“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 Derby, Umayon 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.