Thursday, February 27, 2020

Citrus+ volume 1 is actually really good (Manga Review)

Two teen girls in love, holding hands
Citrus+ vol. 1 - 7.5/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

Much to my surprise, I really liked Citrus+ volume 1 (Seven Seas). It's got all the good parts of the original series, Citrus, with none of the exploitative parts. I was more than pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it.

For those who somehow missed the original series, Citrus, Yuzu's mom marries Mei's dad and the two become step sisters. Yuzu is rambunctious and loud-mouthed and full of joy and Mei is serious, reserved, the president of the school council, and hell-bent on taking over for her grandfather as the chairman of the company (and their school). Naturally, these two step-sisters fall in love with each other and (SPOILER) the original series ends with them coming out to their family and getting the grandfather's blessing for their relationship and "engagement" (which is actually sort of an amazing sequence for a manga).

All that is wonderful plot, and the growing affections between them, and the cuteness that follows when they finally get together make Citrus worth reading. However, it's also an extremely salacious series with way too much fan service. There were also some very questionable and manipulative side characters, particularly Matsuri, and lots of overly dramatic plot created by her and other sketchy characters. But I found myself so liking Yuzu and Mei that I tolerated the rest of what was a very problematic series overall. 

But somehow, all those problematic elements were left out of Citrus+ volume 1. Instead, we get a cute, romantic, and low-key first volume with nothing but kindness shown for the two lead characters - in both the actual plot and in their treatment by the author.

Citrus+ vol. 1 picks up just a few months after the final events of the original series. Mei is moving back in with Yuzu after months apart. Their close friends know of their relationship and are supporting them, and eager for gossip. Mei's father also returns to join her in speaking to the board of the company. 

In all honesty, there isn't much plot in this volume. Instead, it's the interactions between Yuzu and Mei, the things that made the first series worth reading, that are central here. Yuzu isn't her normally gregarious and excited self, at least at first, and Mei's worried that Yuzu has lost some spark. Yuzu has been studying hard to get into the same college as Mei, and watching the straight-laced Mei pine for the crazy Yuzu of old is really sweet.

Just again and again, there are cute moments between the two, showing their affection in small but meaningful ways. If the rest of the series is anything like this volume, it will be a far better series than the first one. And I have a good feeling that it will stay true to this new lighter, kinder, warmer dynamic. 

The mangaka, Saburouta, has a message at the end of the volume: "...It's because this series is about Yuzu and Mei plus all the people who support them." Reading between the lines, it seems this series was created for the sole purpose of doing justice to characters who rose above the problematic aspects of the original series and letting them shine without the distractions of the fan service and overly plotty plot of the original Citrus. I couldn't be happier.

The other thing that this volume does, and that the original series did as well, is treat their relationship more like a relationship between lesbians, situated in a more complex world, than most yuri series. In many (still wonderful) yuri series, the relationship between the girls or women tends to exist in a world that doesn't have the complex and bigoted reality of ours. Those series just simply don't have much honest LGBTQ+ representation related to the romance, even if they still provide mirrors for the readers.

But Citrus, and continuing here in Citrus+, does situate their relationship in a world where being with a woman is not socially okay and where there are real problematic implications to coming out. That made the coming out at the end of Citrus so amazing, (it's almost unheard of in yuri for there to even be a "coming out" for the characters), and it makes a scene in this volume equally amazing (I won't spoil it, cause it's at the end of the volume). It suggests that this series will not only continue some of the positives in representation that the first series had, but might actually let those positives shine through more now that the exploitative elements of the first series are being shelved. 

So speaking of exploitative, it wasn't just the plot and side characters that made the first series so salacious. The art in the original Citrus played up the characters' bodies, and there was plenty of really explicit make-out scenes, clearly drawn just for titillation value, but not romance. I'm not judging people who like that sort of content, but for me, the parts of Citrus that I liked were the interesting lead characters and their relationship with each other that was truly heartfelt and hard-won, not the panty shots, the tight clothes, or the aggressive sexual scenes. 

So I'm equally pleased, and surprised, to say that Citrus+'s artwork doesn't have much in the way of fan service in the depictions of the characters, and not a single erotic scene. It's the same art style as before, but just devoid of the objectionable parts. 

So somehow, and totally unexpectedly, Citrus+ keeps the interesting lead characters, the sweetness and vulnerability of their emotions for each other, and some actual lesbians-coming-out-in-a-bigoted-society representation, but dispenses with the fan service, overly dramatic and exploitative plot elements, and erotic art. Citrus+ volume 1 manages to just be a warm and fuzzy first volume. Citrus+ gets a strong 7.5/10. Who knew that I'd actually get what I wanted from the original series in its sequel. Let's hope the rest is just as strong (and maybe continues through college and into adult life like this!)

  • Story interesting (0-10): 6 - not much really happens here, which is good in comparison to the original series with its unnaturally brutal plot elements created by scheming characters (who don't scheme here)
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 8 - I really like Yuzu and Mei's completely different personalities and the subtle ways Saburouta shows their many facets. They are complex characters who are also ingratiating (even the side characters are more nuanced in this series).
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 6 - not really quality, but it was affecting. It gave me warm fuzzies but certainly wasn't extraordinary in any way.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 7.5 - I continue to find Yuzu and Mei's feelings for each other both believable and believably expressed, maybe more so in this than the original series.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 7/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 2 - I have to give them credit for how Mei's complex feelings and expressions were depicted and used in authentic ways here.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 2 - Saburouta is continuing to situate this story in a world much more like ours, for better or worse, where being an out lesbian is not easy.
  • Female agency (0-5): 3 - I won't give it away, but Mei has a moment here that strongly echos her strongest moments of agency in the last series. Also, it's great to see Yuzu taking charge of her life.
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 1 - it's small, but obvious here, that all the characters are growing up.
  • Quality art (0-5): 0 - not my style, well enough done, but nothing I find extraordinary. I also still sometimes struggle to tell certain characters apart, especially if their haircut is the least bit changed or obstructed from view.
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +1

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5): 0 - what, none, really, in a Citrus manga? I'm as surprised as you are. No panty shots, no boob shots, no skimpy outfits, no saliva dripping from the kisses, no riding each other in inappropriate settings, nothing. Good!
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0  
  • Exploitative (0-5): 1 - again, totally surprised this is so low, but the way manipulative characters created unnecessary drama in the last series is totally absent here. I do think I have to take a small amount of points away because they are step sisters in a romantic relationship, but really, that would have been more an issue in the last series where they were falling for each other. Since this starts off with them already "engaged," it's harder to call it exploitative in that sense.
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2):  -.5



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