The Power of Three, Basic: Citrus

Okay, after last week’s interlude, I’m back on the character interaction kick. If I’m boring you, sorry. But that’s how it is. As of late, when I look at an anime, what I see is patterns in the characters. (*heavy sigh*) It’s SO BORING.

Nah, it’s not, really.

I’ve been talking about stable trios of characters tropes. There are just certain combinations of characters that have intrinsic power to drive plot and/or conflict, and so make for good storytelling. We’ve already looked at Mind-Body-Soul and Hero-Sidekick-Girlfriend; there’s also Father-Mother-Child, which I may or may not get to.

Then there’s the Eternal Triangle: two characters each in love or lust with a third.

I thought this trio was frankly so overused that talking about it wasn’t interesting. I mean, narratively the Eternal Triangle creates tension in the meta-plot as two of the characters are forced into conflict, at least presupposing that the context of the story values monogamy. Two suitors + one suited = constant conflict. Ho hum. That’s why I didn’t think this trio was especially interesting.

In Citrus I may have found a new perspective on the trio, though.

I don’t want to get too deeply into the overarching plot of Citrus. One of my ground rules is that I won’t give out spoilers if a series is less than a year old…

…and Citrus falls under that rule. But Citrus is based heavily on the interrelationships between the characters, and so it might be tough to discuss it without being spoilerific. BE WARNED.

But, let’s see what we can analyze without ruining the entire story, which is actually pretty good, oh, and not finished yet, so who knows what’s spoilered and what’s not?

Basically, two high school girls, Yuzu and Mei, become stepsisters, and they are, of course, an Odd Couple. (Hmmm…there’s a stable pairing of characters I haven’t thought about yet.) Mei is focused, driven, dispassionate. Someday she will inherit the girls’ school they both attend. Yuzu is a ditsy free spirit; she’s always out of uniform and usually in danger of being expelled.

Mei and Yuzu

Yuzu (left) and Mei. I’m not sure this is an actual still from the anime, but I liked how it captured their different personalities.

One day Yuzu sees Mei being kissed by one of their teachers. That night, she asks Mei what it was like, and Mei kisses her.

Boom. Inciting incident.

To me that moment reads two ways. It’s possible that Mei is a lesbian and she’s hitting on Yuzu. Alternatively, it’s possible that she’s trying to say, “You asked…this is what it feels like to be kissed when you didn’t want to be.” Either way, though, Yuzu falls for Mei, and falls as hard as she can bearing in mind that homosexuality has never crossed her mind before and they’re both high school students.

To be absolutely honest, I thought the writers could have had plenty of material just exploring that theme: two girls who aren’t quite grown yet exploring both romance and sexuality. As Bob Seger put it, “I used her and she used me, and neither one cared.” The series could have revolved around their explorations of their sexualities and the emotions that surround them.

That could have been pretty dull, though, too, at least for the target audience of teen-aged Japanese boys, so what they did was throw in characters to disrupt the Yuzu-Mei relationship. First, there’s Himeko, who is in love with Mei and wants to push Yuzu away. BOOM! Eternal triangle, Yuzu vs. Himeko for Mei.

Bizarrely, this is something we can examine using an obsolete theory of attitude change, Heider’s balance mode. Heider held that there are three possible relationships between three characters: A-B, B-C, and A-C. Each of the three can be either positive or negative. When you have an ODD number of positives, the relationship is stable, but when you have an EVEN number, the set of interrelationships is unstable and something got to give. (For Heider’s purposes, zero is positive, just so ya know.)

So: Yuzu likes Mei (+), Himeko likes Mei (+), Himeko dislikes Yuzu (-). Even number of positives, pattern unstable.

From a dramatic standpoint that’s a good thing. The instability drives the plots of several episodes. The problem the writers ran into, though, was that Himeko never had a chance against Yuzu. Frankly, Himeko brings nothing to the table except for her affection for Mei, and Yuzu has that as well, plus a huge personality and a warm heart. Yuzu 3, Himeko 1. Hasta la vista, Himeko baby.

Bring on Matsui. Matsui is an old friend of Yuzu’s and wants Yuzu for some reason. Now we still have Mei-Yuzu (+), and we have Matsui-Yuzu (+), so for dramatic purposes we want to have Mei-Matsui negative. BUT then why is Matsui arranging to be photographed kissing Mei?

No, one question mark will not suffice.

Why is Matsui arranging to be photographed kissing Mei???

Well, it turns out she wants to drive a wedge between Yuzu and Mei. Good luck with that, B. They’re step-sisters. They go to the same school (and Matsui doesn’t). Yuzu and Mei SLEEP IN THE SAME BED, for Pete’s sake. Matsui, you haven’t got a chance!

I’ll be honest: this is a more unusual application of the Eternal Triangle. The trope presupposes that there is genuine affection along the legs of the triangle even as the competing members dislike each other.

But this is not exactly that. Matsui is shown earlier in the series screwing up peoples’ lives just for sh*ts and giggles; she’s a nasty piece of work who gets her kicks messing up other people. That’s PROBABLY what her motivation is here.

The Eternal Triangle trope presupposes that two people WANT the third. What Matsui wants is to screw everyone and make herself happy.

Ooh. I like it.

Then, later, we have Sara. Sara happens along after a misunderstanding between Yuzu and Mei, based on the usual problem, that Yuzu’s head is essentially straight regardless of what her heart has to say. BOOM. Along comes Sara, who adores Mei (yes, in THAT way). One more Eternal Triangle. How do we solve this one?

We have Sara dump Mai, because Mai’s happiness makes her happy. What does that say to me?

That says Sara was filler. Poor girl.

Now, to be frank, as I implied above I don’t think Citrus needed an Eternal Triangle, let alone three. The underlying concept that we have is these two kids exploring their sexuality, and the relationship between sexuality and love; that could have been an interesting, if somewhat cerebral, series on its own. Alternatively, it could have been an interesting, if somewhat pornographic, series on its own, depending on how the producers wanted to play it. And Citrus isn’t finished after only one season, so we’re not sure what direction it’s heading in. Or at least I’M not sure what direction it’s heading in. It’s too soon in the story for them to be pointing toward the end.

But turning it into a drama would also have been slow and emotional. There would have been conflict, but it would have been the same kind of conflict over and over… Yuzu saying, “Wait! Is that the sort of girl I am?” over and over. (We know what sort of girl Mei is.)

By introducing the Eternal Triangle, the writers have detracted from the story of Yuzu and Mei and what will happen between them. But they’ve added a dramatic propulsion to the overarching story line. Which way is right? I guess that’s to the viewer to decide, and I for one don’t plan to decide until the next season is done.

The manga are at least a season ahead of the anime, so I may pick them up over the summer to see how they differ from the anime and what happens next. Whatever else, it’s easy to like Mei and Yuzu, since they do form a stable couple with complementary personalities. It’s easy to hope that they will be happy, whether it’s together or apart. So maybe I’ll read ahead.

That’s for summer to decide.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.


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