For the benefit of newcomers to the world of anime, there is a fairly popular subgenre of anime known as yuri, which focus on lesbian relationships. These tend to be gentle affairs, but this 12 episode series from 2018 is quite different, because it’s clearly trying to be edgy. That’s not an easy thing to pull off successfully, because just beyond the fine line labelled edgy can be found some dark territory.
The set-up to the story is familiar and is fast becoming an anime cliché. Yuzu and Mei are two high school girls with very different attitudes to life. Yuzu is flamboyant and breaks the school uniform policy, wearing makeup and dying her hair. Mei is a model student, the granddaughter of the chairman, and the student council president. They couldn’t be more different, and they immediately have a clash of personalities. In a surprise twist which is completely unsurprising, because this is the huge cliché, the two of them end up living together as stepsisters. Before long, Mei is forcefully kissing Yuzu.
This is where we head into some dark territory, because it’s a non-consensual kiss, and it’s far from being a peck on the cheek. The series positively revels in this sort of thing. In place of the more obvious fanservice, it’s hard to escape the impression that the intention here is to titillate with lots of moments where one girl is pushing another down onto a bed or up against a wall, and plenty of close up shots of tongues being shoved in mouths. At the risk of spilling this over into a fanservice debate, this is surely far more potentially harmful to any impressionable minds than the usual fanservice tactics of bouncing boobs and hot springs shenanigans.
Part of the problem is that the series is told almost entirely from the perspective of Yuzu, and she is very much the victim here. I use the word victim quite specifically, because Mei uses her tongue and her lips to manipulate Yuzu, or at the very least to shut her up, and from that dodgy start springs Yuzu’s feelings of attraction towards Mei. It’s sold entirely as a good thing, and the series builds towards establishing a relationship between them, which is something I would normally enjoy and champion, were it not for the fact that it’s hard to escape the nagging feeling that Yuzu has been groomed by the initial assault. In contrast, we are never really privy to Mei’s own feelings, and she is such an emotionally self-controlled person most of the time that she comes across as a closed book. We are therefore denied some much-needed exploration of the motivations and feelings of 50% of this slightly disturbing relationship. Let me put it this way: if this show were about a teenage boy forcing himself on his stepsister and her falling in love with him after that, would it seem like a worthwhile show? I can’t help but think the makers of this series assumed the viewers would be distracted from such concerns by the sight of teenage girls making out. Slightly depressingly, the popularity of this series would tend to suggest they were right about that.
As is so often the case in yuri anime, most of the other female characters are lesbian or bisexual as well, although nobody ever identifies themselves in those terms. The closest we come to an actual celebration of diversity rather than a cynical attempt to please male viewers with the sight of girls fancying each other and kissing is the late addition of Sara to the line-up of characters. She meets the others on a school trip, falls in love with Mei at first sight, and rather beautifully expresses firmly held beliefs about how gender is irrelevant to her. It’s her feelings that matter. She is the last in a roll call of various characters who disrupt the Mei/Yuzu budding relationship, including a long-term childhood friend for each of the girls, both of whom are jealous. Himeko is a straightforward love rival for Yuzu, but Matsuri is a more nuanced character, using sexuality unflinchingly to get what she wants, and very manipulative. She’s probably nobody’s favourite, but if you like your anime characters to be metaphorically three-dimensional in a literally two-dimensional world, then she’s the one to watch. In the end, though, it was hard to work up any enthusiasm for the fate of the Mei/Yuzu relationship. As much as I love a good romance, their destiny seemed to be sealed from the start of the series, and the path to get there meandered through some questionable territory. All of that added up to a moment of triumph that felt like a hollow victory. RP