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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mitsuha is sick of her life out in the sticks, and not even having a cafe or bookstore in her little town. She passionately declares one night “Make me a Tokyo boy in my next life!” And then she wakes up the next morning…in a Tokyo boy’s body. Taki, the boy in question, is an average teen making the most of city life, enjoying fancy treats after school with his friends which he pays for via a waiter job at a nice restaurant.
Your Name immediately takes advantage of all of the comedic value of an unexpected body swap. Mitsuha and Taki are both in the throes of puberty and still discovering their own bodies, so waking up inside the opposite sex’s has an extra layer of hilarity. One of the film’s running gags features Mitsuha (sometimes herself, sometimes Taki) waking up each morning and fondling her own breasts.
Mitsuha and Taki’s friends tell them that they’ve noticed a change in their personalities, and once the pair discover that what they thought were incredibly realistic dreams is actually the two of them swopping bodies, they try to ensure their lives don’t become messier than needed, leaving notes for each other to read on their bodies, and sometimes on their phones. Unfortunately, the two of them never remember each other’s names when they wake up back in their own bodies, prolonging the suspense as they don’t know whose life it is that they keep finding themselves in the middle of.
The film doesn’t focus too deeply on the effects their swapping has on each other’s lives, but it does show the obvious awkwardness of them having to ask their friends questions like “Where do I work?”and having to juggle things that are completely foreign to them – Taki attempting a traditional weaving technique is contrasted against Mitsuha running around like a headless chicken in Taki’s job. In spite of their superficial differences, the universality of their adolescent feelings shines through – Mitsuha manages to get Taki a date with his long-time crush while inhabiting his body, but realises once she’s back in her own body that she’s actually quite jealous.
The second half of Your Name takes a more serious turn than I had expected, dealing with a thread about a comet set up from the beginning. The film uses this to further expand on its themes of family, duty, and love and open out the film to a grander scale, and build much higher stakes. There are a lot of very Japanese themes thrown into the second half (I won’t spoil them here) which is one of the things bound to help this film stand the test of time as a Makoto Shinkai classic.
Your Name is visually spectacular. The contrast of city life to country life is stunningly illustrated. Taki’s hectic urban jungle is brilliantly showcased, each sharp angular line of the skyscrapers and twinkling city lights popping off the screen. Mitsuha’s verdant town is a lush delight, and I also really loved seeing the details of her traditional life, such as when she performs a traditional Japanese ritual in her family’s shrine. I also love that the film makes multiple references to the red string of fate, inserting the symbolism in a beautifully simple but striking way throughout the film.
A gorgeous anime needs a great soundtrack and this one does not disappoint! As well as some beautiful strings pieces that really evoke the nature scenes of Mitsuha’s beautiful rural town, RADWIMPS, a Japanese rock band, offer some furiously energetic pop tracks for the chaotic life-swapping scenes of Mitsuha and Taki’s teenage lives. I’ve included the trailer below which features one of the brilliant RADWIMPS tracks.
From Garden of Words and 5 Centimetres Per Second, to Your Name, Makoto Shinkai seems to be continually building on his work, with each anime offering a greater and greater emotional scope that extends into impressive far-reaching themes of the traditional against the modern, long distance love, and figuring out our place in the world.
I love everything about Your Name: its staggeringly beautiful animation, its expressive characters with deep hearts and its moving soundtrack. It’s Japan’s highest grossing movie of 2016, if you haven’t already watched it, what are you waiting for?
27 year old Arata has no full time job or career plan and nobody to tide him over when his parents cut him off financially. When he bumps into a charming man named Ryo who offers him an all expenses paid get out for a whole year Arata instantly agrees, not realising the consequences of his decision until the morning after. Ryo works for ReLIFE laboratory and Arata has taken an experimental drug which makes him physically transform to his 17 year old self. Ryo reveals that ReLIFE is actually a rehabilitation programme for unemployed NEET types like Arata who are sent back to high school for a year to reinvigorate them and help them learn what it means to work hard.
ReLIFE wastes no time setting up an entertaining fish out of water situation in which Arata struggles with the practicalities of being a teenager again. He forgets that he shouldn’t be smoking, scores badly on the high school tests and unthinkingly lends larger sums of money than a student would be expected to have. Interestingly, although Arata seems to be alone at 27 when he becomes a student again he easily connects with the boys and girls around him, making it obvious pretty early on that his time in ReLIFE will have a positive impact on his new friends as much as they will on him.
I went into this anime expecting the focus to be entirely on Arata’s development but whilst we get his internal monologue throughout during his interactions with his high school peers, the anime sets up most of the drama about his new friends. The first few episodes are deceptively lighthearted, almost to the point of goofiness in places but ReLIFE begins to build emotional investment from the get go as Arata’s new friends struggle with their own insecurities and the impact they have on their relationships with each other. The animation is pretty standard with the odd lapse into chibi style at comedic moments, and the discordant and erratic piano soundtrack works well to support each teenager’s internal conflicts and provide a quirky backdrop to the tension.
Although ReLIFE features realistic characters with believable quirks and struggles, I wish that it had done more to give some of the emotional moments greater impact. We’re shown some poignant backstory for Arata’s life as a 27 year old and also for Ryo’s life working on another case in the ReLIFE laboratory but most of this isn’t until the last part of the anime. The focus remains on the melodrama between Arata’s classmates and whilst they are likeable and interesting enough, their characters are never built up enough to provide the right kind of emotional depth to make their conflicts with each other as interesting as they could be.
The ending frustrated me most about ReLIFE, this anime offers powerful twist at the end and then just doesn’t do nearly enough with it. It’s a shame that the potential for a real emotionally moving finish fades away in favour of the light humour and fluffiness that has been present throughout, when it would have been easy to provide a strong emotional finish for two of the central characters.
ReLIFE provides plenty of laugh-out-loud moments without resorting to lazy stereotypes or over the top fanservice. It also tackles some darker topics, so if you have the patience to stick with it through some predictable drama situations you’ll find some moving scenes towards the end and there are enough touching moments throughout to maintain your interest. It is an easy watch whether you’re relatively new to anime and looking to ease yourself in gently, or just looking for a funny anime with some standard high school drama.