by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Regardless of its immediately divisive premise, Citrus is clearly trying very hard at what it does. Extra effort is put into many sequences that series like these tend to gloss over, adding important detail to what each moment is trying to communicate. The montage at the beginning of this episode of Yuzu and Matsuri out on a date with Mei in tow is a great example. Instead of just giving us a fluffy montage, we consistently see Mei separated from the other two, with Yuzu's reactions to this. A little later, Matsuri's inappropriate suggestions to Yuzu are framed with bystanders in the foreground, making the taboo of what she's saying in public feel more urgent as Yuzu chastises her for it.
Citrus has been going out of its way to make Matsuri look really bad. Her selfishness, neediness, and potentially abusive manipulation was obvious in the previous episode, but now she's upgraded to a full-blown antagonistic schemer. It's an interesting and perhaps frustrating road for the show to go down with this character. On the one hand, Matsuri and her machinations are a solid method for progressing everyone's character development. On the other hand, the story's depiction of her goes perhaps too far, making her mean and unlikable in a way that's easier to just hate rather than love-to-hate. On the other other hand, at least she feels like an actual character rather than a glorified plot device.
All the same, Matsuri is still mostly interesting in relation to other characters. The most effective element she brings out is prompting a change in how the audience sees Mei. Over the course of the story, Mei's development has gradually slid her out of the story's antagonist role, leaving it now to be taken by Matsuri to great contrasting effect. The old ‘villainous’ version of Mei had her problems, but she was always portrayed as someone who could get healthier, likely through the earnest romantic efforts of Yuzu. Matsuri instead puts the tone of the whole show on edge, since she's consciously manipulating people and you can't guess what she's going to do next. In that respect, her role is to encourage the audience to gloss over the more problematic points of Mei's earlier characterization, so we can root for her and Yuzu against Matsuri instead.
Whether that strategy succeeds will definitely depend on how much the audience wants the Yuzu/Mei relationship to work out after all the ups and downs it's weathered, but to the show's credit this is another element it's working overtime on now. Matsuri confronts Mei in the parking garage with the codependency issues apparent in her relationships, and it's surprising to see that called out in what could just be a soapy melodrama, albeit through the villain's words. To her credit, Matsuri does totally have Mei's number here. Self-awareness can sometimes be used to excuse unsavory plot points, but Citrus feels like it's actually trying to facilitate plot and thematic development with this call-out scene. Even then, it does stumble backwards by giving us another gratuitous kissing scene that only sort of makes sense with Mei's character.
That thematic setup does pay off in the best scene of the episode though, as Mei finally asks Yuzu why she even puts up with a jerk like Matsuri. The answer is somewhat expected, but it also ties into this episode's point. Unhealthily dependent attachments to people come in all forms. Yuzu and Matsuri have a similar dynamic for each other that Mei has toward others, albeit in different ways, but the point is neither of them feel strong enough to let go. It's yet another through-line that the anime executes well, and the follow-up between Mei and Yuzu is adorably worthwhile. After all the voyeuristic fanservice of early episodes, it's impressive how cute and affecting Citrus can make a moment where Yuzu awkwardly asks Mei to hold hands.
All that attention to detail and interwoven thematic work makes this the meatiest episode of Citrus yet. Aside from a couple awkward elements like Mei kissing Matsuri, the biggest issue with this episode came in the concluding lead-up to the Christmas party Mei and Yuzu are planning. It drags somewhat uneventfully after everything before it, and while the banal build-up is clearly serving to telegraph that something bad is going to happen the night before (heralded by Matsuri's last-minute appearance), it still felt more like the story petering out rather than riding on the hard work from the scenes that had come before. Hopefully it proves just to be a break in the action and the next entry in the Matsuri saga keeps up the high standard this arc has otherwise delivered.
Citrus is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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