How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift? has garnered a bit of a cult following for seemingly bringing together a combination of obsessive sports anime, humour and a reasonable whack of fan service. After watching the series I’m inclined to agree, but the balance between these elements leant a little bit harder in one particular area than expected.
The series focuses on Sakura Hibiki’s keen interest in maintaining her voracious appetite while keeping her weight in balance. Lured by Silverman Gym’s free membership and aiming to get in shape by summer, Sakura begins her weight training journey under the guidance of Mr Machio, whose bishi appearance is regularly ruined when he flexes any of his muscles which causes his clothes to explode leaving him exposed in a g-string.
How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift? expands the character roster to include a number of Sakura’s classmates, one of her teachers, exchange students and international muscle men from Hollywood, Barnold Shortsinator and Jason Sgatham. While each episode typically focuses on one or two weight training exercises, the narrative is often broken up into a series of scenarios which avoid it falling into the trap of over-exerting the screenplay.
It’s a formula that generally works. While tropey, the main cast are likeable and Sakura’s healthy appetite plays nicely off the usual anime/manga food obsession paradigm. I do think the representation of her character as being overweight is a little problematic, but I think the love of food as a motivator for exercise isn’t an altogether crazy one.
Where it fails to take advantage of its premise is probably it’s lack of hyperbolic sports anime drama. I went into this relatively spoiler-free, and as I used to do a reasonable amount of weight training alongside martial arts back when I was in my 20s I thought it might be fun to see something I had an interest in through this kind of lens. The reality is that while the muscle fetish is silly and over the top, the weight training segments come off as a series of how-to videos combined with an overview of gym etiquette underpinned by a generous lashing of fan service where they illustrate which muscles are being worked by various exercises.
It is what it is I guess, but I feel a better use of the premise would be to lean harder into something like an insane school sub-culture on who is the greatest weightlifter of the universe with Sakura playing the miracle rookie. Every three episodes Sakura would increase her power level and become even more naturally talented only to have someone even more awesome beat her two episodes after.
Would this have made it any better objectively? I don’t know to be honest. It’s far from a bad show and Machio was always good fun. The closest the series gets to a crazy shounen anime happens on a few occasions that explore Machio’s past and his connection to the aforementioned Hollywood action heroes. It’s really silly in practice, but it was genuinely a lot of fun.
In terms of it’s production, How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift? presents well. The animation and character designs are polished and the technical exploration is actually quite good, not that I have a background in health science or physiology! Assuming the science is correct, it comes off as a slick production with no alarm bells. The opening and ending themes deserve special attention as well – they were super poppy, but lots of stupid fun. Onegai Muscle genuinely made me laugh with Machio’s muscle pose announcements, though objectively it’s a little on the nose in plying to stereotypes.
The local Blu-Ray release is solid as well. The encoding does the job and the 2-disc spread gives ample breathing room to keep it looking shiny. The extras are nice as well – there’s a compilation video of all the exercises if you want to recreate a training circuit at home, creditless ops and eds and a slew of promo videos.
How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift? is ultimately a fun, if flawed, sports anime that flirts with the ridiculous but spends a little too much time in the weeds with all the fan service. With some extra character development and a stronger through line there was potential to evolve this into a more well-rounded sports anime from a female perspective, but as it stands it’s more an interesting experiment combining weight training/gym etiquette with some slice of life fan service and regular doses of absurdity.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.