The Power of Two: Mei and Yuzu

Citrus is the story of two teen-aged girls falling in love.

I’d like to be profounder than that, but that’s what it boils down to. It has some problematic issues starting with the fact Mei and Yuzu Aihara are step-sisters, so legally, although not biologically, they’re involved with incest, but through volume four of the manga (which is where the anime ended) they still haven’t gotten it on, so that hasn’t come into play yet. (In volume five they go to first base.)

What’s interesting to me as a reader is the way their relationship comes together. Mei is pretty obviously a lesbian, but Yuzu is essentially straight, or believes she should be, and that is an underlying source of tension between them and in the story as well. Mei has no problem but while Yuzu loves Mei, she doesn’t know if their love is right.

Yuzu (left) and Mei

What’s interesting to me as a writer is the way their relationship not only develops but also changes in a fundamental, structural way.

It’s actually pretty damned clever. Watch my hands. Nothin’ up my sleeve…

When Yuzu’s mom remarries, her new husband also has a daughter, so you know, everyone thinks it’s a good idea for the two high school girls to share a room. Alas, they are an Odd Couple. In fact, they are a classic Odd Couple: Mei is neat and proper, and Yuzu is a slob.

That was the underlying tension of the original Odd Couple, Oscar and Felix of The Odd Couple. The neat one and the sloppy one, forced to live together. Boom. Instant conflict and instant laugh riot.

Citrus is a lot edgier though. That’s the difference between the beginning of this century and the middle of the last one.

The girls go to the same school, where Mei is a VIP and Yuzu a flake with bad grades who is usually out of uniform. Worse, Mei’s grandfather OWNS the school, and Mei will inherit it someday. Yuzu’s antics disrespect the school, Mei, and her grandfather. Ooh, let’s ratchet that tension up tighter.

These two very different kids have to live in the same room. In fact, they share the same futon. Odd Couple.

And then let’s throw a monkey wrench in the works. One day Yuzu happens on a private scene: one of the teachers is kissing Mei.

Let’s not notice that Mei could have the guy’s ass fired. He’s revealed to be a conniving jerk and departs the main story line shortly thereafter, anyway.

As cute and dynamic as Yuzu is, for some reason she’s a flop with the boys…Yeah, it’s a tough sell but that’s what they’re selling us. Maybe it’s because she’s not the boys’ idea of a nice Japanese wife. Whatever. Anyway, she’s never been kissed, so that night she asks Mei what it was like.

Mei kisses her.

At that moment the act can read in two ways: 1) Mei is showing Yuzu what it’s like to be kissed when you didn’t want to be or 2) Mei is hitting on Yuzu. Later on it’s pretty well established that Mei is gay, but at the moment it’s ambiguous.

What that does, though, is it changes the fundamental nature of the relationship. Because when Mei kisses Yuzu, Yuzu is almost overcome by her attraction to Mei.

I don’t think it’s news to anyone who’s seen the anime or read the manga that a large part of the tension in the story is that while Mei’s sexual orientation is known, Yuzu is unsure of her own. It is clear that, having been kissed, the sight of her step-sister makes her little heart go pit-a-pat. She adores Mei in the emotional sense.

But at the same time Yuzu has never considered she might be homosexual or bisexual. When Mei makes a pass at her – and it’s a hard pass whose meaning is unmistakeable – Yuzu pushes Mei away. This creates more tension between them; Mei sort of dumps Yuzu for a girl (Sara) whose orientation matches her own.

But from the standpoint of their relationship something fundamental changes. Yuzu sees the two of them as being a unit of some kind. Exactly what kind is still being figured out at this point of the story, but she sees herself as more than just a step-sister; she sees herself as Mei’s protector. Mei is smarter and more disciplined than Yuzu, but Yuzu is stronger. When Mei is exhausted Yuzu protects her and when Mei is being blackmailed, Yuzu has the strength to rescue her.

This transforms them from an odd couple to a complementary couple, where the strengths and weaknesses of one are offset by the strengths and weaknesses of the other. It’s less important that Mei is neat and Yuzu is sloppy, and more important that Yuzu is strong and physical where Mei is overworked, overtaxed, and tired. Mei is an introvert, keeping her feelings unspoken inside; Yuzu is an extrovert and has to work to get Mei to express herself.

At the same time, it’s also important Mei has her life together and Yuzu is a flake. Mei challenges Yuzu, forces her to develop discipline and follow-through. They are going to be adults someday soon, and Mei is better at it than Yuzu. Complementary. Each makes the other stronger/better.

Going from roommates to lovers is a change in relationship from a social standpoint. Going from an odd couple to a complementary couple is a change in relationship from a narrative standpoint.

The change matters a lot from a storytelling standpoint. The odd couple is held together by circumstance; the complementary couple is held together by shared affection of some kind. If one or the other had to move, the two of them would still be bonded somehow, unlike an odd couple.

The transformation from one sort of couple to the other is a very subtle and cleverly managed process, and since I’m not sure where the story is going … I mean, I am, since the follow-up series Citrus+ is about their lives after they come out together, but in broad terms I don’t know how they are going to get to that point … I’m not sure whether the unit will strengthen or weaken.

But I sure as heck want to find out.

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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