Uma Musume Pretty Derby: Road to the Top

Uma Musume Lovely Derby: Highway to the Most sensible

Just in its first season, the Uma Musume franchise shown that it had solid footing, and the second season revealed its entire potential. More anime based on these galloping women was inevitable because it has also gone on to be a huge financial success. However, Cygames decided to divert us into secondary ONA territory with Road to the Top here, a four-episode side-story that is accessible to view on their YouTube channel (complete with English subtitles), rather than pushing us straight into the third season of the television show. It’s true that there are many horse females in the world, and even Uma Musume: Pretty Derby’s second season felt more like a spin-off of the first than a full sequel.

Road to the Top offers newcomers the chance to make their imprint on this franchise idea that is fundamentally ridiculous but somehow alluring. In place of the TV anime’s Seasons 1 and 2, which were made by P.A. Works and Studio KAI, respectively, Cygames decided to have this one created by their own Cygames Pictures company. They did this by bringing in Cheng Zhi Liao, director of the ONA, who had previously worked on a variety of Doga Kobo initiatives. She was joined for the project by a strong team of storyboarders and animators, and the end result is a horse of a new hue that not only stands out from the past interpretations of Uma Musume but is often frequently breathtaking on its own terms.

Apart from the outrageously dressed anthropomorphized designs of the horse girls themselves, Uma Musume’s most distinctive feature is the vivacity of the races it subjects those characters to. Previous seasons of the anime television series focused on illustrating how quickly the protagonists moved during competitions, adding a notable anime flourish to what was otherwise a fundamentally compelling sports narrative. Road to the Top gives those races their most visceral incarnations yet under the direction of this gathered Cygames Pictures team. As the girls sprint through rain and mud or kick up the turf, the crucial aspects of the terrain the races are held on are both highlighted and proven. As they push themselves to those exhilarating sports show limits, their eyes strain and their teeth grind. There are only a few races in Road to the Top’s brief run, but none of them are the same. Each one has a unique tone and vibe, especially in terms of how it relates to a certain main character.

Road to the peak’s most impressive aspect is still its craft, even when it isn’t racing along at peak speed. During their downtime, the characters are skillfully framed by the direction. Whether it’s a straightforward introduction scene or a gripping dream sequence, their placement in a particular shot always feels deliberate. It also comes with decisions that are continuously changing about how close they are depicted or how to color-grade a certain scene. A sense of deliberate stillness complements how the action loosens up during the races, yet even then, Road to the Top never gives the impression that it is delaying to conserve resources. The horse females’ expressive ear flicks and energetic tail sways go well with these more straightforward encounters.

It’s an exceptional presentational effort in support of a narrative that appears satisfied to play to Uma Musume’s well-known advantages. The second season of the show demonstrated how well it could function by amplifying the sports drama. Road to the Top is content to keep giving sincerity to the stories of these cartoon horse ladies dressed in silly clothing, even though it never quite reaches for those levels of emotion (it simply lacks the time). This anime alternate-world version on the 1999 racing season places a third of its attention on Admire Vega, a character whose purpose is centered in her tragically deceased twin sister. In some circumstances, this seriousness is required. By occupying the definite sillier end of the characterisation range, artists like T.M. Opera O contribute to bringing things up, whereas Narita Top Road sits in the middle. The show’s unique format with the Triple Crown trio allows it to explore a broad range of moods and concepts over the course of its brief four-episode run with only a few additional supporters for each main character compared to the herds of minor characters the traditional TV seasons deployed.

The ability to directly contrast these three top horses allows Road to the Top to explore a sports narrative element that has always driven the franchise, acknowledging that while it is canon that all horse-girls live to run, each horse’s individual motivations for doing so are, of course, unique. It focuses on the motivations of athletes, with Narita Top Road striving for the aspirations of her coach and the inspiration of all of her supporters, while Admire Vega pulls inward to feel as though she is competing in loving memory of her sister. Then then, T.M. Opera O has openly accepted winning, so she starts to worry that she could just be projecting her own goals into the memory of her sister.

Although the characters’ ways of expressing these goals don’t always coincide, their interactions allow for comparisons of these drives. Even while the plot accurately recreates real aspects of the horses’ histories and racing records, it nevertheless allows viewers to develop a strong enough emotional connection. The writing that surrounded the alternating victories that defined this racing season is aware of the importance of focusing on the characters before their most memorable derby events.

While feeling a little more solid than the first season of the show, it never quite reaches the emotional intensity of the second. Everything is fine in the spirit of Uma Musume. There’s also the issue that the series doesn’t have the room or resources to incorporate as much of the franchise’s typical outrageous humor due to the reduced cast and episode count. Undoubtedly, the universe of Uma Musume still has much of its inherent absurdity; after all, this is a series that opens with a dramatic slow pan up of a horse-ified Statue of Liberty triumphantly hoisting a carrot in place of a torch. Even while fan favorite humorous foal Gold Ship is mysteriously absent, characters like Oguri Cap make brief appearances to fulfill their contractual obligations, and T.M. Opera O’s performances alone increase the silliness factor. But compared to how utterly absurd the Uma Musume TV shows could become, everything is really restrained. However, depending on the content you return to this brand for, it may or may not be a drawback in terms of Road to the Top.

In any case, Road to the Top is entertaining. Nearly all of its technical components could be enough to sell it. And it’s supported by a tale that works well, especially if you’ve already accepted the ridiculous elements that drive Uma Musume. Anyone else might find it just as difficult to sell this odd series concept as they did at first. Although one may argue that the pricing is reasonable given its sampler-platter length and freedom from a paid streaming service. Road to the Top might be viewed as a horse that everybody can confidently bet on in comparison to its longer, denser forerunners.

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