During the summer of her freshman year of high school, Yuzu Aihara's mother remarried, forcing her to transfer to a new school. To a fashionable socialite like Yuzu, this inconvenient event is just another opportunity to make new friends, fall in love, and finally experience a first kiss. Unfortunately, Yuzu's dreams and style do not conform with her new ultrastrict, all-girls school, filled with obedient shut-ins and overachieving grade-skippers. Her gaudy appearance manages to grab the attention of Mei Aihara, the beautiful and imposing student council president, who immediately proceeds to sensually caress Yuzu's body in an effort to confiscate her cellphone.
Thoroughly exhausted from her first day, Yuzu arrives home and discovers a shocking truth—Mei is actually her new step-sister! Though Yuzu initially tries to be friendly with her, Mei's cold shoulder routine forces Yuzu to begin teasing her. But before Yuzu can finish her sentence, Mei forces her to the ground and kisses her, with Yuzu desperately trying to break free. Once done, Mei storms out of the room, leaving Yuzu to ponder the true nature of her first kiss, and the secrets behind the tortured expression in the eyes of her new sister.
Citrus is a series that is tragically misunderstood; a story with far more substance and depth than word of mouth would lead you to believe. Not long after this show started airing, it’s become easy for people to write off any element in the story as a means to arbitrarily wring out some voyeuristic lesbian action, rather than stopping to think of the purpose it actually holds for the narrative. When a sexual assault occurs, viewers assume that it’s romanticizing such an action and therefore condones it. When an emotional barrier props up, it’s assumed to be nothing more than a way of piling on
more drama. These premature assessments are commonly made when shows like this are perceived as simple fetish material, framed as horribly misplaced criticisms that leave Citrus in an undeservedly contemptuous light; as a guilty pleasure unworthy of further analysis or appraisal. Citrus is not mere fetish material, does not promote or romanticize sexual assault, and provides layered and well-developed characters whose actions are realistically influenced by both internal and external conflicts. A bittersweet feeling perpetuates as we follow naive teenagers consistently characterized as those who are lost and confused, behaving in ways that are less than ideal, but are hurdles along the way of a gripping and emotionally compelling tale that is certainly rough around the edges, but well worth the ride.
There’s a common conjecture about Citrus saying that it treats sexual assault as a form of love and the blossoming romance is in the form of Stockholm syndrome, and both these things are wholly untrue. Firstly, while the actions of Mei Aihara undeniably walk on the borderline of sexual assault, none of these instances are framed as romantic or mutual in any way. The first of these depicts Yuzu struggling while Mei lashes out her aggression. Following this is a low shot with Mei, spitefully uttering “that’s what it felt like” in response to Yuzu’s innocent curiosity about Mei’s romantic affair. Nothing about this is painted in a positive, approving light. Subsequent events like this are blatantly shown to be a byproduct of Mei’s misconception of how relationships work, or a means to vent her frustration. The sheer discomfort is emphasized through both the cinematography and the expressions of the characters involved. This does not mean nefarious actions like these are excused, as the story never does. Yuzu always retaliates to these actions once she regains control over herself during these events. Depiction and endorsement are not the same thing, a fact that should always be considered with regards to a story like this. Another thing to address is this: the assaults are by no means the foundation of the leads’ romance, and that is a myth that should have passed long after this show had aired. Yuzu develops feelings for Mei long before the first assault occurs, which is most evident during the scene where she is lost in thought about witnessing Mei being kissed by Amamiya. Her focus is squarely on Mei’s behavior and what kissing must feel like for her, with Yuzu’s own attraction to Mei not even apparent to her. Overall, when proper attention is brought to the characters’ actions as well as the framing, it becomes clear that the criticism of Citrus romanticizing assault holds no truth whatsoever. I'd like to make a point here that not all opinions are equal, and opinions on Citrus based on the conception that it romanticizes or normalizes assault and abuse are invalid and therefore wrong. A valid opinion doesn't require high intelligence or sophisticated taste or anything like that. It requires a correct interpretation of the content, one that is often not taken through first impressions or face value.
Citrus and its content is highly reliant on context and characterization. Just as these confused adolescents struggle to understand each other and themselves, wondering who and what to believe, viewers are left on their own to base judgement on characters’ behavior and what they say, save for some frequent monologuing by Yuzu. And even then, her own thoughts aren’t always reliable. Content that comes off as questionable or discomforting to certain viewers is perfectly explainable through indirect characterization, a method of storytelling that challenges the brain beyond just relying on narration and monologues to provide answers without viewer effort. Viewers share frustration and confusion with the characters themselves, and the payoff is all the more rewarding because of this. The character Mei Aihara exemplifies this most of all, as she is a person whose subtle mannerisms bring light to a personality misshapen by the worst of circumstances, and very applicable to reality.
Mei is a character with practically no conception of right and wrong, let alone the idea of consent, and has never been shown, or had any experience of, what a true romantic relationship is like. The only proper relationship she has ever had in life was with her father. After he left, Mei felt as if she was being abandoned by the only one she was ever truly close to. It’s clear that prior to where the main story begins, Mei has had no emotional support ever since her father’s absence. She is used and neglected by her grandfather, is constantly taken advantage of by her fiancée, and is under perpetual social pressure to follow her duties accordingly for days on end.
As a result, Mei’s attitude towards romantic and sexual relationships is completely distorted. Her one and only understanding of love relationships is through physical contact, of which she uses to control people just as she has been controlled herself. This is symptomatic of being in a sexually abusive relationship like she had with her first fiancée; she doesn’t value her own body and is incapable of interacting with people normally. In many situations, whether it's a love relationship or otherwise, Mei passively accepts everything that is piled on her with no concern for her own well being, a trait that is consistently apparent over the course of the story. On the other end, her way of taking control of situations is her sexual advances towards Yuzu, who understandably objects to these actions. The main point is that Mei only acts in the way she knows how. This conflict of hers isn’t a singular matter, but numerous elements about her past and how she was raised which come together creating the version of Mei we see throughout the story. Mei is depraved, misguided, and some could even say mentally ill. And again, none of these elements are used to justify Mei's behavior. It's merely a case of cause and effect, one which leaves morality out of the question entirely.
Being so used to her strict upbringing, Mei frames every scenario as a bargain or exchange rather than a desire, even if she doesn't necessarily intend it. Her feeling obligated to follow in the footsteps of her father to gain his affection encapsulates this quite well. Having received no unconditional love since her father’s disappearance, this is the way of thinking which governs almost all of the decisions she makes. For this reason, she’s perplexed as to why Yuzu bothers to do all these unconditional favors. The answer to this is simple: Yuzu cares about Mei. Unconditional love is a foreign concept to Mei, and this trait continues to subconsciously affect her even long after she has experienced the true virtues of a love relationship. (*cue the beginning of episode 10*)
The psychology of Mei is one of the main things which the story lives through, and is one of Citrus' most fascinating aspects. As frustrating as her actions can be at times, the consistency of her character and the relatability of her plight makes her highly sympathetic, and as such Yuzu’s efforts to make things right for her, however reckless and brash, are very admirable. When you consider everything I've previously stated, it turns out that Mei has every reason to act and behave the way she does. Her attitude and behavior are both realistic and morbidly consistent when acknowledging this perpetual turmoil she lives through.
Mei’s problematic, manipulative behavior is not only addressed as such, but is also a conflict in itself. Discomforting scenes that people insist to be mere sleaze and titillation always leaves a negative effect on characters involved. Mei’s first assault turned Yuzu’s pending lust for and curiosity of Mei into a maelstrom of confusion and hysteria. Repetition of these acts behind the scenes gave us Mei Aihara as we know her. A certain character who does this to another results in the victim avoiding that character extensively.
The way Mei gradually becomes more open to Yuzu about her feelings and personal issues, is a cathartic and satisfying affair in and of itself, and it’s kept at natural pace throughout. Not only this, her behavior changes for the better the longer she spends time with Yuzu. Little by little she displays improvement and development as she makes decisions of her own, acting beyond her mental protocol. It’s rather easy to see why Yuzu is in love with Mei, besides her beauty and status. Hiding behind this cold exterior is a frightened and lonely young girl that Yuzu wishes to nurture and protect.
What’s truly commendable, however, is how many instances of her development are deliberately presented for us to infer on our own, rather than being told directly and explicitly. Here’s one particular example of this:
**SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 7 AND 8 BEGIN HERE**
The moment Mei truly develops romantic feelings for Yuzu is at the end of episode 6, and the exact moment she realizes these feelings is episode 7 when Matsuri forcibly kisses Yuzu out in the open. This is all indicated through her sudden change in behavior compared to before. She is now less grim in her expressions around Yuzu, and looks slightly more sentimental. Her actions convey this even further, such as the way she compliments Yuzu for the meal that was made. The day after that, Matsuri is shown to be envious of Mei continually deriving attention from Yuzu at the expense of Matsuri’s, causing her to shove off. This causes Mei to feel guilty, having created distance between Yuzu and one of her closest friends. This is where she first experiences the baggage that comes from being in love.
**SPOILERS END HERE**
The reason this works in service to the narrative is so viewers are put into the perspective of Yuzu herself. She struggles to understand Mei, using signs in her behavior to understand what she feels. Mei is deliberately presented just as enigmatically as she is to everyone else.
With so much about Mei already covered, it’s only fair that the other heroine, Yuzu, is given the same treatment. Yuzu at the start has an idealistic view of the life that lies before her. She acts with unrelenting confidence in almost all occasions, expecting everything to go smoothly and perfectly in line with what she envisions. I think I speak for most people when I say that when we were young teenagers, our ways of thinking were hardly any different. We’ve had strong ambitions of our own, believing we could achieve them all without entirely knowing the reality of certain situations. Of course, like most teenagers, the decisions that Yuzu makes are not always wise. Quite rarely so, in fact. She often does things, with or without good intentions, unperturbed by any potential consequences they could raise. Her greeting with the chairman is a particularly good example of this. Having become a new addition to his family, she approaches him expecting to be welcomed with open arms. Instead she’s scolded for her meddlesome behavior and unruly fashion choices.
On the flipside, while she makes unwise decisions, Yuzu is not completely unintelligent. She shows a degree of rational thinking alongside her impulsive behavior, which is an important distinction from a character who is near hopeless in their stupidity. Yuzu eventually does mature past her idealism yet retains an optimistic outlook which drives her to do better in her more realistic pursuits. Yuzu is shown throughout the story to be a very capable individual thrusted into situations she’s unprepared for, often falling back to impulses or superficial goals. Despite this, she’s quick to bounce back and make things right through the best of her abilities, learning from past mistakes and focusing on what matters most in the long run.
One of Yuzu’s strongest and most prominent traits is how empathetic she is. While she’s often self-absorbed in her appearance and overall image, she’s quick to understand others and wants to be on good terms with those around her. She’s the type of friend who would listen to your problems, forgive you for whatever quarrel you had with her, and be willing to keep any reasonable promise you ask of her. Amidst a locale of people’s misdeeds and the oppressive dominion that is her school, Yuzu is someone who is incredibly easy to root for and would be an overall great person to be with. It’s easy to see why Harumin became friends with her so quickly, and also why Mei eventually fell for her.
While Yuzu is a highly good-hearted individual, to say she’s only ever kind and generous sells her personality woefully short. She can be irritable, snarky, jealous, and is overall more insecure than she lets on, using Harumin as an emotional crutch when she finds herself in a quandary. She often lets these emotions get the better of her, as teens typically do. The bubbly, boisterous personality of Yuzu, while oftentimes funny and endearing, can also come off as irksome and frustrating. Rather than being portrayed as an all-loving angel, Yuzu is a lovably flawed individual with a good heart and poor self-control. Compiling all these traits together results in one of the most compelling, lovable, sympathetic, and relatable main leads I’ve come across in all media.
As for her relationship with Mei, Yuzu is on a constant struggle to comprehend her feelings. She knows that something is amiss about Mei, invoking a feeling of concern. At other times, she wonders if what she does hurts Mei more than it helps. This confusion is a result of their inability to communicate with each other effectively and coherently, mimicking typical romance between teenagers more than people seem to realize. Yuzu doesn’t understand Mei, and by extension doesn’t know how to act around her. The two of them had been raised in completely different conditions, and thus operate and communicate differently from one another.
It’s obvious that Yuzu has an unfaltering love for Mei, but one obstacle she must overcome is resisting the urge to give in to her superficial desires, and pursuing what is realistically best for Mei in the long run. At one point her only choice is to put her love for Mei aside and to treat her as a sister. Although she does all these things selflessly she still has a degree of self-preservation, in stark contrast to Mei. What Citrus does well is distinguishing the superficial aspects of love from the emotional aspects. Crushes aren’t developed through logic, and our own real life experiences prove as much. What this series explores is the multitude of consequences that come with loving someone. In this case, it’s dealing with the complications of being in a love relationship with your step-sister.
Differentiating perceptions of love are what pervade a majority of the cast in Citrus. The students at Aihara Academy all knowingly grew up in an environment where sexual experimentation is a normality. Of course I can’t speak from experience, but to my knowledge this mimics reality in Japan. Referred to as Class S, it’s common for girls in school to have crushes on other female classmates, forming bonds with them. These bonds could be described as romantic, but the sexual aspect of the attraction is out of the equation entirely, assuming they’re straight. It’s telling that a Japanese audience would have a far better understanding of this kind of story, and the positive reception of Citrus in Japan compared to the west is evidence of this.
Harumin really emulates this concept more than the others. She is essentially a direct foil to Yuzu in how sexual relationships are perceived. For Harumin, particular actions between couples are a source of curiosity. By contrast, Yuzu thinks about what these actions mean for the relationship. The most obvious example is arguably when the two eavesdrop on Amamiya’s phone call. However, one other particular moment drives this home more than any other. Harumin discovers the yuri incest manga Yuzu was reading. Fascinated, she puts herself in a scissoring position with Yuzu. She’s so confident in her heterosexuality that doing this means nothing to her. Yuzu on the other hand recognizes this as an expression of love, and thus is highly discomforted by this scenario. This is largely presented as a comedy moment, but it does a lot to signify the differences in their characterization. It also benefits in a way from being depicted in such an over-the-top manner.
Harumin acts as a companion to Yuzu all the way through to the end, but in reality she isn’t able to truly understand what Yuzu is going through, regardless of how much she thinks she does. This is also the reason Yuzu decides to take on these tasks by herself, because she’s the only one who truly understands. We can also assume that she keeps it to herself in fear that Harumin wouldn’t accept her for being in such a taboo relationship. After all, this is why she keeps it a secret to Matsuri and anyone else outside the school campus.
Moving on from the characters, I bear no hesitation saying that the plot of Citrus is undoubtedly its weakest aspect. Although the events it strings together can catch viewers off-guard, maintaining a dash of unpredictability in the whole adventure, it all too often relies on contrivances. Coincidences in fictional stories aren’t inherently a bad thing. The reason I can accept the reveal of Mei as Yuzu’s new sister is because it’s so early in the story. In fact, it’s arguably made better for the fact that it’s coincidental, as it comes as a shock to both the audience and Yuzu herself. However, the numerous contrivances beyond this point become harder and harder to swallow as they come by. The way that some situations are arbitrarily resolved through circumstance, rather than on behalf of a character, doesn’t do the plot much favors either.
A widely-used, yet reasonable, complaint about Citrus is its continuous introduction of characters to move the plot along. The way I see it, this is at least as much a problem with the pacing than the actual inclusion of these characters. When these subplots are coupled with Yuzu and Mei’s progressing relationship, then focus becomes a problem here. Tone shifts are frequent and occasionally jarring as a result of having to constantly switch priorities. The interpersonal affairs between Yuzu and Mei are heartfelt and down to earth, whereas dramatic confrontations with outsiders are tense, frantic, and somewhat theatrical. When meaningful interaction between Yuzu and Mei is abruptly followed by these sideplots, that can challenge one’s ability to stay invested in either plot.
However, while pacing and tone is certainly an issue here, to say that these subplots serve no purpose is untrue. Each story arc in Citrus presents a barrier in Mei’s psyche which is resolved with every passing conclusion. Every resolve is satisfying in its own right as it brings Mei further out of her shell whilst bringing her and Yuzu closer together. It’s apparent that new characters are introduced to fill a certain role in these affairs, but the focus on Yuzu and Mei is unrelenting and the characters serve their purpose quite well. To start with, Himeko "Twindrills" Momokino at first appears to be quite the villain, but she actually shares traits with both Yuzu and Mei, and even has strikingly similar motivations. Like Yuzu, she has an unfaltering love for Mei, arguably in a “romantic friendship” sort of way as opposed to sexual attraction, and goes to great lengths to claim her affection. Like Mei, she is both dedicated to her job and remarkably strict with school regulations. Her intentions are what make her a rival to Yuzu, and then later bring them to a resolve. They wish the best for Mei, but are oblivious to her true feelings. Matsuri is a character acting as a parallel to Mei. Only instead of closing herself off, she seeks attention. In the worst ways. Her rebellious nature and sinister antics make her a worthy addition to the cast. It’s not done just for the sake of it though. It’s a situation where Mei sees her own self and is willing to make amends for someone Yuzu is close to.
The arc with the Tachibana sisters is considered by many to be the weakest arc in the series, and I am no exception. While it serves its purpose well and the payoff is rewarding, it isn’t put together nearly as well as the others. I think what it sets out to do doesn’t warrant new characters to be introduced into the middle of the whole dilemma where their intrusion can be seen as more frustrating than serviceable, especially when those characters lack depth. The situation between Mei and Yuzu at this point is already complicated as it is, so piling more characters on top of these complications is more of an annoyance than anything else. I think other less irritating methods would have served the function of this arc quite well without having to bring the sisters into the mix. It also doesn’t help that in this arc, conveniences pile up even more than in any other, even attempting to sidestep this with “fate” and “destiny.”
As I said before though, the payoff is largely worth it in the end. It’s not necessarily a case where the abundant problems in this arc can be forgotten, but rather forgiven. This arc is an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise great story overall.
The dialogue of Citrus is also worth commenting on. It’s no Shakespearean writing, but it feels natural and works in service to whatever is going on. The characters’ lines are filled with personality and subtext which makes conversations feel alive. Characters are also quick to point out irony in another’s lines, making the exchanges even more human. Certain moments in dialogue are quite significant and memorable for how expressive they are and how it piles emotion into the situation. The scene where Mei and Yuzu are on a bench on a cold winter day is a good example.
With all that said, I think it’s finally time to traverse into how Citrus fares in the audio/visual department. Regarding the visual front of the Citrus anime adaptation, it’s unfortunately a mixed bag. Obviously it would be unreasonable to expect the level of quality in the manga’s art to be fully translated into a costly animated product, especially with a studio like Passione. To compensate for this, the adaptation uses character models that are simplified versions of the exquisitely drawn renditions in the manga, and does so successfully. These character models would’ve been a satisfactory page-to-screen translation if not for one major issue: one of the main things which I believe gave the manga so much of its charm and made it so appealing to many, was how expressive the characters are. Characters, especially Yuzu, would regularly emote and make different facial expressions for many situations. This also happens to the anime to some degree, but not frequently enough to where it captures the manga’s original charm. It’s much rarer in the anime for characters to deviate from their default expressions, making the experience somewhat more sterile. Perhaps this was to cut down on budget costs, or it was a design choice on behalf of the director. Whatever the case, it’s a compromise which I can only feel detracts from the viewing experience. Manga and anime are different mediums, so of course compromises should be expected. But various scenes only stood to lose by omitting so much of the vibrance the characters displayed. Even the many chibi moments in the manga wouldn’t need to be adapted, as simply varying the facial expressions of the characters would be enough. Anime-only viewers probably won’t see this as a huge problem, as it’s rarely a sheer detriment to the visuals (save for a few lamentable instances). Scenes between characters are delivered well and there is plenty of emotion to be found in the visuals. The problem is that the adaptation, by not harnessing the kind of quality seen in the manga, wastes its potential as an adaptation and as an animated product. As it stands, it could be a hell of a lot worse, but it also could have been a lot better.
Additionally, the animation quality is a department that ranges between average to well above average. There are various moments where I was very impressed by the animation, such as certain comedy moments, intimate scenes, emotional engagements, and characters’ body language. But there are also a select few times where I was dumbfounded by just how low the quality could really get. Overall it’s a pretty decently animated show with some flukes here and there, and thankfully it can only improve with the BDs. One of the fronts I was most impressed by in this adaption was the soundtrack. It genuinely surprised me with how good the music was in this adaptation. Using a mixture of graceful orchestral performances with vivacious electronic beats, the music of Citrus is vibrant, diverse, and well-suited for the exuberant and bittersweet tones that the story delivers.
What’s lacking most of all in the visuals is the background art, a case where access to technology seems to have expended a team’s creativity. Several shots will display setpieces with little to no detail or texturing. Perfect cuboids and stainless steel populate much of this world. This is most prevalent in Yuzu’s own house, with walls that are solid colors and doors looking less like wood and more like metal. The school grounds also display a disgustingly high amount of textureless objects, falling short of selling this environment as something that could exist in the real world. This is not even mentioning the many issues with lighting, of which environments are either evenly lit or disregard physics altogether. One shot in particular takes place under a night sky with a lamp post in the left, yet with shadows directly underneath every object. What’s frustrating is that this shot looks great in about every other aspect, from coloring to composition, and falls short of perfection thanks to the team not willing to amend such a simple yet glaring issue.
This also extends to background characters, which often consist of CG models walking awkwardly and robotically. Once this is noticed, it’s impossible to ignore, and immersion struggles to stay in tact. All of this is the mark of a bare minimum effort on the part of Passione, and fans of the source material aren’t nearly as scrutinous of this as they damn well should be. Incompetent decisions like these are one of the main reasons we as anime fans are so desperate for ideal adaptations of the manga and novels we dearly love.
Fortunately, the shoddy effort in the backgrounds is alleviated through great shot composition and luscious color directing, for which we have director Takeo Takahashi to thank. This is a director who excels at visual storytelling and framing, emphasizing certain moods when applicable. Climactic scenes are sold effectively through this as well as character animations which, as previously stated, are well-done when they really need to be. This adaptation of Citrus is overall very well-directed, save for the aforementioned faults in production which Takeo should have been more mindful of. In an ideal world, the production of Citrus would be on par with Hanasaku Iroha, a show that I hold as a high standard for animated melodrama. The end result here is not without its faults, but is a satisfactory effort all things considered.
So that concludes my review of Citrus. The story at large is quite rough around the edges with its frequent use of coincidences. It’s also arguably flawed in how many things are framed as a formulaic routine. With a new girl continually intruding on the situation, it’s admittedly easy to feel some degree of frustration. The core story however, with the two main leads, remains very strong. Various facets of their character are explored well and brought to a satisfying resolve. That said, there are many loose ends in the story yet to be tied up, in which case I can only hope a second season will be made eventually to adapt the rest of the source material to complement the anime-viewing experience. All things considered, however, Citrus is a great anime overall. One of the things which motivated me to write this review was to address the criticisms this show had been receiving. If you have already seen this anime, and anything I’ve said gave you something to think about, then perhaps it deserves a second viewing. For a show so widely shunned as being a lesbian fanservice show, the story of Citrus is one that anyone, gay or straight, male or female, can relate to on any level.
Tinseltown has been coming under fire as of late. Celebrities' misdeeds are being exposed publicly on a weekly basis like a new sporting event. The #MeToo movement giving a platform to voice sex scandals that have gone unnoticed for far too long. Scrolling through your timeline, plastered on the TV screen, announced over the radio during daily commutes, the subject matter of countless memes, the focal point of water-cooler conversations; no matter where you turn, there it is. Accusation after accusation. Transforming popular figures into pervert pariahs overnight. Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, Louis C.K., Dustin Hoffman, Brett Ratner, James Woods, Bryan Singer, Casey
Affleck; an endless potpourri of bigwigs—the 21st Century witch hunt in full swing. No one is safe.
And while all of this is going on, halfway across the globe, there's Citrus, minding its own business as it idly trolls along turning sexual assault into a provocative byproduct of step-sisters "bickering." While people are pooling together with torches and pitchforks in hand, shining a light on any sexual misconduct occurring in the dark recesses of the entertainment industry, Studio Passione persists with the biggest "whatever bro" shoulder shrug. What the rest of the world concerns itself with isn't going to stop them from showing girls casually molesting each other on their scheduled programming. It's actually pretty impressive. Fucked up, but impressive nonetheless. I guess you could extend that sentiment to Japan in general. Creating "fucked up shit" in a carefree manner has become something like their calling card:
Has mass-shootings and domestic terrorism been a hot-button issue? Well here, have some Inuyashiki. Concerned with gender politics? Don't worry, we got you covered with Skirt no Naka wa Kedamono Deshita. "If you want it, we got it." seems to be the motto, as they peddle anything and everything in the endless pursuit of creative freedom. Which brings us to latest foray into the "fucked up shit" unofficial canon, Citrus.
From the land that gave us distinct high-school dramas like Orange, we're handed Citrus, the undesirable fruit.
The anime tells the tale of– oh, who are we kidding? It's about sexy-time with female characters. It's all lip service unless it "services the lips" of the females involved.
It's pretty average-looking too, the ugly kind of average-looking.
Hoards of CGI models in green linen jackets. Flat buildings without detail, walls bare of personality. Real-life inspired locations washed of any distinct features. Stainless steel structures, straight shapes stretching on endlessly without purpose, without care. Floorboards and walkways copied and pasted into an endless loop of lethargic worldbuilding. A kind of artificial sheen to everything. Devoid of human touch, the undeniable look of computer-generated polish. Clinically sterile and evenly lit. The feeling of being done to the bare minimum. Uninspired. Uncaring. Unconcerned with anything unless it's "sexy-time," and even then, it's barely a passing grade.
Everyone has dark hair and moves forward in a unified step as if puppets to their boring world. A lifeless march towards an all-girl school, a place where our Yuzu would be attending. Yuzu Aihara is the rowdy rebel, our ball of "life" in a world lacking it, and unfortunately our main lead as well. The unlikable side character in any other show given a chance to take center-stage to problematic results. Makeup caked on, strawberry blonde hair puffed up, cleavage out in the sun, skirt hacked up, buttermilk tan, all manner of frilly things, school outfit altered beyond recognition, a personality as loud as her appearance; a self-proclaimed gyaru and a shameless attention-seeker at that—this is "much deep" cuz spunky gurl in a world of conformists.
And standing as her polar opposite, there's Mei Aihara, a soon-to-be molester dressed up as a Mary Sue. She suffers heavily from PerfectGirl-syndrome: honor-role pupil, top of her class, student council president, poised, admired by everyone, the chairman's granddaughter, built like a walkway model, good at literally everything she does. She probably farts out Chanel No. 5 too. You get the drill, she's as interesting as wallpaper. Perfect to a sickening degree. Well, that's all before she decided to turn her new step-sister, Ms. Rowdy Rebel, into her personal play-thing.
And who better to bring this together than Takeo Takahashi, a man that's equally known for his hentai contributions as he is his "safe for work" content.
Citrus certainly has that kind of attribute to it. That sort of sleazy undercurrent that flows throughout every moment, well-intention or otherwise. Camera-panning that ogles the female form without concern for respecting boundaries. Narrative threads meant to help audiences relate to the cast quickly expedited to get to the next sexual encounter. Endless monologues for every characters' dilemma—subtlety isn't allowed in this universe. A sense of objectification, even if it's in regards to actions expressed with consent. Nothing is ever pure. Everything smeared with the fingerprints of hedonistic high-gloss.
Even smut like 2017's Scum's Wish, at the very least, had small spurts of respect displayed for its cast, occasionally loosening its vice grip to allow a chance to express feelings openly. By comparison, everything in Citrus feels bought off. An act of slave-like procurement over the characters' bodies that's too readily apparent to ignore. Awkward half-chubs spurred on by involuntary stimuli. In a meta-sense, we're also made victims of visual misconduct (go figure). It's the kind of eroticism that arrives quickly and leaves you feeling dirty.
An anime that will have a heated shower scene where non-consensual groping occurs, then follow it up with this dialogue exchange:
"No!"–Yuzu pushes away in abject horror– "Why are you doing this!?"–her eyes closed, as she stands there naked and vulnerable.
Mei innocently answers back without hesitation, a tone of motherly matter-of-factness:
"Because you looked like you wanted me to touch you."
The scene ends, never to properly address the disturbing exchange again.
As long as the money shot was secured and a few man-tents were pitched, nothing else matters.
This is the kind of "feeling dirty" I'm referring to.
I love perverted content as much as the next guy, but sometimes, what Citrus attempts to do is genuinely off-putting. Sexual harassment shouldn't be confused with love. And if it is, a level of accountability needs to be put in place to avoid idealistic handwaving. But this is a show that thinks that if it holds a "this is wrong" PSA after it indulges in sexual misconduct, that it's suddenly not culpable of wrongdoing. An anime that sells Stockholm syndrome as a shot of Cupid's arrow. Where fighting sexual harassment with sexual harassment is treated as an actual solution. Serious issues trivialized to create marketable eroticism and comedic gags.
Any act of earnestness is completely lost in a title devoid of finesse. After a while, you sort of just roll with it. Jokes at the expense of serious issues. Illogical reasoning made by characters to justify their actions. You might even buy into the lack of audiovisual effort as a part of the "theme" to contrast everything against Yuzu's personality. Of course, you'll be wrong, as even her living quarters and look has been rendered flaccid, lacking in any sense of creative vitality or noticeable effort. It's all very surface-level. Pedestrian sleaze that isn't arousing enough to keep the Kleenex nearby nor respectful enough to genuinely stimulate discussions regarding the content on display.
And that's perhaps this show's biggest downfall in a nutshell: it's vanilla, but a souring type of vanilla.
A type of middling existence occupied by works of far more distinction than itself. If you're interested in the taboo themes that this anime addresses, there's no need to compromise with inferior goods to get your fix. There are better alternatives out there for those actually seeking integrity (Koi Kaze) or far more titillating eye-candy (Scum's Wish). Why settle for vanilla in a world full of flavor just waiting to be discovered? Is Citrus entertaining? Sure, at times. But when 17-minutes of content is glazed over just for 3-minutes of "sexy-time," and the "sexy-time" itself is neither well-animated or concerned with addressing the elephant in the room that surrounds its content; at that point, what you're left with is a show whose sole purpose for existing is left dead in the water from the moment it dives in.
Some spectators consider themselves sophisticated, modern and avant-garde. However, when they become aware of some social taboos, they change their mind and create a disapproval towards some topics. One example, the lesbian romance. Citrus has potential but fails with some distasteful scenes as described below.
The Ugly: The story mistake love with rape and forces affection from a lame sexual assault. In this world, Weinstein’s behavior would be considered romantic and not the act of a sick predator.
The Good: As the plot progress you can observe the protagonists’ insecurity, problems, and feelings.
The Bad: Unrealistic begin. Some characters are not well developed because the time
is not enough to let them grow.
Citrus introduces a homosexual storyline where we can see a lesbian nexus, yet you don’t need to fear it. No matter your gender, you can enjoy some parts of the narrative. The plot isn’t as bad as some writers want us to believe, but it’s not surprising either. Besides, the series begins with some weird and awkward moments that sink the possibility of a good romance, and I consider them fictional and unrealistic. On the other hand, Citrus emphasize the inexperience and the doubts in a relationship and tries to establish a link between the protagonists. In some scenes, you can sense the character’s feelings. Sadly, in this modern era the taboo persists, perhaps for a woman, it is easier to tolerate this type of bond. Finally, Citrus is a Yuri anime, if you cannot bear this kind of affinity, it is better to stand aside and ignore the adaptation, or you might end up disappointed.
The story isn’t as marvelous as you can expect, the author sometimes mistakes rape with love, though. Also, the only way explored to conceive the romance is through the physical force. For example, it is ridiculous comparing intimacy with a sexual assault under the diplomatic motto “since I love you, I can obligate you to adore me.” In a real world, this concept will be judged as rude and out of place, it will generate repulsion, a restriction order and could end with a visit to the jail. Those actions could lead the spectator to misinterpret the characters’ feelings and leaves the personal problems, fears, doubts, the lack of experience, and psychological aspects in the missing objects box. In the case of Yuzu, she does not know how to approach Mei, so the storyteller merely throws her over Mei literally, and the latter doesn’t hesitate to assault Yuzu. Can you accept it as a romance? Furthermore, this keeps happening during all the adaptation. If you read the manga, those scenes aren’t intrusive, you can pass them faster but in the anime the director focus and prolong them. Call it fanservice, hentai or sexual harassment; it does not fit the feeling setting momentum.
In addition, this erroneous idea creates a false meaning of a lesbian link. From my perspective, a lesbian is like a straight; the relationship rules are alike. Why does the author use a weird and a wrong approach to initiate the attraction? Thus far, the plot fails on producing a good start for the romantic connection, it just leads the characters to a forced rape, deceiving the spectators with a cheap and fake drama.
Nevertheless, the narration improves as it advances. I am not considering Citrus as a masterpiece, but the progression is acceptable. As the series continues, we can observe the inexperience of a usual acquaintance, the doubts, the pain, the suffering of the protagonists delivering the audience a better development and a different perspective. While the story picks up, it still has some defects such as the recurrent fanservice. If the social taboos do not slant the viewer, you could enjoy Citrus, though.
Unfortunately, the lack of sense at the beginning ruins the possibility of a more vibrant narrative, a palpable romance and leads to the audience’s boredom. Going further, you can notice some pacing problems. You need to be honest with yourself because some characters were just placed to fill a scene. The casual spectator will only watch the first episodes and decide if skipping the show. Since the issues appear from the start, Citrus will be readily considered a bit grotesque, a raw passion and a potential drop.
Finally, the overused sexual assault as a “comedy” (for some) or as a “romance” change the plot and the enjoyment. If you can survive those scenes, you can see the character’s authentic feelings. Honestly, I like Citrus manga, but the anime has been highly criticized by some unpleasant development that leads to a different meaning. In conclusion, you cannot compare intimacy with ravishment, and you cannot exploit the sexual assault to propel a romantic or comedic moment. For some viewers that scenes show affection, for others is a rape. In my case, SOME are sexual abuse and unnecessary. Lastly, the twelve episodes present a portion of the story and not all the published material and the most significant parts of the series still on the source.
Yuzu. In the beginning, she displays some atypical feelings for Mei. Since she has no experience in love or relationships, she could fool the viewers with her naivety, show an emptiness and a similarity with a mundane generic girl. However, as the story progresses, we can see her emotions, problems and real doubts.
Mei. Some can judge her as a cold and expressionless robot. Since she is the school president, she might look strong. Nevertheless, inside she is baffled and seeks to follow her dad’s steps. She will give up everything to keep alive her family legacy and traditions. Also, she cannot communicate her emotions and has vast inexperience in the relationship area. Thus, always leads her to mistake love with sexual assault or perhaps she just enjoys doing that.
Matsuri. I consider her introduction misplaced. From nowhere she arrives and creates some problems just because Mei needs an opponent. Her feelings for Yuzu are vaguely explained.
Sara: Added in a similar way to Matsuri but her nature is the opposite. She is Yuzu’s rival, and her sentiments appear almost instantly.
The rest of the characters help the narrative progression such as Harumi and Himeko.
The art and sound
Technically speaking, Citrus has a beautiful animation, clean and fluid with excellent drawings catching your attention. Despite the plot issues, you will enjoy it. The camera angles and planes blend well with the narrative and the emotions; they focus on the details. One negative aspect, the unnecessary fanservice scenes. You could misinterpret them and will sink the real story.
The series has good sound. They give us a remarkable OP and ED. Honestly, I like the OP, the tune and rhythm combined with the lyrics create a fabulous composition.
Citrus isn’t an anime for all tastes. The social taboo may make the observer indispose from the beginning. However, after some episodes, the story improves, and you can feel some character’s emotions. I like some aspects of the plot. It isn’t perfect and has a weird unrealistic start letting you with a big question mark, “is it going to be worth my time?” Thus, in combination with the “sexual assault” scenes could lead your apathetic side and make you drop the series. Finally, the manga is superior. It shows a significant evolution with better pacing. I understand, sometimes most of the spectators avoid this genre, but if you reached this point of my review, perhaps you could watch the anime and read the source to feel Yuzu’s emotions in a more desirable approach. I wanted to give Citrus a high score my conviction prevents me. I cannot accept the constant use of a sexual assault as a romantic or comedic filler that impacts the plot negatively. As I said, Citrus isn’t for all the tastes.
Lastly and talking in general, you need to be broad-minded and don’t bury a show just for a sexual preference. You can criticize but don’t stigmatize the lesbian topic. If you dislike the story, skip it.
If I got a dollar every time this show featured a kiss scene, I’d probably be filthy rich now. No, not really but you have to admit, there’s almost an absurd amount of kissing in this show known as “Citrus”. To me, this show is a modern example of a trashy soap opera made with the intention of cash grab.
Adapted by the manga of the same name, Citrus is one of the few series in recent years that decided to take on the idea of lesbianism and turn it into a modern day drama. In anime form, it’s defined more as yuri/shoujo-ai. As someone
who has read parts of the manga, Citrus focuses on the concept of female relationships. Unfortunately, I can’t really express any hope after reading the manga. This anime adaptation set off red flags from the start and isn’t able to fix them. It’s a shame really.
Diving into this show may feel a little uncomfortable at first if you’re not used to this type of genre. The first few episodes makes it clear that there’s more going on between main characters Yuzu and Mei. Although they don’t have similar personalities, it’s shown that Yuzu feels an uneasy attraction towards Mei after getting into some compromising positions with her. Throughout the show, the both of them engage in many activities that adheres to lesbianism. The anime doesn’t hide the fact that there’s seems to be mutual attraction as each episode ventures on. Other characters gets involved in their story but the main focus is on this pair. And to be honest, it feels pretty embarrassing to watch. The show tries to be a love story but instead filled with laughably bad dialogue and clichés. I also can’t remember the number of times I shook my head at how their relationship developed. That’s actually what holds the show back a lot. Relationship dynamics in Citrus dances with an immense amount of teenage feelings and attempts to make it seem complicated. However, it ends up being washed up with little value and doesn’t seem to know what to make of its characters.
Individually, Yuzu and Mei aren’t actually bad characters. At least from a realistic point of view, Yuzu is a normal girl who wants to explore romance and grow up. She’s also a bit of a daredevil and isn’t afraid to speak her mind or help others when in need. On the other hand, there’s Mei with a personality as cold as the snow. My impression of Mei is someone who would be incredibly difficult to be friends with. Her values are high standard and she never seems to let people get close to her, with perhaps the exception of Yuzu. We also get some background story about the two characters in later episodes to make viewers understand them more. However, that’s pretty much the extent of it. Yuzu and Mei are basically carrying this show while other characters are hardly worth talking about. I mean, there’s Yuzu’s best friend Himeko but she gets annoying every time her mouth opens. Harumi Taniguchi’s borderline obsession with Mei is incredibly obnoxious to watch. Oh and who can forget about Matsuri? It seems the show tries to make the audience hate her as much as possible. The Tachibana sisters introduced in later episodes are hardly likable either with their oddball personalities. The point is, most of these characters are one dimensional and hardly develops. In fact, I would say the characterization in this show really shoots itself in the foot with how certain episodes conclude. And that’s too bad really.
Besides the characters and story, it seems Citrus loves to service the fans. While it’s not as explicit as some scenes in the manga, there’s quite a bit of kissing in the show. If you fancy make out scenes and yuri fan service, then this might be the type of show for you. I’m not going to lie though, it can be a bit of guilty pleasure at times. However, it gets tedious fast and after you’ve seen it a dozen times, it almost feels senseless. That being said, Citrus does do what it’s intended to do: bring out teenage feelings from characters and making a trite soap opera out of it.
If there’s one thing to smile upon Citrus, it would definitely be the visual quality. To put it simply, the show is vibrant, colorful, and is full of life. The character designs are attractive and really enhances the feminine charms of the cast such as Yuzu and the Tachibana sisters. The way characters expresses their emotions is also highlighted through the choreography that’s hard to ignore. In many ways, the technical quality of Citrus is a sight for eyes to feast on. Whether it’s the fan service or characters themselves, it’s definitely there to impress.
There’s not too much to go on about soundtrack as both theme songs gets its point across with the teenage drama style performance. However, the character voice mannerism is what makes some of the characters feel consistent with their roles. Yuzu is the most prominent example as she often speaks her mind and has a voice to match with her personality. Mei has a much colder voice tone that reflects her reserved persona. However, there’s also other characters that I can hardly stand whenever they speak. In particular, Matsuri’s voice sounds like she’s a 12 year old. Get ready for the ear plugs…
By the time I finished Citrus, I had to question myself why the anime is even called that. The literal definition of Citrus is a type of fruit that has somewhat of a sweet and bitter flavor. Does that stand as a personification of the show’s themes? Who knows but I honestly find this show more than just bittersweet. What could have been a chance to make monumental history turned into a sour experience.