Toy Tribute: Bootleg M.U.S.C.L.E.s

When this weeks' assignment for the League of Extraordinary Bloggers was announced as being about "Knockoffs", I immediately thought of those "hundreds of different... I-don't-know-whats" from the mid-80's: MUSCLE Things! MUSCLEs were all the rage for the scant few years that they were popular, and a bunch of bootleggers wanted to cash-in on the craze by cranking out their own MUSCLEs. The results were usually awful, but those bootlegs certainly had a character all their own that added to the tapestry of MUSCLE collecting.

So how can you tell if your beloved MUSCLE is a bootleg? For one, since bootlegs were molded from production figures (i.e., copies of copies), they're always smaller and less detailed than legit MUSCLEs. Bootlegs usually don't feature the familiar Y/S*N*T trademark that adorns the back of official MUSCLE figures, either. They're often cast in weird and wacky colors and their plastic is almost always more rubbery. The sculpts are usually ripped off from poster MUSCLEs, but they might also be taken from Japanese Kinnikuman Kinkeshi sculpts (the source toy line for MUSCLE) that were never released in the US.

In my ol' MUSCLE-collecting days, I amassed a nice little army of bootlegs. I apologize in advance for not cleaning the boots shown here. You'll likely notice that many of them are more than a little gross. But you know what? They're bootlegs, they deserve to be gross. They were always gravity wells for crud anyway.

The MUSCLE boots that have found their way into my collection can be categorized into four basic groups. And this tribute is in no way all-inclusive; down that road lies madness. We'll start with:

Party Favors

I'm not entirely sure what the story was behind these figures, but I seem to remember that the dude who sent them to me said they were party favors. If so, they're pretty cool for party favors, but they're all kinds of awful for MUSCLE bootlegs. The detailing is bad; so bad that they make me think that they were repros of bootlegs themselves. The colors just don't work, either. What's that, Godo Shisa? I can't hear you over the sound of your colorway.

Above: Comparison with MUSCLE #138.

Still, they included a couple of Kinnikuman figures that weren't available in the American MUSCLE line. I'm not sure what their official names were, but I've heard them referred to as "the Cyborg" and "the Ghost".

Above: The Cyborg and the Ghost.


MUSCLE was a global sensation, but it doesn't seem like it got over to Europe... at least, in an official capacity. Instead, European kids were treated to MUSCLE bootlegs in the form of Exogini! Fortunately for the kids, Exogini were pretty cool for repros. They were nicely detailed with little flashing, cast in colors that were undeniably groovy. The Exogini line was even filled out with playsets and stuff, so collectors originally thought it was official MUSCLE product for a while. But Exogini exhibit all the signs of bootlegs: smaller, less detailed sculpts, no Y/S*N*T, rubbery feel, wacky colors... yup, they're bootlegs all right. Exogini are some of the coolest MUSCLE-related merchandise around anyway. I especially like the Jolly Rancher colorways.

Above: Comparison with MUSCLE #10.

For more on Exogini, you can check out MinifiguresXD and Nathan's MUSCLE Blog!

Future Man

Welcome to the future... the future of Future Man! Maybe that should have been the tag line for this series of bootlegs. But if this is the future, the future is not too bright. The castings aren't all that bad, but the flashing is totally out of hand. And what is the deal with the packaging? Ugh.

I'm not exactly sure what the story is behind these repros, but they popped up on eBay a lot in the 2000's. They remind me of Kinkeshi (Japanese MUSCLEs) because the rubber is kind of like an eraser.

Above: Comparison with MUSCLE #3.

Hey, there's Ghost and Cyborg again. You know, if you use an x-acto knife to remove the flashing, you'd have a couple of pretty good Kinkeshi replicas there. But they're bootlegs so they're not worth any sort of effort.

This last little booger has an interesting story. Back in the dark ages of MUSCLE collecting in the late 90's, we had very little information about MUSCLEs and even less about their Japanese Kinkeshi origins. Of course, MUSCLE bootlegs were all over the place, but there were also a number of Kinkeshi that somehow managed to find their way to US shores. Collectors sometimes assumed that a couple of the more convincing bootlegs and some of the errant Kinkeshi were super-rare non-poster MUSCLEs.

Well, one day, a collector found this light bulb dude and the Internet MUSCLE community all assumed it was a super-rare MUSCLE. Of course, as we learned more about Kinkeshi and how to identify bootlegs better, the light bulb dude was exposed for the fraud that he was. But I wonder if the figure that caused all the drama in the first place was this guy from Future Man.

Gumball Machine

Some of the nicest bootlegs were available in gumball machines. You'd see these machines all over the place in the 80's: toy stores, K-Mart, whatever. And you could get fake MUSCLEs for just a quarter or two each. Why didn't Mattel bring the smack down on these bootleggers? Who knows, but the kids were the real winners because there's nothing more fun than getting random MUSCLEs in a vending machine. The samples shown here are very different in quality and plastic composition to each other, so I can't imagine they're all from the same line of bootlegs.

Above: Comparison with MUSCLE #136.

I especially love the bubble gum look of these two guys above. And there's Cyborg once again. The bootleggers just loved that dude for some reason.

This weird Muscleman is one of my favorite MUSCLE figures, regardless of his bootleggary. I got him in a gumball machine at Toys R Us in the early 2000's. Imagine my shock as I walked past the gumball machines to exit the store (probably feeling dejected for not finding the newest Star Wars figures or something) when I saw MUSCLE bootlegs in a vending machine almost 20 years after they were in mass production! Of course, I got as many as I could, but they were 50 cents each and randomly placed in the same machine as lamer and cheaper toys. Obviously, the maker of this machine knew the awesomeness of MUSCLEs and wanted to squeeze as many quarters out of me as possible. Which boots I got from that machine is anybody's guess at this point, but I do specifically remember that this Muscleman with a robotic arm was one of them.

So what the crap is going on with his arm? Is he a MUSCLE Terminator or something? I'm not exactly sure, but I think somebody told me this was molded from a Kinkeshi, and that Kinkeshi supposedly represented Kinnikuman in a storyline in which his arm became some kind of cosmic key. Honestly, I prefer to think of it as more of a machine gun arm.

And that's it for this tribute to MUSCLE bootlegs! For more on these monstrosities, be sure to check out University of MUSCLE's Bootlegs and Counterfeit figures. And take a look at other knockoffs from around the League!

For more about MUSCLEs, be sure to check out...

DISCLAIMER: All items reviewed on Dork Dimension were purchased by the reviewer unless otherwise noted. The opinions expressed on Dork Dimension are solely those of the author and are presented for entertainment purposes only.