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Uma Musume S2 Epitomizes How Passion Outweighs Pain

There’s a cliché expression “its bigger than sports” that most folks roll their eyes at. I see this beauty represented in running. A rare bird rolled around Spring 2018 named Uma Musume: Pretty Derby. The name was absurd. The premise was even more so: historical Japanese racehorses and events are recreated as anime girls running, essentially, a creative spin on track-and-field running. The first season followed a cheerful newbie by the name of Special Week as she found her reason and passion for running. Mobile game giant Cygames was responsible, and it should come to no surprise that it got even wilder just a few years later with a mobile gacha game hitting Japan on February 24, 2021. The game has been a massive hit since, and Cygames capitalized off of this craze with a second season of the anime debuting Winter 2021.

While the first season explored the wonderment of running and what budding passion looks like with its protagonist, the second season of the running anime chillingly, albeit tastefully, explores the pain and struggles that accompany this aforementioned passion. Indeed, whereas season one focused on Special Week’s climb to the top, season two followed superstar Tokai Teio through her plummet down the mountain and tribulations to climb back. Teio breaks her leg not once, not twice, but thrice throughout the anime. Every time she rounds the corner on a comeback, she sustains another setback. This is a plight that many athletes can relate to- especially those who run. Leg, knee, and feet injuries plague the careers of many running-sport athletes.

I would be remiss not to comment on a hot topic regarding the way Teio’s struggles are portrayed in the anime. Rather than dwell on the gloom of rehabilitation and setbacks, Uma Musume explores what motivates a runner to cherish their passion more than previously before. For Teio, this is the love and support of her friends and coach. One of two individuals of note that stir up some controversy is Teio’s coach, simply named “Trainer-san.” There is a narrative/argument that Trainer-san selfishly allows/enables Teio to put herself in harm’s way injury-after-injury. This can be debunked quickly as the anime takes time to show that, not only is Teio the one who shares her desire to return to running, but that Trainer-san spends sleepless nights ensuring that the team can help Teio reach her dream of return both safely and successfully with several books and training plans. Likewise, series deuteragonist Mejiro McQueen, serves as a rival and friend who motivates Teio to strive for returning to racing. As melodramatic as this may sound to say, to live means to die and break down, and the reality for many athletes is that injuries will detour their passion. John Hopkins Medicine (n.d.) estimates that 3.5 million student athlete injuries occur any given year. These injuries can be severe, certainly. But as important as the sports themselves, these athletes need the support of others to rehabilitate and return to form. McQueen, along with Trainer-san and the others of Team Spica, employ a wealth of rehabilitative medicine to help aid Teio in her return. No, it does not eliminate the risk of returning to running. But life is more complicated than that. Passion does not simply go away. The battle to rehabilitate and to return to running is one that embodies resiliency in humanity.

This point is masterfully displayed by the turn into the third act of the anime. After learning that her rival, McQueen, has had a serious injury, Teio, who is steadily returning from her third leg injury, runs through the rain to find her. When Teio talks to McQueen in the rain, I cannot help but to see the ways that the will to run and keep moving shines through her words in a much deeper level than “I want to run with the cute horse girl I like” like it is probably discounted as by most. When she says “It’d probably be easier to just give up, huh? But…I don’t want to give up yet” this carries more weight. It isn’t just about running. It speaks to the spirit. The soul. McQueen shouts and cries about how its impossible. She states that only a miracle can bring her return. In a call back to the words that motivated her to return to her extensive rehabilitation to run, Teio claims that she will make a miracle, because, as McQueen shared with her before, “Miracles can happen when people wish and strive for them. I’m sure of that.” Teio reflects this back by claiming “If I work hard enough to make a miracle happen, I know I can do it.” McQueen cries as she realizes these are the words she told Teio at her lowest point. Teio holds McQueen’s hand and smiles as she says “When I was on the verge of giving up, you pulled me forward. When I felt like I was going to break, you were by my side…and now its my turn. So watch me, McQueen.”

“Its bigger than sports.”

Yes, people roll their eyes at storybook endings. Teio’s comeback might have been easy to see coming, but that doesn’t take away its emotional weight. Teio struggles to keep up with the new favorite, Biwa Hiyahide. Encoring what I found to be a masterful decision from the finale of the first season of the anime, there is a brief second where all audio cuts and we only hear Teio’s heavily labored breathing. Teio speaks of her fatigue, her frustrations, her struggles to this point. McQueen’s smile flashes in her memory, and Teio plants her back foot. Every single person who has supported her to this point tearfully exclaiming “Go…” with her role model, Symboli Rudolf, adding “Run!” to the end. Teio shouts at the top of her lungs “Let’s do this!” and sprints full speed ahead. As the world watches on and is enamoured by her effort, we hear voice actress Machico delivering an astonishing performance as Teio’s shouts are shots of adrenaline. Just as she starts to stall, my favorite part of the entire scene happens. McQueen’s smiling face flashes on screen briefly and, with the person whose love and support propelled her in mind, Teio quickly bows her head down and collects herself for one more incredible burst to the finish line. Teio crosses, and McQueen trembles, astonished at a real miracle.

Overall, I know how hard it can be to see past the surface level things working against the emotional weight of Uma Musume’s message here: its an anime; its about cute girls racing; the girls are horse girls; these horse girls are based off of real life historical race horses and events; and, sadly, yes, there is copious amounts of ”fanart” of these horse girls plaguing the Internet. Despite all of this, this anime understands running in a way I have yet to experience in another piece of media. Running is not just about achievement, or reaching our ideal selves. No, running can highlight the harrowing beauty that is fighting against our own mortality and flaws. Running can be a physical representation of the indominable human spirit moving forward against the overwhelming weight of all of the negative things in the world. Tokai Teio’s “Miracle Run” represents this beautiful message that is, hands down, my favorite theme that occasionally comes up in media.

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Naruto Johnson

Didn’t win Scariest Looking Dog Dad of 2021- having hair helps. Still broody.