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They'er ugly! They're weird! They're tiny! They're terrible! And they're pink! They're Kinkeshi, er MUSCLE Things!
June 8, 2010 7:05 AM   Subscribe

"As a child, there was nothing to me more fantastic than than the M.U.S.C.L.E. toys. I don't know if it's just my love for the weird, or the fact that I like pro-wrestling that makes it so special to me, but there's something about a guy from outer space with a fin on his head who would fight against a walking, talking urinal. That's right, a urinal." In the US, they were known as Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere, or M.U.S.C.L.E., but they were basically bendable plastic duplicates of Kinkeshi, a line of collectable erasers from Japan. More than peachy-salmon colored minifigs, they were based on the world of Kinnikuman, which started as manga in 1979, then an anime series, and more, and more, and more...

The creation of M.U.S.C.L.E. toys stems from two lines of Japanese products. On one side were keshigomu, Japanese erasers, as seen at the IWAKO USA Japanese Eraser Museum and the World of Japanese Erasers blog. The other side was that of the Kinnikuman manga, original created as something of a spoof on Ultraman and mainstream US comics (the first issue found unnamed "American super heroes" busy spending quality time with their families). With the move from print to video in 1983, along with merchandising including Kinnikuman Keshigumi, often abbreviated as Kinkeshi.

Two years later, Kinkeshi came to the United States as M.U.S.C.L.E., focusing on the costumed wrestling aspect that became the setting of the Kinnikuman world as the series progressed. The word is that Mattel wanted a low-cost Japanese import toy, and Kinnikuman fit the bill, with a lengthy list of characters to port to kids who wanted ugly, weird, terrible, tiny collectible toys (along with a wrestling belt and stage, seen here and here). Mattel was able to specify materials and Bandai would produce the toys, and Bandai had the facilities in Japan or China to create M.U.S.C.L.E. men in a similar fashion to the Kinkeshi. Enough of these scholarly articles, onto the plastic dudes!

Nathan's Muscle Blog provide quality images of the 236 standard run figures, as well as specifications of how they were originally packaged, and has the characters tagged by characteristics, plus other M.U.S.C.L.E. merch like the mail-away poster of 233 characters. 233? Yes, the poster didn't include 3 characters, two who were packaged with the wrestling ring, and Satan's Cross, who might have been too pointy, too "evil," or just fell off the map. And then there are the really rare characters, whose history his hazy at best. The M.U.S.C.L.E. Men (MUSCLE) Collectors Archive has more product photos, and Soupie's MUSCLE Colors Image Archive is just that - images of all known color variants of M.U.S.C.L.E. characters by MUSCLE numbers and Kinnikuman parts. And if this is all too serious, I-Mockery made their own character names and bios (covered previously).

But you want more? How about the NES game from 1985 (GameFAQs review, Something Aweful takedown, or try it yourself at Nintendo8.com), Famicom game from 1987, or the overly difficult (warning: lots of complaining) Kinnikuman: Dirty Challenger (Super Famicom). And there are even more! But wait, have you seen the live fight between (Kid Muscle) Kinnikuman and Bob Sapp? Now you can! If that's not enough Kinnikuman/M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestling for you, some fans have made their own wrestling storylines.

And for the girls? There were the C.U.T.I.E.S. (acronym for "coolest ultra tiny individuals on earth," though they were generally the same scale as M.U.S.C.L.E. men, not as small as Polly Pockets). Some M.U.S.C.L.E. scholars don't include C.U.T.I.E.S. in the MUSCLE Men universe, but other fans have included cross-overs in homemade M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestling videos.

If this has left you with more questions than answers, check out the M.U.S.C.L.E., Exogini, Cosmix, etc. board on the LittleRubberGuys forum. (FYI: Cosmix and Exogini were lines of Kinkeshi/M.U.S.C.L.E. knock-offs from France and Italy, respectively.)
posted by filthy light thief (45 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh wow. I forgot all about these. I loved these toys so much, and in fact still have them in a flesh-colored trash bin made specifically for holding them. I like that they are still as good as new, unlike some of my other toys I held on to.

Thanks for the post.
posted by cj_ at 7:24 AM on June 8, 2010


I knew they had to be Japanese somehow!
posted by Artw at 7:25 AM on June 8, 2010


Well, there goes my work-day.
posted by fijiwriter at 7:27 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Damn. Lots to sift through. I played with my MUSCLE toys and the cheaper knockoffs for so many hours. I also drew them all over all my school notebooks. I even made a hideous clay muscle "mask" that resembled some primitive museum piece. My folks still have it framed on their living room wall to this day.
posted by JBennett at 7:27 AM on June 8, 2010


The enduring toy of my childhood.
posted by fire&wings at 7:34 AM on June 8, 2010


Ah Sunshine, you challenged my young imagination to come up with a way you could be interesting. I failed. You were the kissing cousin of Spiderman's nemesis The Wall.
posted by yerfatma at 7:38 AM on June 8, 2010


Oh, I loved these as a kid.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:38 AM on June 8, 2010


Yeah these were definitely the awesomest of all the toys I had, by far.
posted by creasy boy at 7:38 AM on June 8, 2010


Wow. I had completely forgotten about these things, but I definitely had a bunch growing up. This suddenly makes me think also of Army Ants and thumb wrestlers (Junkyard Dog! Jake The Snake! The Iron Sheik!)
posted by molecicco at 7:47 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. #107, the pyramid, always ruled at the wresting matches.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:50 AM on June 8, 2010


Holy hell. I loved these as a child, and that poster was like my sacred scripture. Thanks.
posted by chinston at 7:58 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


...there's something about a guy from outer space with a fin on his head who would fight against a walking, talking urinal.

Yes, there is. But I do not think the word "something" quite nails it.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:59 AM on June 8, 2010


If this post were a giant super-deformed wrestler, the hero would have a significant challenge in the ring. It's that awesome!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:01 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now I'm going to have to dig through my parents' garage.
posted by drezdn at 8:15 AM on June 8, 2010


Huh. 3 of the guys I had were rares!

(Sad I don't have them anymore. I would totally use them for rpg minis.)
posted by yeloson at 8:43 AM on June 8, 2010


"Now I'm going to have to dig through my parents' garage."

good, 'cuz they've been wondering when you were gonna get all that crap out of there...
posted by HuronBob at 8:43 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Being of the target age group in the 80s, I should have been into these, but I never saw the appeal. I never had the mentality to "collect 'em all" of any given toy, and especially not M.U.S.C.L.E. figures, which don't have much in the way of play features.

I do own a single M.U.S.C.L.E. figure, as part of an in-joke between me and a buddy who owns lots of them. He gave the figure to me precisely because I don't get it.

The characters are wacky and inventive, I'll give 'em that. They have some fun designs.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:45 AM on June 8, 2010


And still available in Japan via capsule vending machine, I brought some back for my brothers as a "Hey remember these things?" gift. We used to have mass MUSCLE battles, eventually assigning power levels to different colored ones, odd alliances and personalities, giant King of the Hill battles where legions of MUSCLEs would attempt to scale the steps to the second floor only to be tossed down to the first floor again where my mother could easily step on them. Good times!

Also, there was a surprising amount of vintage Kinnukuman/MUSCLE merch and toys at the stores around Akihabara which surprised me and led to an extend explanation of what they were to my wife, who had never heard of the things. I had no idea they were so big in Japan despite a vaguely Japanese origin.
posted by davros42 at 8:47 AM on June 8, 2010


You know what was fun? Lining a bunch of these up on the piano bench and target-shooting them with a rubber band gun.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:59 AM on June 8, 2010


I'm a little surprised to learn of the colored ones, and later the painted/full-size figurines. I only ever had the plain ones. The guys in the first link seem to think a lot of later releases, but I'm not impressed. Maybe it's just nostalgia that I feel the original ones are better for their simplicity (don't even get me started on LEGO™ and their special-purpose blocks).

I never had the mentality to "collect 'em all" of any given toy, and especially not M.U.S.C.L.E. figures, which don't have much in the way of play features.

I spent hours with these things. Ranking them, staging battles, etc. Collecting was part of it I guess, but not in the same way of, say, Garbage Pail kids. It was just about using your imagination to give them personalities. Same principle as Little Green Army Men, I guess. I am so glad I didn't treat these the same way I did my army men, which generally involved melting off parts of their bodies + red crayon to make war injuries.
posted by cj_ at 9:00 AM on June 8, 2010


I sided with the superior toy: BATTLE BEASTS!
posted by boo_radley at 9:04 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you're looking for more from Japan, here's the first episode of Kinnikuman Nisei (literally Muscleman: Second Generation) with subtitles on Daily Motion. The series started in 2002 (based on the manga which were first published in 1998), aimed at the now grown-up fans of the original Kinnikuman. There are some full episodes streaming online, and more goodies if you tweak the search parameters.

I sided with the superior toy: BATTLE BEASTS!

Oooh, I was tempted to branch into those, thanks in part to the Battle Beast and Laser Beasts board on LRG, but decided I had to stop.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:07 AM on June 8, 2010


I had massive numbers of both these and Battle Beasts, as my brother and I got really into them (this post does mean that I can clear out the bookmarks for my long-simmering M.U.S.C.L.E. post). I loved seeing the actual connections between the guys, and I'm thinking about buying my brother some of the huge ones they have at Giant Robot.
posted by klangklangston at 9:09 AM on June 8, 2010


Awww yeah.
posted by XMLicious at 9:16 AM on June 8, 2010


Man, I really never understood these things as a kid. I was like, "WTF, they don't DO anything?" And I guess that's pretty much the sentiment I still hold today.
posted by fusinski at 9:21 AM on June 8, 2010


Wow, forever ago I had a lot of these along with the wrestling ring.

I sided with the superior toy: BATTLE BEASTS!

I had a lot of these too. The water-fire-wood thing always confused me though. Why not just use the four elements?
posted by Avelwood at 9:35 AM on June 8, 2010


I was obsessed with these when I was a kid. Great find!
posted by sswiller at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2010


boo_radley: "I sided with the superior toy: BATTLE BEASTS!"

AWW YEAH!!!!!!!!!!! The elements idea, that was awesome!
posted by symbioid at 9:54 AM on June 8, 2010


This is a slow-clap-inducing amount of information about a toy that I had always assumed was a figment of my imagination. Bravo, sir. However, my all time favorite choking hazard is still Spinjas.
posted by clockwork at 10:02 AM on June 8, 2010


Pardon me, but...

Fuck yeah!

This is a reminder of something great that I'd nearly forgotten and an amazingly thorough post to boot. It's like the opposite of a quickie crap obit post, and I cannot favorite it enough.

I don't know how I can mock the Pokemon and Bakugan of kids yesterday and today when I thought these were so awesome. I mean, I think I kind of appreciated them in a weird camp way even then, but still....

Before my best friend who lived across the street and I competed/worked together to get the fullest collection of Doctor Who Target books we could afford, this was where our collection efforts were spent.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:04 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I lost so many of these to the lawn mower....
posted by sourwookie at 10:08 AM on June 8, 2010


I used to beg my parents to go to Burnley so I could buy more C.U.T.I.E dolls from the pound shop. Anything small, plastic and collectable floated my boat.
posted by mippy at 10:18 AM on June 8, 2010


Never seen M.U.S.C.L.E, though. We were all about the Boglins.
posted by mippy at 10:21 AM on June 8, 2010


Hey, no way these things found their way to Greece.

*Looks at site*

I had the single rare figure, super-rares and super-duper-rares. Now can someone do a post on these little things on four wheels, the most stable of which was a lawn mower and a fly? TIA.
posted by ersatz at 10:54 AM on June 8, 2010


Count me among those who had pretty much forgotten about these toys. Now I seem to remember that a few of these came as a prize in tins of Nestle Quik, and those toys somehow always kept a pleasant, chocolatey smell. The chance is slim, but I hope that there's a few of these guys in an old toy chest in my parents basement.
posted by millions at 11:04 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the post they deserved. *takes off hat, covers breast, dips head solemnly*
posted by absalom at 11:43 AM on June 8, 2010


> I was like, "WTF, they don't DO anything?" And I guess that's pretty much the sentiment I still hold today.

What are you talking about? This guy has saw blades that spin around, and they can chop off the other guy's arms and legs. This guy has a huge blade at the end of one arm, for slicing, and a lobster claw at the end of the other arm, for pinching or clawing. He can also swim really well, because he's obviously from the ocean. The rest of them do different things. If you're not sure of what one of them does, you just put it in the ring against another one and see how it acts.
posted by sleevener at 11:45 AM on June 8, 2010 [10 favorites]


I had a lot of these guys as a kid.
I remember one afternoon I glued about a dozen of them feet first to the outside of the garage door. It was fun to watch them ride the door as it opened and closed. My dad was mad that I messed up the paint, but they stayed on the door for quite a while, so in hind sight he couldn’t have been that mad.
posted by Widepath at 2:17 PM on June 8, 2010


Ah, yes. In my family, the boys played with the MUSCLE toys, the girls played with My Little Ponies, and we all collected Garbage Pail Kids cards.
posted by bibbit at 2:52 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


millions: I had a MUSCLE man from a quik can, and it also kept a perpetual chocolate smell.
posted by leotrotsky at 3:08 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Please excuse me if I'm off base here... But isn't a benki more of a floor type squat toilet? Now that's a collectible.
posted by Splunge at 3:23 PM on June 8, 2010


Thanks for explaining these. I received a set as a kid and I totally didn't get what they were about. As erasers, they weren't very effective. As action figures, they were pretty immobile. As creatures, they were improbable. Thirty years later, the mystery is solved.
posted by mausburger at 8:43 PM on June 8, 2010




I was such a dumb kid. I was always selling and trading awesome things to get new things that were, in retrospect, far less awesome.

I wish I still had all (or at least some) of my old muscle men, battle beasts, star wars creatures, and madball action figures back instead of this dumb shoebox full of Magic: The Gathering Cards.

Sigh
posted by elr at 11:10 PM on June 8, 2010


Oh how I wish I still had my (REAL) Mad Balls. :( I still have a couple cheap knockoffs. I'm not sure where those went off to, but I miss them. I do have my entire Garbage Pail Kid collection, GI Joes, (broken) Transformers, and Star Wars Guys. There are advantages to a mom who refuses to throw anything away, ever.
posted by cj_ at 9:28 PM on June 10, 2010


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