The sweets & the sours of Citrus’s portrayal of girls in love

Citrus, I don’t know how you do it, but you manage to both exceed my expectations and fail to meet them at the same time with each passing week. While watching just about every episode, my thoughts have been equal parts, “wow, this is surprisingly poignant for a show about stepsisters in love” and, “wow, this is surprisingly trashy, even for a show about stepsisters in love.”

[Warning: spoilers up for everything up to episode 10]

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Throughout the series, Citrus almost handles its characters’ sexuality in a meaningful way. We have scenes of Yuzu agonizing over the reality that she likes girls and worrying that it’s not “normal.” She worries that Mei will think she’s gross and weird for having a crush on her, and recognizes that liking a girl (step-sister or otherwise) may not go over well with her peers. As a teenager grappling with their budding sexuality, especially their budding homosexuality, these sort of thoughts make sense. Many teens, myself included, have a hard time coming to terms with their sexuality, and I appreciate that Yuzu’s worries go beyond just a lazy “b-b-but I can’t like girls” narration insert.

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So much yuri take place in a safe haven school where everyone is a Lesbian Until Graduation with no real world issues being addressed at all, so it’s refreshing to see a character actually struggle with her identity and worry how everyone else will perceive her. Outside perspectives are even touched upon. Other students are shown reacting with distaste when they think Yuzu’s dating her childhood friend Matsuri. Harumi, Yuzu’s best friend at school, also remarks on how other female students will fool around but never in a serious way, which confuses Yuzu further since she seems to be feeling something much stronger than what Harumi describes.

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But then, despite these poignant insights into Yuzu’s sexual confusion, Citrus throws in other characters who are “in love” with Mei and Yuzu willynilly without any insight into their minds. Matsuri shows up and decides she wants to blackmail Mei and Yuzu to break them apart in a ~dramatic~ and ~scandalous~ plotline that goes absolutely nowhere. Even worse, Matsuri says she wants to be Yuzu’s little sister instead of Mei, highlighting that other scandalous, dumb, nonsensical plot device about Yuzu and Mei suddenly becoming stepsisters.

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Then we have Himeko, Mei’s childhood friend (can you believe they did the childhood friend cliche like that TWICE), who is an obstacle for Yuzu for about five seconds before the show gets tired of her and moves back to regular Yuzu/Mei drama.

Oh, but then we get a new girl in episode ten, Sara! She’s pretty awesome, actually! Well, half-awesome, anyways, as is the Citrus way. Sara plain and simply tells Yuzu that she doesn’t care about a person’s gender, she just likes who she likes. This shakes Yuzu – can you really just like girls and be okay with that fact? Is it really that simple?

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After spending more time with Sara, Yuzu realizes that girls who like girls aren’t these freaky monsters – they’re normal and perfectly capable of being comfortable with themselves despite not only being into men like girls are “supposed to.” She then breaks down and confesses all of the things she really feels about Mei – marking the first time she’s ever really admitted to anyone she has a crush on a girl.

Sounds great, right? A down-to-earth portrayal of teenage sexuality and struggle, right?

Bzzzzt. Nope. Of course it can’t be. It has to be muddled up in more love triangle nonsense, because the girl Sara tells Yuzu she has a crush on is Mei! Yes, this show has had three different love triangles over the course of just ten episodes! Also, hello, Yuzu, you’ve literally encountered two other girls who have openly admitted they had feelings for other girls to you? Sure, they were both weirdos but did that not signal anything for you?

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Lastly, of course, there’s the issue of how consent is handled. This is what I hear the most complaints about, and for good reason. Once again, it’s something that’s almost handled in a meaningful way, but Citrus values pulpy drama over any kind of morality. Take episode one. On one hand, we get straight up sexual harassment that’s completely glossed over and downplayed right in the very beginning. Literally the first time our leads meet, it’s a full-on grope-fest, presumably to titillate and capitalize on that sweet lesbian fetishism. Gross.

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But then, at the end of the episode, we get the same sexual harassment, but this time not shown as being sexy at all. Mei looks like a monster, because she’s acting like one. Even past episode one, when Mei continues to act in such a way, Yuzu is shown as being upset and even slaps Mei because of it.

Sexual harassment played for laughs and/or titillation is so common that it’s surprising to see it shown as being uncomfortable and damaging. It would be nice to be able to say that these scenes portraying Mei in a bad light for being rape-y and awful were a deconstruction of those “sexual harassment is fine and funny” tropes of anime, but no…we’re still supposed to root for Mei and Yuzu to be together in the end. Yuzu still loves Mei despite the fact that she’s absolutely awful and deserves better. My bar for anime’s treatment of female characters is not so low that I can applaud Citrus for sort-of-kind-of-almost punishing its characters for treating other women like shit.

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Oh, but in episode nine, we finally have a moment between Mei and Yuzu that is explicitly consensual – Mei asks if Yuzu is ready to “do the things she really wants to do,” Yuzu asks if it’s really okay, and then they go in for the kiss. Of course, now that things are going “normally” (or as normally as they can be), Yuzu panics and realizes she’s not ready for these steps and that she never really has been. Mei, upset that she’s been rejected after finally opening up in a healthy way to Yuzu, goes back to being stony and cold. Yuzu is too afraid to talk to her, and too afraid to try and understand what’s really going on with her – she tells Mei that she just can’t because they’re “girls” and “sisters,” but we know it’s more than that.

This scene is the type of stuff we probably should have been getting all along, and it is a great scene…but it takes nine episodes to get to. And, before we get to that scene, we have to suffer through over-dramatic, contrived nonsense with Matsuri for the rest of the episode.

 

Even the main characters themselves are pretty evenly split when it comes to good vs. bad, sour vs. sweet. Yuzu is an excellent character – she stands up for herself and her beliefs, learns to take control of her rocky relationship with Mei by caring for her when she’s in need and rejecting her when she’s being possessive, and is actually shown struggling with her sexuality in a semi-realistic way, as highlighted in episode ten. Mei? Mei is bad. All of her actions are contrived, and her only motivation to do anything seems to be for the ~drama~ of it all. She takes advantage of Yuzu, manipulates her, and actually hasn’t really done anything even remotely nice to like, anyone. We’re supposed to believe that she is the way she is because her dad doesn’t pay enough attention to her, and because her teacher-fiancee forced himself on her but backstory half-explanations don’t equal good characterization. It’s a huge detriment to Citrus that the other half of its love story is so robotic and cold. Did the author spend so much time on Yuzu they forgot to add redeeming qualities to Mei?

Despite all these complaints, I am enjoying Citrus. Mostly because I love Yuzu, but also because it’s entertaining in its trashiness and balances its schlock drama with some lighthearted comedy. In fact, the only reason I’m giving it so much thought and so much criticism might be because I enjoy it so much. It’s obviously capable of shining, since there are moments that are touching and insightful, but it’s a shame it chooses to dull that sparkle with cliches and fetishization so very often.

8 thoughts on “The sweets & the sours of Citrus’s portrayal of girls in love

  1. Great review, really enjoyed reading it and you make so many good points that I agree with. I guess the thing with ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘abuse’ in this kind of media is it can be hard to judge tone if the show is purposefully (or maybe wilfully) vague about definitively saying ‘yes this is bad’ or ‘lol whatevs’. I personally think the show’s uncertain take on the subject stems more from the fact that Yuzu does have such strong feelings for Mei that she’s willing to overlook it, and since she’s our protagonist they want us to overlook it too.

    The hard part comes when people’s own personal opinions on the matter come into it, I imagine those who’ve suffered sexual harassment or worse would find it a lot more distasteful then those who haven’t. Or if not that then they just don’t realise how multifaceted and complicated an issue it is.

    Anyway, as you said it’s a great show to discuss and unpack, it’s certainly a lot deeper than a lot of people give it credit for but sometimes it’s hard to say whether that depth is actually there or just comes at looking at the show and its subject matter from a more critical mindset then maybe was ever intended by the author.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I often wonder if I’m giving the show too much credit…like, are there really this many layers or am I just bringing a bunch of outside feelings/knowledge to it? Which, I guess, anyone watching anything is going to bring in personal experiences and view it through their own lens, which is part of what makes talking about anime/manga so fun. I agree with you and think, at the end of the day, there is a lot more going on with Citrus than people think there is, even if a lot of it is reading too much into it. That’s something I’ve been struggling with the whole time, really! Like, “is this actually dealing with complicated and multi-faceted issues, or do I just really want it to?”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I dropped this after episode one (maybe part of two) mostly because I didn’t really like either of the two main characters. That said, I’ve enjoyed the discussions this show has generated and this post was an interesting read giving some great insight into the show. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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