Episodes 1-3

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Citrus ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Citrus ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Citrus ?

Citrus is an atypical anime. Despite being in the yuri genre, its setup, pacing, and content are more melodramatic bodice-ripping romantic fare than the slow-burn pining some might associate more with yuri anime. Despite the heightened emotions and attraction between its leads, this is far from a realistic exploration of lesbianism in society or a nuanced exploration of girls coming to terms with their feelings. When the first episode ends with heroine Yuzu declaring how shocked she was to have her first kiss stolen by her new step-sister, it's clear that Citrus is wearing its trashy status on its sleeve. But it's the fun kind of trashy, which is key to its appeal so far.

The way Citrus makes its chosen tone work is illustrated in how it handles its most potentially divisive scenes; the kisses Mei forces on Yuzu in the first few episodes are decidedly non-consensual. However, beyond the element of steamy titillation that drives their inclusion, the framing of these scenes also betrays more empathy than you might expect from a salacious melodrama. Unlike "funny" sexual harassment scenes in similar series, these kisses are played for shock and drama, as their intensity sells Yuzu's surprise and discomfort, followed by unexpectedly artful shots like Mei's silhouetted image, which underscores the impersonal nature of the act. There's an understanding that what Mei has done is not good by any means, impressing on Yuzu and the audience that Mei herself is weirdly detached from everything around her. Despite crossing a serious line, Citrus is self-aware about where and why it breaks boundaries, giving it a leg up on other anime that revel in trashiness with less purpose.

This same benefit bleeds into other potential problems with series' premise. Step-sibling romance breeds a specific kind of ick factor that's been seen in innumerable anime before. With Citrus however, the characters have only just met and moved in together, so the step-sibling gimmick comes across more as a device to get these girls under the same roof, rather than playing off the power and dependency dynamics endemic to incest romance. On top of that, the series does address the taboo of step-sister romance regardless, with both acknowledging the "wrongness" of a potential relationship betwen them in episode three. Citrus may seem simple and trashy, but it handles its subject matter with more intelligence than expected.

The show's efforts in other areas are similarly rewarding. The characters stand out in their strong definition and active presence in their own story. Yuzu is a decidedly atypical romance lead, as her gyaru style and attitude ensures she's never a passive observer in the drama of her life. Her headstrong nature has also lent this romance an accelerated pace, from Mei kissing Yuzu to stave off her verbal provocations, to Yuzu's absurd takeover of a school assembly to announce their teacher's inappropriate relationship with his student, all these moments could not be prompted from a more demure yuri protagonist. Instead of simply having all this relationship drama happen to her, she's a driving force in her own story, and even when her impulsive nature makes her come off as somewhat selfish, she perseveres endearingly through her mistakes and seems to have her heart in the right place. Mei, meanwhile, is a more opaque character so far, but she wears that conceit effectively. Rather than her cold aloofness marking her as some unearthly beauty of a love interest, Mei's detachment and bluntly inappropriate behavior make her feel strange and concerning. She's intriguing in a way that makes it believable that Yuzu would be drawn to her despite her many immediate faults, and the audience feels eager to learn more about her too.

While the development of these characters has only just gotten underway, Citrus's plot have been moving much more briskly. Beyond just the relationship melodrama, the sheer number of escalating incidents in this series stretch its believability. Yuzu has had multiple kisses forced on her by her new step-sister, discovered Mei's engagement to a teacher, hijacked an assembly to expose that engagement and get said teacher fired, had that new step-sister move out of her house, then tried to get Mei to come back only to end up expelled from school, all before the second episode ends! Compared to the long amounts of pondering and yearning that mark softer romance shows (particularly yuri anime), Citrus sometimes gives the impression of moving too fast. While the three-car pileup of narrative beats does ensure that the proceedings never get too boring, it does stretch the audience's ability to take things too seriously when Yuzu is earning her way back into school by saving her grandfather's life after he has a conveniently-timed collapse.

But that balance between melodramatic entertainment and self-aware storytelling has given Citrus its edge so far. It's still mostly entertaining on its trashy merits, but it's put together carefully enough that it holds up without feeling too exploitative. Walking that line and perhaps making sure never to take itself too seriously will be key to its success moving forward.

Rating: B+

Citrus is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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