Peach Boy Riverside
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Peach Boy Riverside ?
Four weeks later, we at last get to see the 'first' episode of Peach Boy Riverside! Okay, this one actually works out a little better with the episodic musical chairs this show is playing, since being the chronological premiere means we don't have to worry about sussing out the context it takes place within. And honestly, starting mid-story only to wind back to the genesis of that plot later is already a mechanic plenty of anime, manga, and other media employ, so they probably could have pulled this kind of mix-up even without the overall gimmick. So here we are, needing only to evaluate how this episode works on its own.
The quality thereof turns out to be "Eh, okay". We still don't really get any more explanation for what the deal with Mikoto and Sally is than what was alluded to at the end of the chronologically-second episode: Like the legendary Momotaro, there are other peach-born people out there with a talent and taste for Oni-murdering, and they're wandering this world where struggles between those ogres, as well as humans and demihumans, are happening. Mikoto's drop-in with that context is basic enough, but we're still critically in the dark on how that connects to Sally being at least partially cut from the same cloth. So the artificially-delayed placement of this episode, perhaps unintentionally drumming up audiences to expect at least an allusion to an explanation of that element, means it can feel disappointing in that respect.
(As an aside on the subject, it's only a little odd that Crunchyroll's subtitles for this show insist on rendering the name Momotaro as 'Peach Boy'. It's not technically wrong, but definitely feels off given the proper mythological context this whole series is operating in.)
So the foundational context of our main characters remains absent, either a glossed-over allusion or waiting in the wings as a bigger plot twist for later. But that isn't really a shortcoming for the whole episode; what is a more concrete issue is the pacing. As a fresh premiere on its own, the opening half of this would merely be tedious, but as a part of an established story we're only just now getting to, it can be downright exhausting. Sure, after weeks of watching them try to link up in the future, it's moderately interesting to finally see the story of when Mikoto met Sally, but so much of it is built around time spent with them exchanging low-key pleasantries without getting in-depth to the point where we can buy there'd be as much emotional investment as we know comes later (Sally doesn't even catch onto Mikoto's gender in a day spent conversing with him, let alone anything he's done on his journey so far). Part of that's in service of Mikoto's sweet-kid disposition obfuscating things so we can be shocked at the end when he gets all intense and murdery, except that thanks to PBR spinning the Wheel Of Episode Order, we're already well-aware of that facet. It robs the moment of impact when, even after several weeks with the character, pretty much all we already knew about Mikoto was "He's super-good at murdering Oni and kinda scary when he does so."
Sally, who's always been the more interesting of the two heroes anyway, does a bit better with this fresh contextualization. (Though as a sidebar: I am unnecessarily annoyed by her name being short for 'Saltherine'.) We'd grocked before that she was a princess who'd set out on a journey for largely personal reasons, but seeing where she actually came from adds some appreciable perspective. In that respect, it's effective to have Mikoto around to demonstrate what was nice about her kingdom, contrasted with Sally's admittedly stock desire to shake the dust of this crummy little town off her feet and see the world! And I like how her story of making that choice takes some different turns from what we're conditioned to expect: that the initial danger that motivated her father to try to finally send her on her way ended up being neutralized without incident thanks to Mikoto, or how she then took her time to really arrive at her decision and how she'd go about it afterwards, parting amicably with her father instead of 'running away'. Then there's the amusing context of her trek at the very end, that being on a 'journey' involves a lot more boring walking across terrain than adventurous stories might lead you to believe, right before we see her stumble across that fateful encounter with Frau. I'd say that makes Sally's portion of this episode mostly work the way it's intended, both as a true premiere and as a clarifying entry airing later.
The rest of the episode is about showing off the way you'd expect a premiere to. It's worth noting that while there are a couple of neat visual flourishes to Mikoto's climactic fight with the Oni, it's nothing especially extravagant, animation-wise. Also, as with the whole aspect of Mikoto's distressing disposition he shifts into when in Oni-murdering mode, the sudden blood-spattered violence of the combat here rings just a little less surprising when we've already seen that aspect entertained in the latter episodes we saw first. It's mostly been an odd distraction previously, so even here it mostly feels like a reminder of "Oh right, that's a thing this series does". Though hey, that shot of Mikoto and Sally being separated by an impassable wall of gore as a symbol of the then-incompatible worlds they're living in is an admittedly cool visual. That type of criticism is the most faint praise I can probably damn this episode with: On its own it functions just fine, but had this been the actual first episode of the season, it probably wouldn't have gotten people talking about the show any more than the second episode did.
Peach Boy Riverside is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.
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