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.
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.
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.”
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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