The Summer 2021 Preview Guide
Peach Boy Riverside
How would you rate episode 1 of
Peach Boy Riverside ?
What is this?
Once upon a time, there was an old man and an old woman in a certain land. The old man went to the mountains to cut the grass, and the old woman went to the river to wash clothes, when she came across a giant peach with a baby floating by. And the long story short, the Japanese demon-fighting folk-tale hero Momotarō was born. But there's more to the story. There were many such peaches besides the one that floated to Japan. Much later, Momotarō did eventually vanquish the demons threatening his home, but still more demons are said to roam in foreign lands, so Momotarō set off across the sea.
How was the first episode?
It's funny. I don't think I've ever actually read the Momotaro fairy tale, though I've certainly learned the basic story through cultural osmosis. An elderly couple finds a giant peach. In the middle, instead of a seed, they find a child. They raise the boy, Momotaro, as their own and eventually he heads off to the island, Onigashima, and fight the ogres that reside there with his animal companions. Apparently, Peach Boy Riverside is a pseudo-sequel to that story. Yet, instead of following Momotaro, it follows Sally—a princess with a similar origin who shares Mototaro's penchant for ogre fighting.
This episode starts us somewhere in the middle of the story, after her meeting with another “Momotaro” and an “encounter” with an octopus. Sally gains her first companion in the form of Frau, a rabbit demihuman, and learns a bit about the world outside her kingdom—namely that everyone is super racist. In this world, demihumans are treated as no better than monsters, and even should a demihuman prove itself a protector of humans, humans still fear and shun it for its natural physical power. In other words, the basic moral of the story so far is “racism is bad” which, while admirable, is rather simplistic.
Beyond that, I'm a bit baffled by the schizophrenic tone of the episode. We have a cute comedy between Sally and Frau, the aforementioned social commentary on racism, some questionable fanservice involving Sally, and then some good-old ultraviolence when the Ogres show up and start ripping people apart. If the episode is keeping me off balance by design, then the series is certainly off to a strong start here—though I'm not sure what the point of doing so would be.
If there was one thing I enjoyed about the episode, it was the background music. It sounds like much of it is being played by a gamelan orchestra (an Indonesian traditional orchestra). In the fight against the ogre chicken, the drums, vocals, and what appears to be a gendèr form a haunting melody. Then, in the final fight scene, a sitar and electric keyboard are added to the gendèr, resulting in a song that sounds like it was ripped straight out of Chrono Trigger's Kingdom of Zeal. I don't know how much more of the series I will watch, but I'll certainly keep my eyes peeled for the OST.
I have mixed feelings about the anime's decision to air the episodes out of chronological order. It wasn't that this first episode was particularly difficult to follow – in fact, the plot is rather simple – but it fails to introduce any emotional stakes or even a reason to continue watching. The idea that there could be multiple Momotaros from the Japanese folktale is interesting in the abstract, but in practice it only amounted to the typical narrative setup of a character who is seemingly ordinary at the start of the episode revealing their superpowers at the end of it.
The fantasy setting and the subplot about demihuman racism are similarly uninspired. The bunny girl Frau fits all the template characteristics of the sympathetic demihuman. She might be stronger than your average human, but she's also friendly, docile, and deeply loyal to the first person to show her basic kindness. The only thing that really stands out about her is that she looks more bunny than human, as opposed to your typical anime bunny girl who is just a conventionally attractive human woman with a cosplay accessory.
The only other distinctive thing about this episode is its bafflingly inconsistent tone. Juvenile tentacle and boob jokes are immediately followed by surprisingly explicit violence. But then it's all carried out by a smirking villain that looks like a walrus, so it wraps all the way back around to being juvenile again. Ultimately, none of the events of this episode had any weight. If there is a reason to keep watching, it's to see if the anime's adaptation decisions end up coming together by the end, but so far I'm not impressed.
Right off the bat, Peach Boy Riverside's got tone problems. While being able to handle a broad spectrum of emotions and atmosphere is a good thing to show off in your opening episode, here it comes across not as a demonstration of range, but a scattershot approach to storytelling that leaves this whole thing feeling like less than the sum of its already questionable parts.
For one, you have the typical fantasy racism subplot that dominates the first two-thirds of this premiere. The whole concept of humans discriminating against non-humans is frankly played out, and unless you've got some really interesting ideas it's usually better to just not make Orc Racism or whatever a thing in your fantasy world. It only gets more questionable here, where our only example is people fearing Frau, the most obvious mascot character ever. It's hard to take this whole storyline seriously when it's people acting distrustful and terrified over a chibi-faced rabbit girl in a middle school uniform whose entire MO is eating carrots. With all of that, the show's signaling it definitely doesn't have anything meaningful to say about the nature of prejudice, and it makes the opening half of this episode feel like a slog.
Things do pick up after that, but also introduce a different host of problems separate from the worldbuilding. While our central characters are likable enough – Sally and Frau are at their best when they guilt trip Hawthorn into buying them lunch – they're not particularly compelling or interesting, and outside of basic compassion it was hard to muster up any worry about either of them getting mauled by the giant walrus monster. More immediately, the action animation just isn't there. Of the short fights we get in this premiere, the strongest is when Frau kicks a giant chicken in the first half, with everything else feeling vaguely disjointed and poorly structured. Production values in general are middling to poor, with this premiere bottoming out on the aforementioned walrus whose mouth doesn't even move when he speaks. Add in some random tentacle fanservice that comes out of nowhere before leaving just as quickly, and this premiere left me scratching my head rather than pumping my fist.
There's plenty of room in the world and my heart for schlock, but that also means there's enough room for some pulp to float to the surface while some sink to the bottom. Peach Boy Riverside feels decidedly like the latter. This could potentially develop into an indulgent and bloody spectacle that gets its ideas straight, but I have little confidence after this premiere.
Have you ever started a new series and had the thought, “Did I miss something? Is this a sequel?” That's basically where Peach Boy Riverside's debut left me. Technically speaking, it kind of is a sequel to the folktale Momotaro, but rather than that being the issue (which would be a nonissue, really, Momotaro having long since entered into the public consciousness), it's more a case of a largely failed attempt at starting in medias res: in the middle of the story. Therefore, we don't get any information about why Sally is wandering the countryside, who Mikoto is or why she's looking for him, or when she was apparently molested by a giant octopus. Instead, we just jump right into her meeting Frau.
Who is Frau? If you go by appearances, she's the spawn of Bugs Bunny and a Sanrio character, but more to the point in the story, they're a type of demi-human – a harefolk. When Sally meets them, they have passed out from hunger, and after Sally offers them some carrots, they announce their intention of sticking with her to pay off their “carrot debt.” It's a fairly typical trope in folklore: the protagonist feeds or otherwise gives someone what they need, and the one they helped promises to help them in return. Keeping bits and pieces of the original folklore is one of the things this episode does right, with its closing – where someone recites the opening lines of Momotaro and then muses about whether or not there were more peaches sent downriver – being the most effective parts. It's also worth noting that there is a Japanese folktale about a girl who is found inside a melon floating downriver, Uriko-hime and Amanojaku. I don't think that's being used here, as it's a bit obscure, but it does feature in the visual novel Adabana Odd Tales if you want to see another take on the concept.
Peach Boy Riverside is trying. We're clearly meant to be interested in whatever Sally's backstory is, and why her eye glows around ogres, especially when you realize that it's the same eye that ogre girl Meki can use to blow stuff up. (Meki's eye, however, is much less firmly anchored in her face.) But mostly this episode feels like it struggles from trying to be too many things: it's a reworking of a folktale, a statement on how humans are unreasonably prejudiced (specifically against demi-humans), a grim war story with plenty of gore, and a jigglefest where Sally is concerned…sometimes. Even the fanservice feels very uneven, as if the episode isn't quite sure what to do with all of its moving parts. Now, the manga this is based on is available in English translation, and I don't know if having read that would make this episode more appealing, or at least make more sense. But from where I'm sitting, based on this episode Frau's the only thing it really has going for it, and even she's not enough to make me wholeheartedly recommend it.
Peach Boy Riverside's premiere is an exceedingly odd one. For the whole of its first half, I had a very hard time nailing down its tone and direction, especially considering the very simple setup we're given for its premise: The so-called “Ex-Princess” of the episode's title is Saltherine, who thankfully goes by Sally as she travels the world in search of a mysterious boy named Mikoto. One day, she offers a carrot to a rabbit demihuman dressed in a Japanese schoolgirl outfit, because of course. The creature's name is Frau, and what she lacks in linguistic skills she makes up for in bravery and fighting prowess. Together, Frau and Sally fight monsters and continue Sally's pursuit of her long-lost friend.
Simple enough, right? And that simplicity was what lulled me into the false state of secure boredom that eventually threw me for a loop. The lackadaisical pace and low-key stakes of the episode sure don't feel like the opening chapter of a grand adventure, but there is just a bit too much action and drama for it to qualify as some sort of slice-of-life episode. The central conceit of Sally and Frau forming a cross-species bond of unbreakable friendship is cute enough, but everything else about their characterization and place in this world just feels so…vague.
It also doesn't help that the design of Peach Boy Riverside's world is almost painfully generic. The stock standard monster designs don't make for particularly interesting foils to the plain human cast (except for Frau, who's conspicuously cartoonish proportions and mannerisms certainly stand out). The setting is genuinely indistinguishable from any of the knock-off fantasy RPG type anime and light novels that have been flooding the bargain bins for the last thirty years, too — you could insert random bits of footage from, say, Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody or I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years or what have you, and I don't know if anyone would be able to tell the difference.
Then, a funny thing happens. After being rescued from bigoted knights by a fellow named Hawthorn, Sally and Frau are taken to the city of Rimdarl, where the following events happen literally within the span of maybe two minutes:
- Sally is offered an octopus at the market, which causes her to envision a weirdly explicit scenario of tentacle-hentai fondling
- A pair of ogres named Meki and Sett arrive and blow up a chunk of the market, brutally murdering a bunch of civilians in front of Sally
- We learn that the lady ogre turns into a loli when she fires her laser because of…reasons.
- The other ogre smashes a bunch of soldiers to death in a scene of incredible violence and gore
- Sally is overcome with bloodlust, while the narrator reminds the audience of the Japanese fable of Momotaro, the ogre-slaying Peach Boy, and posits that perhaps there were many such children sent out into the world that day.
It's a…dramatic shift in tone and energy, to say the least. I don't even know how much I can say I liked it, since the show's mediocre production values and sleight writing still leave a lot to be desired, but I'd be lying if I said my curiosity wasn't just a little piqued. I'll give Peach Boy Riverside another episode or two, just to see if it ends up being weird enough to stick around for. Just don't go into it expecting the next great anime of the summer or anything.
Procrastination has once again worked in my favor, because I started up this episode armed with knowledge that my fellow reviewers did not have: the first episode of Peach Boy Riverside to air is not the first chronologically. I didn't expect to understand what was going on, and that honestly made the episode much easier to swallow.
Not that what's here is hard to suss out. Protagonist Sally, with improbably-large jugs for her small frame and surprisingly practical clothes (relatively speaking, of course), encounters a carrot-obsessed bunny girl named Frau. Frau breaks the mold for bunny girl designs, with a lanky frame, sailor suit, long scarf, and cartoonish spherical head with only two eyes for features. I was surprised by this choice; bunny girls are such low-hanging fruit for fan service series that they're rotting on the ground, and it was refreshing to see it go in a different direction.
The story beats around her, however, were positively moldy. Oh no, she's a powerful demihuman feared by humans even though she's harmless! And then she saves them but that display of strength just makes them fear her more! But Sally was nice to her and stuck up for her, which means Frau is now extremely devoted to her, and I am tired. Fantasy racism is an extraordinarily shallow and overdone metaphor, usually tying up into a pat, “Be nice and don't judge people!” conclusion straight out of a children's book. So, let's just not anymore, okay?
Without a plot to focus on, I found myself zeroing in on small details, like the characters' clothing. There's some boob nonsense with Sally — I laughed out loud when she was sitting abject in prison, pushing her knockers forward with her arms — and while she may be wearing wet-look latex leggings, they actually crease and hang like actual fabric. Hawthorn's sweater looked downright cozy. If the series ever gains enough popularity to attract cosplayers, I'm sure they'll appreciate the “if.”
That's a big “if,” because to be honest, I'm not sure whether it has the potential to attract a following. Part of it is, of course, the aforementioned choice to slice and dice the story out of order. There's also a bizarre level of tonal whiplash — seeing an octopus in the marketplace makes Sally imagine (or remember?) getting sexually assaulted by tentacles, reminding me that this is indeed a coolkyoushinsha series. A bloodless fight early in the episode left me unprepared for seeing soldiers get graphically, gorily obliterated in the second half. And I straight-up have no idea about the larger plot yet.
Watching Peach Boy Riverside wasn't a miserable experience or anything, but it probably says something that the part I was most interested in was the way the characters' clothing was drawn, since I'm really only mildly interested in fabric and fibers.
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