Yuzu Aihara, a fashionable, spontaneous and fun-loving city-girl, transfers to a new neighborhood and high-school after her mother's remarriage to another man. More preoccupied with boys and shopping than studying, Yuzu struggles to fit in at the conservative girls' school and frequently clashes with the student council—specifically Mei Aihara, the hard-working, beautiful but cold student council president. As it turns out, Mei happens to be Yuzu's new step-sister and Yuzu finds herself having to share a bedroom with a girl she absolutely can't stand. The series follows the evolution of the relationship between the two girls, with the animosity slowly lessening as the two begin to learn more about each other and confusion growing as Yuzu discovers that she is starting to develop romantic feelings for her new step-sister. (from Wikipedia.org)
Y’all might’ve noticed that I used to be a bit of a Debbie Downer when it came to my reviews, and that I had a habit of taking on awful shows to review just for the sake of reviewing them, because “somebody needs to do it”, not really taking my own enjoyment (or sanity) into account. But also, there was a part of me that enjoyed watching things for the sake of trashing them, and that might have been part of my "hipster anime" thing; people told me that I would grow out of anime as I matured, but more then anything I’ve grown out of watching bad anime as I’ve matured. I’m a busy woman juggling work alongside music, writing, and radio projects while dealing with a ton of medical issues, and more often than anything, I just need to enjoy what I watch, whether it’s a beautiful rendered masterpiece of a new fantasy-drama Ghibli-style movie or just some gentle cute yuri fluff.
But as the resident yuri fangirl at THEM, I’ve still definitely taken on my share of trash alongside the cuteness, and there’s a particular reason: among my writing projects has been a series on my tumblr devoted to extended discussions of yuri, and you can’t talk about the depictions of lesbians that make me feel validated as a gay woman without also talking about the depictions of lesbians that feel sexualized, fetishized, and designed for straight men to pleasure themselves to, not to mention sometimes how popular those are and how much exposure they get in the English speaking world at the expense of anything else.
And that’s how I’ve ended up with the not particularly enjoyable task of reviewing Citrus, both on my tumblr and here, as part of that project.
Citrus, as both a manga and anime, is an extremely problematic piece, and I’m not remotely happy that it’s become, to some extent, the face of yuri for a lot of english-speaking anime fans. It’s problematic for a lot of reasons: it’s sexualized and rapey, not to mention that at the core of the main character’s relationship (and a lot of the side ships as well) is abuse, manipulation, and neglect, and if that’s not enough, the bait-and-switch “SHOCK THEY’RE SISTERS BUT NOT REALLY” aspect really rubs me the wrong way. But Citrus is problematic, in my view, because it’s a sign that the depictions of lesbianism that get the most promotion, that get a high-budget, glossy production, that get the most widespread release and name-recognition, are depictions of abuse. At heart, it's about a genuinely kind girl, Yuzu, falling for an intensely neglectful and abusive person and continuing to want to be with her in spite of the signs; as somebody who's endured intimate partner abuse and is well aware of how pernicious that can be in the queer community, this show rubs me the wrong way, to put it mildly.
In my head, one of the few redeeming qualities of Citrus is that it at least occasionally talks about homophobia and what two girls being together would actually face realistically, compared to a large number of yuri that either sweep the topic under the rug, presumably because it’s some kind of “gay until graduation” thing, or exist in a fantasy setting whether the same rules (supposedly) don’t apply. Even then, though, I have my doubts, and one of the larger tonal inconsistencies of the show speaks to this. Yuzu, for example, starts the series bragging about her sexual experience with boys but admitting to herself that she’s never been with a guy and fretting about that being a “waste of her youth," not to mention being bummed at "wasting her youth" at an all-girls' school more on principle than anything and falling for the one, unobtainable male teacher; if that doesn’t sound like compulsory heterosexuality to you, then I don’t know if we're speaking the same language. Speaking of the school, even though Citrus pulls the yuri trick of setting everything at a girls’ school, it mentions that lots of the girls at the (very) ritzy school already have fiancees and that if they do get involved with each other, it’s strictly a Class S type of “fun”; I’m reminded of a queer friend who complained that even though everybody assumed that her all-girls’ high school was full of lesbians, most of the other girls were boy-crazy and treated anybody even suspected of being a lesbian terribly.
In Citrus, though we don’t really get that much insight into that briefly-mentioned aspect because the show focuses so heavily on Yuzu and Mei, and at least in the anime, all talk of boys regarding either Mei or Yuzu vanishes just as I'm starting to get remotely interested in how this story even handles the idea of compulsory heterosexuality. Mei also has a male fiiancee at the start of the series; after he gets exposed as a predator, he basically is never spoken of or heard from again, and any talk of Mei being with or being expected to marry men disappears, leaving only a plot centered around her ambiguous, confusing, and problematic sexual attraction towards another girl. There's a brief, fleetingly interesting arc about Mei's uptight Student Council right-hand lady, Himeko and her unrequited crush on her (which, again, as much as Himeko can be abrasive, just makes me sad), but nobody else from the school gets much development. There's several arcs that seem to depict various "types" of yuri involving characters from other schools, and I have some mixed feelings about this, at best. The arc centered around Yuzu's childhood neighbor and friend Matsuri is incredibly disturbing both because Matsuri is an inherently twisted, manipulative, and controlling character who enjoys both literally and emotionally blackmailing anybody who gets in her way, and also because it seems to me that rather than necessarily wanting to be with women, she just wants to manipulate people into doing her bidding, period, whether it's sending supposed porn of herself to men for money or trying to ruin Mei's reputation so that she can end up with Yuzu. She's the pink-haired girl in the pictures I've saved for this review, and I think you can take one look at her and start to suspect that something's...off. There's a somewhat better arc about Sara Tachibana (she has a busty twin sister who's mostly just there as a fanservice joke), who falls for Mei "not in spite of or because of her being a girl, she just happened to be a girl"; I don't think the author is woke enough to really have the idea of pensexuality or demisexuality on his radar, but she feels a bit like a prototype of that, and I've seen that show up in other yuri. But ultimately, that arc leads to a catalyst for Mei and Yuzu getting together again, and we don't get much out of her. We do see a fair bit of Yuzu's best friend Harumin, possibly the only other genuinely likable character in the series and whose sexuality is, sadly, so ambiguous that she's never even considered as an alternative to Mei; I'd happily write a fan fiction where Yuzu gives up on Mei's abuse and goes off with the one girl who actually treats her remotely like a real human being, because I'm definitely a sucker for that kind of story.
So ultimately, it feels like these characters just exist as plot devices to eventually make us believe that Yuzu and Mei belong together. And that's just...something I can't endorse. Ever. It's a relationship that starts with Mei groping and kissing Yuzu to show her "what sex is like", and it continues with her emotionally being distant even with Yuzu begs to be let in, only for her to suddenly get inappropriately and aggressively sexual because "that's what you want, isn't it?" And the show basically continues like this for 12 episodes, Mei plays “hot-and-cold” with Yuzu by kissing her out of the blue and groping her, then giving her the silent treatment and insisting she pretend it never happened; she plays mind games when Yuzu tries to approach her on the issue and gaslights her sister into believing that it was just play; she refuses to give her any sort of emotional response when confronted....the list goes on and on and on. Even if you can set aside the fact that a lot of the scenes in this anime feel really, really, rapey, the core of their relationship is nothing emotionally healthy. Mei seems like a sociopath more than anything, and no matter how "shallow" Yuzu might be, she’s a genuinely nice girl who I ended up feeling sorry for...no mater how "shallow" or "image-obsessed" she might be, she doesn't deserve any of this. The anime, of course, tries to frame all this as being the result of Mei's vague childhood trauma; I don’t care what sort of trauma Mei went through as a child, because she makes no effort to amend her behavior or recognize how that trauma affected her and causes her to treat other people today, and the show basically lets her off the hook for that. It's also really hard for me to see how what trauma we DO learn about, aka her father abandoning her, would lead to her....groping and kissing her stepsister nonconsensually. To me it feels like another weak “they were bullied so they ended up shooting the school up” type of argument, and it doesn’t hold up when you look at it closely, not to mention it seems to imply that her attraction to women exists because of her poor relationship with her father (which is a trope I'm pretty tired of). In short, it just doesn't add up.
And yet the internet is full of people drawing Mei/Yuzu fanart and shipping the two. Now, the interesting thing is that with the yuri blogs, faceboook pages, and tumblrs I’ve come across, I’ve often been able to tell which are run by queer girls and which are run by straight men simply because the latter are overloaded with Citrus fanart. Now don't get me wrong, I know my share of queer girls who've enjoyed problematic yuri tropes (I dated one, in fact), and the existence of stuff like 50 Shades of Gray obviously shows that women are plenty capable of internalizing and spreading rapey ideals of "love". And I know a handful of girls who read Citrus. And yet most of the queer anime fan girls I talk to about yuri with either have no interest in it or have nothing nice to say about it. A close friend told me "I just...can't believe in their relationship", and there's not much else to say, in my view. While it’s hardly news to call out that “lesbian” media is plenty of times constructed for the pleasure and enjoyment of heterosexual men, I do think that Citrus deserves a call-out because it’s gotten more mainstream popularity. It got a glossy, well-animated, and well-drawn adaptation helmed by Takeo Takahashi, a decently well-known director (though one who’s definitely also taken on some questionable series like Yosuga no Sora) and a catchy opening theme by nano.Ripe. And while it's always questionable how much opinion on this side of the pacific influences what does and doesn’t get animated, the more I dig through manga and doujin the more I become convinced that the whole “yuri is nothing but fetish fodder for straight men” myth exists mainly because stuff like Citrus is the face of yuri for a lot of people.
As the resident queer girl at THEM, I say “YURI: NOT APPROVED!”
Citrus is ultimately an awful series about an abusive relationship. That's all you need to know. Whatever redeeming qualities it might have, and those, in my view, are pretty damned half-baked, I'm tired of all the attention it's getting.
All I can think is…of all the yuri to actually get a full adaptation, why did it have to be this one. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: Within the first episode, Mei manages to kiss Yuzu against her will and grope her, and there’s just a lot of nonconsensual touching and groping at random moments throughout. It also manages to normalize emotional abuse, big time. Not for kids by any stretch.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Citrus © 2018 Saburouta · Ichijinsha / Citrus Production Committee
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