How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?
Episodes 1-3

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? ?

Welcome to Weeb Workout Wednesdays! Anime focused around specific hobbies and activities are nothing new, with the elegantly-titled How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? focusing on the otherworldly realm of exercise. Of course, several other anime have encouraged physical activity in their viewers before, from any number of sports shows convincing kids to pick up their focal games or One-Punch Man inspiring folks to do simple strength-training in the pursuit of attaining superpowers. But Dumbbells is a world apart from those examples, because this show loves exercise and weight-training, and it desperately wants to impart that love to you.

There's something to be said for the importance of enthusiasm in a piece of media like this. Both Dumbbells' opening and ending themes are engaging odes to muscle-building that make you want to chant along with them. Exercise routines are lovingly described with illustrative fanservice to make sure the audience sees the appeal on as many levels as possible. Special-interest shows like this work best when they can adequately convince their audience that their focal activity is as awesome as possible, rather than just taking for granted that viewers should already be interested in the hobby. As someone who hasn't set foot in a gym in years myself, I have to say that Dumbbells has indeed piqued my interest.

The main appeal of the show is its informative and instructional exercise video format, strung together with some decent humor and the loosest of plots. Our hapless heroine Hibiki wants to shed a few pounds, so she absentmindedly signs up for what turns out to be a hardcore bodybuilding gym with one of her classmates, and before she knows it, she's been sucked into their whirlwind world of fitness trivia. Beyond learning more about the characters' personalities and humoring some jokes along the way, that's pretty much all we get for entertainment in this first three episodes. So it's nice that the result is so charming. I find Hibiki delightful as a protagonist, just clueless enough about the subject of bodybuilding to facilitate having that information explained to her (and the audience) in a straightforward yet entertaining way. And her body image motivations are generally relatable, if sometimes poorly-treated by the narrative. The others all fill out appreciable niches, like Akemi's muscle fetish, Uehara's boxing-gym background and rock-hard abs (at least one girl in this show has abs), or Tachibana-Sensei's secret cosplay hobby motivating her pursuit of peak health. By far the most standout member of the cast, however, is Machio, whose ridiculous over-muscled presence is a consistently great sight-gag that contrasts well with his friendly and useful advice.

But so far that's all just window-dressing for the exercise info and bodybuilding trivia. HIbiki's lack of knowledge lets her instructional co-stars helpfully show her the ropes in these first three episodes. Basics like weight-lifting form (including spotting) are covered, but the show also demonstrates simple exercises you can do at home, like squats, planking, or the more intimidating dragon flag. These are supplemented by short segments at the end of each episode, where viewers are encouraged to get up and actually do sets of these exercises with the characters in real-time. Of course, as a professional, I'm obligated to participate in these for the sake of my reviews. The planking was actually easier on me than the characters made it look, but squats are as rough as anybody who's actually tried them already knows. The bicep curls weren't too hard, and it was neat how many suggestions the show had for weight stand-ins. Honestly though, as someone whose relationship with exercise has been tenuous at best for several years now, I must admit that taking on activities like this did feel refreshing! Could this exercise-encouraging anime girl show actually be having the intended effect on me?

Along with the physical education provided by Dumbbells, we get a lot of general exercise trivia as well. Things like ‘the golden hour’ for taking protein right after working out are covered, along with more surprising info, like the fact that stretching too much before exercising can actually be detrimental to you. I hadn't heard about this, but apparently it really is true! This anime probably isn't going to be a proper substitute for a personal trainer any time soon, but it still hits that hobby-show high-point of imparting interesting info about its subject in an entertaining way. We also get things like the aside on how different builds of body and muscle types apply to different athletes, showing off the writer's knowledge as well as the artistry's enthusiasm for lovingly-defined muscular bodies.

The biggest mark against Dumbbells so far is that it can get so caught up in espousing the wonders of exercise that it can sometimes come off insensitive to the less fitness-inclined in its audience. This is most prominent in the first episode, where Hibiki's choice to join the gym is borne not out of her own desires, but because her friend shames her for eating too much and putting on unsightly extra pounds. The motivating tone (along with constant on-screen calorie counts and weight measurements) feels mean-spirited enough to be strangely at odds with the rest of the show's surprisingly approachable tone. Things do even out in the second episode, as Machio explains that building muscle will result in gaining weight anyway, and he even points out that properly exercising means you don't have to worry as much about your diet. “Eat lots and exercise lots!” is a much more encouraging mantra than the shade Hibiki gets thrown because of her snacking habits. But then the third episode doubles-back on this, ripping on Hibiki's eating habits as a lead-in to learning about bodybuilding diets. The ultimate lesson seems to be that knowledge of how dieting works can supplement your exercise regimen, so you can make your own choices to suit your own body. But it still comes off overly harsh toward Hibiki's own choices. Hey now Dumbbells, she's trying!

It's weird because the show is clearly targeted at first-time exercisers, and it otherwise comes off quite welcoming in its enthusiasm. The show is cute and funny enough to be entertaining, and it looks quite good as well. The strong animation effort from Doga Kobo keeps it feeling energetic even when it's just explaining things, making its enthusiasm for fitness feel infectious. Thus far, this is a fun and informative time that could end up being even better if it stops being so judgy toward the newcomers in its cast and audience.


How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? is currently streaming on Funimation.

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