“Be wary of the horse with a sense of humour.” –Pam Brown
Everyday life at Tracen Academy continues at a leisurely pace for the Horse Girls, who participate in everything from enjoying sweets and experimenting with new techniques for winning races, to telling scary stories and changing up their appearances through fashion. Umayon 2 is a continuation of the series of shorts that accompany Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and similarly to its predecessor, consists of unrelated vignettes that bring to life the nonsensical, but adorable moments that act as highlights to some of Tracen’s Horse Girls lives outside of their competitions. Although shorter than its predecessor (Umayon 2‘s episodes have about a minute of content, versus the three minutes in Umayon episodes), these short episodes still remain quite entertaining and remind viewers that there is much that can be done with Uma Musume Pretty Derby. Animation studios are evidently thinking along similar lines – announcements for a new OVA, Road to the Top! and a third season, were made recently, and this has generated considerable excitement amongst fans of Uma Musume Pretty Derby: the series’ main stories have been generally met with positive reception, and the Uma Musume Pretty Derby universe has been unexpectedly well-presented, combining the large cast of the mobile game and its mechanics with a meaningful story that gives viewers incentive to root for the series’ respective protagonists. The first season saw Special Week rising to the occasion on her quest to become the best in Japan, while the second season portrayed Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen’s struggles with injuries, as well as their unwavering determination to be their best for the other’s sake. According to the Uma Musume Pretty Derby website, the third season will follow Kitasan Black and Satono Diamond, and is slated for a release later this year. If previous seasons are a precedence, then it is expected that this third season will be quite compelling to watch, as well.
Although Uma Musume Pretty Derby appears to be little more than a glorified track-and-field sports anime at first glance, closer inspection finds a series that brings the roster management elements in the mobile game into an animated format that focuses on specific characters to give viewers more insight about members of the cast that the game itself cannot convey. To this end, elements unique to the world in Uma Musume Pretty Derby are depicted with a high level of detail. The Horse Girls are treated with respect and have access to top-of-the-line facilities for training, and their competitions draw a considerable amount of interest. The world itself is lived-in, giving a sense of energy and enthusiasm for the Horse Girls and their race events. However, beyond this, every individual Horse Girl is shown as having their own stories and motivations for being their best. Beyond merely being an animated incarnation of their game forms, the Horse Girls have unique struggles, friendships and reasons for wanting to be at the top of their game on the track. Setbacks only spur them to fight harder, but encouragements from both friends and rivals also drive individual Horse Girls to push their limits further still, resulting in a surprisingly gripping and emotionally-rivetting experience. In short, Uma Musume Pretty Derby is successful because the anime is able to simultaneously give viewers reason to root for a season’s protagonists while at the same time, showing the world of Uma Musume Pretty Derby as one that’s been thoughtfully laid out. Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s first season had been enjoyable, but the BNW’s Oath OVAs and second season definitively demonstrated that the Horse Girls’ stories could have a considerable weight behind them, as well, and with the sheer number of characters in this world, the potential for exploring this universe, and the Horse Girls’ stories further, remains limitless.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Traditionally, discussions of chibi spin-offs are difficult to write for, since these are meant purely for comedy rather than advancing the stories. However, the short format and lack of an overarching story hasn’t taken away from my enjoyment of these spin-offs: it is always fun to see the characters bouncing off one another in an environment removed from the gravity that accompanies a full-length anime series.
- In Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season, Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen had both been put through an emotional grinder – Tokai Teio’s numerous injuries had prevented her from racing at her best, and although Mejiro McQueen had dominated their races, she herself would suffer from a condition that limits her days as a racer. I had admittedly been a little skeptical about shifting the focus over to Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen from the first season’s Special Week and Silence Suzuka, but the end result had proven to be solid.
- Seeing the format in Uma Musume Pretty Derby would actually lead me to draw a new conclusion about series like Strike Witches and Girls und Panzer: in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, after a satisfactory story has been told about a group of characters, in any story where world-building is solid, it is possible to change the focus over to different characters and explore things for other characters. This approach allows an anime to continuously build upon the world while at the same time, ensuring that every season is a self-contained unit that does not leave viewers hanging.
- In Girls und Panzer, for example, once Miho and Ooarai had won their championship, from a narrative and thematic standpoint, Miho had completed her journey of growth (or at least, almost, but this will be a discussion for another time), so there is technically no need to revisit Ooarai in future runs. Since Girls und Panzer shows the presence of numerous other schools, the story could show Panzerfahren from a different school’s perspective, and in turn, present different challenges and experiences.
- Uma Musume Pretty Derby has done precisely this, and this leaves viewers with self-contained stories in every season that are not dependent on a priori knowledge. This allows people to watch Uma Musume Pretty Derby in any order of their choosing and also lowers the barrier of entry to the series: if one entered Uma Musume Pretty Derby through the second season and Tokai Teio’s struggles, for instance, they are not dependent on having seen the first season and Special Week’s aspirations to follow along.
- Although Uma Musume Pretty Derby might be an anime adaptation of a game, the series has found its footing and tells compelling stories that connect viewers to the characters. In this arena, Uma Musume Pretty Derby succeeds in doing what Kantai Collection could not: the anime has piqued my interest in the mobile game. Despite its popularity, Uma Musume Pretty Derby remains unavailable to overseas players and has not been internationalised, which is a shame because the game actually looks fun to play.
- Umayon 2‘s episodes are shorter than those of its predecessors, and as such, there’s only enough time to build up for one joke per episode. In spite of this, Umayon 2 still manages to be funny in its own right, counting on non sequitur humour to drive things. The chibi designs are adorable, and I am reminded of both Kaginado and Strike Witches: Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, which had similarly adopted a distinct art style to convey the sort of light-heartedness their original series did not.
- Because of the very large cast, Umayon 2 does viewers the courtesy of naming all of the characters that appear so one can immediately get a refresher on who’s who. Traditionally, in any series with a large number of characters, I don’t make any effort at learning the names of anyone outside of the core group. In Uma Musume Pretty Derby, I only learnt the names of Special Week, Silence Suzuka, Tokai Teioi, Mejiro McQueen, Gold Ship, Daiwa Scarlet and Vodka so I could discuss Team Spica. As the need arises, I’ll look up the other characters and subsequently try to associate names with faces.
- Besides its first episode, all of Umayon 2‘s episodes released all at once in December 2021. According to blog archives, I began watching Uma Musume Pretty Derby four months earlier, then became exceptionally busy ahead of preparing for the move. By the time I sat down for BNW’s Oath, it had already been six months later, and I would reach the second season a month after settling in. During last July, I wrote about Umayon, and here in the present, I’ve finally wrapped up Umayon 2.
- My timing couldn’t be better because a few days ago, one of my long-time readers had informed me of the fact that Road to the Top! and third season would come out this year. The former is scheduled for release on April 16, and while there’s no known date for the third season, the official website for Uma Musume Pretty Derby has indicated that this will release somewhere this year. Uma Musume Pretty Derby is one of the anime series I took up on recommendation from a reader, and I’ve found that nine of ten times, any recommendation that I do decide to pick up ends up being something I will come to enjoy.
- It is only in a place like Umayon 2 where unorthodox training techniques like these can be utilised: Haru Urara is shown to be experimenting with a plan for improving her racing by attaching a popsicle treat to Silence Suzuka and then keeping pace in hopes of winning the prize. In Uma Musume Pretty Derby, Haru Urara is a poor performing who never wins any races but is allowed to remain at Tracen Academy owing to her cheerful presence. The real Haru Urara similarly saw zero wins throughout her races, but remained popular enough so that she made enough income to continue racing, and after retirement, continues to live her days out peacefully in Chiba.
- One of the major appeals about Uma Musume Pretty Derby is the fact that every Horse Girl in the show is modelled after their real-life counterparts in some way, similarly to how Kantai Collection‘s Kan-musume. Small details like these allow Uma Musume Pretty Derby to give each of the characters depth, and when these elements are bought together into a story, there’s an opportunity to tell something especially meaningful. Prior to Uma Musume Pretty Derby, I’d never been interested in horse racing – generally speaking, people aren’t anywhere nearly as interested in the sport itself as they are in the gambling aspects.
- Conversely, Uma Musume Pretty Derby focuses purely on the thrill of the race itself, and why the different Horse Girls push themselves further every time they step out onto the track. By eliminating the gambling aspect outright and choosing to highlight the mental fortitude behind each race, Uma Musume Pretty Derby shows the positive aspects of horse racing that is far removed from the negative connotations surrounding the sport. I remember a lesson I picked up as a student – a talented instructor will be able to make even the most reluctant student appreciate the worth of a given subject.
- Although Tokai Teio’s plight in Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season brought me to the verge of tears on more than one occasion, Umayon 2 has her restlessly bouncing on the couch in the student council office as she tries to persuade Symboli Rudolf to race her. Anime tantrums are somehow always so adorable to behold – Japan has managed to find ways of making cute even things that wouldn’t otherwise be seen a such, and what would normally be considered a nuisance in reality somehow evokes the same feeling one might get when cuddling with a stuffed animal.
- In the end, Symboli Rudolf decides that Tokai Teio can race her if she meets a challenge: “out-eat Oguri Cap”. This was ultimately a ruse to get Tokai Teio out of her hair, and the latter ends up being destroyed in a challenge. Vignettes like these might not give any more insight into the characters of Uma Musume Pretty Derby, but for fans of the series, they remain highly entertaining. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Umayon is not for folks who’ve never seen Uma Musume Pretty Derby previously – the spin-offs are dependent on some prior knowledge of the characters, their traits and place in the Uma Musume Pretty Derby universe.
- Admittedly, I don’t pick up on all of the jokes in Umayon, and the vignette where Agnes Tachoyon and Manhattan Café discuss fashion was a little out of my depth – things end with Vodka bringing out some chains and suggested Agnes Tachoyon would look better with chains. While I may not fully understand all of the comedy in Umayon, I find that for the most part, Umayon 2 is more enjoyable than incomprehensible.
- Besides Umayon, there’s also a series of shorts called Umayuru. Similarly to Umayon, Umayuru presents the world of Uma Musume Pretty Derby from a light-hearted and comedic perspective. At this point in time, I’m not too sure if there’s merit in writing about Umayuru – I do have plans to watch it, but since the premise is quite similar to Umayon, I’m not too sure if there’s any merits in writing about things.
- I do, however, have plans to write about Road to the Top! and the third season. With this, my final post of February is complete, and looking ahead into March, the biggest posts I have lined up will be for Girls und Panzer – since October, Girls und Panzer have been celebrating their tenth anniversary, and while the promotional teams have counted the tenth anniversary from the series’ original airing point, whenever I think about Girls und Panzer, I think about March 2013. To commemorate this milestone and share some of my thoughts on what is now a decade-old series, I’ve got some posts planned out.
- Beyond this, things have also settled down enough for me to begin watching The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House. Assuming my current rate of progression, I expect to finish the series and share my thoughts on this series mid-month. March also will see Mō Ippon! conclude alongside Itsuka Ano Umi de (whose final episode was delayed all the way to March 25, coinciding with the date Girls und Panzer‘s finale aired ten years ago), and as a result of production issues, Bofuri 2 was delayed by two weeks, so I anticipate writing about its finale somewhere in April.
- If there is interest in a discussion on Umayuru, I will write about it at reader’s request. However, I imagine that the next time Uma Musume Pretty Derby graces this blog will be somewhere in late April or early May, after the Road to the Top! OVA becomes available. In the meantime, I’ve been making my way through 2016’s Girlish Number. I appreciate that some readers have been interested in my thoughts on last season’s Do It Yourself, and while that series is on my radar, I’ve also been meaning to go through some of my older series, too.
Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s success is an instance of how roster management games can translate gracefully into the animated format. Kantai Collection had been a forerunner in this regard, and in the aftermath, animated adaptations of miltary-moé games, like Girls’ Frontline, Arknights and Azur Lane followed. However, these anime are met with mixed responses from viewers: owing to the nature of the games, if a story is told around game-specific mechanics, then it becomes difficult for viewers to follow along. Moreover, the incongruity between the aesthetics and story results in a disconnect; humourous moments can seem out-of-place, and serious moments often appear excessively so, giving viewers the impression that the characters are overthinking things rather than acting with conviction. This is a non-issue in Uma Musume Pretty Derby. Races are emotionally charged and gripping, but off the track, the characters are free to be themselves. Further to this, the spirit to compete and improve is one that is universally appreciated, giving Uma Musume Pretty Derby more opportunity to draw in viewers. Through its successes, Uma Musume Pretty Derby demonstrates that roster management games don’t necessarily need to be military themed or focused on thriller elements. Sincerity and an emotional connection with the characters and their struggles are often more successful. Creating this connection with the characters is why spin-off shorts like Umayon and Umayon 2 are enjoyable for fans of the main series, acting as a means of sustaining anticipation for the upcoming Uma Musume Pretty Derby projects: it is anticipated that both Road to the Top! and the third season will be excellent additions to the Uma Musume Pretty Derby franchise, and I’m rather looking forwards to both watching and writing about them as they become available.