Advertising in anime is a funny thing. It's often presumed by anime fans that whenever you see a WcDonalds or Dk. Pepper, that's paid product placement by the company whose product we know is being shown, even if their actual name isn't on it. This probably isn't the case, since Japanese law means that any actual paid product placement has to be made very obvious to the viewer, as it was with Pepsi etc in Tiger & Bunny. But there are other ways advertisers use anime to get their product in front of the eyes of otaku.
This brings us to Anitore! EX, which I dare say most wrote off as Training with Hinako the moment they saw it's promo material. On one level, you're not wrong for doing so, since despite nominally being a show promoting healthy diet & exercise, it quickly becomes apparent that Anitore is aimed less at people who want to exercise, & more at people who want to watch people exercise. Indeed, the voyeurism in the show reaches such levels that it seems about as intended to promote exercise as the music video for Eric Prydz's Call On Me was to promote aerobics.
However, if you look through the names & logos that come up in the opening credits, one may stick out to you: Renaissance. At first I assumed they were just another publisher, production or animation studio, but they are in fact a chain of membership only Japanese gyms. Yes, Anitore is in fact an advert. That being the case, it begs one to ask what is it selling, who is it trying to sell to, & does it succeed?
The what is fairly easy, though it's more subtle about it than you might think. I say this, because in the first few episodes there's nothing to Anitore that would make you think it's doing more than trying to teach viewers some exercise moves. To begin with, each episode introduces us to one of the five characters who will be serving as our training instructors: Asami, Yuu, Eri, Shizuno & Akiko. Finding ourselves in their bedrooms for some reason, they talk directly to the viewer as they go through the steps of how to perform two or three different moves or stretches. It's pretty sleazily & clearly under no illusion that you're actually doing the exercises along with them, but there's nothing about it that suggests Renaissance's involvement.
Yet as the show goes on, you'll start to notice a change. The location of each episode soon moves out of the bedroom & into a dance studio, swimming pool or gymnasium, & we're increasingly instructed in the use of things such as treadmills & weight machines that you won't be finding in your typical otaku apartment, I can assure you. We even get introduced to some gym training staff, so helpful & fit. Hmm, I guess I'll have to join a gym if I want to keep up with what these girls are showing me.
It's at this point you see how this show works as an advert for Renaissance without them having to slap a giant logo on the screen telling you that's what they're doing. But hang on, you might say, wouldn't they be better off advertising more directly? Well sometimes the subtle approach is more effective. After all, if you just run a typical thirty second advert saying "join Renaissance gyms to get access to our probably not very good facilities because Japanese gyms have a reputation for being a bit of an overpriced let down by Western standards," you're probably not going to get through to the kind of person who sits in their room all day watching cartoons.
But there is an alternative. Instead of advertising directly, why not pay to produce/sponsor a show that promotes the idea of gym based exercise as something an otaku might want to do, knowing that there's a good chance a decent number of them will live nearby to one of your gyms. When your membership fee may well be pushing $100/month (I have seen that number for comparable businesses, though not Renaissance itself), you don't need too many of the audience to join in order to recoup your investment.
So, we can see that Anitore is indirectly selling a gym membership to its audience. We can assume, furthermore, that the intended audience is a male otaku one. However, does it succeed? From what I've written, you might think that I think it does, but I don't. I can certainly see what they're going for, yet I don't think it works, for the following reasons.
The show is more confused than it might seem about it's intended audience. I've said it's aimed at otaku males, but if you were to view it on the basis of who the characters are & what they talk about, you might think this is aimed at teenage & adult women. While the information given (& some of it is actually quite useful, though if you think ten press ups is going to do more than stop you from atrophying, you're mistaken) could be used by anyone, the way they go about discussing them implies that they're meant more for women than men. Emphasis put on how they can be fun, help improve your bust & glutes but aren't going to make you bulk up or get too defined muscle tone, which seems a strange way to sell exercise to men. Indeed, more than anything, the show seems to be pushing exercise & the gym as a social activity for a group of women friends.
So they're actually targeting women, right? Well no, because when you consider what the characters are & how the show actually depicts them & their exercises, it becomes clear that it's a male audience that's assumed to be watching, as I said. Technically, the five girls in Anitore are an Idol group, & I dare say Renaissance will be using them in future advertising campaigns if the show was popular enough. But I won't believe anyone who says that the five main girls are meant to be anything other than the viewer's (little) sisters. You've got enthusiastic clutz (Asami); twintails brat (Eri); busty & proper (Shizuno); chuuni trouble (Akiko) & shy glasses girl (Yuu). They might be friends when they're together, but when they're in their bedrooms alone with the viewer, it's a different matter.
The direction of each episode is, as already alluded to, very leery. Every opportunity for a crotch & bust shot is taken, to the point that it can get in the way of watching the technique of the exercise being shown (not that you're watching it for that). As I said, this has more in common with that Eric Prydz music video than an actual gym or exercise advert - Zumba infomercials don't look like this. Incidentally, you might think at some points that Anitore has some surprisingly good animation for a show of its type. The dance routines in particular are very smoothly rendered. It's impressive, until you realise that they're just using or tracing stock movements that come with the Miku Miku Dance software, which you can get for free if you're so inclined. I see what you did there.
Now, you might be thinking, so what? They're using cute girl characters & tropes to try to encourage male otaku to go to the gym. What's wrong with that? Well the problem, both as an advert & in general, is that this show's appeal is ultimately to men who like watching girls do things & presents the facilities used as a place women go to exercise & men go to watch. I don't know about you, but personally I think the last thing gyms need is more men who are just there to watch the women on the cross trainer, not to mention women who just sit on the exercise bikes chatting.
There's ultimately a leap of logic in Anitore that I think makes it fail as an advertisement for Renaissance; It apparently expects its audience to want to go from watching cartoon girls exercise at a gym, to paying a real membership fee so they can do it themselves. If you'll excuse me for being flippant, that's like saying watching Sakura Trick is going to make male viewers want to experiment with homosexuality. It's got the same problem Summer 2015's Urawa no Usagi-chan had, namely that it assumes that just putting cute cartoon girls doing stuff on screen is enough to advertise whatever the product is, regardless of context or message.
So what we're left with is, as said at the beginning, basically Training with Hinako. It's a sleazy cute girls doing exercise things show that will teach you about as much useful exercise information as five minutes on Google. In fact, if you buy a cheap exercise mat for your room, it'll probably come with a booklet that has more useful information than can be found here. All in all, I think Anitore can be added to the pile of evidence that Japanese marketers need to get this idea that cartoon teenage girls can sell anything, anyhow out of their hivemind. Although I suppose this is preferable to another Ili translator advert. At least these girls are cartoons.