Spring 2018 First Impressions: Umamusume Pretty Derby – Trotting Out A Surprise Idol Show

What if famous race horses had the chance to be reborn as cute anime girls and race each other for the chance to be idols? Special Week, a young girl who is just starting out at the elite horse girl school, Tracen Academy, wishes to be the best horse girl in Japan. Does she have what it takes to go far and beat her idol, Silence Suzuka, at the Twinkle Series? We’ll find out in Umamusume: Pretty Derby, the latest show by P.A. Works that’s based on a mobile game.

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I didn’t think that the first new anime that I watched this season would be about horse girls who did track races to decide who was going to get to sing and dance on stage at the end of each competition, but after a while you just start to expect this sort of thing. Maybe years ago I would have been like “Haha, WHAT? Are they serious? This premise is so weird!” But by this point in my life I just give a sage nod and whisper to myself, “Ah, yes. This is par for the course now, and makes perfect sense.” Unfortunately, without the weirdness factor to draw me in Pretty Derby does not do much to excite or entertain me.

In the first episode of Pretty Derby we are introduced to our protagonist, Special Week, who has come to Tokyo from Hokkaido to go to Tracen Academy, a school specially for horse girls. On the way there she gets distracted, heads down to the race track to catch a race in the Twinkle Series, and gets felt up by a super creepy guy and then watches the race where her idol, Silence Suzuka, happens to be racing that day. She then watches the “Winning Concert”, which is where the victor gets to sing and dance on stage to everybody’s delight. Special Week then heads to school, meets her peers, and tries out for Team Rigil which is apparently the best horse racing team at school. She doesn’t get in but both the creepy trainer and Suzuka happen to be watching and both are inspired by her brilliance. Special Week doesn’t get into her team of choice so ends up joining Team Spica, which is headed up by the creepy guy who has been following her around this entire episode, and Suzuka also transfers in. So ends the first episode of a special two-part premiere! Unfortunately Pretty Derby didn’t grab me enough to get me to watch the second half.

The visuals aren’t the problem with Pretty Derby. The art and animation are cute and pleasant, as you would expect from P.A. Works, and the character designs are mostly cute even if they don’t personally appeal to me due to their weird horse appendages being tacked on awkwardly. If you like bright colours and cute girls then you might get some enjoyment out of the first few episodes of the show.

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What first grated on me was the main character, Special Week. She is made to appeal to the cutesy, moe crowd. Her main attributes are that she’s clumsy and ditzy but tries hard, she likes to eat a lot, and she makes a high pitched squealing noise every time she sees or experiences anything even vaguely exciting. Within the first five minutes of the premiere Special Week has said “Aaaah!” in an incredibly high pitched faux cute voice a couple of dozen times, which gets really grating. Ultimately she is more a typical archetype from this brand of Cute Girls Doing Cute Things anime rather than an actual person.

The rest of the cast are mostly forgettable at this stage except for their weird racehorse names, except for the Trainer who is also really unenjoyable to watch. They had to sneak in some fanservice somehow, and they did this with the aid of a creepy, intense horse girl trainer who takes every opportunity given to him in this episode to feel up Special Week’s legs while claiming that it’s totally because he’s checking out her performance levels rather than being a weird pervert who keeps groping an underage girl. This kind of character never sits well with me and this guy was no exception. The fact that he’s also in a position of power over the girls in his Team doesn’t help in the slightest; I’m sure he’ll be up to even more skeevy antics as the anime continues in the name of “helping them train” or “assessing their horse racing aptitude”.

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Maybe if you like literally every cute girl show that comes out, or you’re a fan of idols or monster girls, Pretty Derby will still appeal to you. However, between the bland characters, the predatory coach and the fact that I still can’t get over the fact that somebody though mixing horse racing and idols together would be a super good idea, I’m very sure that this one isn’t for me.

Highlights:

  • Cute art, decent production values
  • Racehorse names are funny, maybe Seabiscuit will show up one day

Lowlights:

  • Creepy coach ruins the chill girls club vibe
  • Stock character tropes mean you can already kind of tell where this anime is going

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