Yuzu is a ‘gyaru’, a Japanese term for a girl who dyes her hair blonde and dresses in a Western style with lots of accessories. Her plans to meet cute boys and have some teenage fun are quickly spoiled when she has to move to a different city and start at an all-girls school. Her first day gets off to a confusing start when she bumps into the stunning class president, Mei, who scolds her heavily altered, non-regulation uniform then…gropes her?! Yuzu brushes off the incident but is rapidly intrigued by the seemingly perfect and prim Mei, especially when she later stumbles upon the girl sharing a secret kiss with a handsome male teacher.

Yep, Citrus is off to a juicy start (pun intended) and it only gets juicier. Yuzu gets home from school to find out that the new man in her mother’s life that they moved for is none other than Mei’s father, and Mei will be living with them…and rooming with Yuzu!

That awkward moment when the class president is suddenly your new stepsister

Attempting to bond with Mei, Yuzu asks about the kiss and things change quickly. Mei kisses Yuzu, but it’s not a shy or brief kiss. She presses Yuzu down for an extended amount of time, even after Yuzu begins to struggle. It’s shocking, uncomfortable and undoubtedly non-consensual. I was immediately shocked and disappointed at this point that Citrus takes the forceful approach to romance I’ve also seen in the other same-sex anime genre, yaoi, where ‘no’ means ‘yes’ and forcing kisses on people is fine.

Pinning people down and forcing kisses on them? Extremely not cool Mei.

This behaviour is unsurprisingly a plot device as the inexperienced Yuzu then begins to develop feelings for Mei, particularly confusing for her given that she is now effectively Mei’s stepsister and has to share a room and bed with her. For me the ‘sister’ element is clearly meant to be part of the salacious interest this anime aims to provoke, though it doesn’t quite work, as while Yuzu attempts to deny her feelings and encourage a sisterly relationship, at the end of the day the two of them are not related by blood and have been thrown into a familial connection unexpectedly.

Other than Mei and Yuzu’s forceful and assault-like approach to romance, Citrus is a pretty watchable teen drama. It knows how to work each character in tune to an almost ‘painting by numbers’ series of drama plotlines revolving around family and love triangle type jealousy, but the characters are nonetheless engaging enough to keep you hooked. Yuzu is a likeable protaganist – a good-hearted girl who genuinely cares for Mei and doesn’t want to overstep the line despite her feelings. Mei’s own aloof nature is believable in keeping with her own backstory, even if it’s sometimes used in a heavy-handed way to create a divide between her and Yuzu that you know will eventually be bridged.

If you’re looking for a soapy teen drama with same-sex romance, Citrus delivers.

Citrus is currently showing on Crunchyroll.


Laid-Back Camp

Rin has always enjoyed camping alone, until a pink-haired girl called Nadeshiko breezes into her life and asks to share her food. So used to doing her own thing, Rin is genuinely taken aback by the warmth Nadeshiko brings to her camping experience, and the two gradually become friends. Nadeshiko in turn also realises that she loves camping but knows nothing about it, and joins her school’s camping club (which Rin has shunned in favour of doing her own thing).

Yep, that’s right, this anime is that feeling you get when you’re drinking a warm drink on a cold day, in an oversized jumper, sitting by a crackling fire while it’s raining outside. It’s cosy, it’s relaxing, it doesn’t ask too much from you. The visuals are soothing, like a brushstroke painting, but like the music, they’re never there to pop out of the screen but to evoke a lush, soothing nature environment that you can enjoy getting lost in. As you watch the characters enjoying the breeze in their hair or taking in the verdant Japanese countryside you’ll wish you were there yourself.

Rin soaks up some nature

I really liked that the narrative of Laid-Back Camp doesn’t follow the expected formula of the outgoing character latching on to the introvert to force them out of their shell. Nadeshiko sometimes pops up unexpectedly to hang out with Rin, from their first encounter when she wants to see Mount Fuji, to another surprise appearance when she makes a stew for Rin to thank her for sharing some noodles with her. But from this point on, she accepts Rin’s loner tendencies and preference for camping alone, and doesn’t try to force her to spend time with others. One sweet scene even features the two of them texting from their respective campsites and deciding to send each other pictures of their breathtaking starry night sky views.

Rin’s all about that solo camping experience

There’s a decent helping of humour in this anime, most of it is a wholesome slice of life style humour. Over the course of the series, much of the humour serves to build a picture of the camping experience, and it varies from adorable scenes such as the girls trying to work out the best cheap insulation they can use to stay warm, to Rin sending cute pictures of things she sees while exploring a campsite to her friend. Just like the rest of the anime, the humour is always incredibly fluffy and heartwarming.

Another thing that really makes you feel cosy (and hungry) is the anime’s occasional sharing of recipes, sometimes while the characters are putting together a campfire stew or similar meal. From the character’s own reactions to their culinary creations, to the occasional lingering shot of a bubbling pot or ramen cup, you really get the sense that a hearty meal is an important part of the Japanese camping experience and that it’s a vital part of creating your own ‘home away from home’ while you’re sleeping outside.

Rin was a little unsure about Nadeshiko’s culinary experience…

If you’re interested in learning more about camping or are already a camping pro, you’ll appreciate the little camping tidbits in this show too. I know next to nothing about camping and really enjoyed picking up little things like the fact that there are different kinds of campsite (lake, forest, vista) and that you’re not allowed to have fires on the ground at some campsites. The show peppers its episodes with this knowledge, without overdoing it or getting too bogged down in technical details, so if you have no interest in learning about camping it’s still really easy to enjoy the show.

If you’re looking for a cosy cute anime to warm the cockles of your heart this winter, look no further than Laid-Back Camp!

Our Love Has Always Been 10cm Apart

Last year I wrote a short review about I’ve Always Liked You, a romance anime about a group of teens all nursing secret crushes on each other. This anime recently caught my eye as a cute looking romance, and I didn’t realise until I started watching it that it’s about the same group of teens, taking a particular focus on one almost-not-quite couple, Haruki and Miou.

Haruki and Miou make for a heart-tugging teen relationship. Longtime friends, the kind who walk home together every day and know each other inside-out, both are gradually falling for each other but unsure about how to take the next step into something more. This situation isn’t helped by all of their peers assuming they are already a couple and teasing them about it, which shy Miou can’t handle.

Like I’ve Always Liked You, this anime takes the classic romance format, with various obstacles emerging that prevent the pair from confessing their feelings and uniting until the very end. To begin with, this obstacle is their own shyness and inexperience in love. Miou notes wistfully when they are together that they always seem to be ‘just ten centimetres’ apart and unable to bridge the gap (giving the anime its name).

Will they, won’t they? They probably will but first we gotta drag it out…

What prevents this anime from becoming too predictable in its plot choices are the characters. Miou and Haruki are well realised, both as individuals and in their relationship. Miou could have felt like a feminine anime cliche with her gentle and modest nature and natural art talent, but her low self-esteem makes her someone you can most likely relate to, and even if you’ve never struggled with your self-esteem, her kindness makes her easy to root for. Haruki is also easy to connect with, a smart, usually easy-going teen who struggles to manage his emotions when Miou begins to distance herself from him after finding out a secret about his family that she blames herself for.

Although the centre of this anime’s driving force is romantic angst, Haruki and Miou also have their own hobbies and future plans in mind, which adds a nice layer to the story. Haruki wants to be a film director, and is hoping to win a competition that will allow him to study film in America. Miou, although dismissive of her talent, is a brilliant artist. This is present from the beginning, and I really appreciated that the anime was realistic and honest that their dreams mattered to them, and they were both willing to pursue them even if it might mean that they had to say goodbye to each other.

Miou didn’t know how to tell Haruki that he’d forgotten his camera…

I would definitely recommend this anime if you like romance. Haruki and Miou are fairly stereotypical male and female protagonists (he’s easygoing but can get a little hot-headed, she’s kind but also shy), but they have a good, three-dimensional dynamic that makes it easy to be invested in the slightly cliche reasons that keep them apart. At just six episodes long, you can easily binge it all in one go or a few episodes at a time if you’re looking to enjoy a romance story that you won’t have to wait a long time to get a pay-off for.

Ladybug Bush: How March Comes in Like a Lion Handled Bullying Brilliantly

Note: This article contains spoilers for episodes 25-35 of March Comes in Like a Lion.

March Comes in Like a Lion is an anime that has continually impressed me with its realistic, often understated depictions of issues such as depression, loneliness, ill health and finding family. But one storyline that has gone above and beyond is ‘Ladybug Bush’, which addresses middle schooler Hina dealing with bullying.

The storyline begins with Hina trudging home despondently, with a shoe missing. When she finally makes it home, she collapses and begins to cry, and her older sister coaxes the truth out of her. Hina reveals that her friend Chiho, a quiet and kind-hearted girl, was being bullied by the popular girls of her class. Unable to look the other way like the rest of her classmates, Hina becomes a friend to Chiho. When she finds out that Chiho is being transferred to another school, Hina is distraught and eventually lashes out at the bullies for laughing and shrugging off the matter, and becomes their new target.

So what makes this storyline so brilliant? For me, it’s not the events that take place but the incredibly human and realistic reactions to them.

HIna is angry and upset – and she has every right to be

Hina of course, is angry and upset that the bullies have ‘won’, forcing Chiho to leave the school, and leaving Chiho with the fear that she will be bullied again at her new school. The injustice is further magnified when Hina goes to a teacher for help and support, and is told that she is being ridiculous and creating problems where there are none. Not only does Hina feel that she has nowhere to turn, but she has to suffer the isolation and cruelty the bullies have imposed on her every day, as all her classmates are too afraid that if they speak out, they’ll be targeted next.

Not wanting her family to see how upset she is after she tells them the truth, Hina runs out into the night and is chased by their family friend, Rei. When he catches up with her, she breaks down, admitting how terrified she is about how alone she’ll be at school now, but defiantly stating through her tears that even though it hurts, she can’t regret it because she knows she did the right thing.

It’s incredibly moving to see Hina admit that despite her pain she knows she did the right thing

For me this is an incredibly moving reminder that the world doesn’t always reward you for doing the right thing, sometimes it even punishes you for it. But it’s still the right thing to do, and Hina knows this even though a teacher much older than her contradicted this.

It’s hard to watch how powerless Hina seems from this point on. She knows that anything she says against the bullies will not be believed as she has already had her actions dismissed out of hand. When an older boy she likes shows kindness to her at school, the bullies write cruel things about her on the blackboard. Hina expects to finally have a moment of justice, but instead it is her that is called back after class and reprimanded.

Hina’s claims are continually dismissed out of hand

Hina’s older sister admits to Rei that she feels powerless to help and guilty for not having a solution. Rei seeks a practical solution, and confides in his own teacher, Mr. Hayashida, who tells him that despite pages and pages of internet forums about bullying, there is no obvious answer. To bring in the parents and engage them in an angry dispute might make the victim feel even worse, and would not necessarily bring a stop to the bullying. It becomes clearer and clearer that there is no magical solution, and it’s impossible not to feel increasingly for Hina in just trying to get through each school day when the injustice is allowed to continue.

Hina feels lost and alone at school

March Comes in Like a Lion also shows us the long lasting effects of bullying. We see Hina suffer from multiple stomach aches, one of which is the night before a class trip that she’s afraid to go on. The show has always used its medium of animation well, and we see the emotional effects of bullying depicted in everything from a subtle crosshatching of glazed, depressed eyes, to a murky ‘black mist’ that threatens to engulf an entire classroom. We see Hina battling through oppressively silent classrooms and barely audible insults.

In spite of the injustices and uncertainty, Hina presses on, determined to show her face at school every day and show the bullies that they haven’t won. She continues to bravely push back against their cruelty until finally, the situation begins to unravel and the truth comes out. With the help of a new homeroom teacher, things begin to return to normality, and Hina is able to re-engage with her classmates, and even receives a letter from Chiho who is slowly healing and wants Hina to visit her.

Hina won’t stoop to the bully’s level – but she won’t back down either

March Comes in Like a Lion doesn’t try to wrap everything up in a neat little bow, and in keeping with the intensely emotional story it has created, Hina says unapologetically that she won’t forgive the bullies, because ultimately, their being made to apologise for their actions doesn’t undo the torment that she and Chiho have gone through, or the fact that Chiho had to leave. But like Chiho, she begins to heal and move on from her experience.

Although this storyline is a powerful tool in itself, I have to applaud Japan for also using it as part of a campaign to raise awareness about bullying, by sending 18,000 posters to junior high schools and colleges throughout Japan. Each poster features Hina and Rei, and also features the message ‘I’ll be your friend through it all’ and the phone number for MEXT’s helpline.

March Comes in Like a Lion is now on Crunchyroll and I would urge you to watch it for this beautifully nuanced storyline, and every other brilliantly handled human emotion that this anime so delicately and gracefully depicts.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm

This review contains spoilers for Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

DONTNOD’s indie time travel adventure game Life is Strange has sold over three million copies since its release. While a sequel is in the works, Deck Nine games have produced their own game, a prequel in three parts to cover how Chloe Price met Rachel Amber during Max’s absence.

The game begins with Chloe sneaking into an old mill to see one of her favourite rock bands, FireWalk (a Twin Peaks reference). There she collides with some shady characters and Rachel appears and rescues her. The next day, the two skip school together and grow closer, a bond that is ultimately cemented when Rachel discovers something shocking about her father.

The mechanics of Life is Strange: Before the Storm work in exactly the same way as the original game, you walk around, interacting with objects and people. Unlike Max, Chloe doesn’t have a time travel ability, but you still make big decisions which affect how the game unfolds. Chloe also has a ‘backtalk’ ability, in which you have to select the right option from multiple dialogue options within a short time limit in order to win an argument.

Choose your words carefully if you want to get your way!

Where Max would take photographs of various scenes throughout the original game, Chloe’s option to interact with her environment is graffiti spots located throughout the game which I thought was a nice reflection of her personality as Chloe likes to creatively reinterpret the world to her own style. The game also lets you choose the kind of graffiti you want to make which is a nice bonus. This isn’t mandatory to the game in any way but it’s a nice extra designed to encourage you to explore each environment you’re in more thoroughly.

Anyone who played Life is Strange will know that Chloe’s relationship with Rachel was incredibly important to her, so it’s not surprising that their relationship forms the heart of this game. I was pleasantly surprised that Before the Storm doesn’t skirt around Chloe’s sexuality or her feelings for Rachel, and you have the options to express a desire for ‘something more’ and to kiss Rachel at points in the game. Rachel also calls Chloe ‘cute’ and ‘hot’ at multiple points in the game and their big Shakespearean moment feels like a romantic declaration. Although they get more in the way of flirtatious and romantic interaction than Chloe and Max, it would be nice if it had been more explicit e.g. use of the words girlfriend, lesbian, bisexual etc.

Weird costume aside…Chloe was happy to be with Rachel.

Before the Storm isn’t without its flaws. Many of the characters from the original game make a return – Joyce, David, Nathan, Victoria and Principal Wells, and many of them feel well realised in relation to their characterisation in the original game, especially Joyce’s ongoing struggle to help Chloe and try to move on herself. There are odd inconsistencies though – David is presented as an abusive character in Life is Strange but Before the Storm repeatedly tries to present him as a heavy-handed but sympathetic character who you even have the option to forgive and be nice to on multiple occasions. This is one of many choices that seems completely pointless as anyone who has played Life is Strange will know that chronologically, Chloe is at odds with David by the time Max returns, so it makes no difference if you choose to attempt to build bridges with him in this game.

Rachel is a core character in Before the Storm and the first two episodes focus primarily on her and Chloe and their relationship, but this is pushed to the background in episode three with Rachel’s family drama taking centre stage, and it’s not clear why. From the end of the first episode it is hinted that Rachel’s fire starter moment and her potential supernatural powers will be the main focus of the story, especially in relation to the appearance of the crow and Chloe’s bizarre, premonition-like dreams. But episode three seems to drop this entirely even though it could have been used to explain why Rachel and Chloe stayed in Arcadia Bay when they both had the means and the determination to leave.

Rachel Amber – twisted fire starter

Another upsetting moment was the post-credits scene which hints at Chloe desperately trying to get hold of Rachel who is trapped in the Dark Room. This event takes place after Before the Storm, and not only will confuse people who have only played Before the Storm but upset those who have played Life is Strange. Anyone who has already played Life is Strange knows Rachel’s fate, so to remind them of it seems cruel and unnecessary, particularly as Before the Storm had just finished with a happy Chloe/Rachel summer montage. I don’t understand why anyone would think this scene was a good idea, particularly at the end of an episode that didn’t even resolve Rachel’s own supernatural powers storyline.

If you’re a Life is Strange fan debating whether to play this game I would say it is worth it, if you’re prepared to accept that the final episode is a big letdown for the potential that had been built up. I’ve read that many things were cut from the finale including a potential explanation for Rachel’s supernatural powers, which is hugely disappointing if true. That said, this game offers a well-characterised teenage Chloe and her relationship with Rachel is hugely satisfying to finally see. For me, this game is worth playing for their beautifully blossoming story alone and it still offers some wonderful scenes worthy of the Life is Strange universe…even if it sadly loses itself to melodrama towards the end.


Napping Princess: The Story of the Unknown Me

Kokone is distracted from making a decision about where to attend university after graduation when her father is mysteriously arrested and men she has never seen before arrive at her house to steal his tablet. It all seems connected to a parallel world she experiences in her dreams, but how?

Napping Princess has a slow start, as it builds not one but two worlds, trying to tease the audience without giving too much away. Kokone’s dream world ‘Heartland’ feels like a very standard anime fantasy world but it offers up lots of visually spectacular moments such as the Princess Ancien (the heroine in Kokone’s dream world) sneaking back to her room after using magic when she’s not supposed to. Personally though, I prefer Kokone’s awake ‘real world’ scenes for the majority of the film, perhaps because the plot and character relationships are more clearly established.

Eveything is just a bit more exciting in Heartland

Two things pleasantly surprised me about this film. The first is that the humour is pretty good, and there were many more laugh out loud moments than I expected. Early in the film, after her father has been arrested, Kokone has to try and hide and escape from men she doesn’t recognise who come to the house in search of her father’s tablet. Some silly slapstick ensues as she tries to fit herself around corners and into cupboards while they search. I particularly loved that the film openly makes jokes about the men being the stereotypical ‘dumb goons’, even down to one moment when one of the men demands to know why he wasn’t warned about Kokone coming to steal the tablet back, and the goon tells him he didn’t want him to be upset so he said nothing.

Kokone’s dad is hiding something, but what?

The second thing I really enjoyed was Kokone’s friendship with Morio, an old friend she reconnects with, who helps her on her quest to uncover the truth behind the tablet and rescue her father. Even though there’s a moment where they have to nap in a motorbike together and Kokone tells him not to touch her butt, the movie doesn’t feel the need to shove them together romantically just because it can, which is always refreshing to see.

Safety first – always wear a helmet when riding your magical bike!

The ending of this movie is a pretty strong payoff as it ties in themes of family, and tradition versus embracing the modern with an obvious but brilliant metaphor. Some of the plot devices along the way feel a bit too convenient – Kokone doesn’t know anything about her deceased mother because her father won’t talk about him, but it seems unlikely she never would have tried to find out more about her by herself, especially in the age of the internet when you can easily google people. Still, in spite of some of the slightly far-fetched plot elements this film is an enjoyable ride, and it offers lots of laughs and some great anime visual spectacle too. Definitely worth seeing for any anime fan.

I’ve Always Liked You

Is there anything more heartwarming than a bunch of teens in love? I’ve Always Liked You is an anime that does what it says on the tin, revolving around a group of students who are each carrying a secret torch for someone.

We open with Natsuki who is trying to confess her love to her childhood friend Yu (against a picturesque sunset backdrop of course for dramatic effect). Natsuki manages to get her feelings out, then chickens out and tells Yu she was joking and ‘practising’ her confession for a real one to someone else.

The relationship was doomed when Yu told Natsuki her hair looked like a rice bun…

Then we have Mochita who wants to confess his feelings to the purple-haired Akari with just one obstacle – he’s never even talked to her before. And then there’s Ayase who has feelings for Natsuki and hopes he might stand a chance with her if he makes a bishie boy anime transformation…

Although there are plenty of romantic crushes between the characters, Natsuki and Yu’s ‘will they, won’t they’ remains the central focus of the anime, with Natsuki’s inability to tell Yu her true feelings being further complicated when Ayase asks her to a concert and makes Yu jealous.

I enjoyed this anime from start to finish. The various romantic situations all felt quite natural for a high school romance – from the friends who don’t have the courage to move into something more to the teen who’s crazy about someone they’ve hardly even spoken to. Natsuki’s obliviousness to Ayase’s romantic interest in her even after he invites her to a concert with him also felt like a common romantic misunderstanding.

It was time to compare the results of their Cosmo romance quiz…

If you enjoy romance anime I think you will enjoy this movie. I’ve Always Liked You veers to the fluffier side of anime, but still invests in its characters with simple but well-created storylines and effective close-ups of shining eyes and clenched fists to really hammer home all those angsty teen feelings.