Title: Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru? / How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift?
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Edutainment, comedy, sports
Year of release: 2019
So, what was it that did it for you? For many, like Hibiki, it’s a sudden realisation that you’re overweight. For others, it could be seeing somebody overcome that hurdle. And then there’s the journey seeming so much less daunting and easier to appreciate. Dumbbells is an anime that combines all three for your amateur-fitness intrigue, and throws in an endless amount of fun.
The premise is basically Hibiki, our somewhat shallow but fun and excitable protagonist, realising that her attempts at home fitness just aren’t cutting it, so she enrols at a gym. From there, we meet her classmates, the fantastic trainer, and the group get embroiled in a bunch of different, fitness related activities – at the gym, or not, such as the episode where they go mountain walking. The show never fails to take a few moments out to explain the potential fitness benefits of each encounter, and uses a bit of sexuality and a lot of dumb jokes to make it entertaining regardless of how accurate it may (or may not) be and how much you may already know. Lots of different workouts are demonstrated, from squats to bicycle crunches to dumbbell curls and even poses, though there’s a consistent acceptance of the home-fitness crowd and giving alternatives or consideration to those that cannot make the gym (for example, recommending bottles filled with water instead of dumbbells of about 1kg). The post-credits also include an ‘all-together’ sequence, where you’re encouraged to work out with the characters. It’s oddly inviting.
And oddly inspiring, too. Seeing the ever-lovable Hibike, voiced impressively by newcomer Ai Fairouz, cross that border from unfit to fit is so rewarding because her personality changes throughout the season, too. She’s initially extremely wary of fitness, but begins to get more and more interested in trying different things. This is, in itself, the inspiration of the show, crystallised: you only need to take 1 step at a time, and have a bit of interest, and you can easily start building yourself up to a healthy fitness routine (and the show will help guide you to building one!). There’s a few moments, particularly early on, where Dumbbells relies on a little bit of ‘fat-shaming’ to get Hibiki over the barrier, and that can be a little uncomfortable as Hibiki is by no means unhealthily overweight, and the occasional focus on fitness to become more ‘attractive’ is a sore point the few times the characters misguidedly bring it up – though, thankfully, it’s always in situations where we’re never supposed to believe it’s a successful strategy.
By and large, the comedy is focused around the personal trainer, Machio, who always has a dumb grin plastered on his face as he partakes in jolly and good-meaning discussions of healthy fitness – but has the jaunting timing of a horror movie. Sitcoms could definitely take a look at how Dumbbell structures itself, too, because the silly hijinks manage to wrap themselves around the core theme and become utterly hilarious without relying on the comic-relief trainer. Many of these situations become absurd tournaments, such as the armwrestling tournament with only 2 contestants or an idol talent audition where the group demonstrate hardcore exercises, but the variety is huge, particularly when the group watch a home-fitness DVD at Akemi’s house. The characters, such as muscle-obsessed Akemi, weeaboo Gina, perennially embarrassed teacher-by-day, cosplayer-by-night Tachibana and straight man Ayaka, then, are rather shallow – as in the personality trait, though they don’t pass the acceptable characterisation bar when separated from the workout humour. Because the developments aren’t too deepm the comic routines outside of the fitness fallback onto the same, boring gags on their single relationship statuses, but this is thankfully infrequent.
All these elements feel handcrafted under the guidance of series director, Mitsue Yamazaki. The timings are particularly tight throughout the series, and much of the series’ best jokes come from Doga Kobo showing off with their animation prowess, such as the slow zoom through the city or the unnerving artstyle switches. It’s the kind of show made with love, both for fitness and anime, and the feeling comes across spectacularly, for newbies and muscle junkies alike.