And right off the bat, let me tell you that I won’t be spoiling the series in this video, I want to encourage you to enjoy the programme yourself if you so wish rather than ruin every joke in my dry deadpan tone and undersell every plot point.
An ancient and recently re-awoken yeti. A dark knight whose voice is reminiscent of a young Sean Connery.
A handsome and noble deer who excels in physical combat. A half-man, half turkey combo popping out of a massive egg.
These are all characters in television which I choose to consume. And yes I am an adult.
My point is.
When I list out a selection of some of the more unusual characters from pro wrestling’s past and some of the roster from the anime series Ultimate Muscle, it’s clear to see there is a considerable overlap in the way in which these two forms of entertainment portray their characters.
But today, I want to show you why Ultimate Muscle has so much more in common with pro wrestling than I ever realised and now that I’ve jumped into it with a friend, we wanted to see just how much of a comparison there is.
One of the real joys of being a pro wrestling fan, is that if you ever find your appetite for hunky men in oily spandex slamming into one another isn’t satisfied with the 100 years of pro wrestling available on video for our eager little eyes. Then there are numerous pro wrestling spin offs, from video games to films.
Japan is a hot bed for some of the best pro wrestling talent in the world. And is also the home to the incredibly popular art forms of manga and anime. So you can imagine that there are a huge amount of pro wrestling cross overs with the world of this much beloved Japanese creation.
But today I want to focus on a small part of the plethora of excellent wrestling anime and manga and talk about the English dubbed version of Kinnikuman Nisei, more commonly known in the West as Ultimate Muscle.
And why I think if you are a fan of pro wrestling, then you should give it a try.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
It all started as an idea for a manga series, dreamt up by it’s eventual creators Yoshinori Nakai and Takashi Shimada whilst they were still at school together.
They worked rigorously before originally getting the series published in the vastly popular Weekly Shonen Jump in 1979 and ran consecutively until 1987 as Kinnikuman or Muscle Man in Japan and was originally a parody on Ultraman a series from the 1960s.
In 1983 Toei Animation turned the manga into a 137 episode anime cartoon series which aired on Nippon television from 1983, running for 3 years.
Some what of a cult classic the story revolves around a super wrestling god of sorts who fights in a deadly gauntlet against the universes best to prove he truly is Prince Of the Planet!
Yes it’s wild. Yes it’s fairly dated now.
And yes it’s pretty hard to find any full versions in English subs anywhere online.
But it spawned the topic of today’s video. It’s sequel. Kinnikuman Nisei. Which today we in the west know through it’s anime series, Ultimate Muscle.
Originally aired in North America by notorious regional anime bodgers 4Kids, the only version I have ever seen is the heavily edited English dubbed version, with numerous changes to better fit the western television moderators, something that is commonly seen when anime is imported to America.
And although the series never proved extremely successful in Japan. It exploded with popularity in the west and spawned numerous video games, collectibles and the like.
So now that you’re all caught up with the history, let’s look at why it’s so easy to watch as a pro wrestling fan.
You can feel the love put into most anime that is produced. It’s such a labour-intensive process to create even a single minute of high-quality animation that you can feel the dedication and appreciation for the artform in effect through the screen.
The same can be said for the way that the creators of Ultimate Muscle clearly love professional wrestling.
And watching this series for the first time as a lifelong wrestling fan, it feels like a love letter to the much-admired period of late 90’s extreme wrestling.
One of the biggest factors in the success of pro wrestling in the 90s was the formation of Scott Hall, Kevin Nash & Hulk Hogan and the new bad guys in World Championship Wrestling under the name New World Order, taking them ahead of their long establish rivals in the World Wrestling Federation in the ratings.
The villains in Ultimate Muscle are as close a parody as you’ll see to the industry defining NWO, with their black t-shirts adorned with the classic NWO motif so closely resembled, but instead spelling out their alternate DMP abbreviation.
But that’s not where the similarities between Ultimate Muscle and the live action pro wrestling we see on our television today.
Through the struggles of the larger than life cast to make it through rigorous training camps and tests not unfamiliar to aspiring athletes in the real world.
The show is structured around a tournament much like you’d see in lots of Japanese pro wrestling promotions such as the G1 Climax in New Japan Pro Wrestling or like the King Of The Ring tournament in WWE, the matches in Ultimate Muscle are broadcast around the universe and even have commentators, just like in real life, to help the audience better understand the action laid out before us.
There are clearly defined good and bad guys and it’s completely transparent (at least for the most part) who we are meant to root for.
This simplistic form of story-telling has been a staple in both Japanese anime and manga as well as pro wrestling history around the globe for the past century.
It’s even rumoured that now industry icon John Cena was lined up to be a voice actor on the programme before he broke through on live television in WWE in 2002 and the pro wrestling behemoth WWE decided against sharing their newest up and comer with what they perceived as a ‘silly children’s show’.
And I have no idea if this is any reason as to one of the over-the-top boss characters in Ultimate Muscle is names Vance McMadd, can’t think of any similarities to that can you?
There are hundreds of similarities between Ultimate Muscle and pro wrestling on television and we will explore those ideas further, later.
Another similarity between anime and pro wrestling, is the focus (at least in action focused anime) being around the struggles to succeed in mental and physical combat.
This is why I believe a pro wrestling themed anime was so well fitted.
The way in which the illustrators and animators take moves from the huge back catalogue of pro wrestling moves from throughout history and take them to the next level, with outrageous feats of athleticism, hulking displays of unhuman strength and the ability to take such a beating as would kill the average person.
The characters shine as their individual characteristics help mould their move sets and strengths, just like in pro wrestling, some characters are pure powerhouse whilst other show more finesse whilst flying 100 feet into the air.
I will speak more on the subtle intricacies of the way in which the moves are used later as, if like me, by the time you’ve watched 2 or 3 episodes of Ultimate Muscle, your mind will be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of pro wrestling combat on display.
But I will say that if you like pro wrestling taken to it’s absolute logical limits and then breeze right past them in about 30 seconds of episode 1, then let me and the giant fist meteor which comes to earth to literally punch the good guys tell you, that you are in for a treat.
WHY I LOVE IT
The programme fills me with joy as I breeze my way through several episodes at a time, eagerly awaiting the next big story beat as I laugh my way from character development moment to a spot of world building, Ultimate Muscle in it’s English bastardised form, is not a deep and grossly intelligent look into anything particular meaningful or important.
But as creatures of habit, humans like to see things they recognise and in no small way, as a lifelong devotee to a weird and mostly unexplainable world of pro wrestling, ever episode of Ultimate Muscle rewards my love of the genre with nods to famous wrestlers and wrestling events amongst countless other subtle references to parts of pro wrestling I have nostalgia for and which for some parts are still relevant today.
If you are a fan of pro wrestling or were in the late 90s then I highly recommend watching Ultimate Muscle for a easy going, easy to consume way to relive some of those fuzzy memories.
And if you weren’t a fan of pro wrestling or indeed aren’t now, then Ultimate Muscle may appeal to those seeking ludicrous humour and quick punchy one-liners delivered on top of a heart-warming albeit ridiculous story of a young man trapped in his fathers shadow, who society is pushing to be more than what came before, all the while the young man lost in his lack of direction or motivation until something comes along and changes it all.
It’s a story we’ve all heard a thousand times, but it’s Ultimate Muscle’s creative way of exaggerating personalities and physiques to better get across emotion and story line, that makes it feel so similar to modern day stories in the world of pro wrestling.
Yes it’s a bit silly at times.
The version I watched is definitely aimed more at children with it’s removal of lots of the more ‘extreme’ displays of violence, and it was my choice to watch this version, so who am I to complain.
If you don’t like the slow burn of repetition which is so prevalent in this show and similar Shonen Manga derived works, then I’d suggest that this programme is not for you. Ultimate Muscle is built upon repetition.
From the way it’s jokes are formatted, which at first can seem a little jarring if it’s not something you are used to – to the way that certain events occur in seemingly very similar ways throughout the series, however as you watch closer you can see that the variation which occurs in these obviously repeated tropes, gives us as the audience a better understand of the characters growth – why did our main character act differently when presented with the same actions repeatedly?
There are unbelievably bad puns, cheesy one liners and jaw-droppingly poor dialogue at times, but nothing was as off putting to me as the incessant use of fart jokes. Maybe it is just a sign of the times, perhaps it’s a part of a culture I am unaware of but to me it’s not funny and when it’s featured so heavily that can kind of drag.
But all that being said, I would certainly not say that the negatives of this show at least for me, outweigh the positives.
In Japan the series of Kinnikuman Nisei performed so badly that it was cancelled by the television network in Asia.
However it was making enough money in the West that 4Kids, the company which created the English version paid for the story to be concluded at the end of the arc allowing for storylines to be concluded in a more traditional manner.
The show will live on in wrestling and anime fans hearts for years to come.
So as we re-watch this classic series, dive into the manga and explore the weird world of Asia to USA localisation to get a better understanding of the weird and wonderful world of Kinnikuman and Ultimate Muscle, we hope this video might inspire some of you to give Ultimate Muscle a chance.