DID I HAVE YOU FOOLED? HA HA! PSYCH, CITRUS IS TERRIBLE!
Thus far I have only discussed factually, inarguably, obviously good series, and at the end of my Anko-san of the Deep Sea Fish review I mentioned my next review would concern a seminal work in the yuri canon. Maybe you’d think I’d talk about the famous Maria-sama ga Miteru or the strong entry-level yuri series Girl Friends, but no mates, I want to talk about citrus. On the whole, citrus is bad, though you could probably make an argument about it being important and seminal to yuri. It is a divisive series, many hate it, some love it. Despite slinging all that negativity at it just now, I am in the latter camp.
citrus (シトラス) is a yuri manga by Saburouta (サブロウタ) about, well, girls’ romance. It is known for being predictable and melodramatic, furthermore having several unlikable characters in its cast. It is also very perverted, which is unusual for a yuri series. I’m certain many readers of this manga picked it up due to one of the many pages of girls passionately kissing. I do not see many arguments from people that champion this series as good, instead many seem to enjoy it “ironically”, believing the series to be so bad that it becomes an incredibly entertaining trainwreck. In my case, I think I’m one of the strange ones. I legitimately like citrus, there is no irony here.
Let’s summarize the series, then. citrus starts with protagonist Aihara Yuzuko (Yuzu) chatting with friends about getting a boyfriend and sex and yada yada, very stereotypical high school girl stuff. Yuzu is a “gal”/gyaru, a Japanese archetype characterized by showy fashion, a love of love, and mega-girlishness. All the talk makes her feel awkward, however, because she’s never had a boyfriend and has never even fallen in love, even though having romance is a status symbol for a gal. She’s mainly lied about any romantic encounters she’s had, and now she’s moving and transferring to a new school, leaving her old friends behind. Her mother has remarried, giving her the new surname of Aihara, and taking away any chances she had to get a boyfriend. After all…
Yes, citrus goes with this setting: the all-girls school. That’s very usual with yuri series. But before Yuzu can enter the school proper she is stopped before the gate.
It turns out her new school is very prestigious and very strict, so Yuzu’s excessive way of dressing, her cellphone, and the fact that her hair is clearly dyed won’t fly with the authority. This matters quite a bit in the grand scheme of things but we’ll come back to that later. First let’s talk about another character that shows up after Yuzu is called out: the student council president.
This girl hits Yuzu like a whirlwind. Beautiful, taciturn, and surprisingly impulsive, she confiscates Yuzu’s phone in one swift motion (and one light hug), chastising her for not following school rules. Then, she departs, leaving Yuzu blushing.
Yuzu enters school therefore somewhat pissed, although she’s reinvigorated a bit by a brief encounter with her hot homeroom teacher. She is soon put in a foul mood again, however, because her frank and intense gal persona is a little scary to her classmates, making her unpopular. Thankfully, she quickly meets the best character in the series.
Taniguchi Harumi (Harumin) is Yuzu’s comrade. Harumin reveals that their institution has an escalator system from elementary school all the way up to high school. This means many of the young ladies there have only ever been in the halls of this prim and proper academy and are thus unaccustomed to Yuzu’s gal ways. Harumin entered the system in high school, and is therefore an exception. She is a hidden gal, and she immediately becomes great friends with Yuzu. Before we get a scene change, Harumin also mentions that the student council president is the granddaughter of the chairman of the school, is engaged to a good teacher, and is set to take her grandfather’s place as chair in the future.
After school, as Yuzu is walking back from getting her cellphone returned, she spots this:
And we get the first big hint at what kind of series this is.
The student council president catches Yuzu watching and Yuzu bolts, going home. Very worn out from a strange first day at school, she enters her house and greets her mom, asking if her new father is there so she can actually meet the guy her mother suddenly married. Turns out he’s a traveling sort and is already on the other side of the earth. He did, however, leave his daughter behind.
Before Yuzu or we readers can absorb this information, the student council president enters the house.
Yuzu’s new “little” sister is the student council president, Aihara Mei. They’re the same age, but Yuzu is technically older by some insignificant measure of time. From this point forward, Mei is her family and will be living in her home.
Later that evening, Yuzu fumes in the bath over Mei’s entrance into her life, but she also finds that her thoughts seem to be focusing on Mei in general. She isn’t certain why, but it frustrates her. She attempts to keep her cool after leaving the bath, but Mei’s standoffish nature provokes her into teasing the girl by mentioning the kiss she witnessed earlier in the day. A passionate kiss between teacher and student on school grounds? Could that have been her first kiss? This is how Mei responds:
Ah. Well. If you weren’t getting it before, it should be obvious what kind of series this is now.
citrus is a soap opera.
The main storyline of citrus is the focus on the pseudo-incestuous relationship between Yuzu and Mei and yes, “pesudo-incestuous” is the right term to use (Hell, “secret love affair with sister” is written on the tankoubon cover). Yuzu and Mei are not genetically related, but the fact that they’re sisters is not something either of them easily ignores. In fact, it only seems to get Yuzu going. The series loves its drama, and each arc concerns something rather silly happening that makes people yell, cry, and sometimes kiss. Honestly, in spite of its ridiculous situations and drama, I actually believe the first chapter of this series (which ends with that kiss) is very strong. The erotic nature of the kiss alone is sure to hook a few readers and make them get ready for chapter two. It certainly hooks Yuzu on Mei at least.
So I’ll say here that I very much like how Yuzu responds to Mei. She basically falls in love with Mei fast and hard and that’s really not a spoiler; she confirms her feelings not long after all this (like, by chapter three). Here’s the thing, though: the way she falls for Mei is actually rather typical of shoujo romance manga, I think. You have a dark, attractive, physically strong love interest pushing down the female protagonist and doing something somewhat romantic, mostly like light sexual assault; then, the dark love interest dismisses the protagonist as if they don’t care, and yet secretly they’re hurt — yeah, it’s shoujo. While I don’t mind shoujo developments and setups, I’m not exactly a fan of them. So why am I so into it this time? Well, for starters, I think Yuzu is a good protagonist.
I think Yuzu is cool. I’d totally be pals with Yuzu. While she can be a bit dumb and she cries easily, when she’s sure something is wrong she’ll act on it. She has strong convictions that she’ll rarely compromise on, a good sense of justice, is compassionate, and surprisingly possesses something of a hot-blooded streak. What’s more, she’s a gal, and while it’s true that I am fond of gal characters in anime and manga to begin with, I believe this is actually an important factor in why I accept and wholeheartedly support her love for Mei. You see, like I mentioned at the start of this review being a gal should mean experiencing romance at some point, but Yuzu’s never had a boyfriend or a crush or anything. If she were just being a poseur in order to be a part of something that would be one thing, but considering how much pride Yuzu has in being a gal it’s clear to me she didn’t start dressing in a flashy manner to get friends. By all means she should have found love before; that she hasn’t despite regularly going to mixers and palling around with girls who have boyfriends should be seen as significant. In the first pages of chapter one, Yuzu thinks to herself that she can’t understand love. One chapter later, she’s definitely in love with Mei, and a chapter after that she admits it. For the first time in her life, she is attracted to someone 100%, and I find that to be believable.
Love and attraction aren’t exactly logical. Yuzu has probably met countless boys and girls, but it’s Mei who she became attracted to. You could say it was that first kiss (Yuzu’s first in her life) that captured Yuzu’s heart, but I’m of the opinion that she was already growing fond of the dark-haired beauty beforehand. See, even before the kiss her thoughts lingered on Mei’s appearance, she was curious about her life situation, and she was thrown off by that hug during their first meeting. Would I call it love at first sight? Well no, but it’s close. A specific string of events helped sway her heart and she fell in love. Personally, I’ve only ever been fascinated by two people in my life on some romantic level, but they definitely occupied my thoughts quite a bit. So, to Yuzu, I would say “Yeah, I get it”.
Yuzu’s earnest, honest love makes my heart go doki doki and makes me feel warm and fuzzy. But fluffy feelings aside, I think something else makes Yuzu’s love believable: she is attracted to Mei. Yes, I said that already, but I mean she’s attracted to Mei — physically. This is rather unlike shoujo romance, at least not until the romance is nearing climax, and even then when physical attraction happens it’s definitely not like it’s portrayed here. Putting it bluntly, Yuzu is lustful. She wants to kiss Mei, hold her, touch her, and although she hasn’t said it outright yet, probably other things too. You know, it’s really refreshing. Sure, it might also be considered stimulating, but do you know how many romance series I’ve read and watched where the two leads almost explode with embarrassment at the mere mention of kissing and never go beyond that? Too fucking many is how many. These are teenagers operating on raging hormones; of course they’re going to be lustful. Seeing stuff like Yuzu’s reaction to a new double bed and later seeing what she does in that bed is just great. It makes me like her more, since I can understand that kind of powerful desire. Ah, but, she still did fall for what’s basically a main love interest from a shoujo manga.
Now Mei, I spent four years in college learning how to make anything I write sound like the truth — that’s basically what my degree says — but defending you seriously would just make me feel guilty. I actually like Mei, but the impression I’ve gathered is that I’m in the minority on this and I perfectly understand why. Mei is rude, aloof, sexually aggressive, dishonest with her feelings, and “perfect” (on looks, grades, accomplishments, and conduct in school). She has a troubled past, “wasn’t always like this”, will become meek if pushed, and will cry when nobody’s looking. She is that kind of character. It really feels like just about the only difference between her and the main love interest of a shoujo romance is that she’s a girl and shoujo love interests are usually boys. She will probably annoy you if you read this. At times, she annoys me. I like her, and I think as far as these sorts of characters go she’s basically solid (I guess), but she’s still that kind of character. I see what Yuzu sees in her (feeling that she can do something to heal whatever pain is in Mei’s heart — VERY typical) and I like how she slowly opens up and changes over the course of the series. I can accept the generic quality of her character…but yeah, I’ll leave it at that. I got nothin’.
Let’s instead talk about a character everyone likes.
Taniguchi Harumi is seriously like a breath of fresh air not only in the context of citrus, but to yuri manga in general. She’s fairly brazen, quite relaxed, and is almost motherly at times. She keeps a cool head through most of citrus‘s drama, and she’s not simply there to be a joke character/comedy relief. She’s undoubtedly Yuzu’s best friend, but there is no ship tease between the two of them. They really are just friends, and they never even consider one another romantically.
Characters like her do exist in yuri, but I’ve found them to be pretty rare. Or, if they do show up, they have significantly less prominence. Harumin is important in citrus, and I think that makes her special. She’s not just a side character, not just “the friend”. I would like to get more into why I like Harumin, and eventually explain why I believe her to be a genuinely good character, but doing so in this review would be spoilerific. You’ll have to read and find out for yourself! Suffice it to say, she is to me a rock throughout near all of citrus‘s romantic and turbulent soapy shenanigans. Thank you, Harumin!
Speaking of soap, let’s get into what this series is really about before we wrap things up. Here is where I’m going to get a little bold with my claims. Stay with me.
Broken hearts, blackmail, incest, familial angst, love rivals, forceful passion, inability to just talk, and a dash of misunderstandings throughout: citrus has it all. And as of this writing, it’s only nineteen chapters long (although, they’re long chapters)! However, I would go on to say citrus has something else — something important. citrus has themes.
It should be stated: entertainment does not need themes; all it needs is to entertain. It doesn’t need any strings holding the arcs together thematically, or ideas that represents the story as a whole, but I should think that most would agree such things generally help and should be viewed positively. After all, having themes and sticking to them means you’ve thought about your story and aren’t simply doing things as they please you, writing whatever comes to mind or whatever might sell. You would have a strong argument to say citrus IS written simply to provoke and sell and I probably wouldn’t feel like you were entirely wrong. Instead, I’d say it isn’t all about that; citrus is also about youth and freedom of choice.
Each of the arcs but one in citrus examine and focus on youth and freedom of choice. Even the one that doesn’t touches on these subjects briefly, specifically exploring the problems that come with both. Mostly, Saburouta-sensei asks what youth means, and encourages a person’s freedom in life. These themes are joined and crystallized in the protagonist, Aihara Yuzuko. When we’re properly introduced to her at the start of the manga, she zealously defends her freedom to dress as she wishes and have the hair color she wants regardless of the schools’ rules, keeping her hair dyed at the very least throughout the entire series. The first arc is all about how she bullheadedly champions freedom and one’s ability to enjoy their youth to the fullest. Yuzu breaks many rules, and repeatedly, because she values these choices she possesses as a young girl. This is probably a big part of why Yuzu is fascinated by and sympathizes with Mei. Mei, in her eyes, is wasting her youth by accepting all responsibilities thrust onto her, accepting arranged marriage (which is resolved by chapter two, by the way), and accepting that she has to succeed her grandfather as chair of the school. Mei doesn’t hang out with friends, is stiff, and overly-focused on school. Basically, she’s Yuzu’s opposite. Yuzu wants Mei to be her own person and live a richer life. And so, the series goes on to follow these two — and several other characters — to see how they react to freedom, being restricted, and being young.
Hoo boy, does this mean I’m saying citrus is sophisticated? I think it does. I told you I was going to be bold. Still with me? Because I’m going to probably lose you here. Here we go.
It is my genuine, 100%, no bullshit opinion that after a certain point, citrus becomes a legitimately good manga.
Wait, wasn’t literally my first act in this review calling citrus terrible? Well, shortly after that I’m pretty sure I said “on the whole” it’s bad. I still kind of think that. It’s my opinion that citrus has been good for a whole three chapters of its nineteen chapter run. That isn’t a lot, and there’s no guarantee it will stay this way, but I believe it. In faith, I believe Saburouta-sensei is now writing a good manga.
What happened? What changed that I would say such a thing? Naturally, I can’t tell you about basically the most recent developments in the series, but if I had to put it one way I’d say citrus has discovered itself and now confidently knows what it is, and what it is isn’t necessarily a soap opera anymore. It’s funny, because that thing that happens that changed my opinion occurred at the end of my least favorite arc so far. Even I was growing tired of it, but Saburouta-sensei blindsided me, the minx. I will add this: Mei’s “serious” character becomes a source of comedy, and she overall becomes rather adorable.
Update from the future: the ending itself might be fine, but the final arc is fucking terrible.
So since we’re on the subject of good things, and I’ve exceeded the word length of my Helck review, let’s finish this review by talking about real good things in citrus. Firstly, Saburouta-sensei’s artwork is really pretty. I don’t believe I need to post a picture, there are plenty above to choose from as examples. The art isn’t strictly pretty, it can get comedic fairly often (for example), but boy is it often nice to just look at the pages of this manga. I also think it goes without saying that the eroticism level is high, and that is a good thing.
Another good thing citrus has going for it is that when it’s not being dramatic, it’s being lighthearted and amusing, and that’s great for keeping motivation through the bad times. It also has a habit of turning “enemies” into friends, so if there’s a character you begin to despise, you may end up appreciating them later.
citrus is a somewhat atypical yuri series. Hardcore yuri fans may steer clear from the mere implications of heterosexual romance that are here and there in the series. However, its highly lewd content can also draw in people who aren’t usually fans of yuri. It may come as no surprise that despite much criticism being directed at it, citrus is quite the popular manga. I am glad it is, and am really looking forward to where the series goes. Currently, it feels a lot more fun than ever before. I wonder if this was obvious the entire time: I actually love citrus a lot, and it is listed among my top ten favorite manga series. I like all the characters, I like watching them grow, and I’m hoping it continues on for a while.
And there you have it, the end of my longest review so far, and it’s for a yuri series. I think that says a lot about me. If you want to read citrus legitimately, it was actually licensed in English. I can’t speak for how good or bad of a job the English translators do, because I haven’t bought a single licensed English volume of manga since I was fifteen (aside from volumes of one series, which I definitely will discuss one day). I got burned a lot by licensing companies: cutting some content, having some bizarre localization choices (that you can’t look past unlike with anime and games since there are no voices to interpret), and outright dropping many series I was into before they were even finished. Personally, I stick with importing, but you can look for the English volumes if you so wish. [Here] is the English series page. I’m going to also link to Bookwalker (guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), and ebookjapan as always, though.
Thank you for reading my thesis on citrus, I hope you enjoyed it. Next time: more weird fish manga. Happy trails!s
oh ya, this is my OTP