How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? ?
These humble dumbbells are really branching out! Continuing the competitive streak it started running with last week, this episode of the show focuses on that sport of kings: arm wrestling! If this is going to be an ongoing trend of covering varied subjects ancillary to exercise, I'm all for it. More than the last one, this episode shows how much fun the show can have with a fresh topic and a new character, who adds a lot to shake up the anime's exercise routine.
Her name is Zina Voyd, which is pretty cool even though Funimation's subtitles flip between rendering her surname as Voyd or ‘Boyd’. And other sources I've seen indicate that her name is actually supposed to be Gina Boyd! Either way, she fills the ‘foreign’ cast member slot that's become emphasized in these topical girl-ensemble shows, and as such she's much zanier than the series has been until now. That's not a bad thing; the secret to Dumbbells's success has been keeping itself lively through all these various lessons, and this episode escalates the humor to previously unseen heights.
The uptick in absurdity quickly becomes one of this episode's best assets. It makes sense, since arm wrestling lends itself to comically over-the-top presentation. It's milked for all it's worth, from the delightfully serious art-shift that accompanies Hibiki's first surprise victory to the narration gleefully confirming that the plot must now follow the trajectory of a battle manga. The timing on these conceptual gags is some of the most pitch-perfect in Dumbbells so far, with things like the dramatic montage of all the arm-wrestlers prompting several laugh-out-loud moments for me. Even the show's informational content seems more deftly spliced with jokes than usual, like Zina's instructions featuring cameos from Russia's Prime Minister ‘Poutine’ and even Russian Olympic mascot and obscure anime star Misha the Bear!
Even being jokier by volume, the show still allows its educational asides the space to feel informative. Arm-wrestling is a subject I actually have some familiarity with, as my sister-in-law has taken on all comers at several parties. (I've never beaten her.) The fundamentals are lovingly detailed in this episode, bringing up how big a role things like leverage and grip play into the sport. Surprising given the focus of the show, they even admit that many pro-level arm wrestlers do no strength training at all! Zina's lesson segments even provide advanced techniques to give yourself an edge against more basic wrestlers. Be sure to try these on your friends and family the next time you're at a gathering that devolves into an arm-wrestling tournament, as they are wont to do.
This episode also continues the trend of throwing Hibiki a bone by showing the fruits of her training and letting her log some wins. Her natural talent for arm-wrestling is an amusing surprise (prompting that amazing art-shift gag), but even though she and Zina end up being the only entrants in the tournament, Zina's introduction made me sure the new girl would win. So of course it was a cheer-worthy moment when Hibiki pinned her immediately anyway. The nature of Dumbbells is such that even its most hapless characters have to show improvement somewhat regularly, and Hibiki's endearing personality makes this an altogether silly, yet genuinely heartwarming payoff.
It also works as a narrative device, giving Zina a reason to stick around and join the main cast. More than any of the other characters, Zina forms an instantly distinct dynamic with Hibiki, a comical take on a sports-manga rival scenario that utilizes the Russian's more outlandish attitude well. As Zina admits, she even specially constructed her persona just to play this role! Even in their first face-off, it became clear that Zina's as much of a dope as our lovable Hibiki (possibly moreso), and her different background from the rest of the cast lets her cover different exercise bases as well. Following up on the earlier revelation about arm-wrestlers, Zina hasn't actually done weight or strength training, focusing instead on rhythmic ‘kipping’ exercises that focus on intensity and stamina. After several weeks of the lessons seemingly dissing the aspect of momentum in exercise, it's interesting to see Dumbbells walk that back and show the benefits of routines that use that element properly. Their focus on accessibility for the example exercises an audience can do at home also continues to be appreciative, as this post-episode routine focuses on special push-ups rather than pull-ups you would need a bar for. These jumping push-ups went by quickly, but were as intense as advertised. My roommates must have been confused about what I was doing in there.
This episode was pretty much Dumbbells being its best at everything it does, even adding in some new things we hadn't seen before. The educational content was fresh and interesting, the humor was well-integrated, and the character work was enjoyable and rewarding. Zina's introduction bodes well for the rest of the show, and the episode-ending gag of her moving in with Hibiki is both expertly executed and a strong sign of what other shenanigans this series might get up to.
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