What’s it about? Hibiki joins a gym to lose weight and winds up getting sucked into the strength training program with her classmate Akemi, a full-on beefcake enthusiast. But the road to getting ripped is a long one.
CONTENT WARNING for fat-shaming/fatphobia, NSFW screenshots
Anime is not good with body diversity, particularly when it comes to female characters. It often seems like gritting one’s teeth through fat-shaming is a painful inevitability—even Yuri!!! On ICE’s gentle homophobia-free universe had time to make fun of fat people. So, psyching myself up to watch a fitness anime, I expected a certain amount of nastiness.
The show takes less than five minutes to rocket past that threshold and into “likely to be triggering for anyone who’s ever struggled with disordered eating.” Every time Hibiki eats something, the calorie count appears onscreen. When characters weigh themselves, text appears listing their measurements and body fat percentage.
Characters spout the kind of “helpful” health facts guaranteed to give fat viewers a cold sweat of recognition. Hibiki’s only (terrible) friend at school constantly tells her she’s fat and she’ll never get a boyfriend. And just for the record, while it would be inexcusable regardless, we’re expected to find all of this vitriol perfectly appropriate for a character weighing a whopping 120 pounds.
And just to put the anime firmly in my “fuck you” category, whenever Hibiki is shamed for gaining weight the camera does a bottom-up pan to ogle her. It’s a real one-two punch of fetishizing dehumanization and impossible body standards. Meanwhile, the show’s beefcake is firmly in the realm of the comedically overdone. While I tip my hat to anyone who finds what they’re looking for from the gentlemen here, it feels less like the sincere female gaze of Free! and more like Major Louis Armstrong.
At the same time, the show’s exercise demonstrations use sexualized imagery of Akemi to show off what muscle groups are benefitted by a particular workout—but they point out that what they’re doing is sleazy afterward, which is an ironclad defense against the thing they just did (and that’s my “fuck you” hat trick).
I really wanted to enjoy this. There’s real edutainment sincerity to its explanation of how strength training works, and some lovely scenes where both Akemi and their trainer Machio encourage Hibiki not to be discouraged because she’s struggling. It’s also nice to see a health show aimed at building visible muscle, and to see at least a little bit of body diversity on that front.
I’d even be inclined to have my heart warmed by Akemi’s awe at how much Hibiki eats, comparing her to a shonen protagonist…if the framing up to that point hadn’t been so thoroughly shaming and also made Akemi out to be an out-of-touch weirdo.
It looks nice, of course, because Doga Kobo projects usually do no matter how nasty the subject matter. And some folks might get something out of this, particularly if strength training is already an interest of yours. But I’d recommend caution—make sure your brain’s in an okay place before subjecting yourself to this.
Also, I can’t believe they didn’t translate the title as “Do You Even Lift?”. What a waste.