In 2017, the words echoed throughout the anime community: “CITRUS IS GETTING AN ANIME.” And finally, in the anime season of Winter 2018, the dream finally became a reality. Citrus officially premiered as an anime! During its run, both positive and negative reviews of the show popped up everywhere. Yuri fans screamed victory while others weren’t so impressed. But why? The answer is, simply, because Citrus is a wonderfully gay, very controversial yuri anime.
Note: If you aren’t already aware, I am a queer girl 🙂
The Problem With Yuri Anime
Before I jump into Citrus, I’m going to give some background information on yuri anime and manga. A couple years back, I wrote a piece about validating lesbian relationships in Japan and in anime. Basically, lesbian relationships aren’t seen as real in Japanese culture – they aren’t considered bad per say, but they aren’t considered legitimate either.
Because of this belief, yuri anime wasn’t exactly popular in the past, at least in mainstream culture. Yuri manga, on the other hand, has much more content, but is extremely niche. You won’t find obscure yuri manga unless you go looking for it. To make things worse, yuri anime haven’t always been successful. Strawberry Panic and Kannazuki No Miko were popular for a while, but they aired over ten years ago and have fallen under the radar, except for in the yuri community.
Recently, there have been some yuri anime that have been good, whiles others… not so much. Valkyrie Drive Mermaid had “yuri,” but was pretty much just a giant fan service fest with absolutely no plot. I couldn’t even finish it. I honestly found it insulting. There was also Sakura Trick, which I really enjoyed. It was so cute, and the yuri seemed legitimate. But it aired late at night in Japan and didn’t get the best reception here (except for hardcore yuri fans like myself). And let’s not forget Yuri Kuma Arashi, which is one of my favorite yuri shows of all time. Its yuri was brash and bold, but many people couldn’t relate to its abstract and bizarre storytelling.
Then, there are shows that will have yuri elements, where a female character obviously likes another girl. The problem in these shows is that the yuri never really goes anywhere, stays in the background, or is just used for comedy. In my opinion, most of these shows aren’t damaging or anything- some of them are actually favorites of mine, like Kin Iro Mosaic.
But after you’ve watched so many shows with these elements, it gets very, very frustrating. You want to see the girls actually form meaningful romantic relationships. You want their sexuality to be validated and accepted. But it just doesn’t happen most of the time in anime.
Positives About Citrus
Citrus Doesn’t Follow The Same Trend
Citrus is different. This anime doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to yuri. Almost right away, the main character Yuzu realizes that she has feelings for another girl named Mei (she’s actually Yuzu’s step-sister, but more about that later). She has some doubts at first, but they never stop her from pursuing Mei as the show progresses.
And honestly, Yuzu is super gay. So gay, in fact, it’s refreshing and relatable. I know what it is like to have feelings for another girl when you’re a teenager. Other than the step-sister thing, Yuzu’s experience echoes my own, and I am sure it is similar to other queer girls and women. Being a gay teenage girl is very messy and confusing, and, of course, things get even messier when the girl you like has to come to terms with their own sexuality. Sometimes it is easy, like with me and my fiance – by the time we met, we were a little older and more or less comfortable with our sexuality. But many times, it just becomes chaos.
Yuzu and Mei flit around their feelings for each other throughout the show, but Yuzu never fully gives up. She keeps pursuing Mei, which is super important. It illustrates that she isn’t letting society’s expectations or cultural norms stop her from loving who she loves: a girl. Occasionally, character’s in Citrus made comments about how weird it is for two girls to be together, but it happens a lot less than other shows. And Yuzu doesn’t constantly deny her sexuality the way some gay characters do.
It’s extremely refreshing. It tells the audience that it’s okay to for a girl to chase after another girl. And it’s even more refreshing that eventually Yuzu and Mei admit their feelings for each other and start dating. They kiss, hold hands, and consider themselves in a relationship. For the yuri community, which was starved for content until recent years, this was a miracle. It was golden. It was un-apologetically gay. It’s why yuri fans were so happy when the anime was announced and as it aired.
We freaked out in anticipation. We freaked out during the season because they did an amazing job with the anime. And finally, we freaked out afterward because they ended the show in the best way possible. They gave us what we wanted: more moments of Yuzu and Mei together. Lita’s review of the final episode sums up a lot of the feelings I (and I am sure many others had about Yuzu and Mei.)
Why Citrus Received More Attention Than Other Yuri
The series was praised because of everything I just mentioned, but it is a little more complex than that. In my opinion, it was so hyped because of the Citrus manga and the internet. Like most manga, the Citrus manga got a fan-made translation that can be read online for free. There are a lot of mixed views on this topic… I’m neutral, but in this case, I think the online manga helped expose more people to this series.
Anyway, the Citrus manga began being uploaded online and news spread quickly. It became popular fast in the yuri community because of the reasons I explained. Many fell in love with Yuzu, Mei, their story, and their legitimate gayness. After a while, American publishers caught on to the hype and Seven Seas began publishing the manga in English. The first volume quickly became a New York Times bestseller. With Citrus all over the internet and now in major book stores like Barnes & Noble, awareness about the series grew and grew.
And why’s the anime adaption received so much attention: the series already had a huge fan base.
Purchase Citrus Manga Volume 1
from: Right Stuf, Inc.
Negatives About Citrus
Step-Sisters In Love
Although me and many other people are fans of Citrus, the series does have its flaws. A lot of flaws and a lot of controversy. Namely, there is the whole step-sister thing. Normally, I don’t condone incest, even if it’s not blood-related. However, Citrus doesn’t have the typical situation where the sisters/brother/whoever have grown up together and were raised as siblings.
Yuzu and Mei are literally two hormonal teenage girls that are forced to live together. They know nothing about each other and yet are expected to instantly act “like sisters.” In most cases, especially in real life, this doesn’t happen easily. Many times, re-marriages are sloppy and create tension between new siblings. This happened in Citrus, except it was sexual tension haha.
However, I do understand if the whole sister thing is off-putting. But I just want to emphasize that it isn’t like other incest-laden anime (like Ero-Manga Sensei) and it isn’t just lip service. Incest isn’t the whole point of the series. The step-sister thing creates the following situation: two girls thrown together into an uncomfortable situation where they need to figure out their feelings for each other. Think about it- if you had to spend almost every waking moment with the person you like, it is going to create tension. And if you and that person already have a strained relationship, it will create even more tension. Basically, it creates the drama bomb that Citrus is.
If you can look past the step-sister thing, I think you could enjoy the show. But please don’t assume the show is automatically trash because of the sister scenario, unlike this article (which frankly pissed me off).
Elements of Sexual Assault
Note: Before I go into this section, I want to say that Citrus was created by a woman. Yes, it has sexual themes, but it wasn’t “written by men for men.” And again, I am a girl.
The most unforgiving aspect of Citrus is its tendency to emphasize sexual assault. In the very first episode, Mei forces down Yuzu and kisses her. The anime community was not happy about this. I admit I was a little taken aback- I don’t remember that scene being quite so violent or drawn out in the manga. I am not sure why they heightened that scene- it might be an attempt to make things more dramatic or trashier, to cater to certain audiences, or a number of other reasons.
Note: If you are in a relationship that is physically or verbally abusive, please seek professional help or consider getting couple’s counseling.
The heighten aggression wasn’t a good move in my opinion. It’s not needed. I understand why a lot of people got so upset. But it is more complicated than that. Mei’s character is complex, and she doesn’t know how to properly interact with people, which causes her to be aggressive at times. My friend OtakuGamerGirlT explains Mei’s character in more depth and why you shouldn’t assume Citrus is all about sexual assault in her blog post Lesbian Rape? Hardly. Why The First Episode of Citrus Shouldn’t Be Taken At Face Value. Please check it; please explains it perfectly 🙂
As the series goes on, the assault is never quite as dramatic as that first episode. However, it does continue throughout the series to some degree. It’s natural that Mei would continue to be aggressive because she is still learning how to act around people. Also, because she didn’t have parents around, no one told her that the behavior was wrong.
But there were some moments that weren’t needed. There is no need for Mei to attack Yuzu in the bathroom. And the worst, in my opinion, is when Yuzu and Mei are on the train, and Yuzu licks Mei’s ear. I honestly thought that was really stupid and unrealistic (I thought the same thing when I read the manga). The same message – that Mei feels sexual tension around Yuzu – could have been sent without the ear-licking or any assault elements for that matter.
Other times, different characters, like Himeko and Matsuri, are sexually aggressive. Again, I think it was exaggerated in the anime compared to the manga. These scenes aren’t really needed. Himeko could have tried to flirt with Mei or hit on her without getting all handsy. There was also no need for Matsuri to sexually assault Mei, though it was a little more believable considering her questionable personality.
Overall, I think some of the more aggressive scenes were important to the plot. (This does NOT mean I condone the characters’ negative actions; I am simply saying that these scenes helped move the [flawed] story along.) Mei’s first kissing attack is a catalyst for Yuzu and her feelings. Himeko hitting on Mei inspired Yuzu to act more on her feelings. Matsuri is absolutely conniving and tested Mei and Yuzu’s feelings for each other. But the truth is… those scenes didn’t have to be so aggressive and sexual. Some, like the ear-licking, could have been taken out all together.
Again, it is understandable if you did not like the sexual scenes because most of them are unnecessary. However, Citrus isn’t like other ecchi anime that just use sex as a gimmick. Underneath it all, it is about two girls that need to find themselves. It is just cloaked in a veil of drama.
My Verdict: I Am Still A Fan
Despite its [many] shortcomings, I am a fan of Citrus for better or worse. It isn’t some meaningless incest show that is rifled with constant fan service. Yes, Yuzu and Mei are step-sisters, but in the end, the sister thing isn’t that important – it’s just what forced them together in the beginning. Yes, they are unneeded sexual scenes. I can’t stress that enough. However, they are nothing compared to some shows (*cough* Valkyrie Drive Mermaid *cough*).
Overall, Citrus is a story about two girls who are both train wrecks – Yuzu is all over the place, while Mei is cold and insensitive. The two of them need to come together, support each other, and realize their own feelings.
And as I explained above, the yuri in Citrus is strong and undeterred. It is an essential part of the story – in fact, it is the entire premise. Even with some hurdles along the way, Yuzu never gives up her feelings for Mei, and she never denies her sexuality. She is just so gay. It is so refreshing and so relatable to queer women such as myself.
With less drama and sexual themes, and some tweaks to the plot (okay, a lot of tweaks to the plot), Citrus could be a 10/10. But no matter what you think of it, you can’t deny that it is huge progress for the yuri community, who needs to see more full-fledged lesbian relationships. More yuri anime have been announced recently, and hopefully they can help spread awareness about sapphic relationships to the Japanese public and the world. And the Citrus anime, with all its flaws, was one of the first steps.
There has been a ton more yuri anime and manga since I first wrote this! I honestly can’t keep up with it all, especially the manga because there’s so much of it. Thank you, Citrus, for helping to pave the way, despite being 8942% problematic.
Over the past few years, I’ve also seen people hating on Citrus because it does not offer good representation of wlw relationships. I agree that positive representation is very important. However, people and relationships are complicated and messy – it happens. I’d love every lesbian couple to have a happily ever after, but that’s not always the case in real life or in fiction. That’s why I forgive Citrus‘ weird representation. Besides, its popularity did help inspire more yuri series (as we’re seeing with all these releases!). Now we can have more series with good representation ❤
Saburouta has written a sequel to the series called Citrus+. I haven’t read it myself yet (I’m so behind ;; ) but hopefully the writing has improved and no longer includes all of the questionable aspects. You can check it out by using the link below and buying a copy!
Purchase Citrus+ Manga Volume 1
from: Right Stuf, Inc.
You can also support yuri anime by buying the Citrus Blu-ray and letting the anime companies know that we want more!!
Purchase Citrus Blu-ray/DVD
from: Right Stuf, Inc.
**I’ll get a small commission when you purchase items through these links. You’ll be supporting yuri and this blog, as well as a queer woman.
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