In Defense of Uma Musume – Pretty Derby, Moe Anthropomorphism, and Homages

From battleships to animals, making inanimate objects and fundamental concepts into cute girls is very much an anime thing.

There are going to be spoilers up to episode 7 of Uma Musume – Pretty Derby in this post.

Unfortunately, it seems like this trend, known to some as moe anthropomorphism, can be harshly judged by disgruntled naysayers who consider it to be strange. Said individuals would also find the fact that Planet Earth has been stylized as a pouty girl who is self-conscious of her physical development to be weird and not cute, for example. This is very likely one of the reasons why Uma Musume – Pretty Derby, a show in which high school girls based on racehorses run against one another as if they were running in track-and-field, has generally received a lukewarm reception thus far.

Furthermore, horse racing in Japan is typically shown as a negative pasttime in which to partake. There are plenty of deadbeat anime dads or unemployed anime characters who spend a large portion of their time betting on horses in hopes of winning big. Under such context, horse racing is essentially gambling despite the stringent Japanese laws against such activities.

Lastly, Uma Musume has been written off as being an anticlimatic underdog story by some (myself included). That’s because the protagonist, Special Week, is one of the fastest racehorses from the very beginning and she quickly recovers from any setbacks. There’s little sense of urgency since she’s just that good and is expected to and has continuously bounced back.

Be that as it may, maybe Uma Musume was never meant to be a tale about a plucky dark horse. Perhaps the series is supposed to chronicle a birth of a legend and rising star who left Japan if not the world dazzled in the wake of her triumphs and accomplishments. It certainly looks to be the case if one turns to the year of 1998 horse racing season since many of the races and results in the anime series mirror the ones which occurred in real life (looking at the real life events, by the way, is not advised if you want to avoid spoilers).

Well, Special Week’s maiden race (as in her first official race) actually occurred in 1997. But, as seen in the following video, real life Special Week also had a late start but managed to claw into fifth place and then ended up winning the race after a last-minute burst of speed just like what happened in episode two.

From the very start, it was clear that Special Week was innately talented. However, she wasn’t invincible. Just as viewers saw in episode third in which she came in third place behind Seiun Sky and King Halo, real life Special Week fell behind the other two horses in Satsuki Sho.

So that’s probably why Special Week is the protagonist. She’s one of the best but not the absolute best. The fact that Special Week’s biological mother died after delivering Special Week also happened in real life and probably helped as well (Special Week was more or less raised by a lady from New Zealand in real life and it just so happens that her adoptive mother in the anime has blond hair). After all, as the following video points out, protagonists almost always have broken families and/or dead biological parents.

You should really watch that video and the following video, by the way. They are very informative! This article will cover only a few facts Anime Fan has pointed out in his videos, so you should still check his content.

The level of details which pay homage to events and relationships and actual race horses real life is really impressive. For instance, in the OP “Make Debut!” several of the races the Team Spica members are shown running are based on some famous real life races. Vodka (who really was a mare, or female horse, in real life unlike Special Week and Silence Suzuka who were stallions, or male horses) bobs and weaves while running past several stallions in order to win the 2009 Yasuda Kinen. Gold Ship comes in from the inside and wins the 2012 Satsuki Sho. Finally, Tokai Teio wins the 1993 Arima Kinnen and cries (but in real life, the jockey was the one who cries during the interview).

Silence Suzuka and Special Week wear different coloured shoes not to appear goofy but because the series is conscious of the fact that the real life versions of Silence Suzuka and Special Week had different coloured hooves. Vodka and Special Week were distant relatives which explains why they share a passing resemblance in the anime via similar hairstyles.

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The same goes for Tokai Teio and Symboli Rudolf, who was son and father, respectively. Speaking of which, Tokai Teio was rather graceful for a racehorse and could basically dance.

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Essentially, the amount of attention to detail put into this project gives the impression that the ones responsible really do love the series. Or maybe they just want the mobile game to do well and steal people’s money after the anime wins them over. Either way, the author of this article is impressed.

This is something Uma Musume has managed to pull off rather successfully. The series is definitely enjoyable even if you know little about race horses, but your enjoyment drastically increases if you do the slightest bit of research. It was a bit of a risk considering how anime series which cut out important scenes and explanations which essentially force the viewer to do supplementary reading in order to follow along outright fail as an anime adaptations, but Uma Musume managed to toe the line!

With that being said, Uma Musume does not strictly follow real life events. First of all, El Condor Pasa didn’t actually run in the the 1998 Nippon Derby which was shown in episode five since only Japanese-bred race horses were allowed to participate in the event. The rule has since been abolished and the fact El Condor Pasa ran in the race threw off history buffs and signifies a more open-minded and inclusive setting than that of 1998, which is certainly a positive outcome.

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Secondly, and fortunately, Silence Suzuka does not die after running in the Tenno Sho during episode seven, which is what happened in real life. The power of friendship is often scoffed at, but the avoidance of a tragedy is probably for the better (and makes for a very unpredictable viewing experience). And thus this series about races and friendships and disappointment and passion and glory engrosses the viewer who has to remain on-guard even if they’re knowledgeable about what had happened in real life.

And maybe, just maybe, some viewers may think that this series isn’t so meaningless after all. To be able to turn an activity that’s usually looked down upon and reveal how it’s actually full of exciting surprises and able to amaze viewers by veering away from “the script” despite carefully referencing real life events and horses — not just any ol’ show can do that.

Oh, and it’s pretty interesting to note that the jockey for Silence Suzuka ended up riding Special Week after Silence Suzuka’s accident. Truly, the two half-siblings (they shared the same sire, Sunday Silence), were connected by fate.

Ah, maybe I’m overthinking a fun little show about racehorses. But I still love this series so much.

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6 thoughts on “In Defense of Uma Musume – Pretty Derby, Moe Anthropomorphism, and Homages

  1. *Not deep enough. We need to dig deeper* (XD)
    It’s series like these that really show the dedication of the production/animation staff (I’d like to pass on the skepticism haha)

    This kind of raises some questions for me – How different would it be (apart from the reception) if the series as a whole does not work with anthropomorphic horses, but normal horses instead? If such a show was aired at least a decade ago, how would it compare to with the present?

    (Also, aww there should be both male and female anthropomorphic horses XD)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mmm I’d like to believe in the production and staff too!

      Ooohh…I’m not sure, really. Those are some good questions.

      (Yeah they’re all female hahaaaaa. I wonder if there’s an easy way to tell which horse is female)

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I only checked Special Week because ‘she’/’he’ is exclusively mentioned (alongside others) in this post, which turns out to be male at birth.
          Haha, yea you can probably do another post on this if its interesting enough for a nice discussion 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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