My arms ache. And it’s all because of this stupid anime.
I’ll be 100% honest with you here, dear reader: my initial interest in How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?, the new anime from Doga Kobo (Yuru Yuri, Plastic Memories, Gabriel Dropout) was for less than wholesome reasons — as I’m sure it was for many other people, given the provocative nature of the teaser image that was initially circulated.
But after watching the first episode, I signed up for the gym. Three episodes in at the time of writing and I’m already making more positive lifestyle choices. What state will I be in by the end of the run?
How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? (aka Danberu Nan-Kiro Moteru?) is an adaptation of a manga by Yabako Sandrovich, with art by MAAM. At the time of writing, the manga is still running after its first appearance in 2016, and presently has seven volumes under its belt.
Genre-wise, it’s an interesting beast, because it combines elements of a number of things: there’s a bit of comedy, a bit of slice-of-life, a bit of educational content, a bit of sports anime/manga, and a bit of mild ecchi fanservice. It all combines together into something that is breezy and easy to enjoy casually, but which is rewarding if you take some time to engage with it fully.
The setup for the narrative is that protagonist Hibiki Sakura, a rather striking figure with her vibrant blonde twintails, her lightly tanned skin and her adorable yaeba fang, is becoming concerned that she is putting on weight. This being Japan, the show’s definition of “fat” is perhaps a little different from what you or I might consider to be an unacceptable amount of pudge — and moreover Hibiki’s supposed chunkiness is a little inconsistently depicted throughout — but there’s no denying that Hibiki is living a rather unhealthy lifestyle. She consumes junk food to excess, she binge eats in the middle of the day rather than spacing out her mealtimes, and she doesn’t exercise.
Feeling a little self-conscious about the weight she’s gained — as well as some of her clothes not fitting quite as well as they could — Hibiki decides to join the local gym, where she encounters Akemi Soryuin, the student council president of her school and a girl she had previously considered to be somewhat “out of her league”. Akemi is already in good physical shape and seemingly quite knowledgeable about fitness, but Hibiki soon discovers the true reason for her attending the gym: her monstrous, uncontrollable muscle fetish.
Hibiki isn’t sure what to make of the gym on her first visit, with the depiction of the situation perfectly encapsulating what a newbie feels like when stepping through those doors for the first time. Upon being shown the training room, Hibiki is confronted with the terrifying sight of red-eyed monsters blowing steam through their noses and snarling as they lift seemingly inhuman loads. She begins to think she may have made a terrible mistake, but reconsiders when she encounters personal trainer Machio, who is a charming young man keen to educate and support even newcomers like Hibiki.
Herein lies one of the best things about How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? While Hibiki develops her confidence quickly over the course of the first few episodes, those first steps she is shown taking are the most important ones. She is initially unable to complete full sets of any of the exercises Machio suggests to her, but no-one shames, bullies or mocks her for this; instead, she is presented with nothing but positivity and support. As a result, she comes to understand that it is okay — sometimes even desirable — to fail, because in doing so you come to learn your own limits, and the areas you can work on to improve over time.
Much of the comedy in the show surrounds Machio, who appears to be a normal-looking young man when dressed in his tracksuit, but at least once per episode something provokes him into flexing his muscles and bursting out of his clothes Incredible Hulk-style, revealing his true form to be a exaggeratedly enormous muscle beast with seemingly superhuman strength. After a while, this just becomes par for the course and you almost stop noticing it; it’s just what Machio looks like. There’s some sort of message about body positivity and acceptance in there, I feel; when combined with the overall diversity of the cast — which includes a variety of body types, levels of experience, lifestyles and even skin tones — we start to build a picture of a thoroughly pleasant, supportive and inspiring show.
Each episode includes at least one sequence that is explicitly educational, presented in a heavily stylised, almost posterised style to contrast from the actual events that are “really” happening during the episode.. During these sequences, Machio explains an exercise’s proper form in detail while one of the girls (Akemi in the first couple of episodes, Hibiki in the third) demonstrates. During the explanation, additional advice is given as to the overall benefits of performing these various activities, such as increasing your metabolism.
One entertaining thing about these sequences is that they’re deliberately made to be as erotic as possible, particularly when Akemi is involved; descriptions of the muscle groups affected by a particular exercise are typically accompanied by a close-up view of the girl of the moment delicately touching her soft skin around the affected area, or in one case, looking suggestively over her shoulder as she shows off her bare back. While Hibiki in particular tends to call these sequences out in a delightful bit of fourth-wall breaking, their heavily stylised and exaggeratedly erotic nature makes them incredibly memorable — which is exactly what you want from material intended to inform and educate!
As the series progresses, it starts providing things like dietary tips as well as the instructional sequences, and each episode concludes with a post-credits sequence intended for audience participation: the cast who have appeared up until that point address the viewer directly and encourage them to try one of the exercises that have been shown in that episode, with Machio providing a rep counter while the girls offer commentary and moral support.
The series educates in other ways, too. Any time Hibiki is shown eating something, the calorific content appears on screen, for example, helping to highlight how developing a healthy lifestyle is more than just showing up to the gym every so often. The second episode also addresses the fact that building muscle and toning up can also lead to weight gain rather than loss; rather than repeating the nonsensical but surprisingly common misconception that “muscle weighs more than fat”, it instead explains how muscle has greater density than fat, meaning that an equivalent weight can be packed into a smaller space. Consequently, you can be smaller and more toned, but weigh the same or even more. This is why it’s important to measure your fitness journey via more than simple weight measurements.
Throughout the series Hibiki (and we, the audience) are exposed to a variety of attitudes towards health and fitness. Hibiki’s close friend Ayaka, for example, is occasionally quite a harsh critic of Hibiki, pointing out when her clothes are too tight or her ass and thighs are looking particularly big. We subsequently learn that this is primarily down to the fact that training has always been part of her own personal lifestyle thanks to her family’s business being a boxing gym that has trained numerous world champions, and upon realising that Hibiki is genuinely trying to better herself, she supports her efforts as well as providing some suggestions of her own based on her own experience.
In the third episode, we’re introduced to Satomi Tachibana, a world history teacher at Hibiki and Akemi’s school. Satomi is also a renowned cosplayer — albeit under a pseudonym, and without the knowledge of her students — and thus is keen to keep her body in prime order so she can look her best during photo opportunities. She is initially embarrassed to discover her students attending the same gym that she has joined, but comes to draw some inspiration from them; having learned some of Machio’s lessons well, they are shown to be taking on challenges that they know they can handle rather than overdoing it, and thus Satomi learns a few things about setting realistic targets for herself.
A key part of How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? on the whole is the concept of being embarrassed about health and fitness. If you’re a newcomer to physical activity, it can be intimidating and frightening to step into an unfamiliar environment — just as Hibiki was nearly sent running by her initial sight of the training room. But really, regardless of your starting point, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about — even if you’re considerably bigger than the girls in this show. If anything, you should be proud that you’re taking steps to try and better yourself, and you deserve the support of those around you — an ideal example of which is presented by Machio, whose relentless positivity and enthusiasm is infectious.
From a broader perspective, the show is about understanding who you want to be, and how you can take the steps in your own life to help you achieve that goal. It doesn’t have to be a huge, long-term goal — Satomi is shown being eminently satisfied by just a small amount of toning up from a short period of daily gym visits — or indeed even a particularly wholesome one — Hibiki wants a hot beach body so boys notice her, and Akemi just wants to ogle muscle dudes — so long as you take ownership of it, accept the person you are now and understand the work you need to do in order to get where you want to be.
This is a lovely, charming anime. Its core messages are solid, its characters are well-defined and entertaining — though given the nature of the show, we probably shouldn’t expect to get too deep into their personalities and backgrounds over the long term — and its educational content is backed up with scientific facts and figures that you can research further yourself if you so desire.
Its presentation is exemplary, too, featuring excellent character design, slick animation and a firmly-defined sense of style — particularly in the aforementioned educational sequences. The fanservicey content may not to be to everyone’s taste but it’s ultimately pretty mild — and it’s used consistently as part of the show’s overall aesthetic and style rather than dropped in for the sake of it; as previously noted, it actually makes some of the educational content more memorable than it might otherwise be!
Oh, and the opening and ending themes are absolute bangers, too; I can highly recommend putting them on loop the next time you find yourself at the gym. Because if you’re anything like me (highly suggestible, apparently) you’ll find yourself at the gym in short order after watching your first episode of this.
Who says popular culture never does you any good?
The MoeGamer Compendium, Volume 1 is now available! Grab a copy today for a beautiful physical edition of the Cover Game features originally published in 2016.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
If you’d like to support the site and my work on it, please consider becoming a Patron — click here or on the button below to find out more about how to do so. From just $1 a month, you can get access to daily personal blog updates and exclusive members’ wallpapers featuring the MoeGamer mascots.
If you want to show one-off support, you can also buy me a coffee using Ko-Fi. Click here or on the button below to find out more.