The Summer 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift?
How would you rate episode 1 of
How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Well, this was a welcome surprise. While its premise might sound inane and its frequent scrutiny of Hibiki's weight and measurements might be a little off-putting, I had far more fun watching this premiere than I expected. It helps that How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? is the rare fanservice show with the wit and self-awareness necessary to own up to its vices. Its technique of loudly pointing out whenever something is needlessly erotic may not be subtle, but it has the desired effect of tipping the show's balance away from overt sleaziness and into more entertaining territory. It is what it is, and it's not afraid to admit it.
The other big point in this episode's favor is Hibiki. She's not at all into working out and thinks everyone else at the gym is a raving lunatic, which makes her the perfect protagonist for a fitness-themed comedy. Her inner monologues include all the griping, disbelief, and outright lack of motivation most of us have felt at some point when confronted with the prospect of serious exercise, and yet she keeps at it. This positions her as a good comedic straight man for the rest of the cast while endearing her to the audience, and her total lack of experience also makes the fitness material more approachable. Akemi makes for a charmingly bonkers foil to Hibiki, and Machio strikes a decent balance between playing the insane muscle man and acting as a competent trainer. More supporting characters are clearly on the way, but for now this is a perfectly good core trio.
For most of this first episode, the show manages to occupy a reasonably comfortable middle ground between its three areas of focus. As a vaguely educational series, it provides some detailed information without dumping too much information at once, although the gimmick of displaying calorie counts for all of Hibki's snacks gets old after a while. As a comedy, it doesn't do anything extraordinary, but it has a solid grasp of the basics and maintains a suitably brisk pace. As a fanservice show, it takes the crucial step of integrating its sex appeal into the story instead of just throwing cleavage around without any rhyme or reason. The different elements also work together reasonably well, which puts this a cut above some of the season's other fanservice titles.
Dumbbells also has solid production values, and some of its comedic reaction shots are absolutely on point. If you're in the mood for this kind of show, it's a more promising option than its early competitors. Even if you're just looking for a comedy and don't mind a few raunchy camera angles, there might be enough substance here to fit the bill. It's not going to be for everyone, but don't write this one off until you give it a shot.
Yeesh. How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? is a show that finds itself in the same predicament that Are You Lost? got bogged down with: It's ostensibly an educational comedy that blends real trivia and educational material, which is all about working out in this show's case, with slice-of-life comedy shenanigans; it's also got fanservice out the wazoo, with a distracting amount of time taken to ogle the toned tummies and shapely thighs of women who work at Silverman Gym. To How Heavy's credit, it's at least got the level of polish and genuine passion for the subject matter to make the leery camera angles feel ever so slightly more tolerable, but it also really struggles with getting across its pro-health messages without falling into the kind of needlessly cruel body-shaming humor that makes all of the fanservice feel that much more ill-intentioned. Our protagonist is Hibiki, a snack-loving teenager who is compelled to start working out when her friend points out that she's apparently getting a little fat. I say “apparently” because the show is either unable or unwilling to draw Hibiki as a girl who might genuinely be in the position where she needs to lose weight – over and over again, we're told that she's “getting fat”, but this show's version of “fat” is indistinguishable from “a normal, healthy, average young woman”.
It's one thing to have the character want to improve their health and appearance – I'm in the middle of a very slow-going journey towards weight loss myself, so I definitely understand the desire to be more fit. But the biggest mistake How Heavy makes in this premiere is how never pushes back against the real external pressures that cause young people to conflate the shape of their body with their self-worth. The way the visual counters of all the calories Hibiki consumed kept popping up on the screen felt more judgmental than they had any right to, which undercuts the core message of keeping track of what you eat. Given that all of the fanservice feels like it is implicitly reinforcing this judgmental tone, it was hard for me to ignore the bad taste How Heavy's premiere left in my mouth.
It's also not very funny, which is another problem entirely. The educational information about workout routines and stuff is all well and good, but I could find more informative tutorials for free on YouTube if that's all I was looking for. Since the fanservice doesn't really work for me either, the only avenue for How Heavy to appeal for me was its jokes, and they're inconsistent to say the least. Hibiki struggles with exercise, Sora is uncomfortably horny at even the mention of muscles, and Naruzō is the baby-faced personal trainer with the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger circa 1977's Pumping Iron. The first two gags are merely stale, and the last one is straight up horrifying. If you're looking for a fanservice anime that fuses booty shots with real-world edutainment, How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? is superior to Are You Lost?, but it's yet another bummer of a comedy that I have no interest in keeping up with this summer.
At several points in my life I have attempted various light forms of weight training but have never been able to keep up with it, nor have I ever had any desire to be a muscle man as a result of it, so I can definitely sympathize what Hibiki is going through here. I can attest from extensive personal experience that the series isn't exaggerating much on how rough getting used to these kind of exercises can be at first, nor is the series exaggerating much on how intimidating some gyms can be for newcomers; there's a reason why some chains of gyms specifically advertise that they are welcoming and non-intimidating environments for those who aren't dedicated bodybuilders or hard-core fitness buffs.
Of course, the fact that it's not exaggerating too much does still mean that it's exaggerating for laughs, and upon occasion in this episode these exaggerations are actually rather funny. The running joke about how the trainer has such a small head for his super-muscular body is actually pretty amusing, as is how the other girl – who otherwise seems like the classic “perfect girl” – just loses it to an almost orgasmic degree over muscles. I question how much staying power those jokes are going to have, and I wouldn't continue to watch this series just for that, but they and Hibiki's combination of skeptical nature and oblivious over-snacking are key to making the first episode mildly entertaining.
The more important and interesting aspect to the episode may actually be the way it sneaks in very detailed instructions on proper exercise routines. Characters don't just do squats; the series patiently both explains and demonstrates how to do them properly. It is also very careful not to make too much fun of those who struggle to do the exercises as a beginner. What humor there is on the matter is not mocking, but more of the sympathetic variety, and the encouragement for even small accomplishments feels genuine. Whether or not the series works as a weightlifting-themed comedy series, the first episode does work as a promotion for exercise. I wouldn't at all be surprised if a fair number of people who watch this first episode at least try out squats as a result. There's a catchy closing theme as well.
I might not watch the rest of this series, but if, at its end, someone splices together all the clips of the exercises being described, then that is something I might go for.
Okay, I did not expect to see my last name show up in anime. Yes, “Silverman” is an incredibly common Jewish last name (thanks, Ellis Island!), but let's face it, there aren't that many Jews in Japan. Plus my family, especially on that side, is nothing that could be called athletic. We're all still wondering where my cousin Gavin the amazing shot putter came from.
In any event, while I have some problems with this show, I didn't dislike it as much as I expected to. That may be damning it with faint praise, but given that the premise is largely where my issues lie, that's actually quite impressive. The idea that Hibiki needs to lose weight so that she'll be able to get a boyfriend (per her awful friend) is not a good one, and that her friend continually nags her about her weight and eating habits says to me that she needs to lose the friend before she decides about the weight.
Fortunately, that turns out to just be the way to get the story going, although it is a theme that returns throughout the episode, with a pop up appearing to tell us how many calories each item Hibiki ingests has. Given that Hibiki certainly doesn't look overweight, or even chubby, this needs to be her own decision made for her own comfort, and that does seem to be where things may be headed. She joins the gym because she gets sucked in by Machio's lovely face, but she does choose to keep going back, and muscle-loving Akemi praises her for her appetite, so those are steps in the right direction. Also moving things along more smoothly is the show's self-aware sense of humor, which at times can be very funny. Hibiki is continually creeped out by the pandering in the scenes where Machio is explaining muscles or Akemi is panting heavily while she's working out, and the gag of Machio looking like Toriko under his clothes is definitely amusing. I do wish that the opening theme hadn't spoiled the joke before we saw it in the episode, but oh well.
How this handles the idea of Hibiki's weight and why she wants to lose it (and the fact that muscle weighs more than fat) will determine if this is going to be universally amusing or if its premise is going to push some major buttons. I'm not sure I'm willing to find out, but I'm at least happy to say that this is nowhere near as bad as it could have been.
After struggling through both Magical Sempai and Are You Lost? yesterday, both of which regularly gestured towards the concept of humor without offering any genuinely compelling jokes, it is incredibly refreshing to watch a comedy that actually understands how to set up and pay off a gag. Heroine Hibiki Sakura actually has a funny, relatable internal voice, and her reactions are conveyed through creative, amusing expressions! Expectations are raised, only to be subverted through goofy visual comedy! Fluid animation is used to energetically sell dramatic punchlines!
Even if I weren't coming off a sequence of genuinely bad horny comedies, Dumbbells would still stand as a strong example of the genre done right. Perhaps the show's most core and crucial strength is the fact that Hibiki Sakura herself is a likable and inherently funny heroine. Her halfhearted dedication to physical fitness felt very true to life, and her reactions to the musclebound madness of her first gym trip were elevated through terrific expression work and her down-to-earth internal voice. I felt the second half of this episode leaned a little too far into the common issue of characters overexplaining why something is funny, but in general, Hibiki's character serves as a terrific foundation for a gag comedy.
It also helps that Dumbbells actually looks really good. Many of this episode's jokes relied on the dramatic tonal discord between Hibiki's modern slice of life art design and the heavy-lined, hulking muscle men of her new gym. That visual contradiction is exemplified through this episode's best visual gag: the absurd contrast between her trainer Machio's generic pretty boy head and his towering, impossibly muscular physique. Dumbbells is even pretty smart about integrating its fanservice naturally into its drama, with the show's regular demonstrations of fitness technique offering both education and fanservice in equal measure. Combine all that with this episode's propulsive pacing, and you end up with an engaging, lighthearted premiere that earns my first solid recommendation of the season.
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