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My Search for M.U.S.C.L.E. Answers

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My Search for M.U.S.C.L.E. Answers
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The University of M.U.S.C.L.E.

My M.U.S.C.L.E Research

M.U.S.C.L.E is a unique toy line. Not because it was released without a cartoon. And not because it was based on a Japanese line of toys. It is unique because of its meteoric rise and equally impressive fall from grace. M.U.S.C.L.E was a top ten selling toy in 1986 (Playthings, April 1986). By 1988 it was removed from the Mattel catalog, and production was halted.

 

While the lack of information about M.U.S.C.L.E allowed for a child’s imagination run wild it has also made finding factual information difficult over 20 years later. Most theories and beliefs spring from individual collector’s memories. And while these memories may be vivid they are not always factual. For example, many Star Wars fans believe they saw a deleted scene between Biggs and Luke when Star Wars was first broadcast on network television. Despite many fans remembering this occurrence, it never happened. Their memories had played a trick on them. Because of the inconsistency of the human brain I wanted to uncover as much truth as possible about our beloved toyline, M.U.S.C.L.E.

 

I started out by contacting Mattel. Since they don’t just hand out email addresses on their website I used the “Contact Us”-thing. This got me in touch with their Director of Customer Service. She was unable to help me, so she passed my questions on to her boss. She however was able to tell me that the toys were produced at Bandai Japan, and were only in their catalog for the years 1986 and 1987.

 

She also said it would be difficult to uncover information because many of the employees that had worked at Mattel while M.U.S.C.L.E. was a product were no longer with Mattel. Most of the people that were “higher up” in the organization during M.U.S.C.L.E.’s release had either retired or moved on. As for “lower level” employees she said it would be almost impossible to know who worked on M.U.S.C.L.E without knowing who the “higher ups” were.

It’s kind of a pipe dream to think they would have detailed personal records, after 20 years, for such a small line of toys, especially since they weren’t the manufacturer.


I emailed the Director of Customer Service’s boss again, and said I already knew all of this information. I said I was looking for much more specific information. Since she could no longer answer my questions I got transferred to the VP of International Marketing. He said:

“Unfortunately Mattel's records relating to the specifics of the M.U.S.C.L.E. line are no longer accessible, so we are unable to answer your specific questions.

Similarly, in discussing your questions with Bandai today, they too no longer have information to hand that would address your enquiry.

I regret that neither Mattel nor Bandai can assist you.”

I figured I was now at a dead end with Mattel. But I still had hope because now that I knew Bandai Japan had produced the figures I switched my attention to Bandai.

At first I contacted Bandai USA through their email. Surprisingly their Marketing Director called me. She told me that Bandai Japan had in fact been the creator (obviously) and manufacturer of the toy. Mattel only released the toys in the US. However Bandai USA did release the MUSCLE toys during the 80’s in Latin America.

She also suggested two last options. The first was a product supervisor that is currently in charge of the Ultimate MUSCLE line. She gave me his name and contact information. However he only speaks Japanese, so I wasn’t able to contact him.


The second contact she suggested was 4KidsEntertainment. I contacted them immediately, but they never returned my emails. She doubted that they would be much help.

Having run into dead ends with Mattel, Bandai USA, and 4KidsEntertainment I figured I had one last chance. So I contacted Bandai Japan. Fairly soon after I had mailed the letter I got a response from their “Global Affairs”-type person. She, in fairly broken English, stated that Bandai Japan no longer had any information about that product. She apologized, and wished me luck in finding the information I was looking for.

I decided to again try and mine Mattel for information. Perhaps a new contact person would yield better results. When I talked to people at Mattel they keep trying to give me to the VP of International Marketing. The fact that I was looking to talk to someone else was throwing them for a loop.

 

A quote from one of their emails struck me especially hard:

“Sorry, as I stated before, there are no surviving records.”

This worried me. I wondered what kind of second rate company didn’t keep accurate records. So I did a little research into record keeping. Several people told me that their companies only keep records for 5-7 years. Additionally the quality certification program ISO 9000 only suggests that records are kept for 7 years.

This was very bad news. It makes the window of hope even smaller. I know that my employer keeps records for a long time, but that’s because we are research based. I fear that Mattel would not keep records that long, especially for a toy that only ran 2 years in their catalog and that they didn’t manufacture. In addition this is around the time that Mattel ran into some money issues by spreading themselves too thin with their products. Once Mattel decided to concentrate on their “core” brands they probably dumped many of their records for smaller, less successful toys.

I tried to tell myself that this might not be the case, but I couldn’t think of an example of a company reviving a minimally successful toy, over 15 years later. I thought Hasbro might be an example with the Aetha Prime and the Expanded Universe figure, but even that was only about 10 years AND was part of one of the most successful toy lines ever.

I fear that there won’t be any answers found in Mattel’s records. I know I didn’t uncover every piece of information, but I think there were at least a few gems of information. Hopefully this information helps us figure out a more accurate history and origin of M.U.S.C.L.E.

Do You Have Any Additional Information?

Please feel free to contact me.

If you worked at, or know anyone that worked at, Mattel or Bandai during the mid-80’s please contact me. I would love to learn more about the history of M.U.S.C.L.E or how these companies behaved during that time period.