Bad Romance Does Not Equal Bad Anime – A 20 Question Review of Citrus

What’s the show? Citrus (2018).

And I take it from that combative, clickbait-y title that you’ve got a score to settle too? I’ve got things I need to say is all, nothing wrong with putting the slant of this review right up in the title, is there?

Mm-hmm, so for those who are unaware; what is Citrus about? It’s about Yuzu, a flashy girl who after her mother remarries has to move to a new city and attend a prestigious all girl’s school. With this remarriage comes a new step-sister, Mei—a cold, no-nonsense kind of girl who also happens to be student council president and granddaughter to the school’s chairman. For Yuzu it’s love or maybe lust… it’s certainly something… at first sight, which is only compounded when Mei plants a kiss on Yuzu seemingly out of nowhere!

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So it’s a lesbian relationship between two step-sisters? Alright, let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat, them being step-sister’s is precisely ~zero~ percent of the reason anyone should condemn this show—they’re step-sisters for literally only hours at the time they first kiss—it’s not like they’ve been living together and growing up together!

So then what’s the point of them even being step-sister’s in the context of the narrative? Isn’t that just to make the manga/anime seem more salacious to the reader perusing it on a bookshelf/streaming service? Maybe that’s what a shrewd publisher thought, maybe the mangaka savvily thought it’d earn him some extra sales by being “controversial” at a glance, but it does serve a huge narrative purpose. In Japan, same-sex relationships are still unfortunately deemed (by a lot of people) as “phases” and at worst “perversions”. Thankfully the country is getting slightly better at accepting it. So by writing Mei and Yuzu as step-sisters it works to further complicate their already messy feelings by throwing any kind of future (i.e. living together, being a couple, getting married) they have together as an almost insurmountable obstacle.

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Fair enough, so what kind of relationship do they have? I take it it’s not a conventional one considering the differences in their personalities? That’s an understatement. After the first kiss, Mei acts even colder towards Yuzu, which really hurts her considering that was not only her first kiss with Mei but her first kiss with anyone. From the get-go Yuzu is pretty open and honest about her feelings—or at the very least her ~desires~ which understandably, for a girl going through puberty and a girl who’s just discovered she’s probably gay, is a big damn deal. But Mei only seems to be intimate with Yuzu when it suits her, or when she needs to take control of a situation she doesn’t understand.

So Mei ‘uses’ her sexuality as a weapon over Yuzu? Ehh~ I guess there’s some instances where it could be seen that way, Mei is a complete and utter control freak—she needs it in every facet of her life otherwise she falls apart. Yuzu is free-spirited and kind and on paper she’s completely wrong for Mei—or she would be if she was weak-willed or undetermined. But Yuzu has such conviction and strength of character that not only can she see past Mei’s many many walls she’s built around her heart, but she wants to enter them and set free the broken little girl who’s been left at the centre.

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So you’re defending this toxic relationship they have? No. Defending the anime’s existence and defending the representation of a toxic, same-sex relationship are not the same. Which brings me to the title of this review, just because the show represents a potentially toxic, unhealthy and abusive relationship between two girls doesn’t mean it’s a bad anime. Every “romance” anime doesn’t have to be the perfect template, or ‘how-to guide’ on how to conduct a relationship—applying that leap in logic is like saying video games cause real life violence—and we all know how bullshit that argument is.

I think the issue I see is that representations of same-sex relationships are out of the mainstream already which means when one does get the kind of zeitgeist impact that Citrus apparently had it means the scrutiny on how it presents same-sex relationships is a lot higher. If this is an ~average~ person’s first exposure to a story about a same-sex relationships they’re more likely to believe that this is representative of all same-sex relationships. Yeah, and those people are the kind of idiots who sue McDonalds for coffee being too hot!

Easy now. No, I’m sick of something’s popularity being used as an excuse to criticise it because it’s not “representative” of the reality of something. The author wanted to write a messy, potentially problematic story about two step-sisters falling in love and it have all the soap opera style dramatics that they foresaw in such a relationship developing. Citrus shouldn’t be held accountable for being problematic just because it got very popular in the West.

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But people are free to commit to discourse about media, people are free to dislike and criticise and “be triggered”, you can’t tell people how to ‘think’ and ‘feel’ about things because you disagree with them. The thing that I have the most issue with is why is Citrus being scapegoated. There’s a bunch other gay manga and anime out there all with different representations of same-sex relationships, if you don’t like the way Citrus is telling it’s story move on and find something new, it existing isn’t harming anyone. Problematic media exists in every genre and what “triggers” someone may be perfectly fine for another. You can criticise Citrus ’til you’re blue in the face but it still has a right to exist as the author’s freedom of expression.

Careful now, you’re starting to sound like one of those people on the internet who use ‘freedom of expression’ as an excuse to be an asshole. Don’t you dare, I hate those people.

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Then say what you’re trying to say without being a dick about it. People like Mei exist in real life, I’ve met them, I’ve been friends with them, heck I’ve probably even dated them! She is a deeply flawed individual—some may even say she’s a bit of a c-word, but erasing a person like her from a narrative because it makes it a more palatable experience is just plain dishonest and a bit problematic in it’s own way. I’m glad this show is so messy and confrontational and raw—it makes it more interesting. Yes, I realise there’s damaging stereotypes out there about how same-sex relationships are fetishistic and abusive and unnatural but you can’t put the blame all on one show for the perceptions of ignorant people. And besides, this show has actual positive representations of queer people in it, you just have to wait a while to actually see one.

Care to elaborate? Episode 10 let us get up close and personal with the ‘too pure for this world’ bisexual cutie Sara Tachibana who, despite her appearances is far too wise for her own good and schools Yuzu on what it means to like someone—regardless of their gender. I talked about this terrific episode in greater detail in the single episode review I did for it in Winter 2018. But what this shows, at least to my neanderthal brain, is that not only is the writer capable of a more nuanced and forward-thinking queer character representations but they knew the need for one in Yuzu and Mei’s lives to forge them into better people in general.

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And how’s that work out for Sara in the long run? Well, uh… she kinda ends up getting jerked around because Mei and Yuzu are so wrapped up together in their own business… but she’s fine! I mean she seems fine… okay the more I think on it the more I worry about their relationship steamrolling everything good and pure in it’s way…

Wait, you’re not having a sudden change of heart, are you? No, no, no, not at all! I still stand behind this show (and manga’s) narrative decisions. Besides, I never got the sense that the show was ~actively~ condoning Mei’s behaviour, all you have to do is listen to the vaguely sinister music queue’s and dark lighting in these early season scenes to know that Mei’s predatory actions are seen just as that. Romance seldom comes into it—at least not on Mei’s end—Yuzu is another matter entirely.

But it’s different by the end of the season? I’m not going to pretend like this season is close to perfect, there’s the rushed almost conclusion the show pushes in its final minutes that’s both meant to offer a promise of a happy ending ‘one day’ while also functioning as a satisfying way to end an anime should it never get a sequel season. It’s not unearned it just feels a bit too tidy, but such is the way when adapting something that’s not close to finishing.

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We’ve talked a lot about the external opinions on the show but not a lot on the show itself (some review this turned out to be) did you want to have a say on it since we’re nearly out of questions? I’ve defended this show fervently but here’s the thing, it’s not even among my favourite shows of the Winter 2018 anime season—it’s not even my favourite Yuri series! It was thoroughly entertaining throughout though, it was cheesy and funny and occasionally dramatic and aesthetically satisfying but I never got the sense it was pandering or fetishistic or fan-servicey or even the least bit arousing—and I’m usually all for girl-on-girl anime shenanigans! It told a sorta complicated relationship drama, sorta well but it did it with enough style and intrigue and personality that I can’t help but appreciate it.

So what’s your final score and recommendation for Citrus? Citrus is the kind of show I think of fondly now and again—the manga perhaps less so, but that’s a discussion for another day. It’s clear what it wants to be and despite commanding more attention than it probably ever intended to I think it succeeded in telling a story fraught with messy emotions and complicated people. It’s far from perfect, in fact it’s damn near silly at times—but the connection between Yuzu and Mei is something tangible and I can’t help but be drawn in by their story. It’s sweet, it’s sour, it’s Citrus; 84 out of 100.

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23 comments

  1. I totally agree that much the criticism for this series is misguided….The far more egregious issue is that the plot developments are so one-dimensional. I get that people like Mei have a certain way of dealing with things and that those methods lead to more trouble than not, but it seemed like sexual harassment of some kind was the default option for literally every major character involved. For lack of a better expression, the whole narrative just felt…forced.
    There was legitimate opportunity here to explore some of the real struggles people in these kinds of relationship situations face. Maybe that’s more a knock against the source material, but either way, the story is the story and I grade it the same way regardless of the reasoning behind it. I think I rated this one like a 6.5 or something. It wasn’t bad, but the most redeeming qualities for me were the sound and animation.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. *pounds fist on table* CITRUS BEST ANIME 2K18!!!

    okay I joke, but seriously, though. I agree! I think a lot of people don’t realize that you can like something that has problematic elements without ENDORSING those problematic elements. The anime is a complete mess, but messy was what it was going for, I think. I had a lot of Feelings throughout about how it handled certain elements, but I do think it tackled some things really well (you hit the nail on the head with Sara’s character), and at the end of the day it ALWAYS kept me entertained. And, though these aren’t exactly “good,” I think a lot of Western teen dramas (like Gossip Girl) end up portraying equally manipulative relationships and getting away with it, so I do think it’s a little unfair…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Absolutely. I don’t watch a lot of Western stuff anymore but it definitely had that kind of CW network ~vibe~. I guess Citrus is just one of those shows that got “big” for all the wrong reasons.

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  3. So I went into Citrus completely blind after only hearing what the manga community had to say about it. And for me, I found the amount of melodrama to be just way too much. I’m fine with Yuzu and Mei’s complicated relationship. What I’m not down for is for a bunch of side characters to constantly derail the story and cause a bunch of unnecessary drama. It was also kind of frustrating to see Yuzu and Mei’s relationship bouncing back and forth as if no real progress is being made. I get that this stuff happens in real life too, but that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable for me. I respect you and your opinion, but this just isn’t the type of show for me. Sorry in advance if I sounded a bit hostile.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No worries! I can understand your point of view! I guess I was expecting all the melodrama as I’d read a couple of volumes of the manga before watching the show. Thanks for commenting though, always good to hear different points of view!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I never watched Citrus because it hits a little to close to home. I only saw snippets and the trailers. I am not a big fan of girls love otherwise either, even if it’s lovey dovey shoujo ai. Anyway, I think that those who were/are screaming and fuzzing the most about Citrus are the ones who praised Yuri!!! on Ice the most. The people who went in blind and had no idea about the source material but expected a female version of YoI. I wrote a post a while back about how boys love isn’t supposed to be a representation of lgbt+ and I don’t think that Citrus is supposed to be that either. Unfortunately it became too well known in the west because of the hype and someone thought it should be and started to complain, to put it mildly. And, I blame the hype after YoI for this. Every BL and GL that will be airing will be compared to that anime, at least for the nearest future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a very good point, expectations can be a troublesome thing sometimes but I don’t blame anyone for not liking the show because of its problematic elements—it’s a difficult thing to overcome.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh no, I don’t blame YoI for people not liking Citrus. (blame was the wrong word maybe) People have their feelings and I don’t think they would have had any different feelings without YoI preceding Citrus but I do think that the reactions have been way over the top much stronger because of the expectations YoI created on Citrus (and other gay/lesbian anime). But it’s not YoI’s fault that people don’t like [the troublesome elements in] Citrus. Does it make sense?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Makes total sense, YoI was a major step in the right direction and Citrus was kind of more of the same only more melodramatic which I guess some people weren’t expecting from something that was so hyped.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I thought Citrus was ok. I spent a lot of time not liking what they were doing. But a lot of the criticism I’ve seen of it is of the type that tries to demand that everyone in a TV show be either a perfect unimpeachable role model or a villain. How many people around are unimpeachable role models? How many are villains? The answer is close to none. Mostly people are people. And in shows like this, they’re young people without much in the way of their own role models. I mean, Yuzu’s relatively close to her mom, but there’s very little we see of them interacting. And Mei’s got zilch. She’s got a grumpy last-century grandfather. She’s got a dad (that grade school Mei had a grade school crush on) that freakin’ bailed on her years ago. Of course she’s a mess! Who’s been there to show her what adults are like? Nobody. And the story’s about how someone (Yuzu) tries to interact with that mess out of both a sense of familial duty and an aspect of attraction that doesn’t even make sense to Yuzu herself. Cause she’s a kid with a parent who somehow married a guy who wasn’t even in the dang country!

    And even despite all of this, it’s not a “Fuck it, let the world burn!” show (which I would hate, because I hate those shows and those characters). It’s a show where a bunch of people who don’t know any better are actually trying to be good people and trying to figure out what the hell that even means. And for all of that, Yuzu is a good person. And Mei is trying to be a good person. They do about as well at it as your average high school student, I’d say. Which, gosh, is exactly what they are.

    So good defense of the show.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Personally netsouz trap was worst than citrus. I’ve yet to write up feelings about citrus add to the long list of things to write about, haha. Citrus was my third yuri series ever watched in honesty, never read the manga. Going in blindly citrus had its issues too much melodrama was my issues with the series. It spoiled the series for me a bit but equally, don’t feel I wasted my time with citrus. Despite the “usual” that comes with yuri anime, assault, rape as you state. To new comers it reflects badly to them that every Yuri anime will be like citrus. But citrus was beyond this dealing with the complexity of Mei’s unstable emotions and family themes. This held strong for me in the series, kept me watching. Citrus was all that bad, end I was half satisfied with haha. Great fun, way to discuss this anime 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you so writing this and defending Citrus 😀 I agree with everything single thing you said. You actually hit on some of the stuff I wrote about in my own piece on it.

    The one thing I want to point out is that the mangaka is actually a woman~

    Liked by 1 person

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