Happy Pride Month, everyone! During June’s National Pride Month, we make an additional effort to recognize members of the LGBTQ community in real life and fiction. For our purposes, we’re going to focus specifically on anime. Not everyone knows this, but anime actually has a genre specifically for lesbian relationships. It’s called “yuri” and it dates all the way back to the early 1970s. During this time, writing — and talking in general — about same-sex relationships was pretty bold. But, the world has changed a great deal since the 70s. People are much more progressive, though there’s still room to grow. That’s part of the reason why I loved the CITRUS anime. It’s a recent yuri release that was bold enough to go where many series won’t.

In terms of pure representation, there might be better series out there. The yuri genre is so deep that it’s impossible for me to watch all of it. I watched the CITRUS anime because it’s a recent title. Furthermore, there’s plenty of controversy in this series to analyze. Honestly, you’ve probably heard about one or two of these controversies through the internet grapevines. Maybe you’ve heard that protagonists Yuzu and Mei are step-sisters or that there’s some use of coercion in their intimate scenes. These things, out of context, are unequivocally off-putting.

However, despite its flaws, the CITRUS anime proves that LGBTQ stories have a place in mainstream anime. So, let’s have an open-minded discussion about LGBTQ representation in the CITRUS anime.

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The Yuri Genre and CITRUS

The word yuri is so interesting because its interpretation changes based on location. In Japan, people use it when referring to lesbian romance in anime and manga. However, the word has taken on a different meaning in Western audiences. Typically, Western audiences only use the word to refer to extremely explicit anime content, like “hentai.” In reality, these two genres couldn’t be more different. Yuri, or girl’s love, focuses heavily on both the romantic and sexual aspects of relationships. I can’t speak for the entire genre, but yuri content generally isn’t overtly sexual for the sake of being overtly sexual. There is purpose and logic behind its content, which has guided the genre’s success for over 40 years.

Enter CITRUS, among the latest yuri title to receive an anime adaptation. The series actually started out as a manga written and illustrated by Saburouta in November 2012 before animation studio Passione picked it up in January 2018. It follows the story of Yuzu Aihara, who imagined her first day at her new high school differently.

Originally, Yuzu hoped to find a boyfriend and get the ball rolling on her own great romance story. However, it’s an all-girls school, which seemingly crushes her quest for romance. Yuzu’s struggles only continue after getting into an argument with the cold-but-beautiful class president, Mei.

Yuzu and Mei's first encounter in the CITRUS anime
Yuzu and Mei’s first encounter | Image: Crunchyroll

Much to Yuzu’s surprise, Mei turns out to be her new step-sister. This matter is further complicated when Mei kisses Yuzu at their new home later that night. This exchange shocks Yuzu, but she’s soon replaying the moment over and over in her mind. CITRUS proceeds to follow the evolution of their relationship as the two explore their mutual feelings of attraction.

A Dynamic LGBTQ Cast

Before we get into some of the controversial aspects of the CITRUS anime, I want to highlight something pretty cool. With the exception of a few, almost every single character in CITRUS is a member of the LGBTQ community. Some mainstream anime have included more than one LGBTQ character, but almost an entire cast? That’s unique and honestly just awesome. Furthermore, all of CITRUS’s characters bring something different to the table to keep you engaged throughout the series.

To kick things off, we have the protagonists Yuzu and Mei, who are as mismatched as they come. Yuzu is extroverted, obsessed with fashion, and worries greatly about her social status at school. Mei, on the other hand, is much more anti-social. She’s perfectly content with doing her own thing and getting good grades in school. Their personalities are worlds apart, which makes it so fun to watch their relationship evolve.

Mei's and Yuzu's differences highlighted by thematic dark/bright scenery
Mei’s and Yuzu’s differences highlighted by scenery | Image: Crunchyroll

Don’t sleep on this supporting cast either! Every character feeds off the other’s personalities and impacts the story. For example, the warmhearted and cheery Sara Tachibana introduces herself as pansexual quickly after meeting Yuzu. This catches Yuzu by surprise. It’s the first time she’s ever met a girl so heterodox. After meeting Sara, Yuzu slowly becomes more comfortable with her own feelings and decides to pursue Mei no matter what.

In a similar vein, we have the mischievous Matsuri. She’s adept at manipulating others and, through her ruthless emotional games, helps Mei realize how lucky she is to have someone like Yuzu care about her. CITRUS’s cast of characters may have a few flaws, but there’s no denying how perfectly they all fit together.

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CITRUS’s Bizarre Story is a Good Thing?

Like most, I was lukewarm on the whole “step-sisters dating” aspect of the CITRUS anime. Initially, I thought this was nothing more than an attempt to appeal to a very niche audience. But the more I thought about it, the more I actually liked it. Hear me out for just a moment and I’ll explain.

As far as romance goes, Yuzu and Mei couldn’t be more lost. Yuzu just wants to have a relationship like in the manga she reads and Mei just can’t be bothered with romance. Their personalities and attitudes on the subject are so different that it’s like trying to mix fire with ice.

They can, however, agree on the importance of family, which they both have some issues with. Yuzu’s father passed away when she was young and Mei doesn’t see eye-to-eye with her father on a lot of things. Instead of letting bygones be bygones, they help each other out with their respective issues. Mei accompanies Yuzu to visit her father’s grave and, in return, Yuzu helps Mei get closer to her father.

Yuzu clutching Mei's hand
Yuzu clutching Mei’s hand before reconciling with her father | Image: Crunchyroll

Throughout this entire process, Yuzu’s and Mei’s characters develop a great deal. Yuzu develops beyond the stereotypical “dumb blonde.” She’s incredibly caring, pure-hearted, and warm. Mei, on the other hand, goes from being pessimistic and aloof to confident and happy.

CITRUS probably could’ve developed their characters in a less controversial way. But honestly, I don’t know if they would have been as effective. Yuzu and Mei develop into characters who genuinely love each other and are strong-willed enough to defend their feelings for each other. That’s why, even though they’re technically related through circumstance, I truly feel that Yuzu and Mei’s relationship can be seen positively here.

Fighting Through Growing Pains

As a whole, the CITRUS series sold remarkably well. It appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list five times in 2015, joining titles like ATTACK ON TITAN and NARUTO. There’s no denying its popularity, but there are many questionable aspects about the series. The most blatant is the non-consensual elements. There are many scenes where Mei forces Yuzu down to kiss her or vice versa. It’s sexual assault and there’s no way of tiptoeing around that problem.

It’s worth noting, however, that these actions don’t persist throughout the entire series. The CITRUS anime only adapts about a third of the story from the manga. If Passione wanted, they could make an additional two seasons of content without any more of those scenes. I think if that ever happened, even more people would fall in love with CITRUS and its sweet romance.

Mei eats Yuzu's terrible tasting cake in the CITRUS anime
Mei eating Yuzu’s terrible cake in a sweet moment | Image: Crunchyroll

We may never know if Saburouta intended for deeper symbolism behind those uncomfortable scenes. Perhaps it was meant to represent the frustrations of Mei and Yuzu trying to understand each other’s feelings and their own. This theory picks up merit in the manga where those moments completely cease. Instead, we see Mei and Yuzu grow into a more traditional couple. They go on dates, buy each other gifts, and take a vacation together.

That’s why I call those uncomfortable Yuzu and Mei moments “growing pains.” CITRUS is a metaphorical puzzle that you must completely piece together before judging the final picture. The first season of CITRUS only included a few pieces to that puzzle. As time goes on and you add more pieces to the picture, you may see the CITRUS anime in an entirely different light.

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Final Thoughts on the CITRUS Anime

Ultimately, CITRUS is an animal you need to dissect for yourself. It isn’t a perfect series, and people will have to sit through the growing pains. However, the CITRUS anime does a lot of things right. It has a dynamic cast, lovable protagonists, and a unique storyline.

It might not be critically acclaimed, but more people are loving the series by the day. This is evident in the manga making the New York Times Best Seller’s list and the overwhelmingly positive reviews on Crunchyroll. CITRUS, at the very least, has introduced people to the idea of girls’ love (and boys’ love) stories becoming a regular thing in mainstream anime. That’s a huge success for the series.

With any luck, Passione and other studios will pick up on the anime’s success and we’ll not only get a second season of CITRUS but see more stories like CITRUS in the near future too.

Featured image via Crunchyroll.

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3 Comments

  1. Harper Lee

    July 20, 2018 at 12:17 am

    Your articles are really enjoyable but if you guys are going write about lgbtq anime’s can you write about something that everyone could watch not about something like Citrus. Hitorijime; my hero is a great representation of lgbtq anime because its not as focused on clichés like Citrus and other lgbtq anime’s

    Reply

  2. Brides

    July 15, 2018 at 10:54 am

    Yuzu coming out to overwhelmingly positive support from family and friends and that it happened during pride month is an unequivocal win for yuridom!

    Re: Initial noncon behavior.. An important take away from these scenes was that they were never glorified, and they were not glossed over as well. There is back story and much deeper rooted meaning and context behind it. Specifically in the initial scene it was Mei’s response to Yuzu when she boldly and flippantly confronted Mei on what the kissing that she secretly witnessed between Mei and her arranged marriage groom was like. Mei who was also a victim of noncon advances herself repeated that behavior on Yuzu in frustration to show her the pain she was experiencing, belying and inner pain and turmoil which we quickly learn about. In future chapters when Mei again repeated that behavior on Mei in the dialogue we can hear her pleading with Yuzu to accept her feelings, as her need for acceptance after being abandoned for so many years becomes apparent.

    Mei’s tough outer sh!ell is beginning to crack at this point and she is attempting to connect with Yuzu as she is first experiencing someone’s love and caring who has legitimately unselfish feelings towards her, and is terrified of losing that connection. As we discover Mei was abandoned by both parents as a middle schooler, left to live on her own, submitted to an arranged marriage she never chose, and saddled with the responsibility of running the family’s Academy at that young age. Then she subsequently is abused by her future husband in noncon advances. She accepts all this with the hope that her father would one day return to relieve her of that burden, putting on an outer appearance of a mature and disciplined student council president. When she learns that this is not the case she is devastated and feels completely alone, resigned to an unhappy fate, and ultimately abandoned. To her credit she grows beyond this initial behavior as she realizes Yuzu’s altruistic nature and genuine feelings for her, as she also struggles to repair and heal from years of abuse. She grows beyond that behavior, and learns to reciprocate her feelings to Yuzu in a more healthy manner. It’s a true healing story with a positive outcome

    Reply

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