It was an experience that I couldn’t really describe.

Imagine ensemble cast of characters with different teams, practice, and strive to be the best players in the world: this is what the core of sports anime is. Now, replace them with horse girls.

Uma Musume: Pretty Derby is an anime that I’d never ever heard of, let alone watching, until I was introduced to it. The name itself is bizarre, the premise centering horse girls is unfathomable, and the plot of them racing to be the best sounds far-fetched.

But, it’s not. It’s not far-fetched.

Uma Musume has exactly what a sports anime has, what Haikyuu!! has, what Run with the Winds has—passion and rivals. Imagine a girl from a countryside, moves to a prestigious academy in city to train, and improve her skills to be the best in a particular sports. Along her journey, she made rivals, joined team, made friends, raced, won, failed, tasted frustration, tasted victory until she eventually climb further up to reach her goal.

That’s it.

That’s the whole plot.

That’s any plot to a sports anime.

The question is, how do they execute this plot? How would they make us feel attached to these characters? Why should we care about them? What are they thinking about? So what if they fail? So what if they succeed? So what if they just give up?

What are their stories?

Uma Musume, in its core, is a story about horse girls. They run, and compete with each other.

But other than their tails, their fluffy ears, their exceptional calf muscle strength, they are living characters. They have ambitions, fuel to drive them, reasons that no one know but themselves and us, the audience. Each and every one of the characters participating in any race has their goal that they absolutely must achieve, conflicts that push them forward, and strength to not give up.

That’s what makes the story so overwhelming, so compelling.

There are so many emotions in a single ultimate race, so many expectations, from the team members, from the supporters, from the trainer, from your rivals, that it’s almost ridiculous. Even though it was already made transparently clear of what’s at stakes, where the story will go from there, and how it’s expected to end.

But again and again, Uma Musume defied the expectations.

Not only that, but overcoming the expectations is actually what made the story better.

It made the characters, living beings to empathize with, not just tugged along by the string of the plot. Their actions have consequences, their words can comfort and degrade others, their victory and defeat were justified. They affect and impact each, as motivation and as burden.

It is because of these interactions that made an anime, a sports anime in particular, heart-tugging. Their words to each other matter, and their strength, their motivation is derived from these interaction. The plot progresses because of it, the characters develop because of it, and the bond between the characters and you, is created because of it.

Just like the bond between them.

These interactions of all kind is what made them know that they are not only strong and best in their particular area, but also seeps a deep realisation into them, that sometimes no matter how strong they are, they can never win every time. Sometimes, they just need to embrace that fact. That, in competitions, only one winner can stand on the center of stage, no matter how much you wished, and poured your hardwork into grabbing that dream trophy.

That’s what made Uma Musume an odd anime, that it itself not only exceeded my expectation but its portrayal of weaknesses that it derives from the characters’ strength; and, watching these unfold is like putting your heart into a blender and vigorously stir it, with the setting as random—you will not be able to expect how shattering it is. And, how satisfying it is to watch the characters grow (especially the second season).

Thanks for reading.