’s run off in search of adventure or something, leaving both his kid and his brand new wife in the process.) Mei’s not only taken advantage of by the expectations of being heir to the school, but more literally by the adult man her family engaged her off to. Mei’s desperate for affection and compensates by being a jerk. Perhaps her own victimization has led to an inappropriate sense of sexual boundaries or some kind of resentment/revenge combo that makes her treat sex like a weapon. Yeah, yeah, I get it. This is the most common personality trope in romance fiction, especially among sullen semes, after all.

Mei gets a bit better when she stops molesting people, and has some sweeter moments at the end. She’s most interesting when she’s opening up. Whether or not she’s permanently soured for you before then is a matter of personal taste.

NOT ACTUALLY SISTERS: A ROMANCE

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I have to give Citrus some points in genuinely exploring sexual attraction. No “pure love” here, where untainted feelings are summed up with a chaste kiss. The characters here definitely feel attraction and are definitely interested in having sex. The question is why.

The first and most obvious observation is the age-old adage of “opposites attract”. But to be fair, neither seems particularly attracted to the other’s definitive traits. If anything, Mei is annoyed by Yuzu’s fast-and-loose personality, and Mei’s uptight asshattery just pisses Yuzu off. So that’s not it.

It seems to initially just be physical. Yuzu is absolutely and quantitatively sexually obsessed with Mei. She makes frequent internal commentary about her soft-looking skin, her glossy hair, and her beauty. Mei likewise seems to reciprocate sexual interest when Yuzu surprise-kisses her early in the series. (Actually, Mei seems to get turned on when people touch her romantically in general. It’s borderline over-the-top.)

From there, it’s still not clear what Yuzu would like about Mei, but Yuzu’s sheer charm make the relationship interesting. They both have flaws that they help one another mend. Yuzu’s got to learn to mature and think about the feelings of others (allegedly, anyway, as she’s actually pretty level-headed when she’s not being a comic relief and she’s consistently thoughtful and caring toward others.) Mei has to learn how to not be a bitch, which Yuzu demonstrably helps her with – going so far as to encourage to her apologize to those she’s hurt in several sweet, character-building scenes. More nominally, she encourages Mei to not shoulder so many responsibilities and personal expectations.

In turn, Mei helps Yuzu study a little bit. Yuzu’s grades sort of improve. Cool.

THE FUCKING FRUSTRATING

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I’m honestly not going to rag much on what would, in the real world, be considered sexual assault within the context of romance fantasy. (I run a yaoi/yuri blog, after all.) It’s just that the relationship was at its peak when the girls were acting like genuine high school students trying (and fumbling) to figure out their relationship. It was disappointing to see what had the potential to be an earnest exploration of young lesbian love so unfortunately bogged down by cheap eroticism and absurd subplots.

Not that I can’t handle cheap eroticism and absurd subplots, but it’s an issue of narrative consistency. Let’s talk one more time about that little bubblegum horror show, Matsuri. What the fuck. Mei should not have attack-kissed a middle-school kid, but that little freakshow blackmailed her into prostituting herself. This was freaky, and that it was just tossed aside afterwards was even more shocking. If anything, it highlights Mei’s dark cynicism, jaded personality, and heavy mental health issues. Mei alludes to this herself when she makes her own confession to Yuzu, telling her that “there are some things inside me that would terrify you.” Neat! If we’re going for dark, I’ll get the popcorn, but the show stubbornly holds on to its jovial and light-hearted tone. Citrus wanted a ball in two courts, vacillating between sweet and fucked up, which made it disjointed. Sexual assault was scattered nonchalantly into lip gloss, crepes, and strawberry shortcake.

The girls’ sexuality teetered between refreshingly romantic authenticity and outright fanservice. It’s a tricky balance to capture a real teenage relationship without being exploitative. Listen, I’m not in high school anymore. I hate 16-year-olds. 16-year-olds are the worst humans except for 15-, 14- and 13-year-olds. I furthermore don’t like 16-year-old fanservice. But then again, I also admit that I probably would have a different opinion if I was in high school at the time of watching this, instead of a no-fun-allowed grown-up, so I’ll lay off.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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OVERALL SCORE: 4/10

The animation was lovely and the design was neat, but Citrus ran a little sour for me. I was mildly interested in the progression of the love story (mainly thanks to Yuzu), but though the finale episode was admittedly lovely, Mei’s good moments were few and far between. Most of the supporting characters (minus best friend/Best Girl Harumin) were either embarrassing, annoying, or downright disturbing. Ultimately, it’s a romance anime without much substance beyond the rocky panning out of the romance in question.

Yuzu, however, was the fucking queen. She salvaged a story that would’ve sunk hard if an innocent and shy wide-eyed waif had been cast as the protagonist.

WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Funimation (dub), Crunchyroll (sub)

3 thoughts on “REVIEW: Citrus”

  1. I thought the way Yuku was clearly having mixed feelings about Mei and her own sexuality created a lot of tension in the show and was handled well. The other girls just seemed to get in the way, and what that told me is that they thought the Mei/Yuku story was only good for a couple hours, and they had to toss the others in to stretch out the series.

    I haven’t seen the manga. Have you? Are they structured differently?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, I did enjoy how the show handled Yuzu trying to figure out her feelings! She was by far my favorite part of the series. Most of the side characters were just rivals for either Yuzu or Mei’s affections, so unfortunately, they just weren’t very independently interesting characters to me.

      Out of curiosity, I did read the first chapter of the manga, and it was more or less the same – just a little bouncier and more fast-paced (for instance, the kiss at the end of the first episode isn’t so dramatic and drawn out). Honestly, I think that kind of format would probably have worked better for a story like this.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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