Pocky Hero – The Importance of Citrus

Citrus tells a great love story; it is one of the best anime/mangas ever (it was on The New York Times’ bestseller manga list, for several weeks, in 2015). The plot is very deep and groundbreaking, as far as yuri stories are concerned. It is also an emotionally satisfying story, manga or otherwise. Conventions that are just taken for granted, in straight romances, dramas and sitcoms (many suitors, subverting stereotypes) are not yet as common in most yuri (and yaoi) stories.

Citrus is like Reply 1994, if the protagonists were in high school, instead of college. Yuzu is Najung. They are both the fiery, main protagonists. Mei is Trash. Mei is the quiet, studious one and Trash does eventually become a doctor. Both stories have a complicated family story, between the main couple, but it is OK for both pairings to be together. Mei is also like 은재 and Yuzu (유자) is like 예은, from Hello, My Twenties (Age of Youth). Mei and 은재’s backstories even both center around their fathers.

Ways that Citrus bucks the usual yuri and anime trends: 1) Mei and Yuzu are not childhood friends, nor does the story concoct a contorted, tortured backstory for them to have met in childhood. Both Yuzu and Mei have their own childhood friends, and the plot is about how those suitors are overcome, for Yuzu and Mei to fall in love with each other.

2) Even though Matsuri is pretty villainous and is a yandere foil, to Mei tsundere trope, the story is complex enough to not completely devalue her. Matsuri is redeemed after the conflict; she just wanted Yuzu very badly and was made cynical and desensitized by the Craigslist/Tinder world. That makes for better storytelling. Bonus: I like all the “action” scenes where Yuzu is running around trying to find or save Mei or when they ride Harumin’s bike to the train station, to see Mei’s dad off.

What I like about Citrus is that it helped people realize love between women can be rough too, even if it is consensual. Many viewers and readers appreciated the more realistic intensity. Women are just like men; we are just socialized not to fight each other physically – as much.

People misunderstand Mei or are intimidated by Mei, but I understand Mei, and like Sherlock, the tough or cool exterior, hides many emotional hurts underneath. Mei was raised by her dad and then he left Japan, to work and she was pretty much alone for five years, until the present, of Citrus, when she is 15. Emotionally, there are just a ton of things missing from Mei, that she will never be able to grow back, capabilities she will just have to go her whole life without.

When you just look at Mei and Yuzu, Mei looks like the usual dominant one, even though she is the nerd and the 후배. The multi-faceted push-and-pull dynamic, between the two, is what makes Citrus great. Citrus, as I said, was and is so fascinating, because it subverts so many stereotypes and the usual tropes. For example, the nerd and the goody-two-shoes, Mei, is the more physically experienced one and the popular one, Yuzu, is actually the more romantic one, and her first kiss is with Mei. This is almost unheard of in mainstream yuri fiction.

Also, Yuzu, by a few months, is the 언니 here. That is why she vacillated so much on hooking up with Mei and whether Mei should be the dominant one. Mei being the dominant one sounds good too; I can just understand Yuzu’s feelings here, also. The idea that Yuzu hesitated so much on the physical aspect, of their relationship, because Yuzu wanted to be the dominant one, makes sense to me. The fact that Yuzu was the less experienced one, in these matters, and not Mei, did bother Yuzu, at one point.

Mei is like Rei, with a backbone and Yuzu is Asuka, but turned down a few notches. In a way, Rei and Asuka did finally end up together. Another parallel: Asuka grew up in Germany; Yuzu wears the gyaru style, a Japanese fashion trend influenced by the West and Baywatch. It was a look, in Japan, that was really popular in the 2000s, along with other ’80s-type things. An Asuka, in real life, might be too much, even if she means well. I like Yuzu, from Citrus, better. The author, Saburouta, toned the extroverted-ness down, to a level more geared toward playing the protagonist. Normally Mei would be the protagonist of a yuri story, like Citrus.

What is interesting too, is that regardless of kisses, hook-ups or other relationships, neither Yuzu, nor Mei were ever in love before – until they fell in love with each other. Finally, Citrus turns the stereotypes on its head, by making the nerdy one (Mei) be the one everyone wants to be with and making the popular one (Yuzu) fight for her love. It is usually the other way around.

The author does not make you wait, until the last episode, for a kiss, between the main couple. There is a kiss in almost every episode, usually between the main couple. The action is just so awesome that the author does not need to make the plot revolve around will they or won’t they kiss or hook up. There are enough gay or bi female characters for there to be many gay ships and many people vying for the protagonists’ attention.

Gay love is not singled out, in general, in Citrus. It is just love. Sara and Matsuri, despite being a villain, say several important things, throughout the story, about gay visibility, and sex positivity. Also, you get to see a wider variety of gay women, than just the protagonists. The main couple doesn’t feel alone. Other women, in the story, immediately understand they are in love – also, in-part, because they are also competing for Mei or Yuzu’s attention too. That is way more interesting and funnier, as a story or a romance. Citrus treats yuri romance like any other romance. Yuzu and Mei are not treated like gay women but just women – women who also happen to be gay.

One last thing, that’s unique about Citrus, is that the mother, Ume, is present and loving. Mei and Yuzu try to understand their fathers: one who passed away and one who is cool, but whose work takes him abroad. In addition, then the action of the story can focus on navigating childhood friends and other potential female suitors and girlfriends, before the goal of Yuzu and Mei ending up together. This makes for a more evolved yuri romance tale. I hope more yuri stories are like this in the future.

Life Without a Body – The World of Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon (the Japanese version) posits something not seen before: the complete division of the mind and the body – which seems to also be the secret to immortality.

In Ghost in the Shell – except for a few individuals, like Major Motoko, with full cyborg bodies (shells) – most people in the world still have their own bodies and souls (Ghosts). Only their brains are enhanced by being cyberized, like having a powerful digital and electronic prosthetic, for the brain. You don’t need AI, if you can just use the creative benefits of a natural brain.

A cyberbrain is nowhere near as transferable as a stack – which is like the Ghost, of Altered Carbon: it holds the memories, the consciousness, the personality and the mind of the person.

In Altered Carbon, the stack – the soul, the Ghost, or the mind – is the only true marker of life. If the stack dies, only then does the person die – not when the body dies i.e. so-called “true death.” Isn’t a great deal of self-hood and identity tied to the body? Life isn’t an online role-playing game, where you can just change your avatar’s skin. Altered Carbon posits that the mind can live on, without the body, stored in the cloud or uploaded to a new sleeve (body), but what kind of existence would that be? I am not for or against; it is just a possible downside.

Have we already reached the limit of the body’s aging capacity, at 120 years or so? The rush to give up on the body has been at the heart of most major religions, for centuries. Only in the digital age can this neo-Platonic era desire finally inch closer to becoming a reality.

Regardless, Altered Carbon hypothesizes that immortality can be found in something medicine definitely cannot do yet: transplanting the brain from body to body, like a liver, a kidney or a heart.

The brain, in addition to the usually problems of genetic distance and immune rejection, has its own special considerations with the blood brain barrier and other central nervous tissues, such as the retina, the spinal cord and the cranial nerves, traveling the length of the body, and being decentralized throughout the body, not just confined to the head. 

The brain in the vat experiment remains a figment of philosophy (Rene Descartes) – but since Source Code, and James Cameron’s Avatar, there hasn’t been a major fictional example of this thought experiment, until Altered Carbon: Resleeved.

If all of your consciousness gets uploaded to the cloud, why does destroying or damaging the stack equal “true death”? Memories must be the only thing in the cloud then, and the key essence of the person, his or her animating principle (soul) must only be able to be housed on the stack, not in the cloud or elsewhere.

Where Ghost in the Shell succeeds is that it deals with the philosophical, and digital problems of a cybernetic life – false memories, people with two ghosts, one ghost with multiple bodies, ghost or cyberbrain hacking, hive minds over the Internet, viruses and worms (like Stuxnet) and military networks. Altered Carbon’s plot seems to only deal with the usual quandaries of organized crime and powerful conglomerates.

If your only choice was to die forever or be uploaded to the cloud and have a chance at being plugged into a new body, even a cyborg body, of course one would choose reanimation. However, living completely on the cloud (San Junipero), existing as a hologram or in a video game, without a body – as a young, healthy person – is definitely not the first choice or ideal.

Look at Al, in Fullmetal Alchemist: he is stuck in the spirit world, beside the Gate, and he is like the steampunk version of having your soul stuck in the cloud. Yes, Al’s consciousness, in the physical world, is bonded to a suit of armor – a cyborg – but he desperately wants to get back to his real body. Such natural concerns cannot be so easily overcome.

Gravity’s Rainbow called organized religion the process of getting other people to die for you. Q: What would make a bunch of soldiers willing to die? A: The promise of being re-sleeved, of getting new bodies, from the spirit world or “heaven” – the cloud. Neoplatonic ideas, from the tail end of the Roman Empire and right after its demise, get a new life in cyberpunk probable future realities.

Usually these promises, of returning back from the dead, end with people coming back wrong – see, for example, the marionette army, animated by damaged souls, reaped by dark alchemy, in Fullmetal Alchemist – or the usual myths of vampires and zombies. The immortality potion, which creates zombies, in Kingdom, is another example. The myth of the undead super-soldier is not without major flaws.