This Week in Anime
Uma Musume Means Horse Girls

by Nicholas Dupree & Michelle Liu,

Uma Musume Pretty Derby galloped into the new season with a truly bizarre premise that hasn't yet drawn much attention. This week, Nick and Micchy make hay about this uniquely equine sports/idol show while it's still sitting pretty in the spotlight.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.





Hey Nick, it's been two years since the first PV dropped, but I can't believe we're finally covering Yuri on Ice for this column!

Nick D
Oh uh, I thought we were finally covering Equestria Girls this week.

But seriously, it's been nearly two years since we got the teaser trailer for UMA MUSUME: PRETTY DERBY, and my entire twitter feed lost their shit over the running, swimming, singing, dancing, ice skating horse girls. Now that we've finally put the pieces of our lives back together, it's time for the show itself to ruin us all again.

Uma Musume is the riveting story of girls who are horses. They're born with the souls of racehorses, they're named after racehorses, and their purpose in life is to run real fast. And also be idols, for some reason. Let me get this out of the way first: this show is ridiculous.

Now now, let's not undersell this. These girls aren't just born with the souls of racehorses. They're POSSESSED by the spirits of racehorses from another universe while in-utero, and this gives the fetuses tiny little horse ears and tails.

Yes, the horsegirls' horse ears are their actual ears.

I guess technically the premise makes this an isekai show.

I'd personally label it more of a monstergirl show, but if you want to keep being wrong, you're free to do so.

ANYWAY, what's important is that Uma Musume's premise is existentially terrifying in a way that the show seems entirely unwilling to grapple with, making this story about horse girls trying to win the Triple Crown seem almost sinister as it papers over the dark implications of its world.

That's true, but have you considered: anime girls running to school with carrots in their mouths instead of toast?

Do all horse girls take up running? Are there any who wish for a life outside of the spotlight of competition? Do horse girls live as long as humans, or do they live as long as horses? We don't see any horsewomen, so it seems like the former, in which case every character in this show is middle-aged. And how long have horse girls been around? Was there a point in history where they were enslaved similar to work horses? Was there a horse girl emancipation movement? Would humanity even survive if a race as intelligent and sentient as us but far more physically powerful chose to overthrow us? Can a horse girl use a gun? These questions keep me up at night.

They're all good questions! You will never ever get answers to them; I imagine most can be answered with "somebody likes idols, horses, and mobage so don't think about it too hard." I mean, Uma Musume isn't really the kind of thing you want to think too hard about.

You could ask why the horsegirls hammer horseshoes into their real shoes, but that's not the important thing. The important thing is seeing them hammer horseshoes into their real shoes is friggin hilarious.

Okay yeah, if there's one show this season it's probably best not to overthink, it's the show where after running a race, the winner is expected to put on a fully choreographed concert.

not to mention running in dresses

Are you telling me you don't run in skirts designed with special tail holes? smh

I don't run, period. But then I wasn't raised by one of my two moms to be a track and field star, so what do I know? Anyway, once you've accepted that horse girls exist and somehow function in modern society with no ethical concerns, the rest of Umamusume's premise is pretty standard. Special Week, our heroine, wants to be the best Horse Girl in Japan, so she goes to a special All-Horse-Girl High School to become the Triple Crown Horse Girl.

The fun part about that description is that it sounds exactly like both a standard sports show and Love Live, showing that perhaps idol anime isn't that different from sports anime. Ergo, idol activities are a sport. But as far as shaking up the formula, the main thing Uma Musume has going for it is that the idols are also horses, which shouldn't be as funny as it is to me. The show has basically one joke that it milks for all its worth. You'd think it'd get old, and for most people, it probably would, but apparently my horrible brain finds it ludicrously entertaining.

I mean, their school motto is this (in?)famously pithy line about a horse race, for chrissake.

There's a certain charm to the show just cramming every horse-related gag it can into an otherwise straightforward sports narrative. Like how Special Week meets her coach by kicking him in the face with a startled whinny after he um, "judges her flanks."

In any other context, this would be a lazy joke about molestation (and it is), but something about the image of this anime girl accidentally kicking a full grown man 30 feet backwards made me bust out laughing anyway.

The horse girls are stronk, Nick.

That tongue-in-cheek humor really keeps the show afloat for me. Like look, this is the most transparent combination of three money-sucking hobbies possible (idols, horse racing, and gacha phone games), so why not roll with it? Uma Musume is content with being just a little weird, and I am 100% down is what I'm saying.

Beyond that, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit unironically invested in the show. The humor softened me up, and the tiny tweaks to formula made me genuinely fond of this show.

This is the first anime I can remember in ages that has a "diet episode" that didn't make me want to hang myself.

Even though the trainer is mostly interested ("interested") in her legs, the show still handles Special Week's weight anxieties pretty well by anime standards. None of the other girls judge her for it; they just offer to help her if that's what she wants.

And they help in the typical Uma Musume way.

Carrots are for closers, Spe-chan.

For what it's worth, they don't encourage her to starve herself. That's better than Love Live managed, anyway.

Instead she gets put through this intense workout regimen courtesy of Vodka:

Yes there is a horse girl named Vodka and she is one of my favorites.

Also: ballet and... diving, for some reason?

The diving is practice for when they retire from racing and have to help settlers ford a river on their way to Oregon.

The show is actually pretty earnest for something so baldly commercial in concept. Sure, the message that you should take setbacks as a chance to learn and grow is old as dirt, but after seeing series like Welcome to the Ballroom screw it up, it's nice to see done well.

I appreciate that they have a designated well for frustrated yelling.

Uma Musume isn't much of a departure from the usual, but it's at least sincere, which is about all I want from a show like this. There's nothing too mean-spirited, that characters have actual struggles and reasonably distinct personalities, and we get a handful of nice jokes. That's really all it takes to make me happy. Nobody's gonna be chomping at the bit for this show, but it is nice.

There's probably always gonna be a part of me that wants A Centaur's Life level of in-depth worldbuilding just to explain how the hell this crazy concept operates in a remotely realistic world, but it's a fun ride for what it is.

I hope we can both agree that Gold Ship is the best horsegirl, by the way.

Personally my favorite is Haru Urara, who is based off the most moe IRL horse ever. Quoting from Wikipedia: "In June 2003, after garnering her 80th consecutive loss, "Haru Urara" became a household name, called "the shining star of losers everywhere" (負け組の星 makegumi no hoshi), for continuing to run with all her heart, despite her seemingly endless losing streak. This surge in popularity was dubbed "The Haru Urara Boom", and news about Haru Urara even reached the international community."

And we can't omit El Condor Pasa, the resident American character.

Though she's strangely not the horse who says Howdy as her first line.

You know she's American because she talks
in a funny accent.

I guess All Americans Are Luchadores is more original than All Americans Are Cowboys at least. Though on the subject of IRL horses, I do have to wonder if they'll follow through with other horse girls' namesakes and their legacies.

I hope not, because otherwise Spe-chan's new girlfriend probably won't be around for long.

To be fair, the show's been hinting at some srs bzns regarding Suzuka for a while now. Why else would she have these wistful looks?

Well if Uma Musume really wants to shake things up, I've never seen an idol anime end with rescuing a character from the glue factory. Jokes aside, I do hope the series sticks to its guns dramatically. There's something comforting about just watching horse girls chase uncomplicated dreams of running real good, y'know? For the time being at least, if you're in the mood for a lighthearted comedy and you can turn your brain off, you should - if not gallop - at least canter toward Uma Musume.

And if not, there's plenty more anime this season, dear god is there ever.

If all else fails, there's always the sauce.

Excuse you, that's the juice of carrot.

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