Series Review

Anime Hajime Review: Uma Musume Pretty Derby

Original Run: April 2, 2018 - June 18, 2018
Number of Episodes: 13
Genre: Sports

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Uma Musume: Pretty Derby. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

In a world similar to our own, famous racehorses are reincarnated as horse girls. The spirit to run is alive and well in these competitors, and they are all shooting to be the best of the best.

Japan’s racing scene’s newest face, Special Week (voiced by Azumi Waki), has big dreams of becoming the number one horse girl in the country. However, the road before her will not be easy.

At every turn, Special Week faces obstacles that seek to challenge her will and her drive. There are going to be times when she will feel the elation of victory. Unfortunately, the bitter sting of defeat is never too far away.

With each stumble, every horse girl must make a choice. Do they throw in the towel, or do they push forward? If any of them wish to reach the top, the answer couldn’t be clearer.

However, despite everyone putting in the work and the effort, there can only be one winner.

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Series Positives

With one look at Uma Musume: Pretty Derby, I had an instant thought: “Horse girls racing around a track; how is this not going to be all kinds of silly?”

What I wasn’t sure about was whether this series was going to be the fun kind of silly or the trainwreck kind. If it were the former, that would have meant an enjoyable watch. If it were the latter, at least I would have had a blast ripping into it. It was indeed a win-win for me.

Thus, I couldn’t suppress my disappointment when Uma Musume turned out to be neither.

This series was middle-of-the-road. There was nothing about it that was particularly incredible, and at no point was there anything infuriating. I can’t say that this show was good, but I also can’t claim that it was bad. However, when you consider where the Uma Musume anime fits within the larger Uma Musume franchise, things start to make a bit more sense.

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To the best of my understanding, Uma Musume is a broader media project developed by the video game studio Cygames. As of the posting of this review, along with the anime, the Uma Musume label also includes an earlier manga adaptation. This project is supposedly leading up to the release of Cygames’ newest game Uma Musume: Pretty Derby for Android and iOS.

If you decide to watch this series without knowing it is a tie-in anime to a video game, there are going to be some aspects to Uma Musume that will feel off. I’m not saying the true nature of this show excuses what did and didn’t happen within it. Speaking for myself, though, whenever there are questionable elements in a story, I would like to know the reason behind why they exist.

When I use the word “questionable,” I mean this show gave off a strong Love Live vibe. If that seems odd, don’t worry, I’ll come back to this point later on in the review.

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Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that although Uma Musume was a totally manufactured product to advertise an upcoming video game, that doesn’t necessarily indicate poor quality. Regarding the crucial elements of any series, such as story and characters, there wasn’t much of note. That notwithstanding, I will admit there was definitely thought and, dare I say, cleverness to this show.

Uma Musume was, if you can believe it, very detail oriented. Throughout this series, there were small touches that fleshed out this world and gave it personality.

Hopefully, this will make sense. The girls of Uma Musume always came off as humans with horse-like qualities instead of cutesified anthropomorphic horse girls. Trust me, there is a difference, and I’m happy to say this show was not the latter. Even though this series may not have impressed me, it did surprise me.

Imagine any show with an overabundance of characters with animal features. For example, classic cat ears and tails. If your first thought wasn’t something fanservice-y, then you are a much more innocent person then me. Regardless, I one-hundred-percent expected Uma Musume to go down the fanservice route. Color me shocked when that never happened.

The characters in this series were always fully clothed, they never got into compromising positions, upskirt shots were nonexistent, and boob physics were hard to come by. What remained was a series that had a lot of faith in its core idea.

That core idea being racing.

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If you take away the surface display, i.e., the horse girls, Uma Musume was a decent sports anime. I will be the first to admit that there was no part of this show that was nail-biting or tense. In fact, this series was quite predictable. Nevertheless, racing was integral to everything that was going on.

Every character in Uma Musume thought about racing. Everyone was always training for the next event. Almost every episode had at least one competition, and some even had multiple. What I’m getting at is, this was a story about racing, so it made sense to have it be a prominent feature.

While you may think this should be obvious, shows like Love Live Sunshine and Tsukipro (granted, not sports anime) did everything except what they claimed their main focus was.

Yes, the races of Uma Musume were nothing to get invested in. That notwithstanding, these were some of the better scenes of this series.

There was a healthy competitive community in this show. The main characters didn’t always win. When there was someone else who was supposedly the best at something, that wasn’t hearsay. There were a lot of strong competitors. It was almost as if Uma Musume was trying to create an accurate depiction of how actual horse races play out.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost money because the two-to-one favorite failed to show and some random underdog came charging in from behind.

Whenever characters in this series won, and more specifically, when they lost, they learned from what happened and applied that experience to the next race. This, more than anything else, gave Uma Musume a sense of growth. For a show that was in a prime position to take the easy route, it was nice to see effort.

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Lastly, and this may surprise you, I am not what you would call an expert on famous Japanese racehorses. I have a bunch of random trivia floating around in my head, but this topic is not one of them. If this is your thing, though, who am I to judge. More importantly, Uma Musume was a treasure trove when it came to this subject.

All of the horse girls in this series were named after legendary racehorses. Characters’ names were no doubt goofy, but that didn’t make them any less authentic. Not only that, many of the moments that took place in Uma Musume mirrored real-world events and victories.

For reference, the actual Special Week (the inspiration for Uma Musume’s main character) was a successful racehorse. Special Week won ten of his seventeen races including the Japanese Derby and the Tennou Shou; both being races that were reenacted in this series. And for a more trivia, Special Week passed on April 27, 2018; a few weeks after Uma Musume began its original run.

If this series ever gets a continuation, there is actually a lot more this story can pull from should it choose to continue down this path.

Speaking of continuations, Uma Musume is one of those shows that could pull one off, except it doesn’t really need to. If a second season never comes, it never comes, and you won’t hear me asking for one. Conversely, I won’t question how a Uma Musume 2 could work.

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Series Negatives

The most significant point against Uma Musume was what it was. Although this was a decent sports anime, it was still a giant commercial. There was never a moment in this series where the upcoming game wasn’t being sold.

Perhaps it’s only me, but when a character gets a title card during their first appearance in a show, that is an indication they are essential to the story, and that we should remember their name. However, this becomes a moot point when every character gets a name card. It doesn’t matter whether that character is actively talking, prominent in the foreground, or hidden in the background in a single scene.

I guarantee everyone that appeared in this show is collectible in the game. Too bad that is not a good enough reason to force them into this series.

Let me put it this way. There had to be around fifty different characters in Uma Musume. But unless a character’s name was Special Week, there was no point to care about any of them. To be fair, the horse girl Silent Suzuka (voiced by Marika Kono) gained some importance by the end of this series.

Unfortunately, that didn’t amount to much since there was a sea of other characters who were filling up space and time. Had Uma Musume not worried about introducing as many people as possible and focused more on what it had at hand, I am willing to bet this series could have been something. As it stands, though, this show was way too cluttered.

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Even when we disregard every other character besides Special Week – and that is not a hard thing to do – this series remained full of road bumps. For starters, Uma Musume set it up to make Special Week a protegee racer. Based on the history of her namesake, as I mentioned, there was material for this show to pull from. Too bad this story all but abandoned this angle.

In the first half of Uma Musume, the shadowy nature of Special Week’s backstory was legitimately fascinating. It was the only thing that kept this series alive in the beginning. Luckily, this story found a bit more teeth before never talking about Special Week’s past ever again.

Uma Musume’s lack of commitment was this show’s most disappointing aspect. This made many of its elements feel unnecessary, and nowhere was this more apparent than with the events that took place after each race.

There is a reason why I compared Uma Musume to Love Live, and it was no accident that I brought up Love Live Sunshine and Tsukipro. Plus, I never mentioned what kind of game Cygames is developing.

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Uma Musume: Pretty Derby the game, to the best of my knowledge and based on what I saw in the anime, is to be an idol raising game with racing as a side mechanic. To say it simply, Uma Musume wanted to be a sports anime and an idol anime.

After each race, the girls that won, placed, and showed (first, second, and third), would jump up on stage and perform a live concert. This was utterly pointless and added nothing to this series. Not only that, it was so underused. There were times when I forgot it was even a thing. This leads me to ask, “Why bother with this at all?”

The clear answer to that question is, “because it’s in the game.” You know what, this idol mechanic may work – for the game. In this series, though, it was a waste of effort. It was out of place, and it came off as a cheap rip-off of the success of Love Live.

In addition, this live concert turned the ending of this series into a total handjob to itself. Again, only the top three girls would sing. I will concede that there may have been a tiny detail that I missed which explained why all the contestants in this show’s final race appeared on stage at the same time. But if there wasn’t, that tells me Uma Musume didn’t have the guts to pick a winner.

This show wanted everyone to be champions.

I don’t know how I expected this series to end, but for some reason, I didn’t think it was going to be cheap.

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Final Thoughts

This show was neither good nor bad. It kind of just was.

There were elements to this series that weren’t awful. The races, although not gripping, were fun enough to say they kept my attention. Plus, there were a ton of details that gave this story much-needed personality.

On the other hand, there were plenty of aspects that were either bland, incomplete, or unnecessary. There were way too many characters to care about. The one character that was worth anything ended up not going anywhere of note. Moreover, no matter how you look at it, this show was an attempt to sell something rather than tell a story.

To choose between recommending or skipping, Uma Musume is directly in the middle. Both choices are right and wrong. You won’t lose anything if you decide to watch. However, you could also do much better.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? What would be your advice concerning Uma Musume: Pretty Derby? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

And if you liked what you read, be sure to follow me on my social media sites so that you never miss a post or update. Also, please share this review across the internet to help add to the discussion.

I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

Post Editor: Onions

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