Sakura Hibiki eats too much of the wrong food and doesn’t exercise enough. That’s what brings us to her initial motivations: to slim down so she can snag a hot guy. Of course, this is not a finger-snapping affair, but a brutal, exhausting odyssey that will challenge every aspect of who Hibiki thinks she is and of what she’s capable.
Of course, Hibiki doesn’t have the willpower to undertake such a quest alone, which is why it’s surreptitious that another girl at her school, the rich, beautiful, and 16% body fat class president Souryuuin Akemi joins the newly-built Silverman Gym the same day she does. She soon learns that not only is Akemi a health and fitness fanatic, but cultivates a strong muscle fetish.
Thus we have our comedic duo for this edu-taining aspirational slice-of-life: Akemi as the wilder comic, Hibiki as the straight man who reacts similarly to how most of us would in the midst of all the intense musclery on display. Their coach at the gym is Machio Naruzou, who is always wearing a bright smile and whose Prince Charming good looks immediately persuade Hibiki to join despite seeming way out of her element.
But that’s the thing about trying any new thing: you can easily come to feel like you have so much to learn and catch up on that you put far too much pressure on yourself from the start, rather than trusting in a healthie, more incremental process. You’re so afraid of failure, and success feels impossible. In something like weight training, the body will follow the mind’s lead and you’ll get nowhere.
Where How Heavy excels is on how carefully and gradually Machio eases Hibiki into the basics of lifting weights, all while maintaining a supportive demeanor that never comes off as patronizing. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but Machio makes it easy.
Heavy is also fully aware that some of the explanations of the routines look and sound pretty…erotic, but hey, we’re dealing with sculpting the human body here, and the production values are more than up to the task, so the ecchi element is not just unforced, it’s executed splendidly. You’re not mean to leer at the bodies on display, you’re supposed to regard them with awe.
That’s exactly what happens when training wraps for the day, and when Machio says the word “besides” he suddenly becomes compelled to bust out of his tracksuit and strike a classic “side chest” pose, presenting his Arnold Schwarzenegger Mister Universe physique. Hibiki fell in love with his face, but is somewhat put off by the excessive muscles, while Akemi, she of the fetish, almost has a crisis.
After her first real workout probably ever, Hibiki feels ruined, and can barely stand in class the next day. As she and Akemi walk home and she continues to voice her reservations about continuing at Silverman Gym, Akemi tells her how happy she is to be able to train with a friend from school. That convinces Hibiki to stick with it. After all, this is already more about getting a hotter bod, or gaining joy and confidence in one’s increased strength and stamina…it’s about making a lovely new friend. Akemi certainly challenges her preconceptions about her “rich girl” status.
The next day, his “secret” revealed, Machio doesn’t bother hiding his tank of a body, and gets right into introducing Hibiki to squats, which are much tougher than the bench presses Hibiki thought were already plenty tough.
Hibiki is such a relatable protagonist because she approaches things realistically within her established modus operandi: try a bit, and quickly give up. As we all would if we were in her shoes! But with multiple motivating vectors including not wanting to let Akemi or Machio down, and yes, wanting to look hotter for the beach, she perseveres and blows past those old boundaries. That’s what the slogan “becoming a new you” is all about.
While walking home after another grueling workout, Akemi notices Akemi snacking and asks her how many times she eats a day. When Hibiki honestly replies “around six or seven, sometimes more,” she fully expects a stern scolding, like she normally gets from her best friend Ayaka. But instead, Akemi is duly impressed that Hibiki has been blessed with such a powerful appetite. After all, building muscle requires fuel.
Where the critical Ayaka sees the expanding Hibiki as a bomb ready to go off, Akemi sees great potential, not a threat—a diamond to be cut and polished from rough stone. While Ayaka’s concerns are legitimate and her heart’s in the right place, the tone is wrong. If Hibiki is going to make progress, she’s going to need positive voices, including her own. I look forward to her and Akemi’s iron-pumping journey!