Yuzu, a high school gyaru who hasn’t experienced her first love yet, transfers to an all-girls school after her mother remarries. She’s beyond upset that she can’t land a boyfriend at her new school. Then, on her first day, she meets the beautiful black-haired student council president Mei in the worst way possible. What’s more, she later finds out that Mei is her new step-sister, and they’ll be living under the same roof! And so the love affair between two polar opposite high school girls who find themselves drawn to one another begins!
I’d heard of Citrus before it had an anime. I’d even read some of the manga. I know it to be a yuri piece of the slightly-aggressive and forbidden love kind – more full-on than Strawberry Panic but not quite in the realm of Netsuzou Trap. It’s one of the more well-known yuri titles, I would say, and I wanted to know how they would portray this story differently (or the same) to the manga.
The fundamentals stay the same though – two young women of different personalities and backgrounds are pulled together suddenly when their mother and father move in together and so they become step-sisters. Yuzu is an impulsive, outspoken person who doesn’t take well to authority while Mei is authoritarian and distant. Of course, the two of them clash at school even before they realise who one another is. During their first night sharing a room, Mei steals Yuzu’s first kiss. After that, the usually boy-crazy Yuzu can’t get Mei off her mind – and can’t understand why Mei is acting like nothing happened. And so begins the tightrope journey of navigating through high school, extended family, and your first love that just so happens to also be your step-sister…
The detail of the character designs is always something that catches my eye in Cirtus – Yuzu’s design in particular. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an anime character have so many different types of clothes, make-up and hairstyles. She can go from full-on gyaru to stylish high school girl to casual chic in one episode. It’s great to see that the artists don’t stick to just one convenient look, but actually stick to the detail and variation of the manga, which is refreshing. Seeing main characters in so many different items of clothing and seeing the detail in their hair and eyes gives everything that classical, romanticised shoujo look that complements the ‘dramatic first love’ undertones running through the plot.
When Mei’s father returns to the household, things get even more complicated. Yuzu comes to realise that Mei can’t deal with the change of lifestyle her father had – breaking away from his strict, corporate persona to travel and teach in poorer countries. Yuzu finally sees a vulnerability in her stoic step-sister and tries to comfort her, only for Mei to come onto her, asking if Yuzu will be the one to need her now – since her father clearly doesn’t. When Mei’s father has to leave soon after his return, Yuzu makes it her mission to see that they part on good terms – and that’s when they really start to understand one another.
When Yuzu’s childhood friend Matsuri turns up, she can’t help but feel jealous that Yuzu’s attentions are now elsewhere and tricks both step-sisters and uses their secrets for blackmail and her own means. Mei admits that her view of the world, her behaviours and her inclination to manipulation make her seen twisted. Yuzu figures that since she is so attracted to Mei then that must make her twisted, too.
After some rather shocking early episodes which brought Citrus under criticism, things did calm down and turn into some semblance of a believable story. The slow reveal of Mei’s past gives digestible insights into her actions and behaviours whilst Yuzu settles into a more three-dimensional personality rather than just a gyaru with an attitude. I also think that the characters of Harumi is very much understated as she’s always been a good balance between the Aihara step-sisters’ opposing personalities.
My initial interest in Citrus was down to its infamous reputation, but I soon found relatable characters, beautiful artwork, coming-of-age stories and a bit of melodrama to keep things interesting. This anime brings more than just a basic yuri story and I’m pleasantly surprised by what I found.