Today I have a photo of my one and only M.U.S.C.L.E. figure.
M.U.S.C.L.E. (Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere) (a bit of a stretch for an acronym, if you ask me) figures were based on a Japanese manga called Kinnikuman (“Muscleman” in English) that was popular in the 1970s and 80s. Kinnikuman told of the exciting matches between intergalactic professional wrestlers.
The manga was really violent, so it was never adapted for American audiences. But the keshi (Japanese for “eraser”) toys that kids could purchase from vending machines in a variety of colors – not just pink – were brought to America by Mattel in 1985/1986 (accounts vary). Mattel put out 233 official figures, giving kids just enough variety to have fun collecting them all. If you were a kid in America in the mid-80s, you remember they were a pretty big hit here, too…at least for a while.
Because the IP wasn’t owned by Mattel, they never really promoted it as heavily as toylines they did own. So when the toy industry was sent into upheaval by the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987, M.U.S.C.L.E. was quietly discontinued in 1988 to save on licensing fees.
Sadly, this M.U.S.C.L.E. figure, named Mildman, is the only one I ever owned. I wanted to collect more of them so much, but my parents didn’t want a million of those things scattered around the house. A friend gave me this one because he had a double.
I would absolutely love to collect M.U.S.C.L.E. as an adult, but they’re just expensive enough by the time you add s/h on eBay, that it barely feels worth it. I’d happily pay $3-4 for one at a toy show, but you tack on $4 s/h and it just doesn’t seem like a lot of bang for your buck. And that’s for a common figure; the rare ones can go for hundreds. Clearly the solution is I need to go to more toy shows.
I wrote a pretty extensive history of M.U.S.C.L.E. for Mental Floss back in 2012 if you’d like to learn more!