Monday, April 14, 2014

M.U.S.C.L.E (Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere)

     I have been intending to put another one of my antique toys up on this blog with some background information since a couple of my past blogs about my collection have been popular. But I never thought it would be this toy that would end up featured. Here is how this toy topic aroused my curiosity.
     Every Wednesday I spend 45-50 minutes tutoring a 2nd grader in a neighboring community elementary school. The boy has trouble with his reading and writing and also some difficulty with arithmetic. He has already been held back one year and is still struggling. For each of our meetings his teacher gives us something to work on for at least a half hour. Then for the rest of the time we can do what we enjoy doing. Everything must take place on the school grounds. From the very beginning each time I have brought along one of my antique toys to show to my student. We then have some time to play with the toy or discuss its history. I am finding that David (name changed for privacy reasons), like one would expect from most children, is not really interested in long stories or history. He especially enjoys toys that have something to do with current popular toy characters such as Ninja characters and various other Super Heroes or Fantasy characters. My choice for this particular visit produced requests to bring it back for three weeks in a row.
M.U.S.C.L.E. muscle men 10-pack can Flesh color, Bandai 1985 Wrestlers Claw!

      Pictured above is a collectible set of toys popular in the United States from 1985 to 1988. They consisted of a package of 10 little 1 inch high bubble gum pink medium hard PVC figures of various strange mutant beings housed in a translucent small garbage can with a lid. These packets were often placed near the check out counters of Target and Toys R Us stores at that time period. They were collectible and my two sons were always looking for a new set to add a rare figure to their collection.
     The name of this toy was M.U.S.C.L.E which stood for Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere. I had never looked into the history before, but as is the case for many of my toys there is lots of information on the Internet. I learned that these little figures originated in Japan and there are called kinkeshi. They still lure many collectors even today and there are several websites which still produce regular newletters about the various creatures. These bubble gum colored ones or flesh colored ones numbered 236 different designs. Later the PVC plastic was dyed various of up to 6 colors and these colored ones were mixed with the flesh ones. Collectors still strive to get all of these various designs and colors. Also the United States toys in this line included a random 4-pack of the monsters, and a 28 pack. Also there was a boardgame, a Nintendo game, a championship belt that would hold the wrestlers, and a plastic wrestling ring that allowed fights between your figures.

M.U.S.C.L.E. toys.jpg
     The premise of these little toys is fairly straightforward. They represent intergalactic wrestlers striving for dominance in the universe. I didn't know about this premise when I was with David. He thought he recognized various modern characters from various modern fantasy and Super Hero stories. I had to explain that these figures came from another generation, that of my sons' childhood.

 The idea for these toys originated in Japan where they were called kinkeshi, named after the leader of the wrestlers called Kinikuman which means Muscle Man. Originally, like our Superman hero, Kinikuman was really a parody, a goof up of a superhero who was only called on when no other superhero was available. He is a parody of Ultraman dating from the 1960s in Japanese popular culture.  Kinikuman was the leader of the M U S C L E Men. Kinikuman got his power from eating garlic. He has a garlic meter on his forehead.  In Japan, there were also characters called "Cosmic Crunchers" who opposed the MUSCLE Men and whose leader was eventually called Terri-Bull. They and several other well known Japanese characters starred in comics and animated films.  Some of the MUSCLE men wrestlers were parodies of well known Japanese professional wrestlers.  In developing these wrestling figures the Japanese readers and devotees were invited to send in various ideas for wrestlers and many of those ideas were used in this vast number of figures. In Japan there were over 400 such characters. These characters and their stories are still popular and produced today in Japan. Such characters had a brief comeback in the US in 2003 and again in 2011 but these small figures have not been produced in the US since 1988. They were distributed by Mattel, though made in Japan. In Japan action figures of several larger sizes as well as accessories for games and for a wrestling ring were also produced.
     In the United States, these figures may have influenced a later toy produced in the US called Monster in My Pocket. There are several websites for collectors of these various small monster toys as well as websites for monster toys in general. These little wrestlers sell for between 75 cents and one dollar each for common ones. Some online sales of some rare figures reached $10.00 on eBay.
Some scenes from the Japanese comics starring Kinnikuman.

          The above representation is a modern one from Japan showing several members of the Kinikuman family. My collection of little M.U.S.C.L.E. men includes the Kinikuman representation.

     Following are some other views of Kinikuman from the later era when he was no longer such a bumbling superhero,but rather was in some degree of demand in his comic books and animated features.

     Only the two figures Kinikuman and his antithesis, Terry-Bull were named. The rest of the figures sold in the United States were not named. One collector with tongue in cheek has provided names for many of the figures pictured in the large poster below. These are quite amusing and collectors might like to know their favorite figures by these names. I attempted to provide my student, David with some of these funny names (some were R rated and of course I didn't provide them.)  But he preferred to name them according to how they resembled some of the more modern American superheros in various electronic games, and movies. He indeed has a name for almost every one of these figures.
The wrestling rink that was available in the United States.

          Here are some individual photos of some of these figures. Photos of some of my figures are further below.

Here are just a few of the many websites for collectors of these little toys.

The following website is a blog which answers many of your questions about these little figures. It is a very well organized and colorful blog.

     This website has a number of links to sites that would be informative for M.U.S.C.L.E. figures but also links to other spinoffs of these small figures.

And the most complete blog on these little toys:

And if you are mainly interested in the Super Rares of these little toys, check out this website:

     In 1985 the following poster was available by mail. It shows many of the collectible figures from the first shipment to the United States of pink or bubble gummed color M.U.S.C.L.E men.

     And here is my lot, or should I say my two sons' lot. It was quite a heap of these things for my student, David, to work himself through, just looking at them and coming up with a name for each one.

     Following are several of the more unique and maybe even horrifying of these little 1-w inch figures.


              I had no idea that these figures were to become so popular when I would cave into one of my sons at the checkout counter and purchase one of those little garbage cans full of about 10 such figures. Just recently my oldest son who is now a Chief of Surgery in various capacities at his medical school -- with his family he was home visiting us. I took him into my toy room where all my antique and more modern toys are kept. Out of all the toys, what he was drawn to and what he picked up were these M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. "Oh, wow! Mom, I can't believe you still have these." Then he said wistfully, perhaps remembering a far simpler time in his past, he just simply sighed, "Wowowow!"


  1. I remember collecting those with your son! Can't wait to go to my moms house to see if she held on to my collection! Thanks for the history and the memories! DW

    1. Glad I struck some memory chords with this post, Dan. You and my son will have to get together with your two collections and do some trading. There are lots of duplicates among my above pictured hoard.