Lesbian Anime Citrus Isn't Perfect, But It's Still Worth a Watch

Terra Necessary

Citrus is the new anime adaption of the bestselling manga of the same name. It is currently being simulcast by Crunchyroll as it is released in Japan, and simuldubbed in English a week later by Funimation. The manga made quite a splash in the genre of "yuri," lesbian comics from Japan often focusing on high school romances.

It follows the life of Yuzu Aihara, a purely ordinary teenage girl among teenage girls. Deeply into her appearance, the sweet but shallow Yuzu is set on finding romance and hopes moving into a new school after her mother remarries will help her cause.

The catch is her new school is an all-girls school. And of all those girls, Mei, the prettiest, most stubborn one (whom she gets along with the least) happens to be her new stepsister—her new stepsister that seems hell bent on making out with her all the time. Look, if you’ve seen pretty much any anime, you probably know where this is going. The two are aggressively the opposite of each other: Yuzu, the fashionable slacker and Mei, the uptight, student body president.

The characters feel like realistic teens with depth and layers. At first, Yuzu comes across as a ditz, but is overflowing with complicated feelings. It becomes clear as the show goes on that it is her interests, not her personality, that tends towards the shallow end of the pool. Mei is shown, at first, as the cold and pretty type, but soon shows some hidden depth of her own. The beautiful animation does a good job of not being an all-out butt and boobs fest of a bunch of 15 year olds (an unfortunate side effect of many yuri anime made for the male gaze), instead focusing on richly detailed backgrounds and trendy fashions.

The show doesn’t seem to quite know how to deal with heavier issues, though. Yuzu and Mei's relationship as stepsisters veers wildly between a gag and a melodramatic angst device. As expected, Yuzu also struggles between her romantic feelings for Mei and her responsibilities to Mei as a family member, but the struggle seems to be played more for sexy moments and shallow drama than any nuanced exploration of a taboo and complicated subject. While it mostly does skip the "stepsiblings as fetish" fodder, the plot is still handled too lightly to feel like that vibe isn’t there. Certain scenes can leave you feeling a bit greasy. Multiple encounters are painted as sexy, while the characters actually involved in them seem to behave (fairly) as if they were assaulted. The severity of the act, while reacted to emotionally as important, is quickly forgotten as the plot point is moved past, several times. "No-means-yes" is, uncomfortably, applied across the board and can create squirming moments.

That said, Yuzu is adorable, Mei is intriguing, and the anime moves quickly enough into cute territory that it’s easy to look past the mishandling of those plot lines. While the anime doesn’t totally gloss over the homophobia of the world, like many yaoi (gay male-themed manage/anime) and yuri titles, it fits in a world where sexuality just...doesn’t matter too much.

While it would be a frustrating trope all the time, sometimes it’s nice to watch a girl go through her first crush without the same worries that often follow that path. It won’t be any gay revolution in anime like, say, Yuri!!! on Ice but for a cute yuri romance, Citrus is a fun, flashy watch.

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