My experience with bootleg anime products

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! =)

36 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Well, to be fair, most plushies, even official ones, usually look pretty shoddy, lol.

    • Yumeka says:

      Heh, that is kinda true, at least for human characters (Pokemon plushies and such are usually adorable). I was more into plushies when I was younger but nowadays I’ll only buy ones of characters that I really like that I think look cute enough for my taste – which isn’t many.

  2. f0calizer says:

    I’m not entirely certain the Inuyasha DVDs are “truly bootleg” in the sense of being pirated products. They might be HK/Taiwanese releases that don’t go through North American companies, so they wouldn’t have the logos of American companies to begin with. It may be true that the English subtitles aren’t as good as those in the NA release, but the Chinese subtitles might be fine since they’re targeted for a Chinese-reading/speaking audience, so the English subs would be an afterthought. That’s the case for my Cardcaptor Sakura DVDs. As a parallel example, lots of manga is translated and published in the Asia-Pacific by local companies in HK, Taiwan, & Singapore legitimately, so anime might be produced through a similar agreement. One would need to investigate this particular company that made your Inuyasha DVDs to find out if they actually signed a contract with the Japanese producers, but until we know for sure we should be careful of setting North American/Region 1 DVDs as “the legitimate standard” and others as bootleg. I would say that anime stores in the USA should support the local anime industry by selling North American releases, but at the same time anime DVDs can be legally are produced in other parts of the world too, and some copies find their way to American shores.

    • f0calizer says:

      (Heh, replying to my own comment. Now that’s a first…)

      Found this webpage with a list of confirmed bootleg DVD companies as well as a quick guide to how to spot bootleg merchandise in general. Good to know, for our general knowledge.

      http://www.otakunews.com/downloads/Pirate_Anime_Guide.pdf

      • Yumeka says:

        Thanks for the link. Now I’m sure my Inuyasha DVDs are bootlegs since the logo for one of the pirate companies mentioned on that link is on some of the DVDs. The others have no company logo at all. But even without that, there are other clues to them being bootleg; the quality of the episodes looks like they were ripped straight from the TV or a VHS, and the DVD menus are kind of disorganized. But mostly, when I load up the DVDs, there’s no company logos or copyright warnings to be seen – it just jumps straight to the menu. So with all this together, I’m sure they’re bootleg. But you’re right that just because an anime DVD is from China and looks different from the original and U.S. releases doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bootleg.

        Next time you come over I’ll let you watch a little and see if the Chinese subs are any good XD

    • Silver1080 says:

      Makes it kinda complicated to say what’s legit and what’s not. I doubt that FUNimation does Translations outside the United States. The same Anime usually gets translated by various translators right? If that’s the case, who are we to say we’re not a bootleg as well?

      Most of us watch Anime subbed and if the Japanese Version is the original then they could easily say our version is just as bootlegged and vice versa then.

      But the temptation to not buy bootlegs is hard especially when the prices of Official Anime is too high and buying Anime straight from Japan means Region Locked DVD’S plus those prices!!!!! (They’re higher than the ones in the United States!!!!)

  3. Kal says:

    That must be pretty bad :S Buying something and getting something else is one of the few things that really drives me mad. I’ve been tricked with all kind of things even down to cables for my computer. So I do a lot of research before buying things now, and even print out pictures and specifications from the internet before going out to buy.

    There are lots of bootleg products everywhere down here, so it’s actually harder to find originals. The original ones are really easy to spot though, because they are incredibly expensive… I do not know if I should laugh, or cry…

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, I’ll definitely research the official look and packaging of things like DVDs and figures before I buy them now XD

      I would imagine places like Costa Rica that don’t import much anime legally would have a lot of bootleg products. It’s a shame, but if you ever have the money and there’s something you really want, it’s always better to do it right and get the real deal ;)

  4. I’ve been kinda lucky in that I got into the anime purchasing game fairly recently and knew enough about the bootleg situation to do a good amount of research on the topic. My only accident to date has been the purchase of a Gundam SEED Symphonic CD which was fake. I only found out after I purchased the SEED Destiny Symphonic CD and wondered why the catalog numbers weren’t matching. Lo and behold, that’s because one of the companies in question was an HK bootlegger.

    Now, I just use catalog #s on CDs as the telltale mark. If it doesn’t match the official releases, then no go.

    • Yumeka says:

      I haven’t bought an anime CD in years but I’m pretty sure the (old) ones I have are legit. But thanks for the tip about checking the catalog numbers. I’ll now know what to look for if I ever buy one again.

  5. Wingless says:

    I ended up buying a bootleg copy of the 3rd season of Nanoha (Strikers) a few months ago. I was very sad. :( I bought it online and everything pointed to it being legit. I should’ve known it was too good for the price!!

    • Yumeka says:

      If everything pointed to it being legit, then it was probably a direct copy of the original in cheaper packaging with cheaper quality rather than a HK sub like my Inuyasha DVDs. That is a shame, but alas we learn from our mistakes.

      • Wingless says:

        That was my original thought, actually. But the actual product I got in the mail was something else entirely! Malaysian bootlegs :( The quality was worse than most fansubs you see online, but the English subtitles were even more fail. They didn’t even get the names of the characters right. And the actual attacks that are said in English? Those weren’t right either haha. I learned my lesson though :D

  6. Myna says:

    I’ve only been to two cons, so I don’t have too much merchandise.
    I’ve got a few posters, two keychains, a Tsubasa bag, and some official DVDs that I physically bought.

    But the only place I really trust when buying anime goods is Kinokuniya in NYC. Everything there is completely official.

    • Yumeka says:

      Besides the DVDs, I’d have to see your other items (and their packaging) to tell if they were official or not. But for little things like posters and keychains, I don’t think it’s that big a deal as long as you’re satisfied with them.

      I only trust certain places for purchasing official anime DVDs, figures, and books. Kinokuniya is one but nowadays I just order online from accredited sites both in Japan and the U.S.

  7. I agree with f0calizer above with respect to HK versions of shows. I’ve seen some clips from the versions of other Japanese media and the subtitles (and sometime visual quality) are indeed horrible, but legal as they’ve actually paid for the license of the show. Bootleg versions of anime shows would similar to a 1-12/13/24/25 pack from ebay that would use fansubs burned to a disc with a label. Those versions wouldn’t be giving anything back to the original owners.

    I once was into collecting toys from the Super Sentai series and bought a bootleg version of one. It still bothers me to this day how I was fooled. I’m much more knowledgeable about where to purchase now and what to look for in a product. It also helps that I’m not as worried about price for something I want anymore (eg. Clannad BDs).

    • Yumeka says:

      See my reply to f0calizer regarding the Inuyasha DVDs.

      It’s too bad you bought those bootlegs but I’m glad you’re more knowledgeable (and financially sound!) nowadays. Live and learn =)

  8. ojisan says:

    Bootlegs are bad – and yet because my introduction to anime involved watching hours of badly subbed bootlegs, I became fascinated by the charm of their surrealistic grammar and weird neologisms. Hikari of Haibane Renmei announcing in the bakery that “the cream bum is ready” was a high point. Long series like Kodacha or Hajime no Ippo would start well, then slowly degenerate into bizarre proto-English after the first season.

    Eventually they invented bittorrent, and I no longer relied on the wonderfully sketchy and erratically stocked local anime ‘store” (RIP Anime Jyanai on Slocan Street – we miss you!) Those were rentals, of course, so the degree to which I was ripped off is much lower than that of the folks above.

    • Yumeka says:

      I’ve seen many screencaps of ridiculously translated pirated subs that are hilarious like that XD They’re great for laughs, but if I’m trying to watch an anime seriously, I couldn’t handle them.

      What you said about the Kodocha and Hajime no Ippo bootleg subs is exactly what happened with my Inuyasha ones. The English subs for the first batch of episodes isn’t too bad, but by later episodes an error-free sentence, or even a sentence that makes sense, becomes harder and harder to find.

  9. Kyjin says:

    I’m still bummed about a bootleg figure I bought a couple years ago at Katsucon. There was this Shana figure I picked up that looked fine to me at the con, and I didn’t pay that much for it. After I came home I found photos of the same figure, with someone saying that the bootleg version didn’t have her necklace. Sure enough, mine was the same. I put it away since I didn’t want to showcase a bootleg figure, and recently when I was cleaning, I found the figure broken. Oh well.

    The only other bootleg I have is the Fushigi Yuugi boxset. My friend bought it thinking it was official, and I looked at it and immediately told her it was a fake. She eventually bought the series officially, and passed me the bootleg set for free since I wasn’t planning on buying the series anyway.

    • Yumeka says:

      What happened with your Shana figure sounds like what happened with my Haruhi one (though I probably payed more for mine). I too ended up putting mine up in the closet rather than displaying it. One day I’ll give it away to someone who doesn’t care that it’s fake =P

      I think I might have that same bootleg Fushigi Yuugi boxset – it’s almost an exact copy of the official release except on less discs and with cheaper packaging. I didn’t actually buy it myself as it was a gift from a friend.

  10. K-NIQ says:

    I have too many bootlegs dvds in my room. More than hundred titles (At that time, I don’t have internet connection, that’s why I bought the dvds). I just realized that last year. Since then, I just download latest anime episodes from internet. The only original dvds that I have are Toradora!, Code Geass, Girls Bravo, Evangelion 1.01, Evangelion 2.22, Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge, and four crayon shin-chan movies. All of them except crayon shin-chan dvds and Evangelion are from ODEX company from Singapore. All of my crayon shin-chan movies is in Malay dubbing. Luckily the dubbing is almost as good as japanese one. Honestly, I have spend much money on bootlegs dvds and when I realized that I can just sigh.

    In Malaysia, there is a company that import licensed anime goods from Taiwan. I have bought some of them and I’m very sure that they are licensed. It even state that “NOT FOR SALE OUTSIDE OF TAIWAN” along with the author’s name and studio name eg. TOEI ANIMATION.

    • Yumeka says:

      That’s too bad you unknowingly bought so many bootlegs. But at least you’re more knowledgeable about it now and have acquired official releases too =)

  11. TRazor says:

    Latina Haruhi takes the cake.

  12. Reiko says:

    LOL, I have the same Haruhi figure. I never knew it was a quote “bootleg.” I feel really stupid now. :P

    • Yumeka says:

      Sorry to break the news to you! But if you’ve enjoyed the figure all this time, then maybe it’s not such a waste. At least from now on you’ll know what to look for =D

  13. 2DT says:

    “Card Captor Cherry” is actually the show’s name in Korea. So you may have bought real goods after all, after a fashion. :)

    I’ve gotten burned by bootleg DVDs, too. Yeesh.

    • Yumeka says:

      Really? That’s interesting to know. I would have thought that they’d keep the title as “Cardcaptor Sakura” in all other languages, especially another Asian language. I never would have guessed that the Korean dub would use a direct English translation of her name XD

  14. anotaku says:

    Buy direct from japan guise…don’t support those bad products.

  15. Selina says:

    My first time buying from a local hobby store.. was a bootleg =(
    The paint job was below average, and the price was same as original.

  16. LUKE says:

    this is how you can get all machine robo and wataru anime mecha series the wataru series is 3 seasons without paying an arm and leg

  17. Goldy Gold says:

    I have quite a few legit figures and dolls as well as some bootlegs here and there of anime figures. If i like the character and think it looks cute enough I really don’t care that’s it’s a bootleg. I try to buy legit where I can, but the if I can get a figure that looks pretty darn close to the original, then I will buy it and display it. I know something is a bootleg because true figures cost between 5 to 10 times the price of what I am paying for it and I honestly don’t care. If you like the character, then you will keep it. Fakes are more fragile and maybe don’t have a perfect paint job, but I am not a 10 year old who is going to throw it across a room. I have broken a few legit and pricey dolls and figures by accident too and got ticked off at myself for paying a boat load of money anyway because no matter how careful you are, sometimes things get knocked over or dropped…..my best friend is 3m double sided sticky tape, so I haven’t broken any dolls lately….. :D ….. So save yourself some bucks, don’t be so neurotic about legit items and buy it if you like the character….at the end of day…pretty much everything is made is china anyway…LOL.

  18. Animentastic says:

    If you can’t buy some DVDs, would be better to download them, now if you have money, it would be better to buy an original product, in that way you can help the anime industry, especially if those DVDs are from Japan.

  19. Moonfox says:

    Thank you for sharing this article. It’s got some great information in it. I have added a link to it on my site here, http://hras.studiojab.com/where-to-get-merchandise/ to the anime bootlegs article. Be sure to check it out.

    As for purchasing your anime, the #1 place to buy your media at is RightStuf.com. They have all kinds of great sales and some killer deals on anime. Everyone should go to this site. They sell only official merchandise and have 100% customer satisfaction. They do not sell bootlegs, only OFFICIAL merchandise from the licensed US distributors.

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