The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Yuzu is an outgoing and fashion-conscious teenager who wants nothing more than to experience the kinds of love that blossom in her favorite romance manga. However, her mother has just remarried, and Yuzu's been forced to transfer to the drab and overbearing all-girls school, Aihara Academy. Not only does Yuzu feel as if she's lost any chance of meeting any cute boys at her school, she also has a terrible run in with the beautiful and standoffish student council president, Mei. What's more, it turns out that this new rival is also the daughter of her mother's new husband, making Yuzu and Mei the most mismatched step-sisters imaginable. Yuzu can't seem to get thoughts of Mei out of her head though, and the girls find themselves drawn to one another in the most unexpected ways. Could this thorny relationship be leading to the passionate romance that Yuzu has always dreamed of? Citrus is based on a manga and streams on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 11:00 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
The first episode of Citrus is interesting in how seriously it plays its distinctly soapy material. There's a lot of thoughtful, interesting direction in this premiere, from the great character-establishing scene of Yuzu dressing herself in the morning to the silhouetted frame of Mei after she forcibly kisses her new stepsister. The show also pointedly eschews any chibi-style interludes or exaggerated character reactions, even in places where you might expect them like Yuzu's lecture from Minako. Overall, this choice in tone is probably for the best. As melodramatic as this show can get, it needed to sell that first kiss between the girls as something not to be taken lightly.
For the English dub, much of the dialogue has been more liberally-interpreted than expected, but rather than punching up the language or inserting jokes, the script commits to a more naturalistic flow of dialogue. The Japanese-style nicknames are all left in, but references to gyaru culture specifically have been cut out. Other liberties taken include a cute ‘whoopsie’ from Yuzu at one point, and most notably, Mei choosing to coda her episode-ending kiss with a sarcastic “Magical enough for you?” While not necessarily a bad change, this is definitely different enough in tone and intent from the original that it may be too much of a departure for purists.
Between that line and some of her other dialogue delivery, Amber Lee's Mei comes off less aloof and more potentially villainous than her Japanese counterpart, and it could be interesting to see how this interpretation develops as the story goes. Megan Shipman is giving her all as Yuzu, showing off a great range that gives the character the depth she needs. Margaret McDonald's Harumin starts out sounding somewhat odd, her voice seeming too deep and not quite a good fit for the character, but she quickly grew on me. She leverages her delivery to mark Harumin's way of standing out from the school's crowd, so I think it works. Overall, Funimation's clearly putting some thought into the way they choose to present this unique and divisive subject matter, and while their choices are likely to split the base even further, I think most of what they're doing works for what it is.
At its core, Citrus is a lesbian pulp novel come to life. The story could easily be lifted out of any Western bodice ripper. A girl who by all appearances looks hip and “experienced” is really all bark, while the prim and proper student council president is hiding a “dark desire.” This series really isn't one if you're looking for nuanced, respectable LGBT representation. It's lurid at times and the core relationship is built off an encounter that veers way, way, way into sexual assault category. Mei isn't a nice person, by any means, she's got a metric ton of issues but that doesn't redeem her actions.
But Citrus is pulp (some might even classify it as 'good trash') and the way it engages with its characters and their melodrama is either going to get you bringing out the popcorn or shutting the whole thing off. The set-up is as convenient as they get: mom somehow manages to have an entire relationship with a man and marry him without ever introducing him to her teen daughter. Personally, as someone who had a child going into a new marriage, I can't imagine not finding out a potential spouse's behavior around my kid prior to tying the knot. But I also can't imagine just abandoning my kid for years at time to go traveling like plenty of other anime parents, so I guess I'm old-fashioned.
If you can keep your suspension of disbelief long enough to get past that hurdle and aren't immediately reviled by Mei, Yuzu is an extremely likable protagonist. She's easy to root for, being both self-assured and confident but not mean or conceited. She's also gives me major nail envy. I can't help but wish the best for her and her spunky self, even if I'm not fully behind a Yuzu x Mei relationship at this point. Yuzu, once you figure yourself out, there's plenty of nice people out there that won't try to teach you kissing is all about forcing your pain onto others! Get Mei and a therapist and extract yourself from this situation!
My impressions of Citrus’ first episode were somewhat unavoidably colored by my knowledge of its source manga. I know this story isn't going to be a thoughtful exploration of adolescent sexual abuse, or about discovering your own sexuality. I know it's gonna end up being a fan-focused and exploitative work, and I know people looking for genuine gay relationships in anime deserve better than this. But for all that knowledge, this episode at least made a convincing argument that Citrus will actually be a pretty solid show.
The show's most fundamental strength is likely its active and fairly inventive direction. Our introduction to gyaru Yuzu's first day at an all-girl's academy is livened through many standout visual sequences, starting with the early segment dedicated to her dressing up for school. A bland school uniform is abandoned in favor of heavy makeup and cute personal touches, with Yuzu's upbeat humming fading gracefully into the scene's background piano melody. Yuzu's buoyancy and clear sense of self are thus established without words, and when Yuzu's attire is condemned by school officials, we already feel invested in the ways she defines herself.
Yuzu is the next of Citrus’ great strengths, an engaging lead who leads us gracefully through a very crappy first day. Yuzu's character voice comes naturally, and this episode's relatively strong animation gives her plenty of expressiveness. Later scenes of Yuzu chatting with her mom give her life and personal relationships a sense of reality, and one sequence of her in the bath finds her insecurities neatly expressed through the distortion of her face in watery reflection. By the time we learn she's now the stepsister of the straight-laced student council president, I already felt fully invested in her story. And when Mei straight-up attacks her in response to Yuzu's provocation, I felt an immediate understanding of Mei as well - of how much she's suffering under the control of the man that's presumably her fiance, and how she can only express that suffering by passing it on to Yuzu.
Of course, the problem is, I still do know where this is all going. Citrus’ first episode thus felt like a solid first episode of a show that might not actually exist. If this show can elevate its source material, all the nuance and aesthetic strength is here to make for a pretty excellent adolescent drama. If not, well, this episode was still pretty darn great.
Oh boy. I knew going in to Citrus that it was likely going to be, if anything, just a little problematic. I was familiar enough with the premise from people I know that had read the manga, and the “forbidden romance between step-siblings” angle is always a tricky one for me, since I've personally never seen it executed in a way that didn't feel a least a little-bit icky to me. What I wasn't expecting much I would genuinely really enjoy Citrus’ premiere, in spite of my misgivings regarding the setup. While there are definitely still issues to be found in this show's particular portrayal of young love, this is also a visually compelling story that is very well crafted in its telling, and it features an excellent protagonist in Yuzu.
Writing teenagers is difficult, and too often other anime will make the mistake of simply aging their teens up until their emotionally much closer to the adults that are writing them. Citrus key success in this first episode is giving us a heroine who feels truly youthful; everything about her dialogue and the way she's designed and animated feels honest to the experience of being a kid with a lot of dreams but very little in the way of real world experience. Yuzu is a bit shallow, and can often come across as a brat, but there's an earnest likability at her core that makes those character flaws much easier to swallow. She dresses like a stereotypical “gal”, with her bright blonde hair, heavy makeup, and generally loud fashion sense, but you end up sympathizing with her frustrations regarding the rigid conformity expected by her new school. I also couldn't help but feel bad for the poor girl when her attempts to find some new friends ended in embarrassment; Yuzu comes on strong, but you believe that she really just wants her time at this new school to go well. Mei as a character results in some problems I'll address in just a minute, but in the very least she serves as a terrific foil for Yuzu, and if the show were to tweak some of the less than savory aspects of their relationship, I could see there being some interesting dynamics to be shared between the too.
Citrus also looks great, especially in regard to character animation. Outside of some noticeable and garish CG usage for the crowd shots, Citrus squeezes a lot of emotion and characterization from the work it does with its primary characters. Yuzu uses her whole body to express her very loud and obvious feelings, but minute details, from the way she adjusts her posture to the many different facial expressions she dons throughout the episode, add to the charm and youthfulness that make her such a great character. Mei is also well crafted, her stock stillness and stoic expressions always seeming intentional, and never the result of animation shortcuts or drawbacks. While the show's background art isn't particularly impressive, there's a vibrancy to the colors and cinematography at work that lend the show as a whole a very satisfactory sense of visual expressiveness.
Unfortunately, Citrus is also unable to escape the lurid undertones that so often go hand in hand with this kind of saucy same-sex drama. I was already put off by having Mei be on the receiving end of the affections of her and Yuzu's incredibly sleazy homeroom teacher, but I found myself even more put-off by the very aggressive way that Mei ended up coming on to Yuzu. Mei's initial frisk for Yuzu's phone was already way too gropey, but the way she pushed and held Yuzu down was a bridge too far. Its too early at this point to know if the show is conscious in how it is framing Mei, because right now her physical advances don't come across as the result of affection or chemistry or even sexual attraction. Mei is the victim of abuse at the hands of her teacher, and the way she assaulted Yuzu at the end of the episode is more than anything about Mei asserting her own kind of power, in contrast to the power she lacks in her own life. This is not healthy, or even sexy in a trashy, kinky sense, at least not for me.
I'm one hundred percent in favor of depicting more same-sex romance in media of all kinds, but there's an unfortunate trend in anime to depict lesbian relationships as either chaste extensions of female friendship that will never really be consummated or validated, or the result of psychologically fraught power plays of domination and desperation. Citrus episode was surprisingly entertaining, and I genuinely do want to see Yuzu and Mei enter in to a healthy relationship of some kind. If you're looking for a lurid lesbian romance in the vein of shows like NTR, then Citrus is well worth checking out. If you're looking for a healthier expression of love, then I would recommend waiting awhile to see exactly where this star-crossed sibling romance is headed.
The first and biggest issue is the whole surprise factor for Yuzu that she now has a (technically) little stepsister. It just flabbergasts me that her mother got as far as remarrying and moving into her new husband's home and the topic that Yuzu would have a new sister her own age never came up once. It might be a little more believable if Yuzu and her mother were distant, but clearly they're not. That Mei and her father don't ever see each other I might buy as an excuse for how Yuzu and Mei never met before, but not for how Yuzu didn't know about her. Granted, the mother does seem a bit flighty, but this is still a credibility-breaking ball-drop. (Of course, a father who immediately takes off on a world trip solo right after getting married also seems flighty, but whatever.) Naturally, the writing conspicuously never has Yuzu learning Mei's full name during school – something which would happen in just about any other series where a student is transferring in – hence cutting off that tip-off, although presumably Mei understood what was going on from hearing Yuzu's name.
My second issue is the scene with Mei getting rather forcibly kissed by the hot male teacher. Yes, he's presumably the one that Mei is betrothed to, but that doesn't much reduce the impropriety of the situation – which I'm guessing is probably the point. After all, that does quickly and efficiently cast him as the villain and external source of conflict for this scenario. I could also bring up the whole “stepsiblings = romance” angle and how trite that is, or how none of the other girls seem to react to Mei frisking Yuzu for her phone in such a suggestive manner, but those are more obvious issues.
Those issues aside, what angle the series is going to play is unclear from the first episode. Despite how hands-on Mei gets in two different scenes, it's not going the salacious route that last year's NTR – Netsuzou Trap did, as that bath scene was tame as can be. However, it's not going the soft and cutesy route, either. The outrageous appearance of the school's chairman means the series isn't taking itself totally seriously, but the suggestions of Mei's problematic relationship with her father and the tenor of the school environment indicate that this isn't going to be light-hearted, either.
Still, I'm intrigued enough by how things might develop to give the series a cautious positive review and a chance for the moment. After all, Yuzu isn't unlikable by any means, Harumin is promising as a confidant for Yuzu, and I'm curious to see if Mei really is a closet lesbian or is just rebelling against the arranged future marriage in her own way. The production merits are pretty good, too, so the episode isn't hard to look at or listen to; the detail work on Yuzu's fingernails at the beginning was a particularly nice touch. Besides, I have to trust the director who made Spice and Wolf and MAOYU work so well in anime form.
I have to say that I'm feeling kind of prescient right now, because citrus was one of the titles I wrote about a few years ago in an article about manga that deserved to be made into anime. After having watched this first episode, I'm still inclined to think that it was a good idea – citrus is far less cute and sweet than a lot of the yuri fare we see, much more in line with the tropes of BL, but it still lacks the vicious edge of NTR with its relationships of dubious consent. Yes, Mei goes too far in this first episode, but having read the available manga, things do become mutual later on. (Still trashy, but mutual.) We start to get some hints here about why Mei acts the way that she does, including why she forced a kiss on Yuzu – it's not too hard to figure out that Amamiya is the teacher she's been engaged to almost certainly without any input on her part, and that implies that when she tells Yuzu that “this is what a kiss is” she's talking about having someone you don't like or want shove their tongue down your throat, because that's what kisses have been in her experience. Given the fact that she hasn't seen her father in five years nor has she been living with her grandfather, it's clear that no one's been looking out for her actual best interests.
The draconian rules at the school Mei's grandfather runs may also be an indication of the type of rules Mei has been forced to live with. They're certainly a blow to free-spirited Yuzu, and those of us who have had to make a switch to a school where kids have been together from pre-school on can attest to the truth of how hard it is to break in, especially when it's as regimented and regulated as Aihara Academy is. Yuzu's reaction feels very believable; in fact, the only thing that's not is that she's not more upset with her mother for somehow neglecting to tell her that she's getting a sister/roommate along with a stepfather. It's a trope that I've always had trouble accepting that parents would just randomly remarry without introducing their kids to the new family members, but it does make for a decent plot device and in this case allows for both Mei and Yuzu to be understandably resentful.
The art has translated from the manga quite well, as you can see in the ending theme, which is all manga images. There are some particularly nice components to the animation too, such as Yuzu's hair and the smooth way that people walk. Probably the biggest stumbling block for some viewers will be the fact that the romantic leads are stepsisters, but if that's not an issue for you, citrus both looks attractive and is shaping up to be a soapy good time.
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