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.