Starting off Peach Boy Riverside with a multi-episode review lets us immediately address the elephant in the room: the episodes of this anime adaptation of the manga will be airing out of order from when they were produced, in which the story is supposed to proceed. This seems to be less of a calculated effect like it was in Princess Principal, and more of a stunt similar to the airing of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which I'm sure all you kids remember. (*Checks when the Haruhi anime first came out* *Crumbles into dust*) Anyway, if you believe the press releases on this, the shuffling is being done to create better overall pacing, as adapting an unfinished manga means they apparently won't have a clean ending to wrap things on. That sort of issue is nothing new for modern adaptations, of course, but what else screams 'better pacing' than repeatedly jumping around in plot progression and character introductions?
Anyway, the 'first' two episodes of the refreshingly abbreviated PBR actually do connect up to one another and make for a solid introduction to this series, even though we are starting with what is technically the second episode. In the interest of structural synergy, however, feel free to read the paragraphs of this review in whatever order you prefer! Picking up with Sally in media res on some sort of journey, seeing her meet Frau, and being taken through the basics of how this little fantasy world works is functional and interesting enough, if not a little disjointed in the various setpieces and sections we see them go through. It's mostly in the name of harping on the theme of prejudice against Frau's race of Demihumans, which is odd as that element has yet to be mentioned again in any of the following episodes. It all can lend to a sense of too much going on before the second (technically third!) episode picks up and settles into the simple pleasures of depicting sick shonen-style superpower fights against Oni.
It's kind of wild, since one can see how, with the first episode properly placed before these two, this stretch could make for an effective 'three episode rule'-friendly introduction to the story. While there's obviously some initial characterization for Sally and her counterpart Mikoto that we're missing out on, we get to see both of them propelled into action, there's plenty of worldbuilding laid out, and it ends on a massive twist/cliffhanger which we can figure leads into the journey propelling the show for the foreseeable future. There's a climax to the big fights happening, with glimpses into how Sally and Mikoto do battle while leaving enough gaps for them to show off later in the version of the show that airs in order. And at least the opening arcs of other characters Meki and Hawthorn are preserved as they end up added to Sally and Frau's party by the end.
Those little side-character progressions end up being most of the non-fight content to glom onto for the first two episodes, as Sally's entire deal remains shrouded in mystery and Frau ends up being kind of a non-entity after that first episode. Hawthorn mostly gets by being pleasant and decent even in the face of the Demihumans and Oni that society expects him to rail against, so it's easy to see how he'll fit into this story's ongoing quest for understanding between the races. Meki, meanwhile, has an interesting origin for her adventures that is woven through both of the Momotaro-magic-posessed main characters so far, stripped of her abilities in a way that strands her identity not-quite between the human and Oni sides. There's some legwork to be done, as it's made clear in a couple instances that she's already murdered a whole buncha humans in her previous proper-Oni days, but shown the brighter side of humanity and forced into travels alongside the others, there's potential to see some earned, incremental growth in her worldview!
So of course the third episode is one that jumps an unknown number of airings ahead in the timeline. Meki's going by 'Carrot' now, she and the other heroes are socializing without incident, and we seem to be setting up for some tournament arc involving the established characters and several others that apparently got introduced in the interim. Look, I'm trying to be understanding with the situation that Peach Boy Riverside has asked us to engage with it on, but this is probably going to be a recurring point of contention with these reviews. Mikoto is still around, he's apparently joined up with a tiny nun named Millia, and Sally's interactions with him now seem to be less about tracking him down so much as bumping into him whenever they're in town together.
Probably the biggest issue brought on by this bizarre choice in format is how the motivations of the characters are presented. The 'third' episode dramatically ends on Sally being forced to make a choice between joining forces with either Mikoto or Sumeragi, a villain we properly meet for the first time here. So without any establishment of what Sally's relation with either Mikoto or the Oni are (seemingly forthcoming in the next episode, the proper series premiere), there's no weight to this cliffhanger, and we aren't going to get to see the resolution to it next week anyway! In context, I believe that PBR was competent enough at outlining its situations to make this bit mean something, but as-is, it has the same feeling of trying to figure out the context from watching a random episode of a late-night Action Channel anime you aren't caught up on. (Aw jeez, that's an even more anachronistic reference than the Haruhi thing!)
That's the best I can do to engage with Peach Boy Riverside at this point. It could be working right now, but the most I can do is give it that benefit of the doubt. It does mostly look nice enough; one advantage of the odd airing structure, I suppose, is that we can presume they've got the production on all of these episodes mostly done by this point. There are some moments of stiffness, especially in the first episode, as well as a notable oddity for creatures like the walrus Oni or Mikoto's canine companion to speak without moving their mouths. But the fights still have flashes of fluid flourishes, and especially by the third episode, there's a nice amount of movement to the character acting that makes everything feel lively enough even as you're desperately trying to place exactly what's going on. But with only the most basic "Figure it out for yourself" context at play here, it adds a dimension of frustration to a series that otherwise might have worked as a simple spectacle. It'll be interesting to see how the show, and my feelings on it, crystalize as things get pieced together over the course of the season, since right now the out-of-order gimmick is far less of a boon and more of a boondoggle.
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.