How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 9 of
How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? ?
Sometimes you really don't know what you're getting into. I thought I had a clue what this episode of How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? was going to be about. I knew the end of last episode teased a big new plot revolving around Machio. I knew a new character was going to join the cast somehow. I was honestly expecting some sort of major dramatic shift for Dumbbells here, it reaching for seriousness in this last stretch of the season. Well it turns out I thought like an idiot, and I'm happy to report that this episode surpassed all my expectations.
Tachibana-Sensei's really embraced her role as the meta-aware straight-man of this series, as she notes how quickly the episode's proceedings get underway. It's thematically appropriate, with a lesson on back exercises being immediately followed by learning Machio's back-story. That's obfuscated by everyone cheering on his posing in the foreground, but no worries, as we get it detailed properly after the entrance of this week's special guest-star: Barnold Shortsinator! This episode is ostensibly a Machio-centered story as his muscled-up mentor arrives to invite him to a bodybuilding competition, but make no mistake, Barnie here is absolutely the best part of the show. Pretty much everything about him is a good-natured gag, from the ridiculous parody movie titles to the fact that, despite having all his design cues modeled on Mr. Schwarzenegger's most iconic role, this guy apparently didn't star in his universe's version of Terminator. And because of that, no one in the cast aside from Hibiki and Ayaka has heard of him.
Barnold's charms are actually most effectively communicated by those two girls, already established in previous episodes as hardcore fans of his action-movie catalog. Hibiki and Ayaka's adorable fangirling over Barnie throughout this episode makes for some cute, entertaining atmosphere amongst all bodybuilding faux-drama he heralds. And he returns the favor by carrying them around or letting them hang off him in every other scene. Add in Akane really getting to flex her muscle-fetish thirst around all the musculature on display on men for a change for this show, and you get a real sense this episode of Dumbbells cutting loose and providing fanservice for itself this week. It works great, since the show has always been at its best when its enthusiasm was most infectious, and this is the most joyous it's seemed in weeks.
That straight-out-of-the-gate pacing Tachibana-Sensei mentions is a big contributor to how fun this episode simply feels, with even the bodybuilding lessons having an especially light, entertaining tone to them. We learn to do back extensions, which are kind of a flexing planking effort that feel like a good way to work on the back and midsection. Though I recommend getting a cushion of some sort or finding a carpeted area for them, as my bumped-up ribs can attest. There's also a somewhat lengthy but very fun tutorial on grip-strength training with grippers, which goes into a surprising amount of detail about the different resistance levels you can get, and even special alternative ways to try using them. Tachibana calls into question whether we needed all this focus by the time the aside is over, but the shot of a happy Hibiki having opened a jar or the bit with Machio crushing the super-strength grippers were all the highlights I needed to make the bit worth it.
And the focal point of the episode, the bodybuilding competition that Machio joins, does not disappoint. It's another point in the apparent theme of this episode that I had no clue what to expect; I guess I'd never really thought about all that people would do at bodybuilding competitions. But Dumbbells is of course over-eager to explain, detailing the different categories, judging criteria, and most importantly, the poses that those participating must partake in. It's a delightful discovery if you weren't aware of it before, that Machio's 'Side Chest!' and other called-out contortions were specific movements for this type of contest. As silly as this show insists on being, it really does add a little bit of depth I'm happy to have in it, to know that there's always been meaning in all this workout wackiness.
So of course Machio wins, in the most spectacular way possible, mentally blowing the audience's clothes off like this was some body-ogling version of Food Wars, and compelling all the other contestants to kneel to his godly physique. It's all higher on the silliness scale even by Dumbbells standards, with things reaching such ridiculous heights that Gina of all people resigns herself to having to play the straight man. But the comedy and entertainment value work just because the series knew how to escalate. It lulled us into just enough of a false sense of security that when it really got going we were all blown away, like so many of Machio's track-suits. Through it all, it remains Dumbbells at its most welcoming and feel-good, which is exactly why I've come to love this show.
How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? is currently streaming on Funimation.
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