「ライバルとのダービー」 (Rival to no Derby)
“The Derby with Rivals”
Uma Musume has been far more of a treat than expected. I wasn’t sure whether to go forward with seeing Special Week’s pursuit of the gold through, but this derby put in such a great effort to display the narrative’s growth in both fleshing out the characterization of their cast and creating tense, adrenaline-pumping races that go above and beyond to leave viewers at the edge of their seats. While past episodes have excelled in these aspects relatively easily, it’s in the face of the Japanese Derby at the Tokyo Race Course where the show helps to build up to what a massive event it is for the competitors to compete in on a national scale.
Throughout the episode, we mostly get Special Week’s point-of-view as she prepares for the climb back up from the fall she had beforehand. From the diet she was put under to regularly sprinting up stairs to improve her ability to maneuver uphill, you see how her efforts are able to get her to where she’s at by the end of the episode as one of the two champions of the Japanese Derby. On top of the physical training she took, she was also provided support through her mutual bonding with Silence Suzuka and her other teammates on Spica. It shows that Special Week isn’t the type of protagonist to just get magically better, especially since her natural talents don’t apply towards every facet of racing. Instead, we’re shown how the her friends’ encouragement and the determination she had to make sure she can sprint uphill efficiently were what made her success possible.
The same can be said for the other competitors who were given just as much characterization in the sense that there wasn’t a single person or horse-person that thought they 100% had this race in the bag. Seiun Sky had gained further exposure after beating Special Week in a narrow victory, which put her way out of her comfort zone as she had to forego the laid back approach she takes on most of her races by practicing more frequently than usual. Although she’s friendly and cordial towards the other racers, falling behind after Special Week took her lead destroyed her motivation to carry on, giving a soul-crushing monologue about losing her speed as she sees racers sprint past her.
El Condor Pasa was very interesting this week as well because she was the favorite to win the derby, and was featured in almost all of the promotional material building up to the race. With the media circuit where all eyes were on her, she was still feeling tense about the derby. Because so much expectation placed on her to win the race, even she wasn’t able to combat her nerves alone while getting prepared for the race. After pushing herself to keep on-top of her training, it took encouragement from Symboli to get her back in the spirit of winning. Her excitement about racing and finding a formidable opponent in Spe-chan is nice as well since it continues Uma Musume of having friendly rivalries that aren’t all about bitter hatred and resentment. It is unique that the most intense rivalries in the show so far are shifted towards the trainers, who are take the pressure of the derby the hardest with Spica’s trainer using his binoculars incorrectly or Toujou starting to get nervous about the idea of Special Week pulling off an upset victory.
It’s the intensity of this particular race that actualized the anime’s potential in pulling off exciting race scenes. The past races had such short stakes that it was hard to get as pumped up about Special Week flying past opponents or see Seiun Sky simply gain the lead in the race she lost. However, as we get familiar with the competitors and see how they feel and train, the stakes are far higher as we see the girls we’ve been following regularly up to this point trying to find the strength and will to make it far. Because we’re familiar with Spe-chan, Seiun, and El Condor, we feel far more nervous about them winning or losing, and it contributes to the fear we’re given about if Spe-chan doesn’t win it, if El Condor’s reputation falls as a result of a defeat, or if Seiun is unable to recover as easily from a loss. By the end of the series when we’re acquainted with most of the cast, I can see a race with all of them to be a nail-biter as it’ll be hard to see more than just Seiun failing to gain the lead.
Getting attached to the cast of Uma Musume is looking to be a trend as well with our newer girls we’re introduced to are already making an impact on Team Spica. Maruzensky is looking to be another senior to shape Spe-chan’s view on her superiors as she helps her see the positivity in her mistakes as her unluckiness is re-contextualized for her to understand that she should feel lucky that the glass she spilled didn’t break. Spica’s newest recruit, Mejiro McQueen, was hilarious in this episode as her tsundere outlook on her trial run as a member of the team is mostly owed to the desperation Gold Ship has to run with her by humorously trying to court her as a friendly rival. Despite Mejiro’s insistence that she is only on the team to observe, she grows quickly attached as she finds the lucky clover that Spe-chan uses as a good luck charm. The challenge of adapting a series with a large cast is a formidable one at that, but Uma Musume has made getting attached and connected to a good portion of the girls already possible through their personalities and goals so it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the cast becomes involved with Spe-chan’s dream, and how their own paths intersect with hers as they compete in more derbies over time.
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