by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
If you still had any concerns that Citrus was going to bother too hard with subtleties, this episode opens on Yuzu angsting to herself while literally hiding in a closet. With virtually all of the various plot twists and turns having been resolved within those opening three episodes, the focus is now firmly on the step-sisters and their messy feelings for one another. Yuzu forcing her own kiss on Mei at the end of the last episode has only exacerbated that situation, and it does somewhat feel like their tumultuous relationship is something the plot has quickly boxed them into. At present, I can only view the girls' situation with a detached ambiguity toward how poorly they're acting toward each other, which definitely dampens my investment in a story that's only getting more melodramatic.
One issue might be how overwhelmingly Yuzu and Mei dominate the narrative compared to anyone else. This episode sees Yuzu leaning on her new friend Harumin as an escape, which only highlights how disconnected that character feels from this story. It makes sense that Yuzu would keep the more messed-up details of her relationship with Mei a secret from Harumin, but it also leaves that character with little to do. Aside from her, this episode also formally introduces us to the student council's vice president, Momokino Himeko, attempts to use her to broaden the scope of the show's perspective. However, the end results of this effort are a mixed bag.
The way the episode goes about getting us (and Yuzu) acquainted with Momokino is constructed well enough. Now that the whirlwind of early plot points has died down, Citrus seems to have more breathing room to actually establish its setting and atmosphere. As much as Harumin gets disregarded beyond being a plot device, Yuzu's avoidance of the awkward situation she's partially responsible for does feel like a realistic way for a confused teenager in her situation to react, and she plays this off effectively when Momokino confronts her about it. The meeting between the two of them in the café feels natural and demonstrates what kind of person Momokino is when she's not simply acting as Mei's satellite. The episode even has time for some generous flashbacks to Momokino and Mei's childhood that illustrate the connection the girls share; we learn exactly how much Mei has been changed by her father's departure, tied into development for a new character, which is a smart writing choice.
Unfortunately, the show shoots itself in the foot tone-wise when it's time for Momokino's characterization to actually pay off. While the story had done a decent job of keeping Momokino's feelings ambiguous, this is a yuri series after all, and not a subtle one. The problem is that Momokino's advances become predatory more abruptly than necessary, undermining the sympathy that have been built up for her to this point. It also feels superfluous; Citrus is bound to have gratuitous sexualized scenes between its leads, but this one plays as all voyeurism and little relevance compared to similar previous interludes. It feels more pornographically hollow, like Momokino is only expressing her longing for Mei in this way because they thought the audience wanted one hot-and-heavy scene between girls per episode.
The other problem is that Momokino's intentions seem to be setting up a love triangle, a competition for Mei's heart between Momokino and Yuzu. However, the episode also spends a lot of time highlighting (perhaps unintentionally) just how bad Yuzu and Mei are with each other. Sure, Yuzu's too-gay-to-function reaction to Mei ‘paying back’ her kiss is a funny moment, but it's couched between ashamed avoidance and cloying grabs for attention in all the scenes that bookend it. Mei's poker-face reactions don't help clue us in on how she might actually feel about Yuzu, but her actions do suggest that getting mixed up in a relationship like this might not be good for her anyway.
Basically, this episode is trying too hard to have it both ways. Is it trying to sincerely explore these complex teenage feelings, or is it trying to embrace sleazy melodrama where this kind of emotional messiness might be more of a bug than a feature? While the opening episodes were mostly dealing with the main girls' reactions to a fast-moving plot, the storyline avalanche worked because there was less to actually think about. But now that the plot is wholly concerned with Mei and Yuzu's feelings, its more lowbrow style of entertainment doesn't gel with the story being told. Citrus can't try to sell me on a hard-fought romance between Yuzu and Mei while also working overtime to make me consider how unhealthy they are for each other right now.
This episode is technically proficient in showing Yuzu's development alongside Mei, and it does a good job of initially introducing Momokino. But Momokino's troublesome characterization mostly turns her into a device for the series to force more romantic conflict between the two main girls. At least for this episode, Citrus is putting its talent for melodramatic entertainment to questionable use.
Citrus is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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