As before, Bad Romance Month is not limited to straight romances alone. That being said, normally yuri was a genre where one could be safe from such things. As much as I might complain about it being nothing but shy schoolgirls in love, that at least is less stressful and uncomfortable than the excesses of BL and old-school shoujo.
Sadly, it seems that those same excesses are starting to bleed in, and on this side of the Pacific this was the work leading the charge.
CITRUS (Shitorasu), by Saburouta. First published in 2012 and first published in North America in 2014.
Yuzu Aihara is dealing with a lot of change lately. Her mother recently remarried, forcing them to move and Yuzu to be transferred to a stuffy all-girls' high school. Her outspokenness and gyaru style put her at odds with her new classmates, especially the cold and severe student council president Mei. Then Yuzu discovers that Mei is her new stepsister and that Mei's life is far more tragic than Yuzu realized. Yuzu wants to help Mei and make her smile, but is she doing so out of sisterly compassion or because she's in love with Mei?
Thankfully, Citrus isn't nearly as disturbing as the last yuri series I covered here. While it too is dark and obsessive at times, it hasn't got the malicious, abusive edge that Netsuzou Trap had. That being said, Citrus is still an uncomfortable romance that's more about pushing boundaries than it is about romance.
At least Yuzu isn't so much of a naïf. She may still be innocent and other can (and do) take advantage of that, but she's got enough spirit and empathy for others that she's more than just a wilting violet. She is pro-active, even if she's prone to acting without thinking. What I don't understand is how she (and the reader by extension) are supposed to make the leap from obsession to desire. I can understand why Yuzu would be fascinated by such a troubled girl and her hot-and-cold reactions, but I have a harder time understanding why she (and thus we) are meant to interpret this as true love. That's not even getting into the weird quasi-incestuousness of it all.
Maybe my difficulty with it comes from the fact that Mei herself is a very unlikeable person. In public she's an ice queen, all cold, firm austerity. In private she sneers at Yuzu's compassion and efforts at friendliness, even as she uses kisses and even the threat of sexual assault to shut her up. She's clearly an emotionally damaged person whose birth family have given her no firm grounding for things like affection, but she was simply far too negative in her approach to others to me to like her and feel sorry for her. If anything, she's a pile of emotional red flags that Yuzu should be treating cautiously because it's clear that her emotional issues (especially with her perpetually missing father and her stern grandfather) run deep and won't be satisfied until Yuzu hurts just as much as she does.
Now there's nothing wrong with writing a story about a troubled romance, but as always, it's all about intent. It would be one thing if Citrus was merely spectating on the ups and downs of Yuzu and Mei's relationship. It's quite another when its paints this as the troubled prelude to a real-deal romance. That's a tactic taken straight from the worst parts of both shoujo and BL, and it's one that I personally cannot enjoy nor condone. Abuse and manipulation isn't sexy. Abuse and manipulation isn't romantic. Unfortunately, that's pretty much all Citrus has to offer.
At least the artwork isn't bad. The character designs are cute, even if some of the supporting cast looks rather goofy and Saburouta clearly isn't comfortable drawing men in the least. There isn't a lot of cheesecake to be found here, but what little there is becomes more sleezy than alluring thanks to the context of the story. This is evident even in the cover art. It lures you in the with promise of cute girls, but any sexiness it might promise is punctured by the distress and embarrassment on Yuzu's face. Sadly, their paneling feels downright chaotic at times. They take every opportunity to shove Mei & Yuzu together in-frame, and when combined with the intense close-ups the end result is visual chaos. I don't know why they lean so much on close-ups because the backgrounds and other setting details are drawn quite well. Overall, it's not unpleasant art, but Saburouta simply can't or won't take the best advantage of what good qualities they have as an artist.
There are a number of comical omakes featuring the two leads as well as some of the supporting cast. They're all perfectly fine in their own right, but coming off the rather intense, dramatic ending it comes off as a bit of tonal whiplash. There's also a random preview of Alice in the Country of Clover: Knight's Knowledge. This is not only a weird pairing, but it's also pretty meh-looking on its own (like so many of those Alice spinoffs).
Citrus might not be the worst yuri out there, but its particular brand of obsessive passion and drama simply isn't my style and it's one that doesn't do the genre credit. Can't we get some variety without making it skeezy?
This series is published by Seven Seas. This series is ongoing in Japan with 5 volumes published. All 5 are available and currently in print.