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Category Archives: Uma Musume Pretty Derby

Uma Musume Pretty Derby Second Season: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“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.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby OVA: BNW’s Oath Review and Reflection

“Details matter. They create depth, and depth creates authenticity.” –Neil Blumenthal

While Tracen Academy prepares for their culture festival, Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket come out of a loss that drives them apart. Student Council President Symboli Rudolf tasks Team Spica with organising a relay race to help bring the three back together, and ends up promising the participants a year’s supply of sweets to the winning team. Special Week manages to convince Winning Ticket to join the relay race, and learns that the three had become complacent after their wins. During the race they’d lost despite being favourites, Biwa Hayahide and Narita Taishin also sustained minor injuries. The next day, Team Spica’s aggressive promotion drives excitement for the relay race up, and Winning Ticket convinces Biwa Hayahide to join. However, Narita Taishin adamantly refuses to participate, and when Gold Ship’s efforts fail, Symboli Rudolf asks Daiwa Scarlet to take over. The teams begin preparing for the relay race in earnest, embarking on unorthodox training to gear up, and Daiwa learns of how prior to that fateful race, Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket were best of friends who shared a dream and a promise to race with one another. She becomes determined to bring Narita Taishin into the race no matter what: she’d lost her confidence and worries that she won’t be able to give her best. On the day of the event, Narita Taishin is nowhere in sight, forcing Team Spica to arrange for a backup plan: a stand-in for Narita Taishin while Daiwa Scarlet continues to search for her. The race kicks off strong, and although the racers experience a few setbacks, they soon enter the final leg of the race. However, Biwa Hayahide unexpectedly develops a fever, and Narita Taishin apologises for having been so indecisive. She resolves to race, and Narita Brian decides to step in for Biwa Hayahide. In the end, the three put in their fullest effort and cross the finish line together, but because the other racers had committed fouls during the race, every team is disqualified from the prize of unlimited sweets for a year. However, Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket have fun and recall the joys of racing alongside one another again. Later, Team Spica head over to Osaka to watch Gold Ship race in the G1. While Gold Ship’s showboating costs her the start, Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket participate in this race, as well, and they fight neck-and-neck for first. Biwa Hayahide takes the win, but Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket are ecstatic to be able to run with one another again, fulfilling a longstanding promise they’d vowed to keep. This brings the Uma Musume Pretty Derby OVAs, titled BNW’s Oath (BNW no Chikai) to a close: these OVAs that accompanied Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s fourth and final BD release back in December 2018.

Although Uma Musume Pretty Derby had predominantly focused on Special Week and her quest to become Japan’s Greatest Racehorse™ as a member of Team Spica, the series had also established that Tracen Academy is home to horse girls of all backgrounds, each with their own aspirations, failures and triumphs. BNW’s Oath focuses on three other horse girls, Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket, and despite only having three episodes’ worth of space, Uma Musume Pretty Derby manages to create a sufficiently compelling story behind each of these horse girls, motivating their path to reconciliation with one another after a loss, and along the way, the OVA frames everything around an exciting event which sees the other horse girls from the main series return. Uma Musume Pretty Derby demonstrates that every horse girl has her own story to tell; while Special Week had been crying her eyes out after her first major loss and dealing with Silence Suzuka’s injury, the others at Tracen Academy each face their own trials and tribulations. This creates a considerable sense of depth in the Uma Musume Pretty Derby universe – every race has weight and feeling behind it. In this way, P.A. Works’ adaptation of the mobile game is able to succeed in doing something that few anime based on gatcha games have accomplished: it creates a scenario where one cannot help but become curious about the horse girls beyond just those on Team Spica and Team Rigel, driving interest in the mobile game itself. Other anime based around gatcha-type games similarly have large casts of characters, but because of their military setting, have encountered difficulties in creating a reason to care about what are, at the end of the day, mere assets. Kantai Collection‘s anime struggled to convey what the point of the war between the Abyssals and Kan-musume were about until its film, and by then, interest in the series had waned. Azur Lane similarly presented a convoluted story during its main season, with a three-way conflict occurring between the Crimson Axis, Azur Lane and enigmatic Sirens: although viewers know there is a de facto state of war, the Siren’s goals are as mysterious as the Abyssals. Girls’ Frontline suffers from a similar problem: there are a lot of guns, and a conflict of sorts, but without the human aspect tying these together, the anime becomes difficult to follow. On the other hand, Uma Musume Pretty Derby excels at bringing a small subset of the characters to life through Team Spica, and in the OVAs, makes it clear that all of the horse girls have their own aspirations and desires. This extends to other characters that are only briefly seen in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and in doing so, viewers now have a reason to give the game a go.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Truth be told, when Uma Musume Pretty Derby had been announced, I hadn’t the remotest bit of interest in the series: derby racing isn’t something I’m terribly interested in, and at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, derby racing isn’t featured as a part of the events. A derby race refers to any horse racing where the horses’ age is restricted to three years, and was named after the Earl of Derby, who inaugurated the first race in 1780. However, horse racing itself dates back to antiquity, and the Greek’s chariot racing is one of the most popular forms of racing, eventually becoming the basis for chuck wagon racing at the Calgary Stampede.

  • The main aspect of horse-racing that’s a bit of a turn-off is the gambling piece, and despite my dislike of gambling, it is a very large industry. Uma Musume Pretty Derby does away entirely with the gambling piece and manages to weave in idol performances with horse racing using a cast of likeable characters – this in turn allowed me to watch Uma Musume Pretty Derby purely for the sport. I’m not sure what compelled me to give this series a go last August, but what I do know is that I came out of the series impressed. Framing things around Special Week allowed the series to establish what drives a horse girl, and so, it became easy to root for her and Team Spica.

  • In BNW’s Oath, Team Spica makes a return, but Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket (i.e. BNW) are the central characters. Like Uma Musume Pretty Derby had done during its regular season, BNW’s Oath combines the emotional tenour of racing and giving something one’s best with comedy and world-building. Here, Gold Ship attempts to capture Narita Taishin with the hitherto tried-and-true method of using a burlap sack. The trick is what led Special Week to join Team Spica full-time, but on Narita Taishin, who merely busts out, Gold Ship finds that getting the stars of the show together for a relay race won’t be as easy as they’d thought.

  • Team Spica is especially motivated to ensure that the relay race the Student Council suggests is a success in bringing Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket back together – the winning team is supposed to win a year’s supply of sweets, and given that sweets are taken to encompass things like cakes and pastries, there is plenty of incentive to make things work out and win. The bonds that Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket shared were strong, and the gap that resulted between the three after a particularly rough race has the others worried, hence this effort to get the three to work out their doubts together.

  • Honest, spirited and determined, Winning Ticket is the first of BNW to agree to the relay race. After Special Week recalls how their trainer had motivated her and Silence Suzuka, she attempts the same speech down to the letter. This confuses Winning Ticket, but after Mejiro McQueen and Tokai Teio show up to clarify things, Winning Ticket opens right up and appreciates the gesture, before sharing her story. She ends up accepting the offer to join the relay race, showing how Special Week’s heart is one of her strengths.

  • The Trainer and Hana share a conversation here – while Hana is presented as a no-nonsense trainer who demands the best from her students and rewards success, the trainer is a stand-in for the player. Uma Musume Pretty Derby presents him as a being much more casual and relaxed in his methods, but when the chips are down, he gets the job done as effectively as Hana: Team Spica’s success rate is such that Hana encourages her own Team Rigil to work harder so no one is trailing behind Spica. Both teams are named after famous stars: Spica is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo and has an apparent magnitude of 1.04, while Rigil is a misspelling of Rigel, the brightest star in Orion and averages a magnitude of 0.14.

  • One aspect of BNW’s Oath I particularly enjoyed was the fact that Daiwa Scarlet was given a greater chance to shine. With an idol-like composure and the ability to brighten up the days of those around her, Daiwa Scarlet is competitive and has a stubborn sense of pride. In spite of this, she genuinely cares about those around her and strives to do the best job she can. It was heartwarming to see her put in such a sincere effort to ensure the relay race’s success during the events of BNW’s Oath, and even after she takes an eye injury in the process, her determination never wavers.

  • It turns out that after Narita Taishin suffered a crushing defeat, she had considered retiring and believes that her time is over. While Narita Brian had suggested the race as a means of encouraging her, the situation is such that things appear to have backfired. Winning Ticket recalls a time when she, Biwa Hayahide and Narita Taishin would hang out at the shrine whenever it rained, and how Narita Taishin had always been around to encourage the others. Moments like these serve to show the depth of everyone’s friendships, and suggest that regardless of how tough things are in the moment, certain things will always prevail. Biwa Hayahide decides to also join the relay race, seeing this as a chance to help Narita Taishin regain her step, as well.

  • However, as the relay race approaches, Narita Taishin shows no sign of wanting to participate, leading Daiwa Scarlet to panic. Gold Ship apparently still has a plan in the works, but the frame shifts over to Narita Brian giving Narita Taishin a good luck charm and expressing her hope that the latter would change her mind. After Narita Brian leaves, Narita Taishin remarks she’s apprehensive about running again after that particular loss. The hour seems lost, and this leads viewers to conclude that whatever plan Gold Ship has, it’s not likely to be an effort to convince Narita Taishin otherwise. The horse girls’ naming have left some viewers confused (e.g. some folks wonder if Narita Taishin and Narita Brian are sisters), and given the way Uma Musume Pretty Derby works, it is clear that this universe employs a bit of fudging to allow horses from different eras and races to run together.

  • As such, the precise nature of the horse girls themselves is secondary to racing itself, and because Uma Musume Pretty Derby is built purely around building up a successful team with famous figures in horse racing history, it is okay that historical realism is discarded. It’d be the equivalent to building teams in fantasy football, where players build hypothetical teams and then use their real-world equivalent’s performance in live games to assign points, although with even more freedom (e.g. allowing Wayne Gretzky to skate alongside Matthew Tkachuk). Here, the day of the relay race has arrived, and even Broye appears to watch the spectacle.

  • Unfortunately, with no luck in convincing Narita Taishin to participate, Gold Ship’s “plan” had been to arrange for a body double to stand in for her. While this creates the illusion that the relay race is ready to roll, Gold Ship’s solution doesn’t actually address the root problem that had been affecting Biwa Hayahide and Winning Ticket: that Narita Taishin had lost her confidence. However, Gold Ship’s outrageous actions do much to lighten up the moment, and this is something that Uma Musume Pretty Derby excels in.

  • Thus, the relay race kicks off, and since BNW are set to race during the last leg, there is time yet for Daiwa Scarlet to try and encourage Narita Taishin’s participation. Throughout the course of Uma Musume Pretty Derby, P.A. Works had successfully brought the speed and intensity of every race to life through their animation. It speaks to Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s success that P.A. Works was willing to return and do an OVA: P.A. Works has previously done OVAs and movies for only their most successful series (Hanasaku Iroha received a movie in 2013, and Shirobako ended up with a pair of OVAs and film).

  • While Uma Musume Pretty Derby is not P.A. Works’ most impressive production from a backgrounds and lighting standpoint, what this anime demonstrated was that P.A. Works had overcome the challenge of animating a horse’s gait in a bipedal being: the horse girls run more as horses do than humans, but because they’re not quadrupedal, certain aspects of their gate cannot be utilised. Creating a hybrid gait between that of a sprinter and horse cannot have been easy, so the fact that P.A. Works did end up creating a natural-looking gait was an impressive bit of animation.

  • While Biwa Hayahide is in good spirits and ready to run, as is Winning Ticket, all eyes are on the cloaked “Narita Taishin”, who’s reluctant to speak. Winning Ticket attempts to cover for “Narita Taishin”; it appears she and Biwa Hayahide are both in on the ruse, as well: they’re racing to put their colleagues at ease, speaking to the camaraderie between horse girls despite the fierce competition they face on-track. In the end, thanks to the magic of storytelling, the real Narita Taishin comes around and decides that while she might’ve considered retiring, there isn’t a substitute for being able to run alongside her best friends.

  • While the big relay race was taking place, there’s also a side-event where Oguri Cap takes on a thousand bowls of udon. Although food threatens to defeat her, seeing the other horse girls race so earnestly gives her a second wind, allowing her to beat the food challenge. When everything looks like it’s fallen into place, Biwa Hayahide suddenly falls ill, having developed a fever. Seeing what this race meant to both Winning Ticket and Narita Taishin, Narita Brian steps in to ensure that the show can go on.

  • Admittedly, I’d been rooting for Special Week’s team to win the relay race, having developed a bit of a fondness for her as a result of Uma Musume Pretty Derby making her the star of the show. I have a tendency to really get behind characters that are featured in an anime, and similarly, in Kantai Collection, I became a Fubuki fan as a result of the anime giving her the most shine time, even though in game, she’s supposed to be strictly average. In Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season, Tokai Teio is going to be the lead character, and thanks to how Uma Musume Pretty Derby had established everyone, I’m looking forwards to beginning my journey here, too.

  • Because Uma Musume Pretty Derby is able to sell its world so well, the idea of horse girls giving victory concerts isn’t so far-fetched. I remember that Special Week had been so focused on training for a win that she completely neglects her singing and dancing, resulting in a bit of embarrassment after her first victory. This goes away over time, and she becomes the horse girl she’d always dreamt of being. Last season’s PuraOre! had attempted something similar, by having the Orange Monkeys perform victory concerts after every win. Viewers commented on how out-of-place this was, having forgotten that Uma Musume Pretty Derby had done something similar. As it stands, putting on a show after a win in hockey isn’t too unreasonable.

  • While circumstance causes every team to be disqualified (in turn, translating to no sweets for any of the participants), Team Spica asks the trainer if they could participate in a wager: should Gold Ship, who’s participating in this race, win, then he will take them to a sweets place. Naturally, Gold Ship botches her race, leaving Narita Taishin, Biwa Hayahide and Winning Ticket to build up an impressive lead. In the heat of the race, the three friends rediscover the joys they’d long known while pushing themselves to the limits.

  • BNW’s Oath ultimately ended up being an enjoyable addendum to Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and having now finished the OVA, I’m in a position to continue on with the second season, which began airing last year. Because I’d been completely wrapped up with Yuru Camp△ and Non Non Biyori Repeat, I didn’t have a chance to even consider catching up with Uma Musume Pretty Derby. However, because this current season’s been a little quieter (I’m only actively writing about Slow Loop at present), there’s been a bit more time to catch up on older shows that I’d not previously had the time for.

  • As BNW’s Oath draws to a close, everyone’s all smiles as Biwa Hayahide takes the win, and Narita Brian is pushed onto the stage to celebrate this moment. By this point in time, Narita Brian becomes a part of the BNW (making them the BNNW, or if one wanted to, BN²W). It’s a satisfying close to the OVA, and with this in the books now, I’m ready to watch Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season. Before I embark on this journey, however, I am in the middle of Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, which aired during the autumn of 2020 and proved unexpectedly enjoyable. On top of this, I will be participating in this iteration of #AniTwitWatches: I’d sat out Fate/Stay Night previously because a two-cour series is tricky for me to fit my schedule into, but a one-cour anime works fine for me. Moreover, the nomination I proposed, Girls und Panzer, ended up being selected, so I am able to actively enjoy this #AniTwitWatches without negatively impacting my schedule, which has only become busier as I gear up for the move.

Besides solid, engaging characters whose struggles and dreams are clearly conveyed to viewers, Uma Musume Pretty Derby also has the advantage of dealing with a topic that readily fits into reality. It is immensely difficult to relate to anthropomorphic ships fighting forgotten battles in a part of the world that may or may not exist, but in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, the idea of anthropomorphic horses striving to be the very best in a world that otherwise isn’t all that different to our own means that the premise immediately clicks. There are other people around to attend races and cheer the horse girls on every step of the way, creating a world that feels inhabited, filled with energy. The horse girls race for their families and fans, as well as one another, giving every competition weight Conversely, Girls’ Frontline, Kantai Collection and Azur Lane‘s worlds felt empty and devoid of life: without a society, their wars feel meaningless by comparison. The warmth afforded by a familiar setting is to Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s advantage, and for me, this meant I was more engaged with the world that Special Week and her friends reside in. These elements together mean that, unusual for an anime adaptation of a gatcha game, Uma Musume Pretty Derby is both able to stand of its own accord and promote interest in the mobile game. Unfortunately for me, it is not trivial to simply switch App Store regions (while guides suggest that one can create an ersatz Japanese Apple ID and use this to register, the challenge with this is that one will become desynchronised from their usual apps and be forced to switch Apple IDs constantly to get updates). Further to this, there is no English-language version of Uma Musume Pretty Derby for iOS, so players unfamiliar with Japanese will need to guess at what the controls do. While it is not possible for me to download and play Uma Musume Pretty Derby as easily as I would my usual games, I take solace in the fact that there is a second season of Uma Musume Pretty Derby. Produced by Studio Kai, this second season will focus on Tokai Teio. We’ve already seen that Uma Musume Pretty Derby has done a fantastic job of giving viewers reason to care about the characters, so I’m curious to see what awaits in this second season: I have heard that much of the cast is returning, so it will be interesting to see both older characters return, and to have new characters take centre stage.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“告訴他在擂臺上以命相搏是中國歷來的陋習, 可我們有另一種傳統叫「以武會友」!”
“He wants to kick your butt.”

–Huo Yuanjia and what the official translates things as, Fearless

Special Week is a horse girl who moves from her sleepy home town in Hokkaido to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, where she dreams of making it big at Tracen Academy and fulfil her promise to her mother to take the title of being the greatest horse girl in. On her first day in Tokyo, she becomes sidetracked and ends up watching a race featuring Silence Suzuka, a skillful horse girl known for her speed on the track, and finesse as an idol. In a turn of events that can only be chalked up to fate, Special Week and Silence Suzuka end up being roommates, and what’s more, both end up joining Team Spica. While Special Week strives to improve herself, she must also deal with her own doubts when Silence Suzuka suffers from an injury. In spite of this weighing heavily on Special Week’s mind, she continues to train and makes a new promise with Silence Suzuka: to one day race together. Special Week thus experiences the thrill of victory, and the bitterness of a loss, pushing herself further to defeat even Broye, a French horse girl of exceptional skill, in the Japan Cup. However, it is at the second Winter Dream Race where Team Spica’s horse girls finally have a chance to race one another, and while everyone is running to win, the horse girls also have fun with their race. Based on the mobile game for iOS and Android, P.A. Works’ Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s anime adaptation brings a very unique world to life to capture the spirit of the game, as well as immerse viewers in a universe where race horses from past eras are reborn as horse girls; despite the seemingly-outlandish premise, Uma Musume Pretty Derby ends up working out, being sufficiently detailed to make their world feel plausible and authentic.

When news of P.A. Works’ Uma Musume Pretty Derby reached my ears, the series had not been particularly appealing: I come from a city best known for The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth™, but horse racing had never been within my realm of interests, and I ended up skipping over the series. However, at the behest of one of my readers, I decided to give Uma Musume Pretty Derby a whirl: the series is prima facie The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth™ meets Kandagawa Jet Girls, Azur Lane and Kantai Collection, and recalling my general enjoyment of anthropomorphic anime, I figured that I hadn’t really been fair to Uma Musume Pretty Derby. Moreover, with P.A. Works helming this series, I knew that the visual quality would be typical of the studio’s usual standards. Thus, I began watching Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and by the time the first episode came to a close, I knew that this series exceeded my expectations going in. The series deals with typical messages of sportsmanship, perseverance and working hard to make promises happen, but more notably, there is no hint at all that Uma Musume Pretty Derby was from a game. The writing and world-building within the anime is seamless, and whatever mechanics drive the game are so finely woven into the story that the world feels life-like. Not very many anime can do this; Kantai Collection and Azur Lane, for instance, utilised elements pulled straight from their respective games, and even Kandagawa Jet Girls utilised the in-race commentary to help viewers keep up. On the other hand, Uma Musume Pretty Derby is able to succinctly introduce viewers into the world of horse girls without falling on game mechanics to define anything. This is ultimately Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s greatest strength, helping to create a compelling world where the elements are so naturally incorporated that one can focus on rooting for Special Week and Team Spica as they race to fulfil their aspirations.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Special Week is modelled on the Thoroughbred of the same name, with a record of 10-4-2, including the Japan Cup in 1999. Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s version of Special Week hails from Hokkaido, resembles Kandagawa Jet Girls‘ Rin Namiki in appearance and is voiced by Azumi Waki (Maika from Blend SKuma Kuma Kuma Bear‘s Fina and The Aquatope on White Sand‘s very own Tsukimi Teruya). Upon arriving in Tokyo, Special Week is overwhelmed by the sights and sounds, forgetting about her appointment at Tracen Academy and instead, winds up watching a race featuring the legendary Silence Suzuka.

  • The trainer feeling up Special Week’s thighs is about as much fanservice as Uma Musume Pretty Derby gets into; the remainder of the series is entirely focused on Special Week, her desire to become Japan’s top Horse Girl, and the friendship she strikes up at Tracen. Initially, Special Week is very shy and clumsy, although she compensates by studying hard in her courses. However, Uma Musume Pretty Derby isn’t a run-of-the-mill series about high school, and so, much of the series’ focus happens on the race track, as well as the training leading up to races.

  • Special Week’s only desire is to run on the same team as Silence Suzuka, and when she finds herself kidnapped by Team Spica, she initially tries to turn them down. However, she changes her mind almost immediately after learning Silence Suzuka (Marika Kōno, Hinako Note‘s Yua Nakajima and Sachi Tsubakimori of Slow Start), is set to join Team Spica, named after Alpha Virginis, a blue giant star that is one of the brightest stars in the sky and forms a part of the Summer Triangle along with Arcturus and Regulus.

  • From left to right, Team Spica initially is composed of Special Week, Silence Suzuka, Gold Ship, Daiwa Scarlet and Vodka. There are many names in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, far too many to memorise, but fortunately, P.A. Works is nice enough to take a leaf from Shirobako and name all of the characters with tags for out benefit. With time, folks will at least remember Team Spica’s largest players, and several of the horse girls from Team Rigil, as well.

  • While perhaps not P.A. Works’ most jaw-dropping anime, Uma Musume Pretty Derby nonetheless looks solid in terms of artwork and some of the best animation can be seen during races and victory concerts. Because this series is about horse racing, P.A. Works cuts straight to the chase, and Special Week debuts in a race that sees her take first place; despite her inexperience, Special Week is able to hold her own and win, impressing spectators with a solid first-ever showing.

  • In terms of singing and dancing, Special Week begins her journey completely unprepared to perform, and blanks out during her victory concert. These concerts allow Uma Musume Pretty Derby to combine the thrill of racing with the spectacle of an idol anime – this trend is not new, and since The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya days, anime have combined musical showmanship with their main story as a means of driving up revenue. Voice actresses also sing, and adding in music to a series means being able to use an anime to promote album sales, too. P.A. Works also takes advantage of this to showcase their fabulous animation talents.

  • With time, Special Week begins fitting in with the other members of Team Spica, even going for special training with Tokai Teio to better her singing. It turns out Special Week is motivated by a desire to excel for her both her mothers – her biological mother, who died shortly after Special Week’s birth, and her adoptive mother, who’d looked after her. To express her gratitude, Special Week promises to be “the best in Japan”, a lofty goal without a clear-cut set of criteria. The trainer helps Special Week to mold this into something more tangible, and a combination of training and her natural intuition leads her to victory in her earlier races.

  • Done purely as visual comedy, Special Week becomes engorged after eating too much during a post-race celebration. Special Week, like Akagi of Kantai Collection and Girls und Panzer‘s Hana Isuzu, eats considerably more than her peers. Folks familiar with the original Special Week mention that this is a parallel of the real horse suffering a catastrophic loss at Kyoto Daishōten after gaining weight. Animated media is typically fond of using this approach for indicating when someone’s eaten too much; while unrealistic (food is not converted into adipose tissue immediately upon consumption), it’s a quick and simple way of indicating fullness.

  • Uma Musume Pretty Derby would be dull if Special Week were to be the next Ip Man, so she also sees her share of losses; her first loss to Seiun Sky comes as she becomes distracted by her skirt not fitting correctly, and in the aftermath, although she promises Silence Suzuka that she’ll train harder, she cries into an open stump on Tracen’s campus grounds. The fact that such a stump exists for the horse girls shows that the campus is well designed, and gives horse girls a place to vent their frustrations before redoubling their efforts.

  • While Uma Musume Pretty Derby doesn’t do anything particularly novel with its themes, the main joy in this series comes from watching Special Week open up to the others; setbacks and failures help her to lean on her teammates more. In particular, despite her exceptional talents, Silence Suzuka takes a liking to Special Week – the two are roommates, and therefore able to converse with one another, sharing stories and encouragement during the evenings. The two become friends over time, rather similarly to Akagi and Fubuki in Kantai Collection, and this slowly helps Special Week to grow as a racer.

  • Uma Musume Pretty Derby originally ran in 2018’s spring season for a total of thirteen episodes, and a quick glance at the blog’s archives show that I’d been fairly busy: Comic GirlsAmanchu! Advance, and The Division had been keeping me busy, along with several anime films of the day. The archives also indicate that was when I hit a million views for the first time, as well, and looking back, I’ve covered a nontrivial range of anime here. Uma Musume Pretty Derby initially felt like one of those shows I’d have nothing to say about, but I ended up eating my words: attention to detail in world-building and the focus on racing allowed this anime to remain consistently engaging.

  • When Uma Musume Pretty Derby was airing, viewers similarly reported a solid anime whose focus on the act of racing, the training leading up to a race and the aftermath was the series’ biggest strong suit. For many, the series proved to exceed expectations: anime about mobile games occasionally count on familiarity with game mechanics to drive some of the world-building, and folks who come into the series with no prior experience may become lost at the concepts thrown their way. Uma Musume Pretty Derby does no such thing, allowing the anime to stand on its own accord.

  • One detail I particularly liked in Uma Musume Pretty Derby was the fact that Special Week’s ears wiggle, rise and fall depending on her mood. By this point in time, Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen joins the ranks of Team Spica. While the other horse girls may not get anywhere as much screen time as Special Week and Silence Suzuka, but the anime makes certain to show that the other horse girls are capable in their own right, winning races to the best of their ability.

  • A longstanding part of anime I’ve always enjoyed is watching characters bounce off one another or have fun when away from their arena. Details like Daiwa Scarlet’s constant rivalry with Vodka, or the fact that Gold Ship’s teasing of Mejiro McQueen always ends with the former poking her eye do much to give the horse girls character. Series like Kantai Collection and Azur Lane similarly give their characters eccentricities based on their namesakes’ history and real-world traits, and it takes no small amount of writing to work everything into a game.

  • While Japanese games may not possess the same level of technical awe that Western triple-A titles have (Uma Musume Pretty Derby and Azur Lane can run off a mobile phone’s hardware and command a sizeable player-base despite lacking real time ray-tracing, for instance), they offset this by taking characterisation to a whole new level. A major part of these games is getting invested with the characters and their stories, representing a pleasant change of pace from Western titles, where the spectacle and skill-ceiling is where the fun lies.

  • Food is a secondary aspect in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, but in the typical P.A. Works fashion, it is still beautifully rendered. Watching the horse girls let loose at parties is always fun, especially whenever Special Week puts away an insane amount of food at various events.

  • Sportsmanship is easily the best aspect in Uma Musume Pretty Derby: the horse girls are competitive and driven, but handle winning and losing very gracefully. Here, Silence Suzuka and El Condor Pasa exchange words before a big race, challenging the other to bring out their best for a good match. El Condor Pasa is bold, flashy and confident, possessing the skill to back her words, but in this race, Silence Suzuka suffers an injury that knocks her out of the game, leaving El Condor Pasa to win. In the aftermath, El Condor Pasa is devastated, and it was ultimately Special Week who tends to Silence Suzuka until medics arrive.

  • Special Week thus focuses a great deal of her time towards Silence Suzuka’s recovery, visiting her every day and doing her utmost to encourage her. Encouraged by Special Week’s dedication, Silence Suzuka makes considerable strides in her physical recovery. Over time, Silence Suzuka’s fractures heal, and she’s able to walk around without a cast, and she returns to the track with the goal of racing again. The trainer comments that he’d not doubted Silence Suzuka’s ability to heal, but instead, worries about her state of mind.

  • While Silence Suzuka is well enough to train again, the support Special Week had given Silence Suzuka came at a massive cost: Special Week begins to forget that she has her own races to win, and her training suffers as a result. This culminates in Special Week practically throwing a race, and in the aftermath, Grass Wonder confronts Special Week, asking if the latter’s heart had been in this race at all. Team Spica begins suffering as a whole, and this prompts the trainer to mix things up a little.

  • At a training camp, the trainer encourages the horse girls to think of another as rivals rather than friends. After dividing them into teams, he asks them to hold nothing back, as they will be competing in a triathlon of sorts against one another (with a fancy dessert buffet being the victor’s prize). The exercise doesn’t produce any winners; the horse girls are unable to decelerate on a turn during the last part of their race and end up running right into the ocean. Team Spica ends up overcoming their reservations about putting their all against one another, seeing how pushing themselves will also pull their teammates up with them. They share a laugh together and exit the exercise with newfound resolve.

  • Seeing Team Spica celebrate the end of their training camp with all-you-can-eat desserts reminds me of a time when I used to be able to go to Sunday brunches in the mountains. Back in those days, brunches consisted of being able to eat a scrumptious breakfast of made-to-order omelettes, Eggs Benedict and smoked salmon alongside beef stew, prime rib off the carving station and King Crab before wrapping up with unlimited cheesecake. At these buffets, I always favoured the main course type items, but looking back, the cheesecake, chocolate cakes and fondues were tasty, as well. The ongoing health crisis meant that such an experience isn’t possible for the time being, but during yesterday’s dinner (Southern Fried Chicken and gravy with fries), the idea of returning to the mountains was floated as a part of the conversation, and while things aren’t fully back up yet, it suddenly seems like a nice idea to plan out what such a trip might look like.

  • Ahead of her races, Special Week is granted leaves and heads home for Hokkaido, but the moment she gets back, she’s tied to a post to keep her from stretching her legs, resulting in a hilarious and adorable, if somewhat mean-spirited moment. The intention behind this is clear; Special Week had over-trained previously and found herself underperforming during actual races. Her expression here is priceless, although shortly after, dinner is served, and Special Week’s adoptive mother shares with her photographs of their past, before gifting her a special set of horseshoes.

  • Upon her return, Special Week shares with Silence Suzuka her thoughts; she’s striving to be the best to fulfil a promise to both her biological and adoptive mother, as thanks for all they’ve done for her, but since Silence Suzuka recovered, Special Week realises that she’s now longing to test her own mettle against Silence Suzuka and see just how far she’s come thanks to the time they’d spent together. However, before this promise can be fulfilled, Special Week must prepare for the Japan Cup, one of the most prestigious a horse girl can race in.

  • This race is no joke, and France’s Broye expresses an interest in participating, especially after hearing about both Silence Suzuka and Special Week. Broye is a powerhouse in terms of raw speed and endurance; during the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Broye had edged out El Condor Pasa to claim the victory. Although El Condor Pasa had been excited to challenge such a powerful opponent, the results of the race also devastated her, and she wishes for Special Week to do better and avenge the Japanese horse girls. On the day of the race, El Condor Pasa passes a French phrase along to Special Week and lets her know it means “let’s do our best”.

  • The actual phrase is “don’t get full of yourself”, which only serves to fire up Broye and increase tensions during the race. This moment brought to mind Fearless, during the fight in Shanghai between Huo Yuanjia and Hercules O’Brien. When the official asks Yuanjia to sign a death waiver, he declines, saying that fighting to the death is an outdated tradition in Chinese martial arts, and that Chinese martial arts is also about friendship through challenging one’s opponents. The official disregards Yuanjia entirely and informs O’Brien that Yuanjia intends to “kick his butt”. While Yuanjia handily wins the bout, he also saves O’Brien from being impaled on nails that had come loose during their match, earning his respect.

  • I imagine that the same holds true in Uma Musume Pretty Derby: Special Week; while her words may be trash talk, her tone of delivery suggests that she didn’t know what was going on, and she wanted a good match. Impressed with Special Week’s victory, Broye thanks her for the match and promises that they will meet again with her as the victor. With this achievement under her belt, the name Special Week is one that is known throughout Japan, and while Special Week’s original goal of becoming the best was vague, meeting Silence Suzuka and Team Spica allows her to make her dreams become more tangible.

  • While Special Week’s become a fearsome competitor on the track, there are some small moments that still show her more clumsy side: as she steps onto the stage to thank her viewers and give a small victory speech, feedback from the microphone surprises her, causing her to stutter in shock. In mannerisms, Special Week is not so different than Locodol‘s Nanako Usami – now that I think about it, Nanako and Special Week share some similarities in terms of appearance, too.

  • Despite the rough start, Special Week’s victory concert goes very well, and her teammates are happy to cheer her on. Overall, Uma Musume Pretty Derby is a very optimistic and cheerful anime, and looking back, my own reservations for skipping this series were unjustified. With this in mind, I did mix up Uma Musume Pretty Derby with A Centaur’s Life, which had aired a year before Uma Musume Pretty Derby did. At this point in time, I’m not sure if A Centaur’s Life is something I would write about, but perhaps there is merit in at least checking the series out.

  • In the end, Special Week and Silence Suzuka get their wish when the trainer managers to get everyone on Team Spica slotted into a race against one another. This is what Special Week and Silence Suzuka had been working towards, and it’s a satisfactory close to Uma Musume Pretty Derby to watch this final promise be fulfilled, bringing the series to a close. During this finale, the trainer notices a new horse girl, standing where Special Week had a year earlier, and upon fondling her thighs, similarly gets kicked, suggesting that this new horse girl will walk a similar path as Special Week, continuing the cycle. Altogether, Uma Musume Pretty Derby scores an A- in my books for being an engaging series that paints horse-racing in a more interesting light with its colourful cast of characters.

  • Earlier this year, Uma Musume Pretty Derby received a second season, and this one focuses on Tokai Teio, as well as Team Spica’s other members. P.A. Works has a fierce reputation for not doing second seasons, and Uma Musume Pretty Derby is handled by the up-and-coming Studio Kai, which I know best for their work on Super Cub. I’ll check it out as I’m able: I’ve recently decided that it’s time to make a dent in my backlog of slice-of-life anime, including Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu and Mitsuboshi Colours, as well as wrap up Okusama ga Seito Kaichō. I do have plans to write about each of these series in the near future, and on top of that, this past weekend saw Far Cry 5 available for free play, so I’ll have some thoughts to share on that, as well.

Overall, I found Uma Musume Pretty Derby to be unexpectedly enjoyable: horse-racing in and of itself is unremarkable, and it’s a sport where spectators seem more concerned with the gambling aspect rather than the sport itself. This reputation means that I’m typically not a fan of horse-racing, but par the course for anime, Uma Musume Pretty Derby manages to remove this negativity outright and in its place, create a world where horse-racing is more entertainment than gambling – winning horse girls get to perform in a victory concert, an event that demands solid singing and dancing from those who participate. Similarly, while horse girls are deadly-focused on the track, off the field, they express a sincere enjoyment of racing and view the challenge posed by top horse girls as a means of pushing themselves further. Losses are only ever temporary setbacks, and sportsmanship off the track means that Special Week has no trouble fitting in with the likes of Silence Suzuka, El Condor Pasa and Grass Wonder; while everyone dreams of winning and making it big, friendship and personal improvement is no less important to everyone. It typifies anime to make topics like horse-racing worthwhile, and the character dynamics are balanced out with the races so that Special Week and the others’ efforts are something viewers can cheer for. The outcome of Uma Musume Pretty Derby, then, is the wish that real-world horse racing could be this compelling, and a newfound interest in checking the iOS game out – the anime is a solid standalone experience, but the fact is that it did succeed in piquing my interest for the game. I would go ahead and add this to my library of titles to experience and write about, were it not for the fact Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s mobile incarnation is only available for the Japanese app store. While I can probably figure out the game for myself, my Apple ID is unequivocally bound to the Canadian App Store – I don’t have it in me to go through the process of switching things up for one mobile game, since my Apple ID is used for my personal Apple Developer license (including the associated provisioning profiles, development and distribution certificates). With this in mind, that the Uma Musume Pretty Derby mobile game has come the closest to convincing me to spin up a Japanese Apple ID is a testament to the anime’s successes, and for the present, one hopes that we might see an English-language release bound for the Canadian App Store one of these days.