Given how much Christmas is associated with lovers in Japan, it makes sense that this episode would return to the subject of Hibiki's search for a boyfriend. She was hoping all this exercise would help her catch someone's eye, and we quickly learn that all the girls in the cast are down about their datelessness during the holidays. It's funny seeing just how shamelessly thirsty all the girls are, outrageously activating at the subject of a gym Christmas party where they'll potentially be able to mingle with hot guys outside the usual spectrum of muscled-up background extras (not that Akemi minds that type). Dumbbells has always been good at using its predominantly female cast for all manner of silly comedy instead of pure sweaty fanservice, though some comments about Hibiki wanting to tone up her arms leads us to that as well.
The dangerously-named Skull Crushers are here to tone up your triceps, and they live up to their title if you aren't careful doing those exercises, as Hibiki unfortunately finds out. They also take the time to explain the uses of an ‘EZ bar’, which I'd seen amongst weightlifting equipment before, but I wasn't sure what it was for. By the end of all their explanations, I was halfway under the impression this show was trying to sell me one of these things! Maybe it makes a great Christmas gift?
The Christmas party capping off the first half of this episode is thankfully the peak of the yuletide content for this episode, and to its credit, it has the most going on. The seasonal theming is pushed even harder with all the girls in holiday costumes, though even I can't complain too hard about Tachibana-Sensei donning a dominatrix look, Santa hats notwithstanding. We also get to see the girls chatting up dudes like they'd hoped, making for a fun aside of cruising, even if we find out moments later that every one of them was too shy to ask a guy out. I guess all the training hasn't done wonders for these poor kids' self-confidence just yet. At least we all still get the gift of watching Machio flex his clothes off, because of course that's how he announces raffle numbers!
This leads into the next lesson portion of the episode. We already learned last week that the various flexing poses were integral to competitive bodybuilding, and now we find out they can work as a component to actual training as well. They're a form of ‘isometric exercise’, a term I feel the internet is infinitely more familiar with nowadays than back when a certain Simpsons meme exploded all over the place. This is one of the most fun lessons the show has given us, dispensing less common knowledge and giving us the opportunity to pose along with everyone at the end of the episode! It's the sort of well-timed integration that works best after we've spent so many episodes being endeared to the show, the characters, and its aerobic spirit.
And it seems I'm not the only one who wants to party with Machio, as the back part of the episode delivers on previous moments of teasing to send Akemi on a date to an amusement park with our beefcake buddy. The other girls skulk along to spy in the background since we're all intently curious to find out if there's actually romance rippling in the air. It's all in good fun, Akemi and Machio seem like they're having a pleasant time, there's a terrifying Mickey Mouse parody mascot, and Sensei's indulgent sailor-uniform cosplay gets some good roasting. The end result is more of an anticlimax than I'd like, the revelation being that Akemi was just eager to get Machio into more costumes so she could ogle his muscles. I would've liked to explore the possibility of actual feelings between them, but her hilariously creepy muscle-fetish ramblings make for an effective consolation prize that remains on-brand for the series. The transition to an instructional on incline bench-presses definitely feels more forced this time, interesting as some of the information was.
Dumbbells has its sensibilities down to such an entertaining science that even a Christmas special at the absolute worst time of year wasn't enough to dampen my enthusiasm for it. The show's ambitions are so pointedly light that as long as it hits those humorous beats and catches my interest with exercise factoids, I'm receptive to its experiments. And spending fun times with people you enjoy is the true meaning of Christmas! Even in September.