How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? ?
What's a gym show without the gym? Dumbbells has spent time outside the Silverman establishment before, but those episodes were still focused on extracurricular exercise that could be done in different situations. This episode is a notable departure even from learning about home exercise routines or arm-wrestling. All told, this week probably has the least ‘educational’ content yet, coming across like a more typical slice-of-life anime with slightly less of that distinctive Dumbbells flavor muscled in.
That doesn't mean this episode is necessarily bad. Just as working out different muscles in rotation is advised in a balanced exercise routine, Dumbbells again chooses to work out its character and comedy elements the most. Part of the purpose of seems to be fully-integrating the new girl (who the subtitles have settled on referring to as ‘Gina’) into the cast, and seeing how she plays off of everyone. Despite much of her humor now arising from her somewhat skewed vision of Japan, Gina still starts off with great chemistry against Hibiki. Friendly as the two roommates are, Gina's still driven by a misplaced sense of rivalry with our star, overestimating the ability inherent to anything Hibiki does. This episode returns to the subject of food for the first time in a while, and contrary to the more judgmental reactions Hibiki's eating habits previously garnered, Gina is impressed by her.
The show quickly moves forward with developing Gina opposite other cast members, specifically Tachibana-Sensei. The teacher's cosplay habit catches up with her again when Gina discovers her shameful fame, and we get further interplay between the two. It should be a solid comic match, Sensei being one of the most down-to-earth characters in the crew while Gina brings the eccentricity. But in practice, there's much less going on. It's cute to see Gina getting excited over Sensei's cosplay like a total nerd, but that passes by quickly without even giving us much fanservice (though we at least confirm that Tachibana totally has the legs to pull of a Chun-Li costume). Instead, this plot beat turns out to simply be a lead-in to Gina's true goal and the big showpiece at the end of the episode, as the girls try out to become idols!
Even the show itself calls out on the abruptness of this subplot swerve, though it is funny how immediately Hibiki and the others agree to the idea. Coming off last year's zombie idols, bodybuilder idols could make for the new unconventional hit! It's definitely the most densely wacky premise the show has tackled, beginning with the audition being overseen by a director whose name is just ‘Director’. Unfortunately, Funimation's subtitles utterly fail to convey this joke; I can excuse not subbing the excellent theme songs for this show, or flip-flopping on Gina's name, but mangling a bad pun? That is unforgivable. At least we can still revel in the crass absurdity of Sensei's stage name: ‘F*ck the Budo’.
Beyond the basic absurdity of the girls being carried atop massive Machio-style bodybuilders, then sparring and bench-pressing on stage, the actual comic chops of this scene feel lighter than usual. Given the catchiness of the show's theme songs, I at least expected an entertaining song and dance number, but there's no such luck. It feels like a perfunctory gag that exists simply for its own sake: “What if these bodybuilding gym girls tried to be idols? Wouldn't that be silly?” And then they fail, and we just kind of move on without reveling in it.
There's so much effort to try and coax jokes out of the characters themselves that the lessons sprinkled throughout feel less intensive this round. Probably the most interesting part is the initial segment focusing on the meats the girls end up eating, even detailing the nutritional value of different cuts and the caloric difference between Japanese and imported beef. It's amazingly detailed, and as a bonus, it doesn't put down others' eating habits. Happy Hibiki and her hungry noises are adorable.
The other educational asides are much more low-key, pointedly so in the case of Gina and Sensei detailing ‘active rest’ via jogging. This is useful information, of course, but there's little to it beyond the basic explanation, even if I appreciated the insight into proper speed being ‘where you can still hold a conversation’, as a segue into watching these two slice-of-life anime girls start to have a conversation. The idol segment just ends on a decently detailed deadlifting tutorial, which does a good job of making Sensei's achievement look both badass and functionally fanservicey, but it also feels like they realized that they almost forgot to put in any other weightlifting content. Indeed, the post-credits participation exercise, lateral raises, didn't even appear in this episode! They weren't too bad to do; I like that they noted you can do them while sitting, and that you're encouraged to use anything you can in lieu of weights you may not own. I knew these omnibus copies of Berserk and Dororo would come in handy!
This episode of Dumbbells is just fine, but having less educational content made me realize how much I actually appreciated those segments. The comedy trying to carry the rest of the episode wasn't firing on all the same cylinders as usual. The show's still its charming self, but coming off the extra-strong past couple weeks, this episode fell just short of its usual high-water mark.
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