Explorations in Japanese Culture
Figure collecting and the otaku come hand in hand. In fact, figure collecting has been called the otaku’s “drug of choice.” The hobby as a whole can be quite overwhelming to the new comer with so many different brands, models, and sometimes outrageous prices. It can be a lot to take and at times will scare off those interested. Here I hope to provide a basic overview of the world of anime figure collecting and maybe peak the interest of any would be collectors.
Collecting as a hobby in general is nothing new. People collect all sorts of things, be it the classics like stamps and baseball cards or the more odd choices out there. Anime figure collecting can really be seen as a supplement to a love of anime and manga, because the characters portrayed in the figures are almost always from anime and manga. This is really where the appeal comes for many. Figures are a way to take your favorite characters off of the 2D screen or page and put them right in front of you. Individual figures can be appealing because of their detail, general style or mixture of both. Some of my favorite figures first caught my eye because of the incredible amount of detail put into even the smallest thing. When I try and explain why I like my figures, I always use the example of my Yui figure from K-On! Yui comes with a guitar and the detail in the instrument just blew me away the first time I saw it. Each knob, fret and sting is incredibly well done. But of course, there are others that I love simply because of how much I love the character. Anime figures are available from a host of different companies and some produce distinct styles, but there in general there are commonalities that you can expect to find.
The more serious and higher end figures are therefore made in an exact scale, usually 1/8th or 1/6th. They are usually highly detailed and are put out by manufactures such as the Good Smile Company, Max Factory, and Alter. Figures are works of art sometimes made by specific famous sculptors, which is makes them so desirable and costly. But for the true otaku, it is money well spent in a worthy investment. There are many different styles of anime figures like the ‘chibi’ style, which involves a small child like rendition of a larger character with typical SD (super deformed) characteristics. The most popular type of this style is the Nendoroid series produced by Good Smile Company, which we will discuss later. Unlike regular toys, which are produced constantly to meet demand, anime figures are produced in batches or releases. Releases can be limited or more widespread with multiple batches being produced. The cost and rarity of the figures is a major influence of the sometimes higher prices. For this reason, it is common for pre-orders to start long before the initial release of a figure. For instance, I paid for my Taneshima Popura Nendoroid figure (pictured at bottom of page) in Decemeber so that I could receive her when she is released in late April.
I have mentioned the Good Smile Company several times already in this article, so here is a little more information on the company and the figures they produce specifically. The Good Smile Company (GSC), based in Chiba, Japan, produce scale figures as well as the more famous ‘chibi’ style Nendoroid characters. The Nendoroid figures are characterized by there oversized heads and small stature. The typical Nendoroid measures 10 cm tall. Nendoroids also come packed with lots of extras. Most come with multiple interchangeable faces intended to represent different moods and expressions of the character. Accessories are suited to the character and and relate to the anime, sometimes including different outfits or small pieces. For example, my favorite Nendoroid is my Yuki Nagato (pictures left), which is specifically molded after the Yuki from “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.” The character even comes with a small slip of paper to represent the club registration form she presented Kyon with in the movie.
GSC is also in the business of distribution and marketing, with multiple partnerships.
GSC distributes the the Figma characters which are produced by Max Factory, which also come with interchangeable faces and accessories. The Figma are larger and opposable, but are not often produced to scale. It is notable for those who are unfamiliar with typical anime figures, that the opposable joints and removable faces are characteristics almost completely limited to the Nendoroid and Figma models, which makes them stand apart. For people interested in really building there own figures, you can buy a Garage Kit. Garage kits are models that are bought in there “raw” form. They are not assembled and require extensive priming and painting to create the finished product. Building and displaying your own models offers a greater sense of ownership and accomplishment, but involves a great deal of skill and work. Most find joy in the searching and buying of models whether they be rare or common.
I have found that ForeverGeek.com provides one of the best buying tutorials that I have found on buying figures. So, I simply be quoting the author (Nopy) in the following section and hope that you will take time to go and read his complete guide here.
Buy From Reputable Shops
Many first-time figure buyers end up buying bootlegs simply because they can’t tell whether a store is legitimate or not. Sometimes buyers may not realize they’ve bought a bootleg until they see an authentic figure up close, and by then it’s too late to return it. Generally, stores that sell figures for less than MSRP are selling bootlegs unless they have a special promotion or the figure is on clearance. If you aren’t sure what the price should be, check the manufacturer’s website.
Stores to avoid are those based in China and Hong Kong. I shouldn’t have to mention this, but avoid Ebay like the plague. I have seen many figure collectors complain about bootlegs that they bought from Ebay sellers with ratings of 99-100%. In contrast, three highly recommended stores are: AmiAmi, HLJ, and Hobby Search. All three of them are based in Japan so they get new releases relatively quickly, and they have reasonable international shipping costs. Some American-based stores include: Big Bad Toy Store, Kid Nemo, Robert’s Anime Corner Store, and Toylet. For European-based stores, check out Nihonju and Archonia .
Not all stores will sell the same figure for the same price, so it pays to take a look at some other stores before hitting that checkout button. Don’t forget to take the cost of shipping into account as well. Stores that aren’t based in Japan may have higher prices since they need to import the figures, but they may also save you a bit on shipping depending on where you live. The Japan-based stores also cater to Japanese customers so they’re more likely to be sold out of popular items.
Some people may not want to buy used figures, but sometimes it’s the only way to get a figure that has long been sold out. If you’re not sure where to look for used figures, I would recommend the sales section of myfigurecollection.net or the classifieds section of figure.fm. Both sites have communities of figure collectors so when they sell a figure, it’s not likely to be a bootleg. Once again, I would not recommend going to Ebay to buy figures unless the seller has actual photos of the figure and not just promo shots. If you have photos of the actual figure, it’s easier to tell if you’re getting a bootleg or not by comparing it to photos from figure blogs and myfigurecollection’s extensive gallery of bootleg figures.
So, there you have it. I hope I have succeeded in demystifying the world of anime figure collecting. Maybe I have even sparked an interest in you? If you have a collection please share it with me! I would love to hear stories about some of the best figures you have seen or maybe a find that you are particularly proud of. I have a profile over at My Figure Collection if you are interested in seeing my collection, but I will say that is is rather new and I do not have too many yet. Leave comments below and let me know what you think!