Fun With School: Citrus

One of the cool things about a person in my racket – I’m a professor of Communication – is you can see the stuff we talk about in class coming out in anime and manga. Right? Art imitates life, right?

Well, in a way it has to. If you are trying to write a believable relationship between two high school girls, as Sabourota, the mangaka responsible for Citrus and its follow-on series Citrus+, is, they have to act like real high school girls. I mean, seriously. Der.

In my introductory class we spend some time talking about relationships because, I mean, they’re COLLEGE STUDENTS. KnowhutImean? They’re interested in relationships because they’re interested in having relationships.

In class we talk about something called Knapp’s Relational Stages. Knapp saw a romantic relationship – romantic, I said, not just sexual – as being a process that typically goes through a common set of steps or stages starting when they first see each other (Initiating) and ending at the final breakup (Termination).

Okay, don’t lose your mind on me if you don’t think this happens. It doesn’t for everyone, and not every relationship goes through every stage (in fact, the vast majority of them don’t, and CAN’T, as you will see). Also, a couple more rules: You can skip stages AND you can go backwards but it takes a lot of effort.

So in Citrus we have Mei and Yuzu, and at the start of the story they don’t know each other. Yuzu’s on her way to the first day of classes at her new school, and BOOM.


In the Initiating stage the people look at each other and gather basic information based largely on what they see or assume.

So the Initiating stage doesn’t look real good for the two of them. When they see each other, they have three things in common, basically: They are both Japanese girls, they are about the same age, and they go to the same school.

Mei sees that Yuzu is not wearing the correct uniform, dyes her hair blond, and carries a cell phone, all in violation of school rules. She’s also a flake and a whiner, as Mei learns when Yuzu is told about the rules.

Yuzu sees that Mei has straight hair, wears not only the school uniform but also an armband that says Student Council President. She learns VERY quickly that Mei is a hardass who takes the rules very seriously.

In short, the two of them are, on the surface, incompatible. Under normal circumstances they would skip all the intermediary steps and go straight to the final relational stage, Termination.

However, the plot twist that prevents that is that Yuzu’s mom has just married Mei’s dad. That forces them to stay together in some kind of relationship since they are stepsisters who share a bedroom.

Narratively that makes them an Odd Couple: two unlike people forced by circumstances to stay together.

Well, you know where this story is going so let’s keep going.


In the Experimenting stage the relational members search for common ground or shared interests. If they don’t find any, or if they hit a Deal-breaker, BOOM. Termination.

What’s interesting about Citrus is Mei and Yuzu don’t really do this in a usual way. I mean, it’s self-evident that Mei is a monomaniac focused on the school (which is administered by her grandfather and which she – or her husband – will inherit in turn) while the things that interest Yuzu – makeup, manga (especially a yuri manga called Peach, ha ha ha), fun, games, friends, tasty foods – hold no fascination for Mei.

What we (and they) DO learn, though, is that they aren’t just different, they are complementary. Mei is disciplined, driven, and a good student while Yuzu is a flake. But Yuzu is strong (physically and emotionally), and assertive while Mei breaks down easily and is shy. See it? As they get to know each other they start to come to understand that together they are better off than they are apart.

And as they understand that, their relationship continues to move forward.


In the Intensifying stage they start to get to know each other at a personal and private level, not just how the person acts outwardly but what they are thinking.

One key moment is when Yuzu, who at the beginning of the story was oriented on men, tells Mei she loves her. This is a trope, of course, the Anguished Admission of Affection, but in this case it’s also a very important admission.

I mean, look at everything that can go wrong and how freaked out Mei could be when Yuzu tells her that. I mean, she’s admitting to a homosexual attraction (no, this isn’t “I love you like a sister”) in a country that, despite yuri and yoei media, is pretty homophobic, and Yuzu’s saying this to the girl who is both her stepsister AND her roommate. If Mei didn’t love Yuzu back, she’d be climbing the walls!

Mei’s reticence stops her from making a similar admission but it’s clear from her actions that she accepts Yuzu’s declaration and is sometimes able to reciprocate (hugging, hand-holding, and so on. Keep it clean: this is PG-13 territory). She, too, talks about things that are personal and private to her, such as her feelings about the school, which is, of course, something she regards as her personal responsibility.

Intensifying stage: Mei (left) and Yuzu holding hands

Just so you know, a lot of your close relationships are in this stage. You have friends you can tell your secrets to, right? And they can tell you, right? But I’m not interested in being a couple with, for instance, my buddy and co-author Mike. I mean, he’s married already! And he’s, you know, a guy and ipso facto not my type.


In the Integrating stage the relational partners see themselves as a unit. They are also viewed as a unit by others.

Again, because she is the more assertive of the two, this stage is more apparent in Yuzu than Mei. She has cast herself as Mei’s defender and makes it a point to go where Mei goes. They sometimes kiss or even neck in their room (it’s implied later they have done more) and Yuzu buys them matching rings that they can have but can’t yet wear in public.

I mean, seriously. Two girls, stepsisters AND lovers? What would the neighbors say?

Within their social group, which includes Yuzu’s friends Matsuri and Megumi, Mei’s student council chum Himeko, and their mutual acquaintances Sara and Nina, they are also seen as a couple or unit. When Matsuri invites Yuzu to do something, she says, “Of course Mei is welcome, too.” Asking is not necessary. They are seen as a package deal.

Of course, given the nature of their relationship (both lesbian and incestuous) that can’t yet be everyone. Japan just doesn’t work that way. But inside their minds and inside their social circle they are a couple.


In the Bonding stage the relational participants make some form of public declaration of their attachment.

This can be a lot of things, but given their ages and status (16 and schoolgirls) they aren’t going to get married even if it is allowed in their Prefecture. But remember those matching rings they couldn’t wear in public? When they start to do that – and they wear them on their left-hand ring fingers, like wedding rings – that’s a public statement.

More importantly, at the end of volume 10, which is the last volume of the original series, they come out as a couple to the important people in their lives: Yuzu’s mother, Mei’s father, and, most important, Mei’s grandfather, the head of their school. They make the public declaration that, regardless of what society thinks, they love each other and will be together.

That’ll do.

Those five stages are called Coming Together, and the next five illustrate the relationship Coming Apart, so apart from Termination I’m not going to screw around with them. If you care, they are Differentiating, Circumscribing, Stagnation, Avoidance, and Termination, and you can see from the early volumes of Citrus+ that we’re not going to see those for a while.

Art imitates life. Who’d a thunk it?

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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