For some reason it’s been super hard for me to write this review. I’ve probably started and stopped writing this about three times so far. I went back and rewatched the whole series after stopping at episode four last season just to remind my brain what I actually thought of it as a whole. Maybe this review wouldn’t have been so hard to write if the series was bad or good for that matter, but I think it’s hard to write about just because it’s so average. And I think that’s why I have such a problem with yuri anime in general. There have been a few stand-out series for sure. I absolutely loved Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, but Citrus leaves me frustrated and wanting (and not in a good way). I see so many tropes and pitfalls reflected in this series that I’ve seen pop up again and again, problems that have ultimately prevented me from liking yuri manga and anime in general for a long time (and some yaoi as well).
Citrus is a high school romance with a bit of sisterly taboo love thrown into the mix. Yuzu is your fairly typical fashionable teen, a self-proclaimed Gyaru defined by their bleach blonde hair, focus on flashy fashion, and love of large accessories. After her mother decides to remarry, Yuzu is forced to transfer to a new school, one that happens to be all-girl and strict on conformity. Her Gyaru style stands out ridiculously from all the other dress-code-adhering students. To make matters worse, she finds out that the student council president, a girl who lectured her and stole her phone on her first day, is her new half-sister. And they’re going to be living together from now on. But after her step-sister pins her to the bed and kisses her, Yuzu begins to think that her feelings for her sister may be more than familial love.
Here is where my problems with the series start. Yuzu and Mei’s relationship ultimately begins with a scene depicting sexual assault. This is the foundation of their relationship and everything that comes after this is predicated on this one event. I may sound like I’m being overly critical right now, but hear me out. Anime and manga stories surrounding homosexuality have a habit of using a certain trope as a way to kick-start relationships: sexual assault. We see it here in this story and we see it in others like the ever popular Junjou Romantica. In using this moments as foundations, it begins to paint the relationship in a negative light and creates this underlying trope that sexual assault from a member of the same gender turns you gay. In the scene where Yuzu kisses Mei in her grandfather’s office, she claims “it’s all because you kissed me”, seemingly saying that her feelings for Mei would not have come about if it wasn’t for her initial kiss. And the problem is that we really don’t have any idea what Yuzu’s sexual preferences were before this kiss, though evidence points to her being straight. However, that’s not the issue. The issue is that the scene didn’t have to be so forcibly done, and that makes me think that it was done for the shock and titillation value more than anything.
Which is another issue: the over-sexualization of women for fanservice. You absolutely can like fanservice and smokey romance scenes. It’s not my place to tell you your likes are wrong. My opinion, though, is that fanservice or scenes of physical intimacy should have a purpose in the wider story. Take the scene in I think episode two where Yuzu falls into a fountain dragging Mei down with her. We get a nice close-up shot of them in skin-tight soaking clothes, positioned over each other in a clearly sexual scene. What’s the purpose there? Does this scene have any wider value to the overall characterization of these characters? To me, no. It’s before their relationship really takes off and because Yuzu is never shown afterwards to really be a klutz, doesn’t really fit in with her character. It’s mainly their to be eye candy for the viewers, to keep them hooked with regular moments of fanservice so they’ll keep watching. We see this focus on over-sexualization prop up again with the director’s repeated use of close-ups on lips and kissing scenes, with the animation quality upped a couple notches just for these scenes for good measure as well.
But if the stories or the characters are good, I can usually look past some of these things. I’ve done it before after Love Stage’s questionable sexual assault scene, and it’s become one of my favorite yaoi anime because I love the story and the characters. The problem is that neither are very good in Citrus. Yuzu may be one of the better main characters in the series, and I did generally enjoy following her story, but even she has her downsides as a character. I loved how she’s both this fashion-loving Gyaru but also a really caring person, looking after her mother and her friends with fiery devotion. However, I hated how much of a push-over she was. By the end of the series I just became frustrated with her forgiveness of both Mei and Matsuri for their actions throughout the series.
Mei’s character just never interested me in the first place. It was way too one dimensional, something the director displayed nicely through her monochrome half of the bedroom. As someone who works at a textbook company, I know no publisher in their right mind would make their books that boring looking. Textbook cover designers have their pride too. The black and white, or in this case black and pink, contrast is just too much and is a blatant and pretty boring characterization short cut. While Mei did get some characterization by the end of the series, I will admit, I didn’t really think it was enough or even consistent. It also seemed like a lot of her personal problems came down to daddy issues that were only slightly resolved. Take Mei’s decision to stick with her dream of taking over the school after her father says he’s never returning. Her whole reason for working towards that dream was for her father, and after multiple cases of characters, even her grandfather, telling her to seriously consider her choices, her final decision left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe because it felt like Mei’s character arc was stuck in stagnation without real change, I’m not sure, but I felt like I wanted something else to happen, for her to show some genuine interest in a topic or hobby.
I did find myself loving a few characters though, and I would genuinely like to see more of them or more of their type: Harumin and Sara. Both of these girls were pretty interesting. Harumin is a no-nonsense, caring, secret Gyaru who seems like a great friend to have. She lives with her grandmother and is a huge history buff. She’s able to give honest advice to Yuzu as well as not judge her on her questionable choices. Sara is also pretty awesome, and is a nice ray of progressiveness in this fairly standard yuri show. She’s a pansexual who doesn’t factor in gender when she falls in love with someone. She’s able to give Yuzu honest advice about loving someone of the opposite gender. I just wish she wasn’t used as a plot device and was actually given some slight bit of happiness.
That also brings me back to my main point about the plot though, which has a whole host of problems, pacing being the chief among them. The story flies by way too fast with major plot points coming up and being resolved without an appropriate amount of time given to them. Take the return of Mei’s father. I think he gets a grand total of one episode. One episode to explore and resolve all of Mei’s issues around her father. In the end, it winds up being fairly anticlimactic. The worst offender in terms of pacing is Sara’s arc. She’s one of the best characters in the series and she gets introduced in the last three episodes, a fact that leaves her with only enough time to be a plot device to force Mei and Yuzu to reconcile. This arc also brings up Yuzu’s final reconciliation with her feelings as she ultimately rejects Mei’s offer of sex leading to a fight that lasts the rest of the series. Yuzu is questioning why she actually fell for Mei in the first place, something that should have been addressed earlier in all honesty, the ultimate answer that comes from the writer through the voice of Sara is that she rejected Mei that day because “you must have just not been feeling well.” Ummmmm……that’s a cop-out. That’s a major cop-out. One that left a seriously bad taste in my mouth and ultimately confirmed for me that the purpose of Citrus was not to create a good story of two girls falling in love.
In the end, I’m definitely not the audience that Citrus was aiming for. A lot of yuri winds up being created by men for men, much like a lot of yaoi is created by women for women. For someone who’s not your average yuri fan, this anime just wound up being blatantly average with glaring plot shortcuts and uninteresting characters. I’m still going to hope that someday I’ll find a super sweet yuri show to watch that doesn’t fall into a lot of these pitfalls, but until that time I’ll probably continue to be overly cynical of yuri stories. I hope this all wound up making sense, I might be a little brain frazzled right now, it’s been a long week. If you’ll excuse me I’m going to go pass out now and cuddle my cat who’s been staring at me mournfully from his box in the corner.
~~Thanks for Reading~~
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