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Anthropology 200 – MUSCLEMANIA
Did Select bring a Kinnikuman-like figure to the United States before Mattel?
There is no question that M.U.S.C.L.E. figures spawned a small army of imitators and changed the face of collectible figures in the United States. Some of those imitators were literally copies of the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures and others attempted to create Frankenstein-like figures using the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. However, one brand took it a step further – MUSCLEMANIA.
For years collectors have often considered MUSCLEMANIA figures to be both a clear imposter and one of many examples of small, monochromatic, unarticulated figures being brought to market after the success of M.U.S.C.L.E. Additionally, most collectors thought Kinnikuman was too obscure for a small American company to try and “rip-off.”
However, with the documentation of a MUSCLEMANIA 4-pack something interesting happened. Collectors realized that MUSCLEMANIA had a 1984 copyright. This would suggest that MUSCLEMANIA predates M.U.S.C.L.E. by, at least, one year.
Musclemania’s manufacturer (or at least distributor) was Select Merchandise, Inc. The 4-pack packaging disclosed New York as potential headquarters location. It was surprisingly easy to find some information about them. The New York Department of State website was able to provide the following information:
Current Entity Name: SELECT MERCHANDISE, INC.
Initial DOS Filing Date: OCTOBER 26, 1982
County: NEW YORK
Jurisdiction: NEW YORK
Entity Type: DOMESTIC BUSINESS CORPORATION
Current Entity Status: ACTIVE
DOS Process (Address to which DOS will mail process if accepted on behalf of the entity):
SELECT MERCHANDISE, INC.
303 E. 57TH ST.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, 10022
Ideally the organization would have been contacted. However it was not possible to discover a contact phone number and 303 E. 57th St. address did not have any listing of a Select Merchandise, Inc.
Based on the look of the building (Google Maps) it does not suggest that manufacturing took place at that location. It was most likely their office. There is no indication that a new iteration of Select Merchandise, Inc. operates in that location.
Unable to contact the company directly, the best insight into their practices can be gleaned from their other products. Select’s toys appear to be largely inspired by the success of other toy lines (i.e., Transformers, He-Man, etc.). It is incredibly difficult to properly align the dates of all of Select’s products. However, based on their offerings a potential timeline does seem to emerge.
It appears that Select’s Converters were all based on original Takatoku designs. Select appears to have bought many of the smaller molds and rights and Bandai purchased the other ones. Eventually Bandai and Hasbro secured the rights of all of the designs, which is why some Select figures are exact copies of Transformers.
Select most likely created enough capital, from both the sale of figures and the sale of the molds, to start creating their own toys. Having already seen the success of other Japanese brands with American children they may have wanted to be the first to introduce keshi, Kinnikuman-like wrestling figures with MUSCLEMANIA. By creating their own sculpts, which ranged from eerily similar to completely unique, they likely hoped to sidestep the need for licensing Kinnikuman – which would maximize their earnings.
1984 also saw the absolute explosion of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toys. Select probably saw an opportunity to introduce a He-Man-like product (Ninja Assassins and Defenders) which could offer a lower price point and hopefully capture some of the tremendous market developed by Mattel and He-Man.
Select did not limit themselves to only action figures. Select also released a number of children’s books.
What happened next is a mystery. There is no clear indication of Select’s activity after this mid-1980’s window. Only two things remained: (1) the idea that MUSCLEMANIA predates M.U.S.C.L.E.; and (2) the wonderfully unique and interesting MUSCLEMANIA products.MUSCLEMANIA figures seem to have two general types of rigidity: (1) a more firm M.U.S.C.L.E.-like consistency; and (2) a much more “stretchy” consistency. The University of M.U.S.C.L.E. does not have separate photographs for Firm and Stretchy figures.
Because, for so long, little was known about MUSCLEMANIA figures it was impossible to know if the variations in the rigidity were the result of plastic deterioration, manufacturing differences, separate waves or series of figures, and/or some combination of these types of things.
However, based on nearly a decade years of acquiring MUSCLEMANIA figures plus a recent large influx of MUSCLEMANIA figures and 4-packs, a strong hypothesis, based on data, can finally be offered with a strong degree of confidence.
The rigidity and textural differences appear to be the result of changing manufacturers. The Firm figures seem to have been created first, and then those figures were used to create molds with a second manufacturer. Two pieces of data support this idea:
#1 – There is a very small size and mold definition difference between the Firm and Stretchy MUSCLEMANIA figures. It is most notable when two identical figures are held, in-hand, next to each other. It is a bit more difficult to effectively photograph, but below are two attempts:
#2 – The lack of Firm 4-packs. MUSCLEMANIA 4-packs were quite rare for a long time. However, there has been a tsunami of MUSCLEMANIA 4-packs becoming available. All of these 4-packs have had Stretchy figures. It is reasonable to believe that all of the new old stock is from the end of the line, not the start of it.
And if you have any figures, 4-pack, or 12-pack pictures to add to the archive, then please email a high-resolution picture to the University of M.U.S.C.L.E.. Please take the picture on a white background. Thank you!
At one time sealed 4-packs of MUSCLEMANIA were very, very rare. Within the small community of MUSCLEMANIA collectors it was an exciting and monumental discovery when the first 4-pack was publically shared on the internet.
The 4-packs continued to be so rare that it was possible, and meaningful, to document the few known examples. The six examples of 4-packs below represent the first six known MUSCLEMANIA 4-packs. However, as stated above, a tsunami of MUSCLEMANIA 4-packs have emerged. It is no longer useful or possible to document all of them.
The 4-pack may no longer be a mysterious MUSCLEMANIA item, but the 12-pack continues to be a bit of an enigma. There is only one documented example of the 12-pack.
The two pictures to the right, for years and years, were the only pictures of the MUSCLEMANIA 12-pack.
Previously the only two pictures of the 12-pack looked as if they had been shot through a Vaseline filter. And it was only the front and back of the box. No additional details were known. Interestingly those pictures were also taken by Chris and feature the exact same 12-pack.
The updated pictures from Chris provide the best documented example of the MUSCLEMANIA 12-pack every shared online.Getting to see the 12-pack as it might have appeared on the shelf during the 80’s is fantastic. If, as a child, you saw this 12-pack, then you might prefer it to the 10- or 28- M.U.S.C.L.E. packs. It’s much more colorful and really spotlights the figures more effectively.
It feels like Select understood the appeal of M.U.S.C.L.E.’s 4-pack and converted it to a larger package.
It seems reasonable to assume that kids didn’t care about Select’s numerous claims on the front of the package. It may have been cool to convert the pack to a wrestling ring (which is what Chris did to his second 12-pack). But it seems unlikely that they would have wanted washable erasers. (This seems like a great experiment for Dr. M.U.S.C.L.E..)The back of the 12-pack is equally, if not more, exciting than the front.
All of the 24 MUSCLEMANIA figures are shown. Did Select consider the back of the 12-pack their poster?
Select claims, “Over 100 different figures available!”
With only 24 known MUSCLEMANIA sculpts collectors can wonder if additional sculpts were planned. However, it seems unlikely because of the costs associated with producing new sculpts. It seems far more likely that Select was considering the different colors to represent the over 100 versions of the 24 sculpts.
A Master Set of MUSCLEMANIA figures appears to be impossible. But maybe the documented versions shed some light on the 100 versions.
Very conservatively, the first twelve MUSCLEMANIA figures are all available in six colors. This would result in 60 different combinations. The remaining twelve figures, again conservatively, appear to be available in four colors. This would result in 48 different combinations and a total of 108 different color/figure combinations. Did Select consider their “Master Set” to be 108 figures?
Below are some very detailed pictures of the previously undocumented sides of the 12-pack box.When Chris originally sent me the pictures I asked, “Is there another tray? Did it break or something?”
His answer was a simple, “No.”
Select only created a tray that held four figures (it appears that it holds eight, but it is two “4-trays” next to each other). The remaining figures were simply thrown into the box. The only detail he could not remember was whether the four extra figures were in a bag or loose. Given what is known about Select both options seem completely plausible.
A huge thank you is owed to Chris. The pictures he shared are the best and most complete that have ever been seen. Arguably the new 12-pack pictures from Chris might be the single greatest MUSCLEMANIA collector moment ever.
Below is a visual archive of the 24 different MUSCLEMANIA sculpts.
There is no question that MUSCLEMANIA figures exist as either a more firm M.U.S.C.L.E.-like consistency (Firm) or a much more “stretchy” consistency (Stretchy). However a new oddity has started to be appear – a previously undocumented type of MUSCLEMANIA figure.
The type of material is a stiffer and rigid plastic than the normal Firm MUSCLEMANIA figure. The plastic has an almost waxy, army man plastic quality to it. Only three figures have been confirmed as this “Army Man” subset.
The Dark Blue #1 and Red #7 appear to be missing some pieces; which is not unusual for MUSCLEMANIA figures. It was not 100% clear if these were manufacturing errors or the outcome of “customizing” kids (also known as toy torture).
Inexpensive, fairly simple, low quality copies of toys are often broadly credited as bootleg figures. It makes it very easy to suggest that these odd MUSCLEMANIA figures are simply bootlegs. Given the obscure nature of MUSCLEMANIA it seems reasonable that collectors would not come across many examples.
The greatest argument against these figures being counterfeit – the quality of the plastic is vastly superior to the Stretchy versions. Arguably it is as good, or better, than the Firm versions.
It is possible that these are homemade, custom figures, but it does not feel like the material of any other custom figure. And if a customizer could create this material, then it would most likely be a very popular discovery and not something kept a secret.
Until more examples are documented these “Army Man” MUSCLEMANIA figures will be labeled an oddity. If more “Army Man” figures are discovered and documented, then a third type of MUSCLEMANIA figure will be listed. The visual archive would not have separate photographs for Firm, Stretchy, and Army Man figures.Cameron L. (known as MoistSloth at LRG) shared two additional Army Man Plastic figures. Cameron’s #12 figure may confirm that the Army Man Plastic MUSCLEMANIA figures we altered before they were manufactured.
The #12 figure’s “ears” have been removed. With several figures, from different collectors, it seems safe to assume the alterations are part of the manufacturing process. The reason for the changes to these figures remains unknown.
Both figures also had their Select trademarks removed. The question that remains, “Are the waxy Army Man Plastic MUSCLEMANIA figures authentic?”
The removal of the Select copyright certainly lends credence to the idea of the figures being counterfeit. It seems incredibly unlikely and illogical for Select to remove their own copyright.
The altering, even if largely insignificant, is another fact that lends additional credibility to the counterfeit argument.
The only valid argument against these Army Man Plastic MUSCLEMANIA counterfeit is based on the overall quality of the figures. There is not any visible shrinkage in the figure – which would be expected from a counterfeit figure. There is not any decline in mold quality. All of the detail looks great; equal to the original authentic MUSCLEMANIA figures (ignoring the edits that have been made to the figures). The quality of the plastic is arguably as good, or better, than the original Firm MUSCLEMANIA figures and vastly better than the Stretchy figures.Craig added two more Army Plastic figures to the discussion. He has a Red #1 figure and a Green #9 figure. Like many of the Army Man plastic figures before it the Red #1 is missing a part of the original sculpt. The antennae-like thing on the top of his head is missing.
Craig was also able to get a great picture showing how the back of an Army Man Plastic looks different than a Firm figure. The craftsmanship used to remove it the Select could be debated, but it is interesting that the letter D is still present.Considering that effort was exerted to remove Select, and small pieces of the figures, it is interesting, and a little surprising, that the letter D was left alone.
The likely answer is that the letter was not deemed significant enough to worry about.
Could there have been another reason?
The mystery continues to grow and take shape as more figures are discovered. Perhaps the question, “Are the waxy Army Man Plastic MUSCLEMANIA figures authentic?” is poorly constructed. Perhaps the better question is, “Where do Army Man Plastic MUSCLEMANIA figures fit in the history of MUSCLEMANIA?”There does seem to be some color deviations in MUSCLEMANIA figures. Most often it is a fairly subtle difference because of Firm versus Stretchy plastic. Other times some type of combination of dirt and deterioration causes an inconsistency in the color. These types of differences are very common and not worth officially labeling as, the collector-friendly, “variants.”
Showcased to the right and below are several MUSCLEMANIA figures that seemed to be a little bit different. But as separate pictures, from different collectors, without better comparison pictures it becomes a great challenge to identifying genuine differences from the effects of time, dirt, play, etc. Too much camera flash, not enough camera flash, or some other honest mistake can make it difficult to compare pictures and effectively compare the different figures.
However, one specific color variation might be easier to validate if more examples could be documented. The possible color variation is a bit darker and a bit more dull – almost a matte, compared to the glossier finish of the original Yellow.
The Firm and Stretchy figures, aside from rigidity, seem to have slight size and details differences. These two types of Yellow figures do not have any noticeable differences. Admittedly MUSCLEMANIA figures can get dirty, just like M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. However this does not appear to be dirt. The color is very uniform and perfectly similar from figure to figure. The two Yellow colors are significantly different.When attempting to identify legitimate manufacturing errors it can sometimes be challenging to differentiate between figures that have been damage and figures that are missing a piece from the manufacturing process.
One thing makes the identification incredible easy – extra plastic. The picture to the right could be the only 100% confirmed manufacturing error for MUSCLEMANIA figures. It still has extra flashing around its head.When talking about manufacturing errors, especially with M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors, the next consideration could be the “warping” of figures.
Very early in the documentation of MUSCLEMANIA figures the figure to the left was listed as possibly warped figure. It is not.
The figure to the left is simply a Stretchy figure. Unlike the Firm figures, the Stretchy figures occasionally take on new shapes. It appears that it is not the result of the molding process, but rather the result of a sub-par plastic material that can twist, and slightly reshape.
Eric Nilla purchased an amazing set from Retro World Korea. The pictures, and some possible theories, were originally posted in this MUSCLEMANIA Update and this update too. This counterfeit set of figures features the #15 and #20 MUSCLEMANIA figures in different colors.
Retro World Korea also introduced some new translucent counterfeit MUSCLEMANIA figures from Korea.
It does not appear that all the MUSCLEMANIA figures were made. It appears that only the “second half” of figures (#13-#24) were created.
This group of #15 and #20 figures represents all of the known colors: (1) Yellow; (2) Purple; (3) Green; and (4) Red.However, after several weeks and new color was discovered – a translucent Blue. And soon, on the heels of the Blue discovery, there was a unique sculpt discovered.
The sculpt was not a part of the known MUSCLEMANIA collection. The counterfeiting company seemed to create multiple “new sculpts” by taking a portion of a figure and affixing it to a large coin-like circle.
The original Kinnikuman kinkeshi figures, in Part 30, had a special anniversary coin.
Is this where the counterfeiters drew their inspiration? Was this common for other kinkeshi figures?
Most likely, the MUSCLEMANIA “coin” was probably the easiest way to repurpose a MUSCLEMANIA sculpt. The coin is also quite flat. Is that a result of trying to use as little plastic as possible to reduce costs?
If you have any figures, 4-pack, or 12-pack pictures to add to the archive, then please email a high-resolution picture to the University of M.U.S.C.L.E.. Please take the picture on a white background. Thank you!
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