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Category Archives: Uma Musume Pretty Derby

Uma Musume Pretty Derby OVA: Road To The Top Review and Reflection

“It’s horse racing. If you can’t beat him one way, try to win another way.” –Bob Baffert

Narita Top Road is a horse girl who shows great promise as a racer, but because of misfortunes on the race track, hasn’t won any major titles yet. She’s excited to run in the Satsuki Sho for a Triple Crown title and, seeing her excitement, Narita Top Road’s trainer agrees to register her even though she’ll be squaring off against Admire Vega again. After classes, Narita Top Road has a chance to speak with Admire Vega and indicates that the latter’s running is what inspired her, although Admire Vega appears to regard Narita Top Road coldly. In a flashback, Narita Top Road’s trainer recalls how while she lacked finesse as a young racer, she’d also shown promise and therefore, agreed to train her. During the first race of the Satsuki Sho, Narita Top Road and Admire Vega face off against TM Opera O, a boisterous horse girl who ends up winning the race and leaving Narita Top Road feeling as though she’d let her trainer down. After this shock wears off, Narita Top Road continues training. Quite separately, Admire Vega pushes herself to win the next race; it turns out that her sister’s passed away and had donated her heart to Admire Vega, so she now desires to succeed for her sister. The next race in the Satsuki Sho is on a straight course, which is Narita Top Road’s strength, and while she manages to maintain a lead over TM Opera O, Admire Vega, spurred on by thoughts of her sister, manages to overtake Narita Top Road, dealing her a crushing defeat. In the aftermath, Narita Top Road accompanies her friends on a training camp. Her trainer asks her to regroup by having her coach some younger horse girls, and later, Narita Top Road reveals her biggest fear in a race now is letting down those who support her. Her trainer replies that her fans support her precisely because there’s no quit in her, and while she later loses another race, Narita Top Road decides to keep trying anyways. During the final race of the Satsuki Sho, Narita Top Road manages to take first place and treating everyone supporting her to a fine performance along the way. This is the latest series of OVAs for Uma Musume Pretty Derby: titled Road To The Top, this short series streamed online back in April and provides yet another glimpse into how expansive the world of Uma Musume Pretty Derby is.

Like its predecessors, Road To The Top emphasises how each and every horse girl in Uma Musume Pretty Derby has their own reasons for running, and how, provided that all other things are held constant (such as training and skill), what determines the outcome of a race boils purely down to what drives each individual horse girl in that moment, and split second decisions made during the course of a race itself, which in turn are related to what the story in Uma Musume Pretty Derby is intended to convey. Here in Road To The Top, the focus is on Narita Top Road. Unlike TM Opera O, who’s racing for the thrill of victory, or Admire Vega, who’s racing for her late sister, Narita Top Road is racing for those who’ve made it possible for her to come this far, whether it be her trainer or her fans, who’ve come to adore her never-give-up attitude. While Admire Vega’s story is also a poignant one, and her motivation is powerful, Road To The Top also portrays her as being completely alone. She camps on academy grounds rather than sleeps in the dormitories, and whereas Narita Top Road is fond of hanging out with other horse girls (she’s frequently seen with Rice Shower and Haru Urara), Admire Vega seems to shun company, even when Narita Top Road attempts to express her gratitude for being able to compete on the same arena as someone of Admire Vega’s calibre. In this way, Road To The Top seems to speak to the fact that no horse girl is an island, and how important it is to be able to fight for those in the present. By giving each of TM Opera O, Admire Vega and Narita Top Road a win here in Road To The Top, Uma Musume Pretty Derby shows how important it is to have an eye for potential and invest in this possibility: although Narita Top Road is not exceptionally skilled or uncommonly talented, her persistence and desire to express thanks to those who support her is what ultimately gives her the ability to compete and stand alongside horse girls like Admire Vega and TM Opera O. Here in Road To The Top, Narita Top Road’s story is mirrored in the title (it is a story of Narita Top Road’s road to the top), and even in spite of the fact that Narita Top Road would eventually find her victory, one way or another, Road To The Top still finds a way fo keeping things suspenseful and exciting every step of the way.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Over the past three years, readers will have noticed that I’ve become a fan of Uma Musume Pretty Derby and along the way, I’ve written my share of posts about a series that certainly surprised me in a pleasant way. The Road To The Top has Narita Top Road as its lead, and this particular Horse Girl reminds me a great deal of Lycoris Recoil‘s Chisato Nishikigi and RDG: Red Data Girl‘s Mayura Sōda. Narita Top Road is voiced by Kanna Nakamura, and here in The Road To The Top, she plays the spirited horse girl who, despite her occasional doubts, still manages to find it in her to befriend those around her.

  • Although P.A. Works and Studio Kai have helmed Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s first and second seasons, respectively, and different studios handled Umayon! and Uma YuruThe Road To The Top is produced by CygamePictures, Cygame’s in-house production studio. The Road To The Top lacks the same finesse and polish that were present in the earlier titles – facial expressions are inconsistent at times, and the artwork is slightly less detailed than it had been previously. However, visuals alone do not make an anime, and The Road To The Top does stand of its own merits.

  • I was a little surprised that The Road To The Top would be a four-episode OVA, but having now completed things, I’m glad the series had the time that it did to flesh things out. Even thought there isn’t the same amount of time to fully explore all of the details among the characters, having more episodes gave enough space to provide a satisfactory amount of exposition behind everyone’s background. Right out of the gates, it’s clear that Narita Top Road is quite cheerful and does her best to get along with everyone, even the aloof and distant Admire Vega.

  • The other major player in The Road To The Top is TM Opera O, a confident and somewhat vain horse girl with a taste for theatrics. TM Opera O reminds me a great deal of Brave Witches‘ Waltrud Krupinski in both manner and appearance – both TM Opera O and Waltrud talk big game but also have what it takes to back up their words. During the first big race of The Road To The Top, it is TM Opera O who ends up taking the win. Throughout these OVAs, it becomes clear that while Narita Top Road is a skilled horse girl, she actually had humble beginnings, and the OVAs establish that she still has a few missteps, even during training.

  • The races in The Road To The Top are similar to those seen in the remainder of Uma Musume Pretty Derby with respect to quality goes – from wide-angle shots that show the entire group of racers, to close-ups that highlight the facial expressions of each individual horse girl, Uma Musume Pretty Derby does its best to ensure that all parts of a race are captured. I hold that more variety in camera angle, using panning and over-the-shoulder, or top-down shots (akin to what was seen in John Wick: Chapter 4‘s Dragon’s Breath scene) would be a nice way of livening up the races even further.

  • Despite losing the first of the Satsuki Sho races, Narita Top Road retains a loyal collection of supporters who greatly enjoy her racing. Narita Top Road doesn’t have the same natural talent that Special Week had and isn’t afflicted by the tragedy that struck Tokai Teio, but what makes her standout is her never-give-up attitude in spite of her lack of standout traits. This is something that Narita Top Road struggles with in The Road To The Top – viewers would be confident that she will find a way to win eventually, but per the OVA’s naming, there is a journey to get to this point.

  • Having seen both seasons and the OVAs, I am familiar with both Haru Urara (a cheerful horse girl whose lack of victories is offset by her ability to brighten a room up) and Rice Shower (a quiet horse girl with a track record of dethroning other horse girls from achieving records on occasion). Both play a more minor role here in The Road To The Top, but it becomes clear that Narita Top Road does have some close friends in her corner.

  • A long time ago, I had a classmate in the year below mine who bore a similar manner to TM Opera O, and we got along just fine. Said classmate was very knowledgable about bioinformatics, spoke very politely, but also had a very grandiose way of addressing people and ideas. I got the distinct feeling that this classmate was very passionate about the material, and he had a knack for conveying ideas in a manner that excited those around him without ever coming across as arrogant. I rather enjoy the company of people like these, and in the case of The Road To The Top, TM Opera O’s presence serves as a foil to Admire Vega, who’s all gloom and wholly focused on her own internal goals.

  • Through their portrayal of characters, it appears that Uma Musume Pretty Derby treats the stoic, quiet horse girls as being mildly antagonistic – even though racing is a competitive sport, Uma Musume Pretty Derby takes care to show that the horse girls demonstrate good sportsmanship for the most part, and even the horse girls who don’t communicate much are fighting for reasons as valid as those of the more expressive horse girls. However, even though Admire Vega seems quite cold and unreceptive towards Narita Top Road’s friendship, it’s hard to hold this against her, and I found myself wishing that here in The Road To The Top, there had been a chance for Admire Vega to eventually open up.

  • During the second of the Satsuki Sho races, TM Opera O takes a lead towards the final leg of the race, but since long straights are Narita Top Road’s speciality, she ends up pulling ahead. In Uma Musume Pretty Derby, each horse girl is shown as having certain kinds of races they tend to excel in and therefore favour, but in each series, upset victories occur when a horse girl loses in a type of race they were the favourite to win in. While this is a common storytelling technique in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and therefore one I’ve come to expect, it doesn’t take away from the emotional impact in any way.

  • Admire Vega ends up taking the second of the Satsuki Sho race: she runs purely for the memory of her sister, who had donated her heart to Admire Vega. In a longer series, Admire Vega’s reasons for running would be better explored, and this would allow Narita Top Road to get to know her rival and role model a little better. The Road To The Top establishes that Narita Top Road admires Admire Vega and had sought to improve to the point where she could one day race against her on the track. Given Narita Top Road’s trainer’s remarks, she’d come a very long way from the days of when she started out, and the very fact she’s now at the Satsuki Sho, squaring off against TM Opera O and Admire Vega, is an achievement in and of itself.

  • However, this doesn’t stop the sting of defeat from being any more painful – after losing this race by a thin margin, Narita Top Road loses her composure and is now struck with the thought of what will happen if her best isn’t nearly good enough. The timing of things is something that ends up helping Narita Top Right; almost right after the second race, the horse girls are set to go on a training camp, and it is here that Narita Top Road is given a chance to regroup and see things from a fresh perspective. Although it was tough to see Narita Top Road on the verge of tears, it was quite clear that she was going to stumble before seeing any victory.

  • When it comes to problem solving, taking a step back and returning to a problem after a break is a successful approach. This is why as one gets older, problems no longer seem quite so insurmountable; someone with experience knows that no problem is unsolvable, and even if one approach is not feasible, alternate solutions exist. Recently, I was tasked with sorting out a web application’s CSS to improve visibility, and although I’d spent almost a week trying to hunt the code down (JavaScript is, unlike most Object Oriented Languages, an incomprehensible mess and should be retired immediately), I had no solutions. During one stand-up, I was explaining my thought process, when one of the other team members mentioned we had other ways of expressing state to users. Inspired, I decided to try another solution, and this worked well enough that I decided to go with it.

  • Although Narita Top Road had fully intended to spend the training camp practising, her trainer pulls her aside and tasks her with coaching some younger horse girls. After walking them through the basics, the horse girls ask Narita Top Road to show them her technique, and while Narita Top Road might not be the fastest or most impressive horse girl around, she impresses them nonetheless. I remember an old memory of when I was helping to teach a karate class, and one of the students had been quite unruly, so the instructor for the class pulled the student aside and asked me to demonstrate a kata for him. After I finished, the student was paying attention and following the instructor much more intently, evidently excited by what learning the basics could lead to.

  • Moments like these are always welcome in anime because they parallel the reality of how being given a chance to teach and impart knowledge unto others also helps one to understand something a little better. During the day, Narita Top Road’s old worries are set aside as she trains the younger horse girls and does her best to encourage them and smile for their sakes. Of course, when the day is done, and Narita Top Road meets up with her trainer, she reveals that something has been bugging her – if her best isn’t good enough, where does this leave her? This is a longstanding question that people ask, and the trainer’s answer is simple: Narita Top Road’s greatest asset isn’t her innate talent, but rather, her perseverance.

  • Despite having come a long way, Narita Top Road worries about letting down everyone who’s been supporting her – it becomes clear that Narita Top Road doesn’t race for herself, but rather, for those around her, from fellow horse girls and her fans, to her trainer. The choice to have TM Opera O and Admire Vega as Narita Top Road’s rivals is fitting because they act as a foil to her; both race for themselves, and while they are remarkably skilled racers in their own right, the idea in The Road To The Top is that someone who fights for something bigger than themselves will want a win enough to make it a reality. Before this can happen, though, Narita Top Road still has a few hurdles to overcome.

  • However, at the end of the training camp, Narita Top Road is invited to an event with her fellow horse girls; the whole neighbourhood’s come out to cheer her on, and while Narita Top Road is a little embarrassed, she hears out the others and soon finds herself partaking in the festivities, enjoying the grilled carrots that are part of the evening’s spread. Food’s always been an integral part of Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and the horse girls are, without exception, fond of eating everything from carrots, to ramen and sweets; in fact, the promise of sweets was how Team Spica’s trainer managed to persuade the others to train harder.

  • Longtime readers are familiar with the fact that I’m very fond of enjoying various foods, and all too often, I’ve found that there are local places that fall under the radar. This past weekend, I sat down to dinner from two such places. On Saturday, I had been volunteering to shoot a video at an event where the premiere of Alberta was speaking and ended up swinging by a Japanese restaurant by the university, where I enjoyed their takoyaki and curry katsu don – this dinner out had been unexpected, and having spent the previous weekend indulging, I figured something simple, home-like would be appropriate. Then, on Sunday night, my parents became curious to try out a place called Chicken On The Way, a Calgary institution that dates back to 1957 and lays claim to the title of “Best Fried Chicken and Corn Fritters in the city”.

  • Having now tried their fried chicken, thick-cut fries and corn fritters (which go extremely well with maple syrup) for myself, I believe that Chicken On The Way absolutely lives up to their reputation – even the chicken breast was juicy and flavourful, and their corn fritters brought to mind the tastes of a fairground midway. Excellent food becomes something to savour in the moment, and something to look forwards to. As a bit of a gastronomer myself, I’ve come to add travelling about and trying different foods out to my list of hobbies. Back in The Road To The Top, after the training camp concludes, Narita Top Road ends up running and losing in another race.

  • The latest results disappoint Narita Top Road and leaves her deep in thought, so much that she forgets to take her drink from the vending machine. When TM Opera O shows up, Narita Top Road is shocked, and her tail stands up in surprise. Small details like these act to defuse the tension in a moment, and seeing Narita Top Road’s surprise face was quite funny – even though P.A. Works (a studio known for their funny faces) is no longer helming Uma Musume Pretty Derby, the character designs have remained fairly consistent. Some folks have complained about how the animation quality appears to have dropped between the first and second season, but if this is the case, I’ve not noticed.

  • On the other hand, the animation and consistency in The Road To The Top do look a smidgen rougher than the previous two seasons. I do not hold this against The Road To The Top, since it is an ONA, an anime made for web broadcast, and overall, this series still remains engaging for its characters. Here, running into TM Opera O shakes Narita Top Road from her reverie, and the former’s pompous manner ends up breathing some life back into her. It’s almost impossible to dislike TM Opera O, and having a character like her around helps bring Narita Top Road back to form.

  • To this end, Narita Top Road speaks with her trainer and asks him to let her race in the manner of her choosing. From a viewer’s perspective, it’s quite difficult to actually get a bead on the different horse girls’ different styles unless the racers’ thoughts, and additional commentary from spectators are present. However, a priori knowledge of horse racing isn’t necessary to enjoy Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and in-show, there are plenty of cues to keep viewers informed of what’s happening. Here, I would expect that, by asking her trainer to let her run with an approach different than what she’d previously done, she also hints at the fact that she’s become confident enough to use her own methods.

  • Narita Top Road’s optimism and friendliness is ultimately what makes her so easy to root for – even though both Admire Vega and TM Opera O have beaten her in races, Narita Top Road continues to demonstrate utmost respect for her rivals, citing that they’re the reason she was able to advance and improve. One aspect of The Road To The Top that I would’ve liked to see was having Admire Vega open up to Narita Top Road. This would’ve helped to accentuate the fact that, even though horse girls race for their own reasons, they can still share in one another’s company and, when things get tough, there is always someone to talk to. However, owing to constraints with the runtime, this ultimately did not happen.

  • As the final race of the Satsuki Sho, Narita Top Road is prepared to give it her all, run in the way she feels to be most natural and at the very least, put up a good showing for all of her fans in the stands. Throughout Uma Musume Pretty Derby, races are thrilling events that draw considerable crowds, and the energy of a moment is quite tangible. For the horse girls, however, all they are worried about now is giving their best, and while Narita Top Road is a little nervous, a quick tap to the rear shakes her out of her doubts. For this post, I originally was planning to make it an extended post, but readers will have noticed that this month, posts have been longer on average.

  • There’s always a great deal of moments in a given work that are worth covering, but at the same time, I also appreciate that readers would prefer more concise posts. As a blogger, striking a balance between the two is something that isn’t an easy task: on one hand, I strive to ensure posts capture my most important thoughts without stretching out and causing readers to lose interest, but at the same time, posts must also be long enough to let me walk through the reasoning and evidence that drives my conclusions. Summary and reaction posts are, at least for me, inadequate, and I do not find any value in reading blogs who do little more than cheering the characters on because they don’t offer me with a different perspective on what’s happening.

  • Midway through this final race, the spirit of Admire Vega’s sister manifests, and unexpectedly, Admire Vega finds herself slowing down in the race. It turns out that she’s also suffering from an injury of sorts, one that isn’t acute enough to prevent her from running now, but will someday end her ability to competitively race. The spirit of Admire Vega’s sister suggests that just being able to see her run is enough, and I would imagine that in this moment, Admire Vega realises that if she pushes herself in a bid to win, her career will end here and now. Subconsciously, self-preservation kicks in, and Admire Vega is no longer able to put her all into this race.

  • In this way, Admire Vega must give up this race so she can properly fulfil her sister’s wishes – the idea of winning being secondary to enjoying running is a recurring theme in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and the fact that Uma Musume Pretty Derby is able to do more with things in the anime format speaks volumes to how significant it is to have a good team of writers on board. By creating stories that help viewers to connect to the characters, the anime becomes an excellent starting point for encouraging viewers to potentially pick up the game, as well. In my case, if Uma Musume Pretty Derby ever becomes available, I’m going to build my team around Special Week.

  • With Admire Vega out of the running for first place, the last of the Satsuko Sho races comes down to Narita Top Road and TM Opera O, and to no one’s surprise, Narita Top Road takes the title. With this, each of Narita Top Road, TM Opera O and Admire Vega have one win each: the three are worthy rivals for one another, and in the aftermath, Narita Top Road is overcome with emotion at being able to finally show her trainer, fellow horse girls and supporters that their efforts contributed to this moment. One final show awaits viewers – it just wouldn’t be Uma Musume Pretty Derby if The Road To The Top didn’t feature at least one victory concert. Narita Top Road performs as the centre, accompanied by Admire Vega and TM Opera O.

  • With this post, I’m done The Road To The Top in full, and I very much look forwards to the third season. When it was announced, Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s third season was only stated to release in 2023, and at present, we’re about to enter the summer season. This leaves fall 2023 as the only season for Uma Musume Pretty Derby to air in; assuming this to be the case, it means that this series will air alongside Hoshikuzu Telepath and Spy × Family‘s second season, both of which are shows I am looking forwards to watching. I remain hopeful that said third season will materialise, since by this point in time, I’ve become enough of an Uma Musume Pretty Derby fan to say that I would be interested in playing the mobile game should it become available on the North American App Store.

  • The final concert is lovingly animated and quite enjoyable to watch. Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s approach works because the series has lovable characters, so when combined with generally solid technical elements and an opportunity for the voice actresses to sing, the combination produces a winning combination that accounts for the franchise’s continued success – positive reception means media are selling, and this indicates a continued interest in the series that allows for continuations to be produced. For now, though, there’s still a ways to the fall season, and that means my eyes return to the present: the blog continues to be an active place, and in the immediate future, I’ve got a talk on the Oregairu OVA lined up, along with a special topics discussion on Crysis Remastered.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby has had two full seasons of content, several spinoffs and a handful of OVAs with which to expand its world. Road To The Top adds upon this further and demonstrates that, despite the apparent predictability of the story (the lead character will always find a way of winning in accordance with what the story needs), each iteration of Uma Musume Pretty Derby still manages to remain engaging because so much effort is given towards ensuring that the different horse girls have unique motivations and desires. Seeing what drives everyone creates uniqueness in each tale: in the first season of Uma Musume Pretty Derby, Special Week had been a newcomer who wanted to race for her mother and stand alongside her idol, Silent Suzuka. The second season had Tokai Teio struggling to manage a series of injuries and fulfil a promise to race alongside her friend and rival, Mejiro McQueen. BNW’s Oath dealt with getting Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket back together for a race. There is no ceiling of what stories could be told among the horse girls, and so, even if Uma Musume Pretty Derby does not do anything particularly innovative, it is a fantastic show for those who wish to see their favourite horse girls in the animated format, bringing another dimension to the popular mobile game. With lovable characters and a low-stakes premise that promotes themes of effort, sportsmandship and friendship, Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s simplicity makes it a series that can continue to expand upon the different characters available in the series and drive interest in the mobile game – I’ve heard (unverified) rumours that Cygames will be releasing an English version of the mobile game at some point in the future. There had already been faint discussions of an overseas release for Korea and China, but assuming that these rumours point to an English language release, Cygames can thank the anime adaptation of Uma Musume Pretty Derby for piquing my interest in their game. The anime’s successes in creating a compelling world and appealing characters allows the series to succeed to the point where there will be a third season of Uma Musume Pretty Derby. Moreover, said third season will air later this season and focus on Satono Diamond and Kitasan Black. Fans of Uma Musume Pretty Derby have been quite excited by this news, and the continued success of Uma Musume Pretty Derby speaks to the excellent presentation and execution of things in this franchise.

Umayon 2: An Anime Short Reflection and Remarks on Upcoming Uma Musume Pretty Derby Projects

“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 UmayonUmayuru 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.

Umayon: An Anime Short Review and Reflection

“I’ve often said there is nothing better for the inside of the man, than the outside of the horse.” –Ronald Reagan

When Tracen Academy’s Horse Girls are not training for races, they’re found participating in make-up exams, shooting promotional videos for their school, put on Shakespearean plays, challenge one another to eating competitions and even act as Super Sentai to protect their neighbourhood from nefarious elements – Umayon is a series of shorts featuring Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s most iconic Horse Girls as they navigate through life in an adorable and amusing manner. With each episode being a mere three minutes long, Umayon provides an insight into the world of Horse Girls and suggests that outside of the emotional intensity and focus that goes into each race, the Horse Girls themselves also exude a spirit of fun and can work as hard as they play. Umayon thus joins the ranks of Azur Lane: Slow Ahead and World Witches: Take Off in providing gentle, light-hearted humour, allowing characters to be invovled in outrageous moments that further accentuate everyone’s traits. Such series are, by definition, intended for fans of the series: they require prior understanding of the world and its characters, so for folks looking to get into Uma Musume Pretty Derby, Umayon is not the optimal route for doing so. Conversely, for viewers who found enjoyment in the original series, Umayon represents a hilarious series that pokes fun at some of the elements in the TV series and also gives the writers a chance to parody other series using elements that are unique to Horse Girls. While oftentimes considered as being frivilous, animated shorts like Umayon are superbly enjoyable because they give writers a chance to explore things that would otherwise not work in a standard series – having BNW go hunting for Rhinoceros Beetles amidst a training camp, surprise one another during the traditional test of courage or, most impressive of all, rig a race with strange parameters that allows Gold Ship to trivially win, would never fly in the original Uma Musume Pretty Derby. However, such antics work well as a series of shorts, offering a gentle parody of some of Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s more outrageous elements.

Compared to most fans of Uma Musume Pretty Derby, I am a relative newcomer, having picked up and watched the series only last August. As it turns out, horse racing is a popular sport in Japan, and over twenty thousand races are hosted throughout the country on an annual basis. Here in my hometown, horse racing is a newer event: there are a few equestrian tracks around the city, but the first major one is located north of the city and only opened in 2021. Conversely, rodeo is immensely popular here; Calgary hosts the Calgary Stampede, one of the world’s largest rodeo events and possessing history dating back to 1886. Unlike horse racing, rodeo events are rowdier and built around activities that ranchers would have cultivated as a part of their work. Despite the dramatic differences between racing and rodeo, however, both events share some commonalities. Aside from obvious similarities, such as how horses are a key part of both, and that gambling drives much of the interest, the crowds for horse racing and rodeo exude a similar energy, even if the manner in which said energy is conveyed is different. Having lived in Calgary since time immemorial, seeing the spirits around the city and Stampede events being reflected in Uma Musume Pretty Derby is a show of the series’ commitment to convey the atmospherics surrounding horse-driven events. The crowds in Uma Musume Pretty Derby rival those of the Calgary Stampede’s rodeo in both exuberance and vigour. Small details like these are sufficient in creating a convincing, compelling world for Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and while the regular anime excels in conveying the tenour in and around races, being able to see the Horse Girls off the field in a series of shorts greatly enhances one’s appreciation for the characters.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It goes without saying that Umayon is a series purely for fans of Uma Musume Pretty Derby: the shorts demand requisite knowledge of how Horse Girls race, and there are small jokes here and there that are dependent on knowing other aspects of the show. With this background, the jokes connect; the first episode deals with Special Week, El Condor Pasa and Grass Wonder square off in the classroom as they are made to do a re-test after botching their exams.

  • Here, the joke is that on an exam, speed is irrelevant, and score is what counts; while Special Week is first to finish, she fares the worst of everyone. Good humour is subjective, but having read about how comedy works, from folks who’ve nontrivial experience in the field, I’ve seen commonalities. All good comedy is derived off subversion of expectations; there isn’t anything about this approach that demands a specific cultural or social background, and this is why the best comedians are able to succeed anywhere in the world.

  • For instance, Steven Chow’s films are almost universally funny simply because he’s able to create incongruity in actions and their consequences, while Bill Watterson uses time and space (in a medium like newspaper comics, no less) to allow viewers time to process the mismatch between a scenario and its context. Neither Chow or Watterson’s works depend heavily on complex self-referential humour or demand familiarity with a culture to appreciate; the bulk of the comedy is almost always universal, and then subtle references to meta-humour or jokes requiring cultural knowledge are more subtle, enhancing a moment.

  • How well a work utilises this two-tiered approach is what determines how well it fares outside of its intended audience. If a work is able to appeal to a general audience, and then possesses nuances that enhance the experience for those who’ve got a background in it, it is likely to receive wider acclaim. A work that appeals to a general audience, but lacking in depth will be considered average, while works that appeal to niche audiences will similarly be poorly received unless one was familiar with its topic. Girls und Panzer and Yuru Camp△ are examples of works that is general enough to attract viewers, but then explores their chosen topics with enough depth to impress people with a deeper knowledge of the topic.

  • Uma Musume Pretty Derby tends towards being more accessible, but small hints of the characters’ real-world namesakes and lovable characters, coupled with a fully-fledged exploration of the universe means that the series is able to be very successful. We recall that I did not start watching Uma Musume Pretty Derby until last August, but upon finishing the first season, I found myself impressed, and this is even though I’m not any experience in watching horse racing as a sport, or in playing the mobile game itself. This speaks to how well-presented Uma Musume Pretty Derby is.

  • This post on Umayon marks the first time I’ve written about Uma Musume Pretty Derby while the Calgary Stampede was running; although horse racing and the rodeo are drastically different, watching Uma Musume Pretty Derby and seeing the Tokyo Racecourse’s grandstand reminded me of home. While Tokyo Racecourse has an impressive capacity of 223000, here in Calgary, the GMC Stadium’s grandstand has a total seating capacity of 17000, compared to Tokyo Racecourse’s 13750. Moreover, our grandstand has a fully enclosed suite in its upper levels for private functions and events, speaking to differences in their functionality.

  • Umayon actually dedicates two full episodes to the Horse Girls’ food misadventures. Here, Special Week squares off against Oguri Cap and Taiki Shuttle in an eating contest, with the goal of demolishing a massive bowl of ramen in the least amount of time possible. In the end, Special Week and Oguri Cap draw for first, while Taiki Shuttle brings up the rear. The commentators speak to things like strategy, bringing to mind the likes of Adam Richman in Man v. Food. While I’ve never done a food challenge before, my general approach for eating larger foods is to always crack down on the vegetables first, as they tend to cool the quickest. Then I move onto the meats and wrap up with starches.

  • This past weekend saw me enjoy lunches that were quite different than my usual routine: yesterday, I picked up a fish and chips lunch (pollock and potato wedges, which was especially tasty) from the local grocery store’s ready-to-eat value meals section as a quick meal prior to a dental appointment that had unexpectedly been moved up three hours. The dental office had managed to reach me at the last second on Friday, and I was more than willing to take an appointment three hours earlier than my original slot. The weather on Saturday had been standout, and after my appointment concluded, I took a walk around the downtown core under a brilliant afternoon sun, passing by my old office building and a pleasantly busy Steven Avenue Mall before heading back to pick up a few things and return home.

  • Today, I spent the morning doing a slower leg-and-core day at the gym before stepping out to relax at the bookstore and then enjoy a grilled chicken and spring roll vermicelli (topped with a shrimp roll) from the Vietnamese restaurant across from my place. I was especially impressed with how flavourful the grilled chicken was, and the spring rolls themselves were packed with meats. Vermicelli has become a favourite of mine because of how well the flavours mingle, and how varied the textures are; overall, I’m pleased to know that I’m within walking distance of a fantastic Vietnamese and Japanese restaurant.

  • Back in Umayon, Mejiro McQueen visits a casual noodle shop with Ines Fujin, Fine Motion, and King Halo. While Mejiro McQueen and King Halo are unfamiliar with more casual establishments, Ines Fujin walks everyone through the etiquette of ordering and eating at these places. King Halo mistakenly orders a mega-sized version of the ramen and struggles to finish it, resulting in much comedy, and in the end, although King Halo is barely able to walk after a titanic meal, she and Mejiro McQueen are thankful to have accompanied Ines Fujin on such an outing. Of course, Ines Fujin is already planning out their next trip.

  • The vignettes in Umayon are completely unrelated, and there’s no overarching story, but this flexibility allows the series of shorts to go on whatever direction the writers choose. I vividly recall watching Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket overcome their own internal struggles to face one another again on the racetrack, but here, the three end up getting caught up in a hunt for beetles. It’s a hilarious change of pace, made more amusing after Winning Ticket kicks a tree to dislodge the beetles, only to end up breaking open a hornet’s nest. The three only escape by jumping into the ocean.

  • In another episode, several of the Horse Girls are presented as being super sentai, and while they attempt to throw down with their sworn enemies, Silence Suzuka ends up being disillusioned after spotting how unfair their unit fights. While the Horse Girls are generally true to their personalities from Uma Musume Pretty DerbyUmayon capitalises on its comedic setup to mix things up; Silence Suzuka was stoic and reserved in Uma Musume Pretty Derby as Special Week’s role model, but  here in Umayon, she’s much more expressive.

  • One thing I’ve always wondered is how race horses get their names, and while it is usually the case horses are named based on their lineage, so long as owners pick names that fall within certain criteria (they cannot be named after people without express permissions from said individuals or their families, be anything offensive, be named after racetracks or named after winning horses, to name a few), owners can actually be creative in their naming. During the Stampede’s rodeo event, I saw horses with names as creative as those from Japan (Special Delivery, Borderline Untimely and Born Fearless were some of the horses in events like Bareback and Saddle Bronc).

  • I would therefore imagine that in Japan, horse names can use both fully Western names (like Grass Wonder, Gold Ship and Special Week), or combination of Japanese and English naming (Mejiro McQueen and Silence Suzuka). Here, Daiwa Scarlet and Vodka go at it again; this aspect of Umayon is true to the rivalry seen in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and it is easy to see the pair spar over something as trivial as a test of courage. Matikanefukukitaru, another horse girl who has a fondness for all things supernatural, tries to spur the two on, and while the pair enter the test intent on proving the other wrong, scares from Haru Urara, Manhattan Café and Gold Ship send them packing.

  • What’s truly scary is the fact that the real Matikanefukukitaru never accompanied them into the forest. While being scared by their friends would’ve been somewhat terrifying, the thought that they’d actually encountered a ghost causes the pair to faint. Although one might be inclined to believe Matikanefukukitaru was lying, others confirm that she never went into the forest with Daiwa Scarlet and Vodka. It suddenly hits me that I’ve never written about Matikanefukukitaru as a central character in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and for this, I’m thankful: at thirty-one characters, her name would be a pain in the lower backside to type out.

  • The idea of eliciting a confession on a coastal cliff brings to mind the likes of Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?‘s Phantom Thief Lapin, and this means that both Phantom Thief Lapin and Umayon must be parodying a trope from detective anime or live-action dramas. I’m not especially familiar with this genre, so I have no idea which shows popularised this setup and, on this token, I would be quite open to hearing from readers which series may have been the origin for this setup.

  • The finale to Umayon‘s first half was especially fun to watch: with the past eleven episodes focused on various slice-of-life aspects surrounding Horse Girls, it was a fun return-to-form for a series that is known for its racing. This time around, we have Gold Ship and Tokai Teio providing the commentary, while Tamamo Cross, Super Creek and Hishi Amazon running the race itself. Competitions in Umayon appear to be constrained to three individuals at a time, but each and every time, this has worked to the shorts’ favour, allowing characters to really bounce off one another.

  • Now that I think about it, I’ve never seen Hishi Amazon, Super Creek or Tamamo Cross in the spotlight in earlier iterations of Uma Musume Pretty Derby: this is a reminder of how many characters there are in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and theoretically, there isn’t an upper limit of how many seasons production studios could make with Uma Musume Pretty Derby so long as the stories were all compelling and engaging: Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season, for instance, gave Mejiro McQueen just as much focus as it did Tokai Teio, and this helped viewers to see more of Team Spica’s Horse Girls where in the previous season, Special Week was the star of the show.

  • The race course Gold Ship’s designed is diabolical and non-regulation in every aspect. It is only in a slice-of-life parody that this concept would work, and suddenly, I find myself wishing that Girls Und Panzer: Motto Love Love Sakusen Desu! would receive a similar adaptation. I’ve always had a fondness for slice-of-life focused presentations of anime that have a significant world-building piece; since these anime focus so much on the activities, they leave less time to show what life in such a world could be like. Here, Tamamo Cross has switched into a kindergarten uniform, while Super Creek’s donned a housewife’s garb. Poor HIshi Amazon is embarrassed and enraged to be wearing a magical girl costume and is seized with a desire to beat up Gold Ship.

  • As it turns out, Gold Ship orchestrated the entire race so she could win it. I do not believe I’ve ever seen Gold Ship win before in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and while Umayon isn’t likely to be official, it was still fun to see Gold Ship go through all this extraneous effort to score a win where typically, old-fashioned training would be needed. With this post in the books, I’m one step closer to wrapping up all of the animated Uma Musume Pretty Derby content: unless I’m mistaken, Umayon‘s second half is all that I have left. I admit that I am a little surprised to have found myself Uma Musume Pretty Derby to the extent that I did, and that Uma Musume Pretty Derby may have contributed to an increased enjoyment of my first-ever rodeo this year.

Earlier this year, Uma Musume Pretty Derby fans were pleasantly surprised to learn that a third season will be released somewhere in the future and deal with new Horse Girls, such as T.M. Opera O, Admire Vega, Narita Top Road. However, rather than being released in a traditional format, this third season will be streamed. Moreover, Umayuru was also announced and has a known release date: it will begin airing in Autumn 2022. The fact that Uma Musume Pretty Derby has enjoyed sufficient success as to receive a third season and new series of shorts speaks to the series’ successes – sales of the anime have been uncommonly strong and have even edged out highly successful series, while the mobile game is widely played and quite accessible. Unlike Kantai Collection, which was dependent on Flash Player and required players register through an unwieldly lottery system, Japanese users can simply log into the App Store or Play Store, download the game and find themselves, quite literally, off to the races. With a compelling world, lovable characters and an accessible presentation of horse racing, it is easy to see how Uma Musume Pretty Derby has found success where other series based on games had not; it is rare for anime based on games to be successful because game mechanics do not necessarily translate elegantly into a story. However, Uma Musume Pretty Derby succeeds because it is able to bring out the emotional tenour surrounding each Horse Girls as they strive to be the best racer possible. From Special Week’s desire to become the best and win for her mothers, to Tokai Teio’s admirable efforts in overcoming numerous injuries so she can race alongside Mejiro McQueen, Uma Musume Pretty Derby has, insofar, given viewers plenty to root for and enjoy. A third season will, regardless of its format, be no different, and this would be quite exciting. Until then, viewers do have Umayuru to look forward to, and having seen Umayon, more daily tomfoolery from the Horse Girls is always welcome.

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.