Another M.U.S.C.L.E. Mystery Solved

One of the constants I have heard from Mattel employees is that Mattel wanted a turnkey product and that nobody was excited to work on the project.

That always made a tremendous amount of sense to me. Aside from the pre-pack and the MUSCLEMAN splash art there wasn’t very much original content produced by Mattel.

Before revealing the discovery. Can you make the same discovery? (Don’t cheat. Slowly scroll down.)


Did you figure it out?


Thanks to Namu Niku (one of the original M.U.S.C.L.E. influencers) we have learned that even the splash art was copied.

The iconic flying MUSCLEMAN that graced 4-packs, 10-packs, 28-packs, and just about anything M.U.S.C.L.E.-related was copied. It was copied from the back of a Japaneses 28-pack from 1984.

This should be a tremendous shock to every, single M.U.S.C.L.E. collector! I know that I was blown away.

The 1984 release of this 28-pack would have coincided with Mattel’s trip to Japan. This would have been one of the items they held in their hands.

WHY Mattel selected this image to be the “face” of the M.U.S.C.L.E. brand is certainly an interesting question. And one we may never properly answer.

I would expect cynics to certainly scream, “But it doesn’t match exactly!”

No, it doesn’t. But I think that actually solves another 28-pack problem. There were four hypothesized 28-pack combinations:

  • Logo, Poster
  • Logo, No Poster
  • No Logo, Poster
  • No Logo, No Poster

The face, on Mattel’s box, doesn’t look exactly “right.” For some reason Mattel wanted a change; maybe to look less surprised.

I’m guessing that the first box feature the Logo, No Poster combination. Then the poster was released and it was added to the back of the box. The final version removed the forehead logo and kept the poster offer.

There was never a No Logo, No Poster because a fourth wave of boxes were never printed. The line was already killed by Mattel.

In the meantime M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors need to shift into detective mode. Could more Mattel art be hiding in plain sight? This image pulled it off for 36 years. What will we discover next?

Namu Niku has a possible idea.

Take a look at Terri-Bull and Neptuneman on the front of the 28-pack. What if those aren’t original either?

Could they come from the Part 3 box?

Terri-Bull is in almost the exact same pose as Brocken. And Neptuneman is in a very similar pose.

Admittedly, it isn’t the same slam dunk as Muscleman – but it is the best guess with the data we have.

There’s a wonderful footnote to this discovery. Namu Niku was able to purchase the box for $11.84.

M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors get enthralled in high figure prices. I think many collectors believe paying those prices is the only way to “participate” in the M.U.S.C.L.E. hobby.

This is a great reminder that M.U.S.C.L.E. doesn’t have to be expensive. I remember seeing a new collector defending spending $25 (I think) on one page from a magazine that had the Quik advertisement. I spent less than that to go through all of the 1986 He-Man magazines.

One of my favorite, but rarely appropriate, words is: flaneur. I think it carries a more negative connotation, but I’ve always held a special place for it. I always thought of it as a positive title. A term for a person that can slowdown and appreciate the little things around them.

This discovery was made because Namu Niku is a M.U.S.C.L.E. flaneur. I try to be a M.U.S.C.L.E. flaneur. And I hope his discovery helps other people become M.U.S.C.L.E. falneurs too.

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  1. #1 by Jason Pratt on August 3, 2020 - 10:41 am

    Super interesting article!
    Thanks for this!!

  2. #2 by Nama Niku on August 3, 2020 - 4:49 pm

    When I visited Yudetamgo’s studio in Tokyo back in 2011 they mentioned they had a monthly licensing approval meeting. They showed me their character reference “Kinniku Bible” they used when giving approvals to ensure that art and character proportions are “on-brand.”

    Yudetamgo and or their agent(s) sign off on everything featuring their characters likeness. Has been that way since the early 80’s, hence their Copyright on all MUSCLE packaging and figures.

    My guess is that because Mattel needed a turnkey product as you called out, they were given creative options with character poses and general designs that had already been approved by Yudetamgo.

    Yudetamgo said they were not directly involved with MUSCLE at all. Shimada-sensi said he first saw a MUSCLE 4-Pack when on vacation in Hawaii in 1986. This leads me to believe that Mattel was told they had to use designs they already had been approved through the Bandai and Yudetamgo approval process.

    Just a theory!

  3. #3 by Scott on August 3, 2020 - 5:33 pm

    Interesting stuff. Is it possible that Mattel and the Japanese collaborated on the the Mattel release of M.u.s.c.l.e. In the United States and had the blessing of the Japanese to do so. I know that technology theft is a big deal these days, but the 80’s were a better time. Not real sure what Japan’s interest would have been in the deal…unless creative or monetary, unless to revive interest in the earlier rubber guys.

  4. #4 by Greyson Heit on August 3, 2020 - 8:41 pm

    This is very fascinating!

  5. #5 by Scott on August 4, 2020 - 8:16 pm

    Nama, that is a very cool info. Thank you.

  6. #6 by Pedro on August 12, 2020 - 6:51 am

    I missed UofM! This was fascinating!

    I recently started posting on LRG again and I was just going through my old posts (one thread was for all 11 Parts of the vintage Japanese 28 Packs).

    I have all of them and wanted to document them visually. I made a post in June 2017 on the Part 2 28 Pack.

    I even did somewhat of a close up of the “Flying Muscleman” on the back of the pack and not once did I think anything of it!

    I didn’t see the connection with the Mattel 28 Pack splash art! You never stop learning, this is what I love about collecting.

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