There’s no worse feeling than opening the box of your new anime figure and finding out that something isn’t quite right. The color is off, the material feels cheap, or it looks nothing like the picture. It’s that sinking feeling of disappointment and I know it all too well. Nine years ago, a fifteen-year-old me went to her first pop culture convention in Sydney. A lady sold me the BLACK ROCK SHOOTER: Black Blade Ver. for $50 AUD. She told me it was the last one they had in stock, and she had done me a good deal. Nine years later, I re-opened my prized figure to realize I had been sold a bootleg. While I can’t build a time machine and help my past self, hopefully I can help you not fall into the bootleg trap. Here’s my ultimate guide on avoiding bootlegs.
Online & In-Store Shopping
Online and in-store shopping are perhaps the easiest ways to notice bootlegs. For online shops, specifically eBay, if a figure is listed as being another country’s version or being a ‘replica’ – it’s a bootleg. Additionally, if it’s a lot cheaper than what the legitimate one would cost, it’s DEFINITELY a bootleg. The example I’ve include below (Madoka Magica) was being sold for about $37 USD. If you were to buy the original, legitimate figure on a site like Tokyo Otaku Mode it would cost $100 USD. When I do my shopping, I mainly stick to true and tested big brands such as Mandarake and Amiami. With those brands, I know I will be getting a good quality product and my money will be going to the actual artists behind the figures.
In physical stores, you’ll have two points of reference to check for bootlegs. The first is to make sure they’re a partner shop. Good Smile Company has a list of their partner shops on their website. If they have that seal of partnership, you can be pretty confident that they’re legitimate. The second is to look at the boxes. Now this is actually hard to do. With my Black Rock Shooter figure, the box looked legit. I looked over it again and again as I wrote this piece trying to find something that would stand out to me as being dodgy, but I couldn’t find anything. The box has the Good Smile Company logo, and the pictures on the sides are of the legitimate figure. I think the only aspect missing is the ‘official’ holographic stickers put on the boxes. Below, you can see the SOTSU silver sticker on my Sakura Ogami figure box (my queen!) You can find more examples of what the stickers look like at this link. Please note that not all figure boxes come with these stickers, so don’t freak out if you can’t find one on some of your boxes!
Shopping for figures in conventions is by far the biggest bootleg minefield. It’s particularly annoying, as most conventions require paid entry. You’d assume that if you pay money to enter, someone would properly vet all the sellers! But no. I was tricked once when I was fifteen and once more about two years ago. I purchased an Alice in Wonderland QPosket, for pretty much the same price as I would have paid for in a legitimate store ($35 AUD). Again, it was only when I got home and unboxed it that I noticed some tell-tale signs of it being a bootleg. This is why it’s hard to discern bootlegs at conventions. Most of the time you can only tell it is a bootleg once you get a home and unbox it!
Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true, and always know the price point of an actual figure. Anything 10-15% below that is something to be cautious about. Keep your phone with you, connect to the convention’s Wi-Fi and check My Figure Collection. MFC has an updated database and you can check if a figure has a bootleg version. Often, the seller will have figures on display; look at them carefully. If even one looks like a bootleg, the rest may also not be legitimate. After all, why would a legitimate store sell even one bootleg? As discussed above, look for the holographic sticker. And always, before you buy, ask straight out to the seller if it is legitimate. This may seem like an awkward thing to do, but still do it. After buying it, open it in front of them. If it looks really dodgy, you then have a leg to stand on and try to get a refund.
The Figure Itself
So we’ve gone over how to avoid buying bootleg figures, but let’s have a look on how to tell if a figure you own is bootleg. Well, to put it simply: it’s going to look wonky. Colors will be off, the figure material quality will be poor, and the sculpt will just look bad. Compare the images of my bootleg Black Rock Shooter figure to the authentic one over here. As I discussed above, the skin is waxy, the whites of her belt and boots is for some reason pink, and one boot is even missing the detailing! Besides the color, the point job is horrific; there are splotches of dark paint on her body. The extra items, her jacket and the broken sword, don’t fit into their specific places. But worse of all is that hair. You may not be able to tell from the photo, but it literally feels like cracked plaster.
Some bootlegs may not be as bad as my Black Rock Shooter. Some look so good that it’s difficult to tell them apart. For example, my aforementioned Alice Qposket. You can see her next to my authentic Rapunzel Qposket, and they don’t look too dissimilar. But when you look closer, you can see that Alice can’t stand properly. The ‘nubs’ (I can’t think of a better word!) that slot her into the base, stick out and do not properly fit in. This gives her a significant leaning issue. Her face is also a little off, specifically the eyes. They look slightly hollow, and the shadow underneath looks like eyebags. On the side of her head you can see where pieces have been glued together. Rapunzel’s figure does not have any of these glue seams. But the actual dead giveaway are the markings underneath the stand. Rapunzel’s has the Disney and Banpresto copyright sign, On Alice’s it only says ‘Made in China’ in large capital letters. Bootlegs, no matter how good they look, will always have some issue you can spot.
So You’ve (Accidentally) Bought a Bootleg – What to Do?
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to get your money back. If you bought your figure at a physical store or at a convention (and the convention is still running), you can probably head back and try to get a refund. Depending on how much a fuss you kick up, you may get your money back. But on online stores, the chances of getting a refund are pretty low. What you should definitely do is spread the word. Leave negative reviews of online and physical stores, post on forums warning other collectors, and also notify the company that makes the figures. Good Smile Company has a form you can fill out to report bootlegs. This goes straight to their legal team who will take appropriate action. If you are at a convention, inform the organizers. They too will take action and (hopefully) ban the seller from setting up shop again next convention.
My Figure Collection: Most collectors will have heard of MFC, and amongst all its great features is a bootleg warning. When you search for a figure, below the key details and in red text, it will inform you if a bootleg version of the product exists. Of course, since bootlegs are constantly being made, the site does its best to continue to be up to date with the latest information. But just in case something slips through the cracks, always ensure to do thorough checks before purchasing a figure.
Good Smile Company: While it does not include all the bootlegs out there, Good Smile Company keeps a reasonably sized catalogue of the bootleg versions of their figures. The best part about it is that they have photo comparisons of the real and fake ones so you can see what specifically to look out for.
Anime Figures Sub-Reddit: The anime figures sub-reddit is a very welcoming community where collectors show off new purchases, share news, and ask questions. But, for the purpose of this article, I’d like to direct your attention to their pinned megathread. Every fortnight there is a ‘bootleg’ megathread where one can post a link to a product they’re thinking of buying to get opinions on it. The people there are very knowledgeable and will be able to help you out.
Don’t Settle for a Bootleg Waifu or Husbando!
Anime figure shopping can be such a fun and rewarding experience. It’s a shame that they’re people who try to make a buck off the back of others. Don’t let bootleg figures ruin your shopping experience. Hopefully, the tips above have given you a savvy eye. If anything when shopping, always remember the golden rule: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Now, go out there and gets those glorious figures!
If you want to learn more about figures and how to care for them, check out this brief guide by an anime figure enthusiast:
Confessions of an Anime Figure Collector
Want to shop safely? Check out MANGA.TOKYO’s shopping service Otsukai. With Otsukai you can shop with confidence as all items are authentic and purchased in Japan.