CW: This article talks about incest.
This article was originally published on Medium
Citrus by Saburouta is the most popular yuri manga currently. It has appeared on the New York Time’s best sellers list five times and an anime is currently airing to love from fans and critics. The plot of it is not anything new to the world of romance, especially yuri romance. A young woman in search of a boyfriend finds herself going to an all girls school and by the end of the first chapter finds herself in love with another woman. It’s perfect ground for the genre focusing on love between women, usually love between high school women. It’s also well tread ground. Some thing like that plot has been around since the 60s with Shiroi Heya no Futari which is seen as the first yuri manga.
So it needs a hook. Most popular yuri series taking place at a school have a unique thing that sets them apart from the pack. Canno’s Cider and Crybaby has the focus on the girls in a paranormal club. Shinozaki-san Ki wo Ota Shika ni! by Saku Saku Tei has the story be a comedy about a girl becoming more of a nerd as she falls deeper into love. Hayashiya Shizuru’s A Lifeform in Puberty — Vega has one of the main girls as an alien that gets super powers from kissing and affection. People get creative with their hooks.
Citrus’ hook is that the main characters are step-sisters.
It can be easy to see why this concept is enticing for a writer. What if your two contentious love birds are forced to be together not just at school but at home? The stronger elements of the series showcases how different main characters Yuzu and Mei are by showing their split down the middle room. It’s this hook though that ultimately dooms the series for me and I’m worried it’s what makes the series such a beloved thing in the yuri community.
The concept of psuedo-incest or just outright incest as romantic drama is not new to fandoms or even the media they consume. Nor is it the focus of just the yuri fandom. Oreimo aka My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute is both a widely mocked and incredibly popular anime and light novel franchise. Flowers in the Attic is incredibly renowned and sometimes read as a romance. In the world of shows interacting with their fandoms Supernatural has had difficulty acknowledging that one of the most popular ship is between the two Winchester brothers. Even popular gag anime PopTeamEpic parodied the trend which seems to be getting more and more popular.
Citrus’ fans, the marketing around it and the work itself relishes the taboo of its hook. The above tweet (which was later deleted) was made by anime streaming service Crunchyroll makes reference to it. One of the early chapters is named “sisterly love?” of course there are the many calls of “incest is wincest” by fans. It plays with the forbidden and risque elements of incest with keeping an amount of deniable distance.
When I’ve made various comments on social media about my dislike of this series and its eroticization of incest I get told that it’s just misleading and a false equivalence to say that step-sisters who meet in high school are the same as two sisters who grew up together with all the possible social coding and grooming that may come from that. That is 100% true. There is a big difference between those two. So let’s look at another popular yuri anime and manga Candy Boy.
Candy Boy is a series where the two main characters are twins. That is its hook. While it didn’t reach the height of popularity of Citrus its popularity did drive it to multiple anime OVAs and it has a place on many “Yuri Works To Read/Watch” lists. The series is about Yukino and her fraternal twin Kanade who are in a quasi-romantic relationship. Kanade often thinks about her sister nude or the idea of them taking baths together with her or even drawing her as a sexy catgirl. This is all in the first chapter.
Yet the fact that they are twin sisters is not ever a source of drama, mostly just a comedy punchline, somewhat less serious than them both being girls. It’s another obstacle for the two women to overcome. However unlike the stories of women overcoming homophobia, both internal and external, the stories of them overcoming the taboo of incest is never positioned as dramatic. It either uses it for comedy like Candy Boy or to transfer the old and tired “it’s erotic because it’s forbidden” from two girls in a relationship to two sisters in a relationship. Even Citrus has a wide assortment of assault and manipulation that it mines for drama over the step-sisters angle.
Yuri is a genre that has changed and grown as thoughts on homosexuality progress. Compare the tragic deaths of Shiroi Heya no Futari (similar to the ending of many lesbian pulp novels of the time) to contemporary works such as Nakatani Nio’s Bloom Into You which also looks asexuality or Nishio Yuhta’s After Hours which stars two adult women in a relationship. Even autobiographical works like My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Nagata Kabi and Honey & Honey by Takeuchi Sachiko further investigate what the genre can accomplish.
It seems that as yuri learns to come to terms and talk about homophobia in a more mature way the amount of incest only seems to increase both from fans and from the works that rise to the top. Dynasty Scans, a site that collects translated yuri manga, has a tag dedicated to incest and another one dedicated to psuedo-incest. With titles like Met My Sister on a Dating Site or Sayuri’s Little Sister Is An Angel these titles are clear about what they are. These series get a lot of love on the website’s forums, with comment threads going on for pages in praise of the series.
Looking through these threads I often find common comments throughout. Namely “this is so wrong but I love it so much!” Its this forbidden element that has propelled incest to its current height of popularity. As yuri series can lean less and less on homophobia as an easy source of drama and a way to heighten the sexiness they instead add another element to make it forbidden. It makes it obvious that for some writers their only idea for queer romance is that it must be forbidden, behind closed doors and ultimately shameful.
I avoided the issue of incest for the majority of my time reading yuri because I assumed that it would eventually go away. That is dangerous thinking and clearly not the case. As fans of it grow what is a dangerous and extremely harmful. Between 33–50% of perpetrators who sexually abuse girls are family members and reducing their trauma and struggle into a plot point or kink that too often will fill queer spaces that should be welcoming causes real harm to people.
I know full well that what people find exciting is not always something they agree with morally if done outside a controlled environment. Things like BDSM or various forms of roleplay are based on those things. I’m also not trying to say that artists can’t use their art to talk about incest. I am saying that I fear we are making a community that not only enjoys art with incest as a major plot point, but that we are normalizing it. Incest is a very traumatic and damaging thing and we need to treat it like it.
We as consumers and story tellers need to realize that these stories are harmful. They’re harmful to survivors of incest and abuse surrounding that. They’re harmful to the various communities in which these stories gain popularity. They’re harmful to the stories we want to read and tell about ourselves. They leave us trapped in the past, doomed to repeat the same stories of self hatred and acceptance of what is “wrong” with us, rather then going on to tell new stories where we are simply a gay alien who gets super powers from getting kisses.