You might remember M.U.S.C.L.E., those little pink figurines from the ’80s that depicted an assortment of wrestlers so bizarre they might have stepped out of an Oompa Loompa’s acid-induced brain implosion. You might be aware that those very weird characters, who arrived without much of a backstory, were all imported from the slapstick Japanese manga wrestling epic, Kinnikuman. What you’re less likely to know is that for several years, those tiny pink wrestlers who once fit so easily in the zippered pockets of your bookbag have been receiving full-on, full-sized action figure treatment, mostly from Japanese toy company Romando. If you ever marveled at the bat guano-insane and irreverently sadistic details of your M.U.S.C.L.E. figures and wished you could have larger, articulated versions of the characters to do battle with Skeletor and D’Compose, prepare to have you mind Oompa-Loompa’ed. Here are 10 of the greatest M.U.S.C.L.E. characters next to their much larger and less monochromatic counterparts. And before you complain that your favorites aren’t pictured below, keep in mind that A) we might give you a sequel to this list down the line and B) some of the Japanese Kinnikuman action figures are hard as **** to come by.
10) Robin Mask
Robin Mask was one of the main characters in the Kinnikuman manga, and that’s probably why figures of him were so prolific in M.U.S.C.L.E. He wore knight-like armor that actually had the side effect of reducing his strength in the manga, but it was hard not to view him in the western world as a weird mash-up between Shredder and Battle-Armor He-Man.
No, that’s not Guardian from Alpha Flight with a facial expression frozen after accidentally walking in on Snowbird in the shower. Not at all a national stereotype, Canadianman wears a ring uniform depicting his home country’s flag and moonlights as a lumberjack.
The man-titular character of the Kinnikuman story, this wrestler with the somewhat penile-like mask had a butt-ton of figures in M.U.S.C.L.E., which used the same molds (but with sturdier plastic) as the Kinnikuman Kinkeski toyline. Kinnikuman was one of two M.U.S.C.L.E. characters to get a name; he was imaginatively called “Muscle Man” and made the leader of the “Thug Busters” team of intergalactic wrestlers. Kinnikuman in the original story is lazy, clumsy, arrogant, extremely flatulent, and often does pretty dismal with the ladies, yet somehow manages to win his matches thanks to his great strength and deep-seated nobility and courage. A source of inspiration for many of you, perhaps?
With six arms to chokehold you and three interchangeable faces for easy mood customization, this demon prince is actually kind of frightening. There was a whole bunch of versions of him in the M.U.S.C.L.E. toyline, including one that amusingly had one arm in a sling and another that for some odd reason looked like he was five years old. Sadly, M.U.S.C.L.E. didn’t import the version of him that actually had a spinning head! (unless you count an extreme rarity that reportedly shows up from time to time.
Okay, this is a slight cheat. This figure of Ramenman is actually from the short-lived American Ultimate Muscle cartoon, which was based on the original Kinnikuman. But this great, articulated Ramenman comes with a spoon and frying pan for which to cook noodles and beat you senseless, so who cares? Ramenman was one of the most popular Kinnikuman characters, a gentleman who was nevertheless a ruthless technician in the ring. He also had a bandaged alter-ego named Mongolman, and figures of both guises were included in M.U.S.C.L.E.
An aquatic villain-of-the-week in Kinnikuman, this guy will always (at least to this writer) be the toy representation of the Amazon, that cheatin’, head bitin’ fishy bastard from the original Nintendo Pro Wrestling game!
This brute swings his own head around on a chain and uses it as a weapon. It just doesn’t get more awesome that that. Unless the chain breaks and his head goes rolling down the aisle, out of the arena and down a storm drain. That would be pretty embarrassing.
Most kids who collected M.U.S.C.L.E. in the ’80s will tell you that the true prize to be had was the giant, warty hand with four taloned fingers, one of them sporting a nasty face. Who thought up such madness? We didn’t know and we didn’t care; this was the greatest M.U.S.C.L.E. figure ever! But if you want the backstory, the hand or “claw” was one of the many forms of reptilian shapeshifter Sneagator, who in his other appearances usually had shoelaces on his body and wore sneakers. In fact, some of his other guises were released as figures in the M.U.S.C.L.E. toyline. And now you know…
This smirking, horned badass was a common sight in the M.U.S.C.L.E. toyline. He was also unfortunately dubbed “Terri-Bull” and made leader of the “Cosmic Crunchers,” positioning him as the main nemesis for Kinnikuman, a.k.a. Muscle Man. In the original story, Buffaloman was a formidable wrestler with insane power. Strong like bull! He started evil, but eventually became a pretty decent guy and fought with Kinnikuman. The action figure you see below was part of Romando’s EX series and is simply incredible. It’s worth sucking whatever you have to in order to get one.
1) King the 100-Ton
With a ponderous name like that, it’s good this guy’s opponents didn’t have long to think about it before getting flattened. King the 100-Ton literally weighs 100 tons, and it ain’t from eating deep-fried Oreos. He can transform his metal body into barbell weights and other such things, so you always know wrestling King the 100-Ton will at least be a good workout. There was a second, inexplicably bumpy version of this guy in M.U.S.C.L.E. that looked kind of like a Dalek with legs. Get on this, Steven Moffat!