First Look: Citrus

Alternative title(s): Abuse is Okay When You’re Gay
Manga adaptation by Passione
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

After the remarriage of her mother, Yuzu is beyond upset when she finds out the conservative girls’ school she’ll be attending won’t land her a boyfriend anytime soon. After she gets a humiliating scolding from the diligent, aloof student council president Mei on her very first day, things couldn’t possibly get any worse for Yuzu — until she finds out none other than Mei is to be her new step-sister, and they’ll be living under the same roof. Oh, and Mei sexually assaults her a couple of times, but the official summaries conveniently forget to mention that.

Aqua’s verdict: Bitter Lemon

Yuri, or girls’ love if you may, has always been the red-headed stepchild of the anime family. Nearly every contemporary anime featuring girls interacting with each other is in some way, shape or form indebted to its many clichés, but the genre almost never gets its proper due. The result is that whenever a yuri anime does get made nowadays, it’s generally one that tries to stay away from the flower petals and perpetually blushing fourteen-year-olds squeaking “b-but we’re both girls”. Citrus is no exception. Alas, what it may lack in sparkles and intertwined fingers, it makes up for by lifting its clichés from another, far more questionable source. As it turns out, Citrus is little more than a sapphic take on that incomprehensibly popular subgenre of shoujo romance where they forgot to put in the romance and replaced it with the kind of behaviour you’d be jailed for in real life.

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As sad as I am to say it, though, there is a ‘but’. Here’s the stinger — Citrus is also an unfortunately well-made show, with clever directing, well-executed ideas, strong pacing and an endearing main character. Like a citrus, it’d be a largely tasteful and juicy affair, if it weren’t for all the nasty webbings and membranes and so, the taste it leaves in my mouth isn’t an all too pleasant one. When Citrus gets “down to business”, it becomes a different show entirely, lurid and lecherous in running its camera all over its characters’ bodies, and borderline nauseating in its dragged-out, bombastic depictions of Mei’s sexual intimidation. It all reeks of a show that wants to have its cake and eat it too, a show that sees the veritable parade of red flags it raises and has no idea what to do with them — Romanticize? Problematize? My guess is as good as this first episode’s is. But I can’t wait until next week to know. Perhaps the manga could provide some clarity as to what’s underneath Citrus‘ rind?

Short answer? No. Five chapters in, Citrus still hasn’t figured out what to think of its own shenanigans — and it’s hard not to start drawing conclusions. While the yuri we’re used to tends towards all romance and no sex, Yuzu and Mei veer towards the other extreme, and whatever little other interaction occurs between the two if them is fueled by either distaste or distrust. Yet rather than coming across as twisted and problematic, this relationship just comes across as bizarre, like two people who never talk to each other meeting up once a week to punch each other in the face.  Make no mistake — frank as it may be about lesbianism, to Citrus it is little more than yet another means to show off how “scandalous” it’s hoping to be. “Gay, incestuous and non-consensual? That’s a taboo triple whammy!”, it thinks, as if the former is in any way comparable to the latter two. Assault that provides the key to your closet is still assault, the idea that genuine love can spout from it, is frankly disgusting. Anime has never been good at distinguishing vapid lust from unconditional love, but Citrus provides an especially bizarre example — and it’s a goddamn disgrace it had to come from one of the few yuri manga popular enough to get an anime.

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Nevertheless, I don’t think Citrus should be tarred with the same brush as, say, Diabolik Lovers or Eromanga-sensei. Its depravity isn’t the root of its problems, but a consequence — a consequence of what I can only call a nasty case of “soap opera syndrome”. At its core, Citrus is one of those stories that hopes to shock, titillate or frustrate readers in everything it does, and while the anime manages to hide this quite admirably by adding a lot of its best material, it’s going to be hard to squeeze anything remotely redeemable out of the inconsistency with which Citrus treats its ethics and its characters. Yuzu can’t decide whether she wants to be Mei’s sister, her lover or her toy, while Mei uses sexual assault as either a defense mechanism or stress relief or simply to get a rile out of Yuzu — whatever gets us to the money shot as soon as possible — despite otherwise being coded as completely asexual. Of the two, she gets the shorter end of the stick, being written as little more than an impenetrable plot device whose moods depend entirely on whatever wringer the powers that be want to put Yuzu through next. It’s a shame Citrus had to be the kind of show it is, then. With the talent involved and the effort put into it, it could’ve easily been the best yuri show of the entire decade. That may sound like hyperbole, but then you remember the competition.

Marlin’s verdict: It Burns.

I see no redeeming qualities to this show. It is absolutely unavoidable that the sexual violence is gross, and I think that if it weren’t two girls there would be more of an outrage from people about this. Its set-up is also completely barren of originality; if Yuzu were a man, this would be the plot to the kind of shit I’d be making a #HATEWATCH for. As for the real main character, she is about as boilerplate as gyaru characters get, who pretends to be mature but is in fact sheepishly innocent. That compounds with the other cliché of her step-sister, the prim and proper president that’s good at everything but also is a perv. You wanna know what premise with these two kinds of characters did way better? Love Lab. Watch that instead and save yourself some time.

Zigg’s verdict: Troubled Youth

There’s a lot to like about Citrus – the sharp directing, good character designs, intriguing undertones of a messed up family, and refreshingly frank take on teen attitudes and sexuality. The problem is, it’s all coloured by the occasional lapses into lurid, near pornographic scenes of assault, which are 100% not cool and are frankly extremely uncomfortable to watch, what with the level of ‘loving’ detail involved. I think what will determine my attitude towards this show will be how subsequent episodes respond to what happened here. If there’s the appropriate level of condemnation and an accompanying examination of why exactly Mei is acting like this, it could be an interesting jumping off point to examine a deeply troubled individual. If on the other hand, the abuse is romanticised into a forceful start to a pining relationship (a trope shoujo manga has used countless times over the years) then needless to say I’ve got not time for that. Without knowing where they’re going, it’s hard to make a recommendation either way, but there was probably enough here to make me reluctantly tune in for a second episode.

Jel’s verdict: Sour

Maybe there’s a story to be told here but there’s some pretty big red flags that declare Citrus‘ true intentions. The most obvious of course is the non-consensual touching and kissing scenes that are made more egregious by how explicitly animated they are. It’s one thing for those kinds of scenes to exist, but when you start seeing tongue and saliva we are kind of tiptoeing around porn territory. Speaking of porn, that is about the level of storytelling we get with the lazy step family setup. Are we really supposed to believe her mother just forgot to tell her she was going to have a step sister? The entire thing felt like a thin excuse to get to the girls in an intimate setting and start making out as soon as possible. If they were attempting to do anything more than that, I’d say they failed very badly.

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3 thoughts on “First Look: Citrus

  1. The mum just not informing her about the sister, and the sister moving in, really annoyed me as well. It just seemed so unnecessary. Surely the mother would have mentioned it even if she hadn’t met the sister before (though I’m still questioning the whole parents getting married without the family actually meeting thing).

    • I realized later after I wrote my part that it’s possible there might be something else going on, like a reason mom didn’t say anything. I don’t know anything about the manga so I’m just purely speculating on some clues. Even so, I don’t think there’s any reason they could give that would change my opinion.

  2. I can agree with the overall impression coming out of this episode. The alternative title nails it.

    There are technical things that are fine with this show. Can appreciate what they are doing well. Maybe if they really wanted to examine how someone like Mei got to the point of victimizing others and dealing with the consequences of that…it could work. But somehow I get the impression we’re not going there.

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