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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.