Since its debut, the visual and animation quality of Citrus has remained consistently strong. That quality must have been a bit of an initial surprise for both fans of the manga and the yuri genre in general, but in a good way. It’s not that the PVs gave off the impression that it would be subpar, but a yuri anime getting treatment this good? And following last season’s less-than-exemplary Netsuzou Trap? It feels celebratory, relieving, and impressive. Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said for the yuri content.
The story of Citrus follows energetic and enthusiastic gyaru (or gal) Yuzu, whose fashionable style clashes with the conservative all-girls high school she ends up at after her mother remarries. Unfamiliar with love, she’s enamoured with first kisses in manga. Alas, her most notable first-day encounter at her new school is a less-than-favorable one with the cold and stern student council president Mei, who she discovers later to be her new stepsister. Guess who she develops feelings for later.
To Yuzu’s credit, her pursuit of love doesn’t make her forget about getting close as a stepsister as well. Honestly, it would have been alright if Citrus simply focused on being a family drama. Things like Yuzu and Mei’s contrasting personalities, Yuzu’s attempt to bridge the gap between them and Mei’s grandfather’s initial disapproval of Yuzu naturally lend themselves well to such a premise. The yuri scenes, on the other hand, sometimes feel like they don’t quite fit in with the rest of the show and can actually be off-putting.
Part of that reason is due to their theatrical nature. It’s understandable for some of the yuri moments to be dramatic, but the accompanying violin-heavy scores just amp things up to a partially-amusing effect. This creates a sense of disconnect with the non-yuri scenes, as the contrast in terms of drama levels is pretty high. Making things more jarring is some of the questionable behaviour exhibited in some of the yuri scenes, particularly the early ones. The second episode is a good example of that behaviour, with Mei suddenly coming onto Yuzu in the bath in the first half of the episode, before pinning her arms and licking her neck. The former then explains her actions with a smile, saying that she did so because the latter seemed like she wanted to be touched. The second half has Mei pushing Yuzu onto a bed and attempting to forcibly strip her. Later episodes will have to do a really bang-up job at justifying Mei’s early actions to forgive how unsettling they come across as. After all, they would probably result in a police report for sexual assault in real life.
It is however now evident that Mei isn’t as perfect as the student body views her to be, though not in the sense that she secretly wrestles with a strong fetish for blonde gyarus (gals). Rather, her travelling father’s long absence from her life, and the fact that his responsibilities as her grandfather’s successor have fallen to her, have affected her in some way. While attempting to undress Yuzu for example, Mei suddenly sheds tears, perhaps a consequence of the stress of maintaining a strong front all the time. What lets things down is that it’s still hard to fathom how her issues rationalize her sexual actions towards Yuzu. The same goes for how Yuzu falls for Mei despite those actions. However, Mei’s vulnerability is a reasonable explanation as to why Yuzu doesn’t wish to simply abandon her.
It feels odd that Yuzu’s attraction begun from a series of non-consensual acts, but at least her desire to get closer to Mei had existed from the start. After all, living under the same roof makes their frosty relationship harder to ignore. Yuzu’s efforts are rewarded with an improving relationship between the two girls, while her burgeoning attraction to Mei has resulted in the gyaru becoming the main initiator of the show’s major yuri acts. This has created a positive leap forward in the quality of the yuri scenes themselves. With Yuzu’s thoughts available to viewers, it’s far easier to understand the reason behind her actions as compared to Mei’s, and they aren’t as concern-inducing either.
These actions can still feel a bit bewildering during initial viewing however. For example, Yuzu suddenly becomes emotional and kisses Mei during a confrontation scene about the former’s yuri incest manga. In another scene, circumstances involving proximity and accidentally-induced moaning suddenly inspire Yuzu to “cross a line” with Mei on a jam-packed train, which Mei objects to at least. Is this writer’s comprehension of romance and teenagers just plain awful, or are these genuinely scenes that would be really odd in real life?
Aside from Mei, the students that Yuzu mainly interacts with are secret gyaru classmate Harumi and student council member Himeko. Harumi is a fun member of the cast, and her friendship with Yuzu provides Citrus with some enjoyable laid-back moments. While Harumi fits into the supportive buddy role, Himeko plays more of an antagonistic role, though as a rival rather than an utterly spiteful enemy. The reason stems from the fact that she’s Mei’s childhood friend and becomes jealous at Yuzu’s sudden familiarity with her. There’s naturally some drama because of that, but it feels more natural and less exaggerated than Yuzu and Mei’s complicated relationship. An exception is when her jealousy leads to her making sexual advances on Mei, which provides yet another questionable yuri moment in the show.
In its defense though, Citrus is far from being a plot-lacking vehicle for fluffy yuri scenes, and those scenes do contribute to the progression of the characters’ relationship. Still, it’s hard to deny that the main purpose of such scenes is to entertain without necessarily making perfect sense or providing a good-quality portrayal of lesbian romance. It fits with the knowledge that was imparted via Twitter DM by half-Japanese translator/reviewer Kazuma Hashimoto from RPG Site: that most media representation of the LGBT community in Japan is made for “consumption” and “pure fetishistic value”.
It’s not as if Citrus had made any pretenses about being something other than a step-sister romance with a healthy dose of drama, but that aspect of the show has felt a bit shaky so far. Fetishistic value is one thing, but the non-consensual acts have really affected enjoyment of it as a yuri anime so far. What’s more entertaining and less off-putting is everything else, whether it’s Yuzu and Harumi hanging out, Himeko clashing with Yuzu, or Yuzu trying to be a good stepsister. With the sudden return of Mei’s father at the end of episode five adding to the family drama aspect, Citrus currently feels like a show to watch in spite of the yuri aspect, not because of it.