You’ve finished watching the most recent season of your current favorite anime, you’re all caught up on the latest chapter of the manga, and now you’re making space on your shelf to showcase your favorite character’s merch–plus, there’s a listing online for the exact figure you want at an amazing price. Score!
Before you click that “buy” button, have you confirmed that what you’re investing in is the real deal? If not, you may be trading your money away for a bootleg product.
What is a bootleg, exactly? The term generally refers to unofficially produced merchandise, often made with stolen art and poor-quality materials. Bootlegs are knock-offs or copies of official goods, and are not approved by the license holders, so none of the profits from your purchase are going to the real creators of your favorite series.
Bootlegs can be just about anything: clothing, accessories, figures, models, plushies, you name it. But even though they often come with a cheaper price tag that may be tempting, the money from the purchase of these fake goods is going into the hands of criminals who have not only stolen artwork but may be hurting the reputation of the official goods with the poor quality copies competing on the market. Supporting bootleg merchandise is actively harmful to the anime industry!
So what can you do? We’ve prepared a list of some of the Do’s and Don’ts to help you avoid bootlegs and purchase licensed anime merchandise to support your favorite series.
Don’t fall for a cheap price tag. The materials, time, and care put into the design and creation of a product will be reflected in the price. Anime merch can sometimes come with a steep price tag, but you are paying for quality. If you find a product online at a price that’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Do check that you are getting the quality you’re paying for. A higher price tag won’t guarantee that it’s not a bootleg, so examine the product beforehand, if you are able. This is easier to do if you are buying in person, but if you are shopping online, it’s not unreasonable to ask a seller to provide additional photos of an item. Look out for pixelated artwork, inconsistent/incorrect coloring, or imperfections in the paint or molds. These are all potential indicators that the product is not legit.
Don’t overlook the packaging. Official manufacturers will often put just as much effort into the quality of their packaging as they will into the product itself, and if needed, the actual product may come in multiple layers of wrapping, blister packaging, and an outer box. Official merchandise will always include the official logo somewhere on the product or tag/packaging, as well as the copyright notice text (e.g. ©Artist Name, etc…) Some figures may even have an official sticker seal with the name or logo of the manufacturer to prove that the product is authentic. A box that does not have a tag or seal–or even worse, is missing the brand logo altogether–is a big red flag.
Do a bit of research beforehand. One of the great things about the internet age is that there is no shortage of people who have already provided reviews, unboxing videos, and even bootleg comparisons for official merchandise. If you are interested in a particular item, it can be pretty easy to find out what to be on the lookout for to make sure you’re getting an official item.
Don’t assume big-name sites will have legitimate licensed merch. While it is possible to find licensed merchandise on websites like Amazon and Ebay, there is no guarantee that these listings are indeed official goods. If you do end up shopping on a big e-commerce site, avoid listings that use generic search terms like “anime schoolgirl” instead of the actual name of the item or character. Incorrect or poorly translated names, as well as listings that only use stock photos instead of their own photos, are all warning signs. Be sure to check the seller’s information and reviews. If the seller doesn’t have any reviews, or the reviews are suspicious, it’s probably better to shop elsewhere.
Do buy from a trustworthy, reputable seller when you can. A great way to support the creators you admire is to purchase directly from an official company webshop or through a recognized retail partner. The international market has grown tremendously, and it’s not difficult to find a reliable retailer that will ship to you.
Here are a few options to get you started!
AmiAmi is a Japan-based retailer that offers a variety of anime merchandise, including new, pre-order items, and pre-owned goods. Their staff are trained to check the authenticity of all items and will not accept or sell any items deemed to be illegitimate.
Animate is one of the largest retailers for anime goods in Japan, including tons of exclusive and limited edition items. If you ever visit Japan, they have stores all across the country, but international fans now have the option of purchasing official, licensed merchandise online.
BoxLunch, a novelty retail store launched by Hot Topic, carries a similar selection of clothing, merch, and accessories inspired by pop culture and anime. But as a bonus, for every $10 spent, BoxLunch will help provide a meal secured by Feeding America® on behalf of local member food banks.
Crunchyroll is not only the go-to streaming site for your favorite anime, and an extensive online manga library, they also sell officially licensed merch straight from Japan! On top of that, they have lots of exclusive collaborations.
HLJ ships hobby products, toys, anime items, books, magazines, and more to customers all over the world, straight from Japan. HLJ also offers a virtual “private warehouse” feature that allows customers to store ordered items for up to 60 days and customize their shipments.
Carrying clothing, merch, and accessories inspired by pop culture, Hot Topic has expanded over the years to include not only the classics but also the latest and greatest in anime and manga. Hot Topic partners with official US licensors and distributors to ensure authenticity and official licensing.
J-Box offers the latest otaku goods directly from Japan. Their offerings include books, candy & snacks, games, figures, and toys.
Founded in the late 80s, Right Stuf Anime is one of the first publishers in the United States’ domestic anime industry and the largest anime-specific retail and distribution company in North America, currently offering more than 22,000 products via RightStufAnime.com.
Tokyo Otaku Mode (or TOM for short) brings Japanese pop culture news to the overseas market. The TOM Shop includes a wide selection of anime figures, DVDs, manga, magazines, and other merchandise! Best of all, their products come with a 100% Authenticity Guarantee!
Now you’re ready!
Whether you’re a new fan buying your first figure, a seasoned fan adding to their collection, or perhaps just shopping for the perfect gift to give to the anime fan in your life, you are now equipped with all the information you need to go forth and buy official, licensed, high-quality merchandise. Happy hunting!
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