In anime fandom, 4Kids developed a reputation for its terrible dubs of now-classic anime such as Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and most infamously a completely-butchered version of One Piece. When anime fans hear the name 4Kids they expect to find cheesy voice work, heavy-handed censorship and absurd edits that often ruin the source material. However, 4Kids' dub of Ultimate Muscle stands out by actually being good.
Ultimate Muscle was released in 2002 as part of Japan's long-running Kinnikuman franchise. Kinnikuman started in the pages of Weekly Shōnen Jump in 1979 and got its first anime adaptation in 1983. Ultimate Muscle wasn't the first time the series had stepped foot onto Western shores; the toys for Kinnikuman were imported and sold under the name M.U.S.C.L.E (Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere). However, the original Kinnikuman anime was not shown on American television due to being far too violent for American kids.
Ultimate Muscle follows Kid Muscle, son of the legendary wrestler (and original Kinnikuman protagonist) King Muscle. However, unlike his dad, Kid Muscle is a coward and a weakling. However, when the evil dMp come from space and start to beat the older generation, Kid Muscle has to knuckle down and learn how to fight so that he can protect the world via superiority in a professional wrestling ring.
The Japanese version of the show does have a few differences from the 4Kids version. It is more violent, with characters getting more visibly battered and bloody during fights. Some more overt sexual references and some partial nudity was also cut out. Some of the characters were also changed, with many characters having their forehead markings removed. Some characters, like the Native American stereotype Geronimo and the Confederate flag-wearing Gorgeousman, were altered for cultural sensitivity reasons.
The dub changed many of the heroes' names, but these changed versions are often funnier than the originals. Gazelleman became the brilliant Dik-Dik Van-Dik, a frankly ludicrous reference to Dick Van Dyke. The best change has to be to the toilet-themed wrestler known as Wash Ass in the Japanese version. In the 4Kids version, he is called Hollywood Bowl, which might be censorship but is much funnier than Japan's more on-the-nose version.
The script takes an already silly show and moves it into gag dub territory. Every minute is packed full of rapid-fire jokes, puns and meta-jokes that mock the ludicrous plot and strange animation. While some of the more overt dirty jokes were cut, 4Kids kept a lot of the innuendo in, even adding quite a bit of their own. The whole thing feels like an official abridged series.
This is topped off by some stellar voice work. Eric Stuart (James from Pokémon) plays the announcer and Dik-Dik Van-Dik, and Mike Pollock brilliantly emulates Danny DeVito from Disney's Hercules in his role as Meat, Kid Muscle's trainer. All the voice work is hammy and over the top, but it works perfectly with the source material. This is because when American audiences think of wrestling, they think of the 1980s WWF, which was already a live-action cartoon. When you have cartoon wrestling, it only makes sense to make it even more ludicrous than that.
Ultimate Muscle was not popular in Japan, and the anime got canceled there. However, 4Kids' version did so well on Saturday mornings that 4Kids commissioned more of the series. These new episodes premiered in America and wouldn't be shown in Japan until two years later. For once, a 4Kids dub far surpassed the source material.