[Review] citrus – Episode 1

What’s it about? Yuzu is living in a new place and starting at a new school thanks to her mother’s remarriage, and her Gal fashion gets her in trouble immediately with the strict student council president. Things get worse when Yuzu comes home to another revelation: the student council president is actually her new stepsister.

Give me a minute to strap in, because I feel like I’m wading into a pit of snakes with this one. Citrus is as contentious as it is popular, and it’s easy to see why: this is a series that likes taboos and seems far more invested in mining them for melodramatic shock value than serious consideration. To weigh against that, we have… pretty much just the fact that yuri series are very rarely animated with this kind of budget.

Yuzu, her face in shadow as she looks at her phone. caption: Honestly, I've never once been in love

Let’s start with the positives and work our way down from there. Yuzu is a great protagonist, a welcome breath of fresh air from the doe-eyed serious girls and flustered ditzy ingenues. She’s inexperienced and still basing her romantic fantasies off of scenes in manga, but she’s also confident and unafraid to stand up for herself (until the plot says so anyway; Yuzu is exactly as passive as the scene wants her to be whenever the nonconsensual crap comes up).

There’s also the fact that, as a melodrama, the series knows how to hit its beats. This is a story that runs on over-the-top emotions—the fact that responsible Mei is clearly hiding trauma behind her brusque and aggressive exterior (and she’ll only open up to Yuzu, GASP), the I’m-not-jealous-yes-I-am angle with the briefly mentioned arranged marriage and the super, super gross student/teacher kiss; and the classic “I hate you and we’re DEFINITELY not gonna kiss!” dynamic.

Yuzu staring down Mei, hands on her hips

Even the sister-fucking angle, if I might put my neck on the chopping block, is done with basically as much restraint as the genre is capable of. Mei and Yuzu aren’t related by blood and only meet as high school students, meaning that the story setup retains the “oh no, I have to live under the same roof with someone I find hot” angle without flagrantly ignoring the existence of the Westermarck effect.

The “sister” angle is basically lip service. That lip service is frustrating, given that incest has become increasingly popular in the yuri genre as a way to imply that f/f relationships are basically like sisters, really. But it’s still the most tolerable sibling-fucking story I’ve sat through since the early chapters of Marmalade Boy, and consequently it feels like part of the overall melodramatic landscape rather than a specifically egregious element.

On the other hand, the two scenes of physical contact between our future couple are totally nonconsensual, with Mei pouncing on the uncomfortable Yuzu. Now that’s not great in general, but it’s worse because this series is famous primarily for the explicitness of its makeout scenes (which isn’t in itself a problem—queer audiences get thirsty too!—but so, so many participants in that conversation have been dudes).

The fact that the marketing and word of mouth for this show largely pitches it as “the sexy lesbian show” was already uncomfortable, and the elements that seem to make it popular above and beyond other yuri series not only doubles but triples down on that discomfort. It’s great to see a show about romance between women that’s open about sexuality. It’s not great to see a yuri series become popular with a mainstream crowd at the expense of boiling it down to “gurls kissing sure is hawt.”

Mei pinning Yuzu to the futon and kissing her, Mei's hair covering their faces

This is the kind of show that I would cheerfully wave off as highly problematic but consumable trash if it existed in a robust genre where a viewer could easily seek out another positive, healthy f/f romance also airing this season. But yuri adaptations are rare—as with the BL genre, I can’t help but think of all the better, more consensual but less popular series that I would’ve rather seen get this level of budget and mass attention.

In that light, citrus is a depressing litmus test of the fact that works fetishizing queerness and playing into sensationalism are way more likely to get mainstream attention. Where were you assholes for FLIP FLAPPERS?!

…I am gonna watch another episode, though.

 

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  • Kenna

    As a lesbian i went in thinking i could bear with the problematic aspects for some much needed GL and the breathtakingly gorgeous high femme protagonist, but god. it’s so, so bad. predatory, r*pe-y tsunderes preying on innocent “straight” girls is not how it works in life, and it’s always portrayed like that in anime. it’s painful to watch and it hurts to think that this is how people in the anime/manga industry see gays, encouraging viewers/readers to see gays as predatory too. is it that hard to make a cute unproblematic yuri show? for god’s sake. such a disappointment.

  • Maimishou

    Honestly, I don’t have a problem with the incest elements because while it’ll always be bad in real life in fiction there are ways to make those sort of things less inappropriate though obviously whether or not that’s possible depends on who you ask.

    What I have more of a problem with is the sexual harassment/assault. It happens three times and none of it is treated as very well. There’s the scene were Mei steals Yuzu’s phone which is used for fanservice and while Yuzu is clearly uncomfortable with it and calls her out the show proceeds to ignore it immediately afterwards. I haven’t read the manga but from what I’ve seen people say the scene between Mei and the teacher was meant to be assault but it isn’t played that way at all. Now I don’t always mind age gaps in fiction (Three of my Precure ships involve age gaps.) but it has to be handled right. Mei’s clearly meant to be uncomfortable here according to what I’ve seen people mention but the show doesn’t play it that way. Instead the show plays the assault like she’s interested and while it’s possible to read that as a misunderstanding on Yuzu’s part the show should have made it more clear to the viewers if that’s meant to be the case. Finally, there’s the ending which is probably the worst case of sexual assault this episode. Yuzu is clearly uncomfortable throughout but then it follows this up by making it look like she was turned on by the whole thing and that’s bad because it reads like the assault itself will be setup for the romance to come.

    That said, I’m not sure about the show. I’ve heard that it’s not particularly fetishy at all but the pandering to incest fans makes me skeptical of that. You mentioned that it’s mostly popular for its makeout scenes but from what I’ve seen and heard the main draw is apparently the arstyle because the writing is supposed to not be very good from what I’ve read. For now I’m cautiously interested in seeing more and I’m hoping the assault it toned down but from all the mixed things I’ve been hearing I may have to drop it eventually.

  • Becki

    I’ve been reading the manga for a while, and while it absolutely gets off to a rough start, thankfully things improve eventually consent-wise. But I can definitely understand being concerned about the series based on what’s out so far.
    It bothers me that the anime made it look like Mei was enjoying the kiss with the teacher though. That part was not meant to come across that way at all, and it was much more clearly an assault in the manga.
    The kiss at the end of the episode, however, is intended to be uncomfortable, it’s basically a (very misguided) cry for help from Mei, but it’s easy to mistake it for playing into similar yuri tropes without the added context that will probably come in future episodes.

    • alecksis

      I actually thought the kiss with the teacher went better than expected– up close, it is more apparent that Mei is struggling/not enjoying herself, and then the camera pulls back and you see how Yuzu could mistake it for being something romantic. But I also didn’t feel it was clearly assault in the manga until after Mei assaults Yuzu in the same way and says “that’s what kisses are like.” These two scenes gave me so much hope that the anime might fix a lot of the issues I had with the manga.

  • Alden

    as someone who has been following the manga since 2013 and is hyped as hell for the anime, i pretty much agree with everything in this article. i mean i still like the series, but that doesn’t mean i cant recognize its flaws

  • alecksis

    I absolutely agree– Citrus is sensationalist and fetishizing. The series dives into some complex issues, and then immediately buries them under a mound of garbage in the hopes you’ll forget about it. But… I love it? It’s garbage. It’s not a sweet romance at all. But it can be fun and surprisingly heartfelt. Mei is a hugely flawed character but my heart breaks for her because she reminds me of me after my assault. There’s a thread of goodness throughout Citrus that surfaces sometimes and keeps me watching/reading. I watched this first episode twice because I was impressed at how much better the anime was and how it seemed to be moving in a positive direction (groping scene notwithstanding… that will always be trash.) I’m a bit more hopeful that it will be better than the source material, because it could so, so easily be so terrible.

  • Vrai

    I was specifically remarking on the uptick in actual incest series that have the characters entering a relationship after having grown up together, not the use of adoption laws as a way of trying to get rights for one’s partner. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Cordelia

    It’s not that I disagree with the points made here (and it’s wholly correct about the problems with the series), but as a lesbian it is so tedious to repeatedly see the response to not-great series which, at least, acknowledge the existence of female desire be “well, it’s sexualising and male-gazy… have you considered flip flappers?” If I only wanted to watch innocent middle schoolers having very chaste relationships, I wouldn’t even consider watching citrus. There is a real lesbian demand for Yuri anime that get to be sexy!

    I do get that this is referring to the general tendency of the media not to care about the innocent portrayals, and of course that’s correct. Nevertheless as a lesbian who does think girls kissing sure is hot, having that angle dismissed wholeheartedly as just ‘the wider audience’ is always a bit frustrating!

    • Vrai

      I’d love to see more sexually-charged yuri get adapted (truly, the day Sayo Yamamoto makes a yuri series we will all be blessed), but I can’t stan for one that’s playing so hard into the nonconsensual element. Like I said, I see why this is pulpy fun for a lot of folks, but its status as both the only high profile yuri right now and the one that’s getting a lot of straight attention makes it more frustrating than anything.

  • Jennifer O’Donnell

    I’m honestly surprised this was put under the “It’s Complicated” category. I can’t stand by that it’s considered an okay story just because it’s the only yuri anime out this season, and there aren’t many well animated yuri out there.
    If either of the characters were male this would be a show covered in red flags.

    It also hits a personal note as my best friend was abused by another girl for a year in high school. She still goes to a counselor about it. Making this anime extremely triggering.

    Sexual assault is not okay no matter if it’s straight or not, fantasy or real. It doesn’t help that this really is soft core porn made for straight guys. (I’ve seen so many comments about it along the lines of “6 counts of sexual assault in this episode 10/10″………)