“If you fall behind, run faster. Never give up, never surrender, and rise up against the odds.” –Jesse Jackson
After seeing Symboli Rudolf take yet another title, a young Tokai Teio is inspired to become the best that she can be and earn a Triple Crown. Years later, Tokai Teio becomes a student at Tracen Academy and has cultivated a reputation for being undefeated. However, when she sustains a minor injury after her latest win, her physician suggests that she not raced until spring arrives. While she isn’t able to recover in time for the Kikka Sho, Tokai Teio nonetheless remains optimistic that she can still retain her old goal of remaining undefeated. She is further inspired by Mejiro McQueen’s recent victory and promises to push herself further, but when the pair end up racing in a long-distance competition, Tokai Teioi becomes injured yet again while Mejiro McQueen takes the win. Although disheartened, Tokai Teio continues putting her best effort in supporting Team Spica, even encouraging a distraught Rice Shower to race in the Spring Tennōshō despite having drawn the crowd’s ire for breaking Mihono Bourbon’s winning streak. With encouragement from Mihono Bourbon and Tokai Teioi, Rice Shower ends up participating in the Spring Tennōshō against Mejiro McQueen and defeats her. This stuns the audience, but McQueen thanks Rice Shower for a good race, rallying the audience. Inspired to beat Rice Shower and avenge Mejiro McQueen, Tokai Teio begins training again, only to suffer from yet another fracture in her leg. Heartbroken, Tokai Teio turns down words of encouragement from a fan and fellow horse girl, Kitasan Black. Meanwhile, Team Canopus’ Twin Turbo is determined to race against Tokai Teio, having been encouraged to do her best, and when Tokai Teio declines her invitation to compete, Twin Turbo is heartbroken, promising to reach a point where Tokai Teio will notice her one day. Later With the news that her odds of returning to peak condition are low, Tokai Teio loses hope and tenders her resignation from Team Spica after watching Mejiro McQueen train. Hoping to send Tokai Teio’s career off properly, Team Spica puts on an appreciation event for her. Seeing the energy in the crowd, and the sheer effort Twin Turbo’s put in to one day meet her on the track, Tokai Teio decides to make one final comeback. During a Halloween celebration, Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen make it plain they openly admire and respect one another. They begin to train for their next race, but Mejiro McQueen develops Suspensory Desmitis, a swelling in the limbs. This condition is chronic, and Mejiro McQueen refuses to accept that her career is over. She runs off, but Tokai Teio manages to locate her and promises that they’ll continue to support one another. Tokai Teio thus accepts a chance to participate in the Arima Kinen, a G1-tier race where participants are picked from a popular vote. Although Tokai Teio hasn’t formally competed in over a year and is going up against Biwa Hayahide, who’s never placed lower than second in any race, her feelings allow her to overcome all odds and win for Mejiro McQueen. Some time later, Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen train with one another to have the race against one another they’d wished to have.
Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season represents a return to the world that P.A. Works’ 2018 anime had introduced. Here in the second season, Uma Musume Pretty Derby is able to capitalise on established mechanics and a familiar setting to explore characters in a way that the first season had not: by now, Special Week, Tokai Teio, Mejiro McQueen, Gold Ship, Vodka and Daiwa Scarlet have become familiar names, and with the first season seeing Special Week beginning to realise her dreams of being the top horse girl in all of Japan, her story drew to a close, allowing the story to switch its focus over to Tokai Teio, who had been a spirited and energetic horse girl who helped Special Week to learn the basics behind victory concerts in the first season. Beyond Tokai Teio’s cheerful demeanour lies someone who is determined to excel, and entering the second season, Tokai Teio has her sights set on a lofty goal: to follow in the footsteps of Symboli Rudolf and become undefeated. However, after a series of injuries stop her from performing at her best, Tokai Teio begins to lose hope even as Mejiro McQueen pushes herself further so that she may compete with Tokai Teio on an even footing. As Tokai Teio sits out numerous races and watches as her friends and rivals push themselves further, she becomes increasingly downtrodden, even contemplating stepping down. Similarly, when Mejiro McQueen is diagnosed with a serious, long-term injury and told her racing career is at a close, she is heartbroken and refuses to accept this. The portrayal of injury amongst athletes in Uma Musume Pretty Derby is a respectful one in showing the physical and mental impact such incidents may have. Even if an injury heals fully, one’s mind may subconsciously grow concerned and hold one back, while more serious injuries, which threaten one’s very livelihood, can indeed feel like the end of the world. Even professional athletes are not immune to this: after undergoing surgery for a hip injury, Calgary Flames centre Sean Monahan was unable to perform as he previously had. Reassigned to the fourth line where he had previously played along Jonny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, Monahan was ultimately sidelined for the remainder of this season, and his future with the Flames remains unknown. Reality is harsh, but in anime, writing does allow for a more optimistic (if somewhat implausible) message to be shown: it is ultimately Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen opening up to one another and admitting that they’d found inspiration and support in one another, that allow the two to find their footing anew. Thus, after nearly a year of recuperating from her injury, Tokai Teio manages to win the G1 Arima Kinen race for McQueen to show her the extent of her thanks. The second season makes considerably greater use of theatrics to convey a much more dramatic emotional story behind how horse girls handle injury and tough matters related to their careers as racers, differentiating itself from the first season. In captalising on the series’ having already established its premise, Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season is able to delve into a different side of horse racing in their universe to show how adversity appears unexpectedly, but in spite of this, can nonetheless be overcome with spirit and support from those around oneself.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season opens with a younger Tokai Teio becoming inspired to enroll at Tracen Academy and follow in the footsteps of Symboli Rudolf. Because Uma Musume Pretty Derby is based off real-world horses and their histories, the dynamic between Tokai Teio and Symboli Rudolf is inspired by the fact that Symboli Rudolf fathered Tokai Teio. While things work a little differently in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, relationships among the horse girls’ real world counterparts are subtly referenced, much as how the kan-musume of Kantai Collection and ship girls of Azur Lane have traits and dynamics mirroring their namesakes.
- To draw parallels between Tokai Teio and Symboli Rudolf, Uma Musume Pretty Derby introduces two new horse girls: Kitasan Black and Satono Diamond. Satono Diamond (left) deeply admires Mejiro McQueen, and Kitasan Black (right) is a Tokai Teio fan. They frequently attend races involving the two, and while two older, male fans attempt to break down and analyse the horse girls, their previous stats and trends, and the current track conditions, Kitasan Black and Satono Diamond frequently override them, feeling spirit and determination is more useful a metric than numbers.
- These moments become quite amusing, since they would suggest that while hard data and qualitative metrics can be indicative of trends in the long run, anything goes in the heat of a competition. This is why in something like the NHL, it is possible for a team higher in the standings to be blown out of the water by a team that isn’t even in the playoffs depending on the game. Indeed, it was nice to see Kitasan Black and Satono Diamond supporting their favourite racers right alongside the crowds, and Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season opens with Tokai Teio on a very strong footing.
- Having already seen Special Week rise in the ranks to fulfil a longstanding promise in the first season, watching Tokai Teio smash all competition to achieve her dreams would be a retreading of a familiar experience. As such, Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season deals with the trickier topic of injury. The first season had touched upon this, seeing Silence Suzuka take a fracture whilst racing, and concern for her well-being had led Special Week’s own training to suffer. Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season can be seen as being the equivalent of seeing Special Week being an experienced racer who must deal with the aftermath of being diagnosed with a string of injuries that threaten her future.
- What I had particularly liked about Tokai Teio was Machiko Saitō’s performance: while I’m only familiar with her role as Serina Nishiyam from Sansha Sanyō, Saitō’s delivering of Tokai Teio’s dialogue brought to mind the likes of Miku Itō (The Aquatope on White Sand‘s Kukuru Misakino and Locodol‘s Nanako Isami). Although doing her best to maintain a cheerful and optimistic manner, one of the aspects Uma Musume Pretty Derby strove to cover in its second season was how having one’s purpose threatened can be devastating: even Tokai Teio begins to lose hope at times in the series.
- Her first injury is of limited consequence: Vodka, Daiwa Scarlet, Special Week, Gold Ship and Mejiro McQueen are relieved to learn that Tokai Teio is back in fighting shape, and the trainer prepare both for the Spring Tennōshō race. This 3.2-kilometre run favours Mejiro McQueen, whose specialty is long-distance races. Conversely, Tokai Teio excels in shorter sprints. To ensure both his racers put in their best and not allow their friendship to hold them back, the trainer sets both with separate training regimens and asks that they do their preparations independently.
- For Mejiro McQueen, her training entails jumping with weighted shoes so she can develop improved power for the end of a fierce race. Mejiro McQueen graduates from jumping over inanimate objects to using Gold Ship, and while this works, whenever Special Week gets distracted as a result of a nearby ice cream truck, Gold Ship pays the price. This small bit of recurring humour reminds viewers that despite her regal nature and drive to excel, Mejiro McQueen is still subject to the same feelings and thoughts as other horse girls.
- Meanwhile, Tokai Teio excels with power, but her endurance is much weaker. To ensure she can keep up in the Spring Tennōshō, her training entails running for distances equivalent to the race’s distance, and with her injury seemingly in the rear-view mirror, Tokai Teio is confident that she has the strength to now keep up with Mejiro McQueen and surprise her once the race reaches its final stretch. Both Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen enter the Spring Tennōshō with no intention of losing, but despite the friendly banter exchanged, the pair do genuinely care for one another.
- One aspect of Uma Musume that has always stood out to me was the sportsmanship shown: rivals are presented as those who push one to be their best self, and loses are taken in stride. As such, even when Mejiro McQueen prevails over Tokai Teio at this race, there are no hard feelings. Tokai Teio’s only sorrow is the fact that she lost, but beyond this, she makes to embrace Meijiro McQueen and congratulate her on putting on a strong showing. On the side, it was fun to watch Kitasan Black and Satono Diamond cheer for their respective heroes.
- Unlike Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s first season and BNW’s Oath, the second season is animated by Studio Kai: Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season was their debut, and they promptly followed up with Super Cub. Despite the high bar that P.A. Works had set through Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s first season, Studio Kai did a solid job with the second season: the characters still look like their season one counterparts, a consequence of the same character designers being retained, and overall, the art and animation are of a generally good quality. The races remain just as engaging, and while P.A. Works have slightly more fluid and expressive animations here, Studio Kai manages to keep up.
- When Rice Shower wins a race but becomes downtrodden that she’d managed to beat out even Mihono Bourbon, a focused and dedicated horse girl, she decides to sit out the Spring Tennōshō, fearing that all she does is bring despair to those who race. It takes some effort to convince Rice Shower to take things up again, and speaking again to the sportsmanship in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, Mihono Bourbon isn’t particularly worried that Rice Shower has beaten her: she even helps Tokai Teio to encourage Rice Shower to join the Spring Tennōshō.
- In Uma Musume Pretty Derby, weather plays a role in helping to portray the emotional tenour of a scene. The excitement and energy of both races and everyday life is, unsurprisingly, set under brilliant blue skies and fair weather, while revelations take place during sunsets. Moments where despair threatens to overtake hope, on the other hand, are set under cloudy, rainy skies. Whether or not a studio uses weather is dependent on the sort of story a given anime aims to tell: using symbolism through weather allows for things to be conveyed more succinctly, but it can also be cliché to do so.
- In the end, encouraged to do her best, Rice Shower participates in the race and stomps Mejiro McQueen: Mejiro McQueen had felt a terrifying aura around Rice Shower prior to the race, likening to a wild beast ready to shred her. While the audience is stunned, the horse girls themselves are pleased with the outcome; all horse girls like winning, but they like being spurred on and inspired even more, so when Rice Shower wins, it is the horse girls who applaud Rice Shower for her victory. Upset victories like these do show how who wins on a given day is determined by both statistics and trends, as well as intangible things like willpower and determination.
- This past weekend was the Easter long weekend, marking the first opportunity I had to sleep in since the move; although I make it a point to get up at a reasonable hour both on weekends and weekdays, long weekends tend to be the exception. This year, I spent yesterday sleeping in. After vacuuming in the morning and enjoying our first homemade burger at the new place, I took advantage of the time to begin exploring the area nearby under moody, overcast skies. It’d been overcast, but the weather cleared out earlier today for a few moments, affording me the chance to explore the river-side pathways further.
- Back in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, in the aftermath of her loss, Mejiro McQueen speaks to Ikuno Dictus and remarks that she’s not bothered by losing to Rice Shower half as much as she is bothered by the fact she’d let Tokai Teio down. Tokai Teio had been sent out to look for Mejiro McQueen, and overhearing this conversation encourages her. The events of the second season had made me much more fond of Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen; this is the mark of a successful series, when a story is sufficiently captivating so that one becomes invested in what happens to the characters.
- News of her latest injury as one threatening her career wrought a profound change in Tokai Teio’s spirits; previously, she’d shrugged them off and promises to get back in shape, especially since Mejiro McQueen had stated that her victory over her previously was done in a race favouring her style, and that it would be telling to race at Tokai Teio’s specialty to see if she can prevail here. However, the revelation that she might not be running again proves to be devastating: although she tries to make the most of things and spends a rare day off doing things she enjoys, there is a hollowness about things.
- Philosophers have long attempted to formalise how people define themselves. Beyond the –isms, I’ve found that only one definition really matters: a person is the sum of 1) what they can do for others vis-à-vis their skillset and 2) how they treat others. For Tokai Teio, she’s a horse girl who strives to be the best she can be and derives her identity from pushing herself further as a racer; when this is taken form her, a hollowness results, depriving Tokai Teio of both purpose and engagement. It was quite heartbreaking to see her smile anyways, putting on a brave front for those around her.
- However, the writing does appear to be on the wall: Tokai Teio tenders her withdrawal from racing and seeks out Symboli Rudolf to personally break the news. This decision cannot have been easy, and a part of me wonders what happens to horse girls once they stop racing. In reality, race horses are usually sent for other equestrian pursuits or breeding once they retire, depending on their career history (while a small percentage are slaughtered). This is never really covered in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, leaving my imagination to fill in the blanks (it’s not a stretch to assume that horse girls could become trainers and commentators, or otherwise exit the field and pursue other careers).
- Although more grim than its predecessors, Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season still has its moments of humour. Here, Hana reacts after her phone rings while she’s attempting to overhear a conversation between Symboli Rudolf and Tokai Teio; the sharp contrast between the serious and comedic has long been a contention in the anime community; some feel that the juxtaposition breaks the emotional tenour of a moment, while others find that this serves to create a release in the tension. There is no right or wrong answer. For me, I find that in anime that are generally lighter in tone, the approach works well.
- Whether it was a consequence of the series being well-written, or because of post-relocation stress amplifying my sensitivity to things, I found Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season to be a more emotional journey than the first season and BNW’s Oath. Seeing Tokai Teio’s spirit falter and having her seriously considering stepping down was tangibly felt, and the remainder of Team Spica’s reactions mirrors my own: I was close to crying, myself, on more than one occasion. Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season kept me guessing as to where it would turn up, and this was an element that proved most unexpected.
- Whereas Tokai Teio had intended to announce her retirement and put on one final concert for her fans, seeing the energy in the crowd, from aspiring horse girl Kitasan Black, to those who’ve been rooting for her since day one, Tokai Teio is taken aback. However, it is one final stunt from Team Canopus that really changes Tokai Teio’s mind: Twin Turbo might not be in the same tier as she is, but seeing the grit and determination she has in winning her G3 race for the purpose of one day proving she can run alongside Tokai Teio is moving beyond words. The concert ends up pushing Tokai Teio to return to the track, and she starts training again in earnest in the hopes of running again in a race.
- Generally speaking, once I have an inkling of what the theme in a given series is, I can guess at the outcomes with reasonable accuracy. With Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season, it was clear that this series was going to be about picking oneself up and finding a new way forward when one path closes, but how the series would go about doing this was tough to guess, since Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen would alternatively get injured, and falter in their resolve until the other picked them up. Here, Tokai Teio decides that one of the things she needs to do before formally retiring is thank those around her, and while it’s easy with the remainder of Team Spica, the hesitation Tokai Teio exhibits is, as Mejiro McQueen puts it, akin to a kokuhaku.
- In the end, it is support from Satono Diamond and Kitasan Black that Tokai Teio finds her way: she has the pair thank one another as a show of how it’s done, and quickly finds that embarrassment is natural. Because Satono Diamond and Kitasan Black are so close, being put on the spot makes them nervous, and Tokai Teio is able to spot this. She decides to take a different approach in thanking Mejiro McQueen, taking her on a date of sorts to a local Halloween Festival and capitalising on the environment to lighten things up.
- The friendship among horse girls in Uma Musume Pretty Derby is one of the anime’s great strengths: in the game setting, players take on the trainer’s role and simply build their own teams, pit their horse girls in races and unlock various things for them. While character traits are outlined, in the absence of a highly sophisticated algorithms that create behaviours which pass a Reverse Turing Test (to a computer, another computer appears human), it is unlikely that one would be able to see such friendships in the games. This is where the anime comes in, where writers can really portray the bonds amongst the characters.
- While Mejiro McQueen had been a steadfast presence throughout Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season, promising to do her best no matter what happened to Tokai Teio, once her own future’s on the line, she experiences what Tokai Teio had been feeling. Where Tokai Teio had attempted to cope with things by busying herself with other tasks and supporting Team Spica in her own way, Mejiro McQueen is completely unprepared to handle things. She goes off for a run, hoping to convince herself that everything will be fine, but her leg begins acting up, and she crumbles to the ground in tears. This was easily one of the most rending moments in the whole of the second season.
- Saori Ōnishi delivers Mejiro McQueen’s lines, and her tears here brought to mind a moment from SaeKano: Fine. As it turns out, Ōnishi also had played Eri from SaeKano, so the feelings of similarity I got stem from the fact that Eri had cried her eyes out in a similar manner after spotting that she never had a chance with Tomoya. Seeing what running means to Mejiro McQueen leads her to make a promise: earlier, Tokai Teio had reluctantly agreed to throw her hat back into the ring after seeing the sheer support for her at the appreciation event, and now that Mejiro McQueen’s future is unclear, Tokai Teio comments on how things seem insistent on preventing the two from racing together. In spite of this, Tokai Teio promises to do her best for Mejiro McQueen so that they can fulfil their promises to one another.
- After a fierce race, Tokai Teio’s raw determination to make things worthwhile for Mejiro McQueen manifests and allows her to edge out Biwa Hayahide. In the aftermath, the crowd is moved to tears with the victory: no one had been expecting Tokai Teio to perform in this race, much less take first place. Naturally, no one is crying harder than Mejiro McQueen: for her, seeing the sheer resolve in Tokai Teio shows her the extent to which the latter is willing to go to keep their promise, and even with the condition that she’d been afflicted with, Tokai Teio isn’t about to give up on having a proper race with Mejiro McQueen, to be the rival she needs to go further.
- Any anime whose intent is to promote a game is successful if it is able to persuade me to at least look at the game. Previously, while I had fun watching Azur Lane and Kantai Collection, both anime were unsuccessful. Girls’ Frontline‘s anime similarly did not impress. However, Valkyria Chronicles and Kandagawa Jet Girls created considerably more excitement; Uma Musume Pretty Derby joins the ranks of Valkyria Chronicles and Kandagawa Jet Girls for motivating me to at least look at the game, and I might have actually picked up Uma Musume Pretty Derby had it been available in my country’s App Store. This speaks to the quality of the anime itself, for warming me up to the characters and their experiences.
- Overall, Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season earns an A- grade: for taking the world its predecessor built out and exploring a direction that had been touched on during the first season, the second season created an emotional and impactful portrayal of what racing means to each horse girl. Seeing Tokai Teio come back, time and time again, to both find her place in the sun and encourage Mejiro McQueen, plus countless others, to do the same. With the second season of Uma Musume Pretty Derby in the books, I’m now finished the series in full. Uma Musume Pretty Derby has demonstrated that it is a series capable of exploring even nooks and cranies, from the rivalries between Vodka and Daiwa Scarlet, to Rice Shower’s own drive to succeed, or what experiences Kitasan Black and Satono Diamond have once they enroll at Tracen. The possibilities are endless, and although I do not anticipate that Uma Musume Pretty Derby will continue as an anime, the series does show that this universe is well-written enough so that separate anime could be created for the different horse girls, and all of them would likely end up being enjoyable to watch, as well.
Through season two, Uma Musume Pretty Derby demonstrates how anime adapted from games can find immense success even as standalone experiences. With the first season establishing the universe and its traits, Uma Musume Pretty Derby presented a plausible world that was sufficiently explained so that one could really focus on the horse girls and their aspirations. Special Week’s story is a classic Cinderella story, providing newcomers with a starry-eyed character to root for. However, with the appeal of this past, Uma Musume Pretty Derby turns its attention towards a more serious topic, but still strikes a balance between these heavier matters and the cheerful, hilarious antics Uma Musume Pretty Derby is known for. In this way, Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season is able to show that such worlds can explore more involved topics while at the same time, remain respectful of the original aesthetics, to create a series that is engaging in its own way. This is a lesson that anime adaptations of games would be well-served to follow; Azur Lane had ultimately created a much stronger presentation in its slice-of-life spinoff, Slow Ahead!, while Kantai Collection has a second season, Itsuka Ano Umi de, coming out in the fall. Both Kantai Collection and Azur Lane had suffered because, rather than focusing on the characters and building the stories around their experiences, the story was written around game mechanics instead. Slow Ahead! managed to overcome this by allowing the characters to bounce off one another, showing how they were able to stand on their own experiences without the combat elements. As such, with both Azur Lane and Uma Musume Pretty Derby setting the precedence, Kantai Collection: Itsuka Ano Umi de at the very least, has the basis for how a continuation can be creatively utilised to explore aspects of a world in greater depth without re-treading familiar ground. Although Kantai Collection might be an older series, there remains the possibility that it could tell a standalone, and satisfying experience that shows viewers another side of the world that the game normally would not portray to create a more compelling sense that these settings are full-fledged places of discovery and exploration – in fact, with Uma Musume Pretty Derby having set the precedence for how such a series might turn out, expectations are high for Itsuka Ano Umi de to do the same for Kantai Collection and breathe some life into a series whose popularity had been on the decline since its pinnacle some seven years earlier.