If you’ve been an anime consumer for any length of time, I’m sure you know that there’s a ton of bootleg anime products out there. From biggies like DVDs and figures to minute things like posters and pins, bootleg products can be found in stores, online, and anywhere anime is sold. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessive when it comes to buying only guaranteed official products, but with few exceptions I’ve recently been making a conscious effort to avoid bootlegs…
The first bootleg anime products I unknowingly bought were a few small Pokemon figures and a couple little trinkets for Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon. I was a new fan and only about 14-15 years old at the time, so I didn’t have a clue about bootlegs and wouldn’t discover that these products were illegitimate until years later.
Bootleg Pokemon figures
My bootleg Pokemon figures came from some tiny little store in my neighborhood that I don’t even remember. The paint job and overall quality of the figures are noticeably inferior to official ones. But these particular bootlegs aren’t that bad compared to the even poorer ones out there that don’t even use the correct colors for the characters.
Bootleg Cardcaptor “Cherry” (Sakura) notepad
I later learned that “Engrish” is another way to spot potential bootlegs after buying the above Korean bootleg Cardcaptor Sakura notepad. It translates her name as “Cherry” and has a few Engrish lines on the back followed by some words in Korean.
Buying a few cheap, harmless bootleg character goods is one thing, but I didn’t become fully aware of bootlegs until the early 2000s when Inuyasha was my big anime obsession. After watching episodes of the dub that friends had recorded for me from Adult Swim (I didn’t have cable TV back then) I loved it and wanted to buy the DVDs. I went to the little privately owned anime store near my house and was surprised that they had multiple box sets of Inuyasha episodes with English and Chinese subtitles, most of which hadn’t even aired on Adult Swim yet. Not only that, but they were a great price, only about $40 for 30+ episodes. As you’ve probably guessed, they were indeed some of the infamous Hong Kong bootleg DVDs.
Bootleg Inuyasha DVDs
I had bought a few of these Inuyasha sets before I finally realized that this is not how they’re supposed to be. As with most HK bootlegs that make their own subtitles rather than copying from fansubs or official releases, the subtitle quality on these DVDs is horrendous. With the exception of a few random episodes, the majority are Babel Fish-like translations with tons of spelling, grammar, and translation errors. In my naivety back then, I didn’t give it much thought until some time later when I learned about Viz’s official DVDs. Despite feeling ripped off now, these Inuyasha bootlegs helped me learn how to avoid bootleg anime DVDs.
The back cover of a Viz Inuyasha DVD (left) next to a bootleg (right)
One of the best ways to distinguish HK bootlegs is that you won’t see the official logo for the American company that’s supposedly distributing the title, and you usually won’t see any English summaries on the DVD cases despite them having “English” subtitles. There’s no sign of Viz, the American company that licensed Inuyasha, on my bootleg DVDs and they’re devoid of any English on their covers. However, some bootleggers can be really sneaky and sell near exact replicas of official releases complete with the official subtitles and dub for an enticingly cheap price. For unlicensed series, they often make DVDs of the fansubs and sell them, which is why fansubbers sometimes put warnings on their releases such as “Not for sale or rent” or “This is a free fansub, if you bought it you were ripped off!”
The bootleg Inuyasha DVDs I bought helped me learn how to void bootleg anime DVDs. But when I started collecting figures in 2007, I had to learn once again. I was Haruhi-crazed at Anime Expo that year and bought a Haruhi figure for $50 at one of the booths in the Exhibit Hall. After the convention, I posted a picture of it on the blog and someone informed me that it looked like a fake. I perused official photos of the figure online and realized that it certainly was.
Bootleg Haruhi figure. Compare to its official equivalent here
Official figures are made with finely crafted PVC while fake figures like this Haruhi one are made with this cheap, shiny plastic, and like my early Pokemon bootlegs, the paint quality is noticeably sloppy. After regretting that my $50 went to a product that I was later displeased with, I became much more cautious of where I buy my figures and what to look for when I do buy them. Besides scrutinizing the overall look of the figure, another way to distinguish the official ones is to look at the box. Often the official companies will put a shiny sticker on it to show their logo (this is true for other kinds of anime products too).
Bootleg Haruhi plushie
My last bootleg purchase that I later regretted was the above Haruhi plushie that I bought for $25 at a small con in 2008. The coloring is off and the tag says her name in hiragana instead of how it’s usually written, with Banpresto’s logo on it (do they even release Haruhi products?) Looking at it now, it’s so obviously fake that I really don’t know what possessed me to buy it. It was after this purchase that I decided to thoroughly examine every anime product I buy so I won’t have any regrets.
Through my experiences with bootlegs I’ve learned that the best way to avoid them is to only purchase anime from large, accredited stores and company web sites. Conventions and small, non-chain shops tend to have bootleg products so look over them closely before buying and check sources to see what the official product should look like. But as I stated at the beginning of this post, I’m personally not totally obsessive when it comes to buying only official products. What I mean is that I’m still willing to buy some kinds of anime products, whether they’re official or not. I won’t ever buy bootleg DVDs or figures again, but if I see things like posters, keychains, playing cards, pins, pencil boards, etc., that look nice but are probably not legit, I might still buy them because there’s usually no official equivalent. I’ve bought many small, cheap products over the years that I’m satisfied with even though they may be bootleg. But for larger, expensive products that do have official equivalents, I definitely want my purchase to be legit! =)