Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Yuzu's life has just been upended – her mother remarried and she's being forced to move to another town and start high school over at a new school...even worse, it's an all-girls school. Yuzu's determination to make the best of it is stymied by the fact that the school is ultra-strict and that the priggish student body president, Mei Aihara, turns out to be the new stepsister she didn't even know she had! Mei is pretty insufferable, but when she suddenly kisses Yuzu, she begins to realize that there may be more to this girl than she had previously thought – and that her hard shell might hide a girl who is very hurt indeed.
Seven Seas continues to be the leading purveyor of yuri manga in English with this latest offering. Where their previous releases by Milk Morinaga or currently out of print titles (such as The Last Uniform) were all more sweet than sexy, Citrus treads some different ground. The story follows Yuzu, a recent Aihara through marriage; her mother has just remarried and she's taken her new stepfather's family name. The move also means that she has to switch schools, going from her everyday high school to a prestigious girls' school with unexpectedly strict rules. Yuzu is bombarded with complaints about her rolled up skirt, her light hair, her make-up...pretty much everything that she considers normal. It only gets worse when she meets Mei, the student council president, who steals her phone under the guise of a (creepy) hug. Incensed and annoyed, Yuzu arrives at her new home to find that her stepfather has taken off for parts unknown...and that he left behind his daughter, who her mother forgot to tell her about. Guess who that daughter is? Mei.
Yuzu herself is an interesting character. Despite the fact that she has had a terrible day, to say nothing of an uncomfortable one what with Mei's hug and later seeing her homeroom teacher French kissing Mei behind the school, she's still willing to try to be friends. Mei is prickly and stand-offish, so Yuzu attempts to engage her with what would have passed for normal girl talk with her old friends, something Saburouta lets us know from the opening (color) pages of the book: she talks about the kiss she witnessed. Much to her surprise, Mei silences her with a kiss of her own, shocking Yuzu. This becomes the baseline of their relationship. It is an uneasy one as the volume comes to a close, with forceful, borderline non-consensual moves on the part of both girls. Yuzu has to be pushed to that point, but Mei clearly has no problem touching the other girl without warning or consent, and while there is never anything that goes farther than touching non-sexual body parts or kissing, this is still quite different from what has been released in English in the past and may make some readers accustomed to the gentler yuri manga we've gotten uncomfortable.
Saburouta, who is also the artist of the Unlimited Fafnir manga as well as several mature shoujo/josei titles, does give us a slow understanding of Mei's character, revealing it in bits and pieces so that when you finish each chapter and think back on the preceding ones, you realize that Mei's actions can be seen in a different light. To use the kiss example from the first chapter, Yuzu realizes that Mei's facial expression in both cases did not denote passion, but rather emotional discomfort, making the kiss she forced on Yuzu an act of retaliation for discussing an uncomfortable event rather than something born of attraction. It is almost impossible to realize this when looking at the two scenes individually; Saburouta's use of reader hindsight is both unusual and very well done...and perhaps should also make us question the usual “blushing/crying face” we see on protagonists' faces during kissing or sex scenes.
The major contrast between the girls is that Yuzu never gives up while Mei already has when we meet her. That Yuzu is able to influence that as the book progresses indicates that this is going to become as much about Mei overcoming her past and her own emotional hurts as it is about their romance, and that sounds promising. Their relationship at this point is a little like a yuri version of the twins' from Arisa, with Yuzu's strength and determination to help Mei forming the backbone of the story. Naturally the idea of family plays a role as well, since Yuzu is technically Mei's older (by months) sister. It should be noted that this story doesn't have any pretensions to being an incest romance, as the word “stepsister” is almost always used to describe their relationship and Mei makes it clear that she has a hard time thinking of Yuzu and her mother as actual family.
Citrus' first volume is better in hindsight, when you have all of the information that the author provides. Saburouta deals it out sparingly, making this a good, if not better, re-read than one time read. It isn't sweet or particularly comfortable, but it gives us two heroines with very different life views who could both benefit from understanding the other. With its soft artwork and easy to read page setups, this is worth reading if you like stories of emotional change – and it looks like it will improve as it continues into future volumes.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Emotionally interesting characters, art is pleasing and easy to read. Author's use of forced hindsight really works, making this worth re-reading as well as reading.
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