This girl’s had her fair share of queer crushes in the past, and I can assure you, they weren’t nearly as torrid or tragically twisted as citrus. But it’s strange to think that stories like mine could be published perverse, and sold as get-off material for guys who like girl-on-girl. So, how did it come to this? How did the pure lily flower of early yuri come to be so entangled in male masturbatory fantasy?
It all began with the popularity explosion for the Class ‘S’ subset of yuri in the early 2000s. The ‘S’ stood for sisterly love, the kind of closeness exclusive to girls who could share their hearts and minds in perfect consolation. But it also came to mean sexy, spicy, scandalous. It was novelist Yoshiya Nobuko, herself a lesbian, who gave steam to many of the tropes of ‘S’ and yuri manga in general with works such as Yaneura no Nishojo. Nobuko can’t be credited for initiating yuri manga, artists such as Ryoko Yamagishi leading that charge with 70s series like Shiroi Heya no Futari. But without her influence, neither the Sailor Senshi nor Revolutionary Girl Utena would have been given their platforms of power for queer readers.
However, this was no fanfare for lesbian pride. The implications of yuri love were as transitory and fanciful as the stacks of cash being pushed by the boom. Girls could have their innocent fumbles while they were in school, but as soon as they passed through those double gates for the last time, they would part ways. Their bond, for a time intense and flushed, wouldn’t be fit for the adult world. As writer and yuri scholar Chris Kincaid attests, it was only to be a pleasant dream.
“Yuri falls into what is called ‘tatemono honmono’,” Kincaid says, “the space between how something [appears] and how it really is. Yuri appears to be lesbian literature, but in the Japanese sense it is just a fantasy world. This attitude is starting to change, but lesbianism isn’t something discussed in polite conversation.” As real-world possibilities, yuri romances were unfeasible. But as a finite time of heat, they could tease the wallets from straight men’s pockets.
This is where we see, as Erica Friedman of Yuricon puts it, “the giant robots and rape and horse races of Kannazuki no Miko and Strawberry Panic!”. That intangible world of the woman’s heart is unlocked, or rammed through, in outrageous scenes which opt to cast aside emotion in favour of the next steamy encounter. citrus’ Mei has a warped perception of love, groomed from a young age by her own grandfather, the fiance he arranged for her, men much older than herself. As they forced their views (or their bodies) on her, she pinned her new stepsister Yuzu to the bed for an inconsensual kiss the same day she moves in. Maybe Yuzu can heal the damage done by these manipulators, show her some real love, even if she must sacrifice her true feelings to do so. But in the meantime, there will always be men in Mei’s life who can afford to feel they own her and the course of her future.
So it is for executives holding control over series being printed and screened, though male readers or viewers themselves may be unsure what they’re looking for. Just as citrus engenders its own shoujo tenderness, Mei and Yuzu gaining the trust to call each other by their names and console each other’s sadness, the mystery male readers are seeking to solve may be a girl’s true heart. Even Strawberry Panic! wraps its jealous strife around the growing intimacy between its characters, the anime focused far more on this aspect than the sexual competition of the manga. Sweet Blue Flowers, a series as honied as they come, allows men to see themselves up-close to yuri love from the perspective of several complex male characters, a real rarity for the genre.
It’s no impossibility, then, that guys are trying to find an outlet for feeling barred from romance by gender expectations. An unfortunate reflection of how boys’ love manga allow girls to feel the throes of a proxy heteromantic relationship without feeling victimised or in danger, the men ever expected to be the predators they’re afraid of must turn to yuri for some semblance of what these women desire. citrus is a single yuri media franchise of many which grinds and sighs for its ideal audience, as is presumed to be their want. But its conflicts between the sex and sisterhood of ‘S’ slips an unintentional truth; that girls and boys may well want the same things, beneath the illusion of the target market.