Horse Girls Are Easy – This Week in Anime

If you wrote off Uma Musume Pretty Derby Season 2 based on its galaxy-brain premise, you may have missed out on one of the most emotionally compelling sports series in years.

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

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.


Well Steve, we find ourselves in a bit of a lull with new releases right now. The new season’s only just started, there’s no Netflix dumps in sight, and we missed out on talking about whatever the hell Ninja Robots was. We better think up something quick before our boss catches us horsing around here.

You know, I think you’ve just given me the perfect idea. Let me take the reins.

That’s right, it’s horse girl time.
Technically it was horse girl time last spring, but forgive us for lagging behind the pack a bit, okay? How were we to know the second season of a gacha game adaptation about girls possessed by the spirits of dead racehorses would go on to become one of the biggest moneymakers of 2021?

I mean, I could have told you that. But in its own special (week) way, it’s fitting that we’d choose an odd time to talk about what turns out to be a pretty odd season. Last winter, part 2 of Uma Musume arrived three years removed from the first season—enough of a gap to allow the mobile game to finally go live—while it also followed a new set of horse girl protagonists, threading the line between sequel and spinoff.

Honestly it feels like a soft reboot. The main cast of the previous season are still present, but they are entirely side characters, and I think that works best. S1 was a perfectly OK sports homage, but Spe-chan and the rest of Spica really do work better as supporting cast with dedicated gimmicks. Can only get so much mileage out of “she liek carrot” y’know?

She do be lieking carrot tho.

Also if you’re new here, yes all the girls are named after their horse counterparts. You just gotta roll with it. Also I wasn’t joking earlier: the lore of this world is that spirits from our Earth’s racehorses travel across space-time to possess fetuses in the womb, and they all are born as horse girls. That’s just how it is.

In addition to the horrifying cosmic implications of its lore, Uma Musume returns with all your favorite horse girl locales and sight gags from the first season. Remember the hollow stump of frustration? Now you can use it to vent all of your powerfully gay feelings!

I only barely remembered that from the first season, actually. Which kind of tells you how much I attached to it. But thankfully S2 makes for a great jumping on point even if you never watched the first. All you need to know is there’s horse girls and they fucking love Springsteen.

Yeah, unless your brain is as broken as mine, in which the phrase “horse girl anime” alone is enough to alter my cerebral chemistry, I’d recommend just diving into the second season. It takes the series many charming (and bizarre) points and concentrates them into what ends up being a much more compelling, and more straightforward, sports narrative. And plus, it still takes the time to teach Uma Newbies important stuff like how their skirts work, or what their speed limit is.

I feel like having that next to the sidewalk is asking for trouble. Like at least you can hear cars coming. Imagine trying to cross the street and just getting laid out by a galloping schoolgirl.

I’m sure there are people out there who would pay for the privilege.

Yes, they also wear horseshoes. It’s a whole thing, you gotta trust us.
Don’t question it. That way lies Horse Madness.

Next thing you know, you’re gonna be asking questions like “why does that girl have pointy teeth if horses are herbivores?” and then you will truly be lost.

I’m more concerned on why her ears look like aircraft ventilators. But honestly there’s an entire column’s worth of questions I could ask about that VTuber ass horse.

Anyway, there is an actual story to this show, and it centers on Tokai Teio, the tiny, fleet-footed star racer of Spica who dreams of becoming Horsekage.

Coincidentally, Symboli Rudolf is my favorite Italian fusion restaurant.

That scene’s doubly great when you learn that in real horse lore, Symboli Rudolf sired Teio. It’s horse girls all the way down. But she’s got a lot of pep and big dreams to win the Triple Crown, and given that this is a goofy gacha tie-in about cute track races, I’m sure there won’t be anything in her w—

Yeah so that’s gonna be a running theme of this season. I think there’s maybe two whole episodes of this season without at least one on-screen injured horse girl. Which really makes me wonder what the hell kind of medical personnel work at this horse girl school.

The unfunny answer is as good medical personnel as the actual horses get. Another extremely important quirk of the Uma Musume anime to understand is that pretty much all of its major races are based on historical ones. They replicate the competitors, the outcomes, and have even gone as far as recreating specific camera angles from the TV broadcast. It’s impressive in a way, but it also means the narrative ends up beholden to the not-so-cute intricacies of the real thing, which can get pretty darn gnarly.

Yeah it’s kind of a catch-22. If you acknowledge that limitation it all but takes you out of the plot and reminds you of the frankly fucked way racing animals have been treated historically. If you don’t, it instead invites comparison to human sports injuries which are equally fucked. So the show struggles with that for basically the whole season.

Personally I just blame their trainer. This dude has three different star racers get hurt while under his guidance in like, a year. He should have been fired faster than Urban Meyer. Get him out of here and get these girls a real Strength & Conditioning coach.

What is legitimately funny is that this guy is the audience/player stand-in, yet the entire season sees him making these agonizingly grim decisions about the fate of his team members. He’s also infinitely more tolerable this season, if you can believe it. They do away with his occasional bouts of lecherous behavior from the first season, even if it comes at the expense of an almost criminal disregard for the health and safety of his team. Still a net gain from a narrative perspective, though.

Wow, so he really is Urban Meyer! Also prepare for a lot of football references, nerds. It’s playoff season and this is the closest to a sports show I’ve gotten in months. But I promise to mostly keep things horse-themed.

I’m holding you to that, or so help me I have a folder full of Twin Turbo to throw at you.

So anyway, yeah, Teio ends up breaking her leg at the end of the first episode, right after a big victory to continue her undefeated streak. This was probably not helped by her having to put on an idol concert right after winning.

God I love this stupid anime.

“Why did she have to do that?” you may ask. And what did we tell you about asking questions?

‘Tis but a fracture anyway. Teio can walk that off. And she’s going to, because she has more important things to worry about, i.e. beating her fellow teammate and rival ojou-sama.

Yes, her name is McQueen. Yes, they’re in love. Ka-chow.

McQueen gets arguably the most important narrative upgrade from the first season, going from Gold Ship’s partner in background gag crime to second billing as Teio’s girlfriend.

She also unlocks Ultra Instinct at one point, so all around a very positive season for her that definitely won’t hit any speedbumps.

They’re the two major players from Spica, while everyone else on the team plays support/comic relief. Meanwhile the other rivals come from other teams, like the aforementioned Twin Turbo. They even imported Kumiko from Sound! Euphonium to fill out the roster.

They’re part of the team of weirdos who mostly exist to trail behind Teio and McQueen, but they’re pretty fun in their own incredibly dumb ways.

Yeah, no matter how heavy the show gets, its extremely goofy sense of humor is always there to pick things up. There’s a multiple-episode running gag between a hairstylist and her hapless customer that runs all the way through the finale. It rules.

There’s also the ongoing story of Mejiro Palmer and her internet-poisoned girlfriend who looks like somebody hit “Random” in a horse girl Picrew.

I’ve finally reached the point where I unironically love this recent avenue of maximalist character design. Between gacha games and VTubers, character designers have shed all limiters and thrown absolutely anything that sticks at the wall. The anime girl arms race has never been dumber, and I’m here for it.

Count me as an apostate because just looking at Twin Turbo’s racing gear makes me feel like I drank six cans of Monster.

These horse girls are too strong for you, traveler.

But hey, I may not see what Palmer sees in her, but I’m glad she and Helios found each other.

To quickly answer another Uma Musume newbie question, yes, every horse girl is invariably gay. This has been true ever since Special Week was introduced with two moms.

It’s just how it goes. You live on the racetrack. You die on the racetrack. You get married on the racetrack.

And off the racetrack, you enjoy some nice, reasonably sized boba tea together on a Halloween date.

You know, whenever one of you isn’t seriously injured. Which is a shockingly rare occurrence for some reason. These girls get one beautiful, cathartic rivalry race before both are put back on IR. Again, fire this fuckin guy. His horse girls are dropping like the flies their tails are supposed to swat.

Sidenote: the greatest joke in this show is when the horse girls finish a race and go full Yamcha in the background. Nobody ever acknowledges it.

We told you the world of horse girl racing was cutthroat. But funny enough, my favorite part of the season has nothing to do with Teio and McQueen’s disaster-addled rivalry. It’s all about one very smol dark horse.

We stan a queen and her stupid little hat.

Rice Shower, like her namesake, is a racer with a notorious reputation as a spoiler, having foiled a previous Triple Crown attempt from a crowd favorite, and currently up against McQueen’s ambitions to win.

And she does it all in that STUPID little hat. I LOVE her.

She’s by far my favorite part too. One of the things I love about sports is that the culture around it is defined as much by narrative as it is by raw physicality. Athletes can develop reputations or foster personas that take on a life of their own, and seeing the god damn Kawaiibiscuit show delve into that was a very welcome surprise.

As a kid who never really “got” sports, I only very recently came to understand that narrative aspect of their appeal, and it was like stadium doors being thrown open. Rice Shower’s arc in particular adds up to a shockingly elegant exploration of what “villainy” means in professional competitions, and how much of that narrative is in and out of control of the athlete. Rice Shower, in that respect, hates her reputation, and it’s enough to make her want to quit.

Nah, girl, embrace that. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a dominant dynasty get taken down by an unexpected opponent. Eli Manning spent years being considered the mediocre coat-tail rider to his older brother, then he fluked his way into beating the undefeated Patriots, and now he never has to pay for a drink in NYC for the rest of his life. You’re only a villain until you crush the bandwagon fans into submission!

Okay I know I warned you about the football references, but because I actually know those names, I’ll allow it. And for Rice Shower, the power with which she grabs hold of both the heel and hero aspects of her reputation, and further synthesizes that frustration into a record-breaking win, is the undisputable high point of this season.

Also, her flaming blue eyes are yet another bit of horse trivia minutiae, in this case referencing a TV ad about the original Rice Shower. This show, man.

It’s so good. Just embrace the power of a heel and I promise you people will love you. If those other girls and their fans are angry, then it’s their job to get better than you. Become the Kagetsu of horse girls, Rice Shower.

See that one’s a wrestling reference. I’m safe.
I love, too, that the denouement to her arc is Bourbon returning to tell her, “yep, you broke a lot of hearts today. You did good, kid.”

If you can’t win the hearts of the masses, you can at least date a Symphogear.

Alternatively, speak softly and carry a stupid little dagger to match your hat.

That cannot be safe to run with. Like it’s a wonder she of all people doesn’t get injured in this show.

Look, someone has to make it out of this season unscathed, and it sure as hell ain’t going to be the main couple.

Alright so, I guess we gotta address this story’s final arc. See the entire reason Rice Shower gets some limelight is because Teio and McQueen spend months after their big race nursing injuries, and while McQueen seemingly makes a comeback, Teio keeps getting hurt and if you’ve ever seen an athlete rush back from injury for a big competition, you see where this is going.

Teio’s whole arc is all about starting with these grand dreams and constantly having to whittle them down due to her leg injuries, which just gets more and more heartbreaking. She does eventually find inspiration not in a particular race, but in her relationship/rivalry with McQueen, which is the main thematic thrust of season 2. Even that, however, can be heartbreaking to watch at points.

It is shockingly real. One of the inescapable facts of sports is that you can only play as long as both body and spirit can keep up, and those two are rarely in tandem. You can do everything you can to take care of yourself, but accidents or mistakes can suck the wind out of you and leave you feeling empty. And that’s even harder when you’re a big name who can suddenly be left behind by the world.

And again, this is in the god damn horse girl gacha ad where they dress up in frilly costumes and perform dance numbers after a race.

Right? Watching it last year, I was completely whiplashed by how hard this season homes in on loss, failure, and injury as its main points of concern. You can either read that as a noble narrative pursuit in spite of its gacha tie-in roots, or just the grim inevitability of lifting your stories from a sport in which the participants are, ultimately, expendable. It still works for me in the end, thanks in no small part to its audacity and sincerity, but it’s definitely arguable whether this approach was a good idea in the first place.

I admire the ambition behind it, and there are absolutely moments when this hits incredibly close to home, but the problem comes when it still ultimately needs a happy ending, and getting there requires some really horse shit (pun intended) framing.

I promised to keep the football stuff horse-themed so tell me Steve, do you know anything about the Indianapolis Colts?

I don’t believe Jon Bois has done a video on them yet, so no.

So in 2012, the Colts drafted a star quarterback out of college named Andrew Luck. And for the next 7 years, through a confluence of bad luck and horrifically inept management, proceeded to ruin his career with a series of debilitating injuries that led him to a shockingly early retirement. And when he announced, through tears, that he was retiring in order to prioritize his health, an entire stadium of Colts fans booed him as he left the field. It’s one of the most shameful things to happen to a high-level NFL player in recent memory.

And it’s awful, because Luck gave literal blood, sweat, and tears for an organization that failed him and a fanbase that showed they only cared about him for his ability to win games. So when the resolution to Teio wanting to retire to avoid a potentially life-long disability is this:

The sentiment kinda turns to ash in my mouth.

That certainly does make sense! And even absent a specific example, the uncaring unkindness of real sports injuries were a nagging presence in my mind while watching this season too. You can’t pep talk your way out of a concussion. I even started to wonder if the show would ultimately commit to an unhappy, or at least bittersweet, ending, because it really seemed like the most logical place it could go. And those moments that do wallow in the stark, inevitable realities of disappointment and grief end up being the most powerful parts of the narrative for me.

The worst part to me is how the narrative frames the decision of any horse girl to not run herself into the glue factory as “giving up.” Like nah man. I can relate to losing something important to you, to wanting desperately to have back the body and ability you once had. But choosing to not wreck your body in the pursuit of a victory is never “giving up” and the show treating it that way sucks major ass.

It’s not giving up, but at the same time it’s a tough decision for a person to make when considering it’s your life’s passion—and, less seriously, that the cosmos themselves aligned to specifically make you into a horse girl destined for racing. On an individual level, I absolutely get how that can feel like giving up. Still, though, I agree it would have been better—or at least more interesting—for the show to pursue a more nuanced ultimate resolution than default back to a happy ending.

It also just doesn’t make sense? Teio gets a serious injury that’ll require monitoring, but can ultimately be overcome, sure. But McQueen is diagnosed with a degenerative disorder. That’s not something you can heal or easily fix.

I actually did some research on this because yes, it’s a real god damn horse disease, and it’s something that can only be treated through lifestyle change. That’s….that’s not something you can Hope and Dream your way through.
Not hopes and dreams, but maybe the power of horse girl love is stronger than even the best medicine. Would be an interesting thing for season 3 to explore.

It apparently has the ability to convert cartilage in your legs into collagen, because an unspecified amount of time after Teio’s big return, McQueen’s just back.

Just long enough for a new generation of horse girls to enter the academy and learn how to pulverize their ligaments into a fine powder!

Considering Teoi’s childhood idol is still at the school when she starts attending, I assume Horse Girls age like real horses and hit puberty before age 2.

But yeah, for the most part I appreciate what Uma Musume 2: Galloping Boogaloo does. It makes a way more compelling story than the first, has a much more interesting cast, and did a lot to surprise me. But I can’t see the ending as anything but a copout. But at least the haircut lady got her revenge!

Truly more important than any A plot happening. As for me, I listed this with my honorable mentions for 2021 for a reason. Certain aforementioned quibbles aside, it’s a genuinely great sports anime with a colorful sense of humor and shocking degree of pathos crammed into its 13 episodes. I’d say it’s a lot better than it has any right to be, but that would be a lie, because horse girls were always good. Let them trot their way into your heart. You won’t regret it.

We’ll have to agree to disagree, but at the very least we’ll always have this tiny horse and her tinier hat.

Amen to that.