by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 9 of
One of Citrus's most pointedly problematic aspects is its willingness to introduce unlikable characters to drive the plot. For the first half of the series, Mei was the primary antagonist in addition to being Yuzu's love interest. This type of dynamic isn't uncommon in soapy romances and particularly the shoujo-ai fantasies Citrus takes so much inspiration from. But while the players in a story don't necessarily have to be lovable or even sympathetic to work for an audience, going too far with their unpleasantness can still drain the narrative of engagement. Citrus has walked a fine line so far, currently using Mei's past villainy to contrast how much better she has become.
Matsuri turned out to be the key element the series uses to propel that shift, and with her story arc ending in this episode, the show wants to leave no mystery about where her menace comes from. Her interactions with Mei in the opening minutes of this episode swing back in the voyeuristic and predatory direction we've seen in the show's sleazier moments, but at least this time she's meant to be an unsympathetic bad guy. It doesn't make these scenes ‘good’ by any means, but the intent jibes with the tone for once. Her gross proposition for Mei also raises the threat level to a degree Citrus hasn't dabbled in before. Matsuri's villainy reaches a pointed apex; if you didn't hate her before, the show definitely wants you to at this point.
Matsuri and Mei duking it out for so much of this episode has the odd side effect of sidelining Yuzu, which is unusual for our heroine. Cutting her off from the drama that she normally jumps into head-first shows off the series' versatility. But while it is a necessary move for what this episode is trying to do with Mei's development, making Yuzu into a pawn is still a disservice to her character. Something about Citrus just feels ‘off’ when Yuzu isn't in take-charge mode.
However, putting Yuzu on the back-burner does successfully let Mei slip into a leading role for once. This is the first time we've been primarily focused on her, watching how she handles the situation Matsuri forces her into feels gratifying after so many episodes of her personality being opaque. By episode's end, Mei is trying to open up to Yuzu the same way she's been opening up to the audience recently. After making us dislike Mei for so long, the show finally seems to be giving her another chance, now that we've seen she's changed.
The show doesn't kick Yuzu completely into the background, however, and she gets to steal the show this week by finally responding to Matsuri's behavior. Yuzu's passivity in this arc almost seems like it was calculated to make her big call-out have more impact. It renews our faith in a character that we may have started to doubt, just as Matsuri thought she could get Yuzu to go along with her while Mei never wavered. The following scene is staged a little less well, featuring music and presentation that makes Yuzu's search for Mei more melodramatic than it needs to be, but it works as a heartwarming reunion between the sisters after all this turmoil. As a bonus, it's also framed as an effective "in your face" moment toward Matsuri.
The final conversation between Mei and Matsuri on the train may wrap all this up too neatly for some, and the last-minute attempt to make us feel sympathy for Matsuri is too little, too late. But the points the discussion makes about how the characters have grown are worthwhile nonetheless. This all reinforces Yuzu's status as a force of good, prompting change in villains like Mei and Matsuri. Mei is just further along in her development than the barely-reformed Matsuri. It's an interesting situation where the recurring character structure of Citrus is flipped; previous focal character Yuzu has become a device to further the development of others this time. By trading this role around throughout this arc, Citrus feels more like a show that's really about relationships. Regardless of the common tropes and trashy beginning, this is a strong case for how effective a story can be when the characters are treated more like people, whether they're likable or not.
There's some icing on the cake at the end with the implication that Matsuri will be sticking around and a warm scene as Yuzu and Mei finally get their Christmas party together. Yuzu's earnestness is reinforced, and Mei seems to finally want to open up somewhat. The next step will be seeing how these two function in something resembling a healthy relationship.
Citrus is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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