Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
An Anime That Explores An Uncommon Topic
With so many anime series nowadays, it's sometimes hard to find a unique anime.
Some are based on existing properties and franchises that are long-running. Others can be an original and exhilarating experience visually brought to life by major studios.
One subject matter that is uncommon in anime is exercise and weightlifting. We are familiar with anime that feature physically fit characters, whether for the sake of action and/or comedy. Then again, there hasn't been one piece of media that generally discusses the pros and cons of exercise. That is until one series stood out from the crowd and gave its audience a new perspective.
How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? or Danberu Nan-Kiro Moteru? is a 2019 anime adaptation of the manga series of the same name by Yabako Sandrovich. The series focuses a Hibiki Sakura, a teen with a love for food who notices she is gaining pounds. She decides to join Silverman Gym where her life will change as she discovers the true meaning of working out.
Strong Education and Laughs
Although there is no confirmed backstory or inspiration behind this concept, the most interesting fact about the manga is that it is set in the same universe as Kengan Ashura, a martial arts manga created by Sandrovich as well. There is a big difference in the tone between these two series. Kengan Ashura was more dark and action-packed while Dumbbells is more light-hearted and educational.
For the latter, the educational theme is the main highlight of the anime itself. Every time a certain character is confused or uncertain on what equipment or technique to use, the episode will transition into the "Machio's Muscle Lesson" segment where trainer Machio or any other character will demonstrate the proper technique. In fact, after each episode's end credits, there will be a quick, interactive recap where the viewer and characters perform the aforementioned exercise with home workout recommendations. When you really think about it, this anime was almost ahead of its time and very beneficial for those who can't afford a gym membership or are staying at home due to unmentionable circumstances. It's not just workouts, the characters also teach about dieting, nutrition, outdoor activities (i.e. hiking), and rules about a bodybuilding competition.
Having an optimistic tone, the series is also supplied with comedy where it has a self-aware nature and doesn't have to be taken seriously. There will be occasional moments where the characters would break the fourth wall on the visuals accompanied with either the character itself or the educational segment. As any anime fan would expect, there are will be over-the-top facial expressions and reactions. Sometimes, the characters' art design would change into a "chibi" or more realistic approach whenever something comedic or dramatic occurs.
On a side note, the anime tends to lampoon on recognizable gym-related places and fitness icons. For example, "Silverman Gym" is a parody of the gym chain Gold's Gym where top bodybuilders regularly attend to work out. It was founded by famous bodybuilder and actor "Barnold Shortsinator" who also sponsors the "Barnold Classic" contest. You could easily guess who it is, even the anime itself poked fun of that.
Another anime cliché provided is fanservice, particularly with muscles. In one of the episodes, Akemi has "muscle fever" whenever Machio or any muscular man in the gym flexes or poses. Some would expect something obvious out of the female characters as well. True, there are a couple of episodes where the girls wear swimsuits, including at an idol competition. Thankfully, the female fanservice is toned down and focuses more on the education and laughs in the anime when compared to the manga.
As simple as Hibiki's journey sounds, the major downside for the anime is that it ran for one season. It is a shame because, to date this review, the manga is still running. To be fair, the story was straightforward and the pacing was decent enough to establish the characters and their motives. However, once the last episode aired, it felt something was going to happen yet it went nowhere in the end. Even a couple of characters seem to have a secret that would've been fleshed out if the show was renewed for another season or at least an OVA. The episode was still enjoyable nonetheless, just a nitpick.
Detailed and Colorful Animation
The animation was provided by studio Doga Kobo, which looks very good and colorful to watch. Every character has a down-to-earth design with a stylized appeal. There is excellent attention to detail whenever the muscle anatomy is displayed on the male and, rarely, the female characters. Machio himself visually stands out where he looks like an average man in his tracksuit. But whenever he poses or bursts out, he has an exaggerated but well-built physique inside. Again, it is meant to conveyed as a recurring gag and is not taken seriously. The studio seemed to become accustomed with drawing muscles since their previous anime UziMaid! where the titular character herself is lean and muscular. While the character animation has the typical television quality, it does elevate whenever the characters would get into a serious moment. The use of color is also nicely done. During the "Machio's Muscle Lesson" segment, the female characters wear pink gym clothes that would pop out against the saturated background. During the last episode, some inventive effects animation was added where Hibiki and Akemi's energy transform into smoke-like dragons fighting each other while girls themselves duke it out in a bench press contest.
The soundtrack does, no pun intended, pump up the anime's positivity as well. "Onegai Muscle" is an upbeat and catchy intro song with the enthusiasm of an aerobics video that will make you either dance or exercise to the beat. The end credits song "Macho A Name?" is equally as catchy as the intro with more emphasis on the humor.
Abs-olute Likable Characters
With a straightforward story, it is worth mentioning that this series is also character driven. The main and most developed character is Hibiki Sakura. Initially, she joined Silverman Gym to desperately slim down for a supermodel-like physique and attention from boys. She was getting even uncomfortable after seeing much bulkier members and constantly tiring out in the gym. But, thanks to Machio and Akemi's guidance, Hibiki gradually became humble and gets positively motivated into fitness. Outside her voracious appetite, Hibiki is also an avid movie fan and has a hidden strength talent whether it is punching a boxing bag or arm-wrestling. She could be a personification of an individual dealing with gym myths and truths. Soryuin Akemi is the athletic model student whom Hibiki befriends with. Once you get past her obsession with muscles, she is charismatic and highly knowledgeable about the art of diet and exercise. Her motivation for joining Silverman Gym is to live a healthy and "macho" lifestyle. Another connection that this show and Kengan Ashura have is that Akemi is the younger sister of Soryuin Shion from Kengan Ashura, who surprisingly has a muscle fetish as well.
Uehara Ayaka is Hibiki's classmate and best friend. At school, they could hang out and watch action movies together. At home, her family owns a boxing gym where she has naturally trained for years, despite being forced, and dons a set of abs. Other than that, Ayaka's talent helped inspired Hibiki to continue exercising and hoping to be like her. Tachibana Satomi is Hibiki's homeroom teacher and the straight person of the show...until we discover she is a secret cosplayer and joined Silverman Gym to lose weight and fit her costumes without her students knowing. Gina Boyd is the foreign transfer student from Russia who is competitive and trains in Sambo. After a while, she is a nice person who adores Japanese culture, especially cosplay. All of these characters have one thing in common: motivation. Sure, while some of these characters would be considered tropes and archetypes, they are likable that audiences could easily relate to.
And then, we have the most charming and funniest character; Machio Naruzo. Besides being a personal trainer and his muscles constantly ripping his clothes off, he is very kind and helpful for those that they are trying their best at the gym. His bodybuilding mentor was the above-noted Barnold Shortsinator; Machio would get serious whenever he felt his presence. As for the rest of the characters, they have more depth in the manga, but not much personality in the anime. Uehara Nana is Ayaka's intense older sister, Aina Rumika and the mysterious Kure Yakusha are Satomi's friends, Deire Kutaro is the scheming TV director, and Jason Sgatham is Barnold's secretary. They had something going, but you won't remember a thing about them.
Lastly, the anime was dubbed by Funimation nearly simultaneously as the Japanese version was airing. When comparing both versions, the English dub relies more on puns and admittedly some legit funny dialogue from the characters and Narrator. Sure, anime communities have polarized opinions on dubbed anime, depending on what company distributes what. To the dub's credit, it sounded like the cast and crew were having fun with localizing the show. The voice acting is not bad either. Okay, Jessica Cavanagh's delivery as Aina sounds wooden and Stephen Fu's performance as Machio sounds a little young (although that voice may be intentional to visually contrast his normal and buff physique). Despite that, the voice actors did what deliver what was given to them, with Alexis Tipton sporting an excellent Russian dialect to her performance as Gina and Ian Sinclair having a blast as the Narrator.
A Distinctive and Entertaining Anime
Overall, How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? is a distinctive anime that will help people get up and going. It is disappointing that it lasted one season with a rushed ending, bland minor characters, and hit-and-miss English dub voice acting. On the other hand, the show maintains its footing by being straight-to-the-point, thorough animation, informative and funny at the same time, and endearing characters. For those that want to start a new healthy lifestyle, this anime will be their inspiration. The ongoing manga is also a recommendation afterward. For those that are uninterested and just want to have a fun time, it is passable enough. The series is currently available on the Funimation and Amazon streaming sites and recently got a Blu-Ray release with neat bonus features, including a two-part training featurette. And remember: Nice bulk!