While we as a community are still wrapping up from the absolute craziness of the Winter season and its amount of just amazing shows, the spring season just comes in like a lion right after in another feeble attempt to create after-season/pre-season chaos amidst all the shows that are being talked about at once. One of these new spring shows, which I’m sure you’ve seen countless pictures of at this point, is Umamusume: Pretty Derby, an anime about girls that are also horses, but also idols.
The concept itself sounds pretty wacky and entertaining, but also invokes that age-old question of “okay, but why is this a thing?”. Your guesses are as good as mine in that regard, but regardless, I think it’s important to distinguish whether this is a show that we really need to pay attention to or if it’s just another silly mobile game concept with a mediocre anime adaptation. The first two episodes haven’t really told a clear story of which it could be just yet, but it’s important to sit down and think about these sorts of anime in a more general context.
Specifically, I’m referring to the mobile game adaptation anime that have cropped up recently.
Think about the past few years for a minute and try to remember some of the anime that have come out of mobile game adaptations. You might remember some, and some of them you might wish you didn’t, but shows like KanColle, iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls, Fate/Grand Order, Granblue Fantasy, and Show by Rock!! are the sorts of anime I’m referring to.
Putting the actual mobile game mechanics and story cohesiveness aside for a minute and only strictly referring to the anime adaptations of these games, it’s pretty obvious that even from this list that while the games are popular, the anime adaptations themselves have varying levels of popularity, ranging from “a good bit” to “not a lot, if any”. While this is more of a personal anecdote based on what I saw while these shows were airing, there’s still a sort of reasoning that I feel is subconscious for many people watching these anime, and I think that perhaps for this reason, Umamusume may stand a chance at its moment in the spotlight.
The main reason that comes to mind is that Umamusume’s mobile game hasn’t been released yet, and while many may think of that as a major disadvantage, I also think that probably is the exact reason why it has the advantage.
Think about this: If an anime adaptation of a popular manga releases, you’ll often have a few different kinds of viewers. You’ll have the viewers that have never seen/heard of the material before and it’s fresh to them, which is appealing to the sort of people that like trying new things or are just a fan of particular genres. You’ll have the hardcore fans that have read the manga for years that will watch the anime excitedly to see it adapted, and finally, you’ll have the hardcore fans that will react negatively to the anime no matter what it does because it’s not the same as the original source material.
While the third category may be only a small few people, this mentality can also affect the other categories to lesser degrees as well, causing people to lose interest in the show due to more awareness of the issues comparative to the source material. This is an issue among many shows and is more of a community problem to be tackled in a “the adaptation is not necessarily 1:1 of the source material” approach, but this mentality actually works in Umamusume’s favor due to its lack of a source material to begin with.
Instead of being able to compare Umamusume’s characterization to the game’s characters (although this will likely work vice versa when the game releases), it allows people to sort of view this anime on a level of an “original” anime adaptation, which attracts less criticism as there’s no standard to actively compare the characters or the show to, something that the other mobile game anime adaptations have had to deal with in the past.
The importance of establishing all of this before discussion of the show itself is that it’s important to keep in mind the comparisons to its mobile game roots in terms of structure, plot, and characterization, but it’s important that we don’t latch onto this idea too much, as the work stands on its own equally as well without a game establishing all of the details beforehand. This may also explain Umamusume’s broader audience appeal compared to, say, KanColle’s anime adaptation. Various other factors may come into play as well, but I think this is a plausible band of reasoning to think about.
To be honest, the show itself… is pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s about horse girls trying to win races and dealing with those struggles in terms of being able to accomplish something for themselves and for others, depending on what sort of “goal” they have in mind for themselves and their own reasons for entering in these competitions. It would be pretty easy to compare this to an idol show like iDOLM@STER or a sport show like Haikyuu!!, and you’d find commonalities between both sorts of shows, as while not entirely prevalent at first, sports and idol shows aren’t necessarily too different in plenty of aspects (although their portrayals can change drastically).
This sort of different take on the genre isn’t necessarily something that’s fully original, and it’s evident from Umamusume that this show isn’t going to have a big genre twist in order to revolutionize the genre; it’s merely just attempting to be itself and the fun, quirky show it is, which is evident from the amount of silly facial expressions of the characters and the overall amount of fun bounciness put into the animation of the horse girls themselves.
While I’d be the first person to tell you that this show definitely has its fair share of issues (i.e. the sexual assault scenes from episode 1 played for laughs, yikes), it’s obvious to see why this anime was such a highly anticipated one despite being the first one out of the gate after the tail-end of a strong Winter season.
It’s definitely a show to keep an eye on, and it has a lot of potential to grow as the season moves on. The key will be for it to avoid falling into the mud by following the ways of some of its mobile game adaptation predecessors.
I’m placing all my bets onto this show being an enjoyable one of the season, and I hope it pays off in the end.