Your Order

Your Ultimate Guide to Bootlegs: The What, How, and Why of Fake Anime Figures

Published on May 21, 2019

Welcome to the Solaris Blog! ヾ(῀ʚ̴̶̷́  .̫ ʚ̴̶̷̥̀ ῀)ノ”

The world of collectables has long been battling cheap knockoffs and the anime figure industry is no different. Bootlegs are a growing concern for collectors everywhere as these knockoff figures seem to be infiltrating the market more and more.
Spotting these counterfeit figures has become more difficult as bootleggers are stepping up their game and making more legit looking fake figures, so we wanted to share some of our tips for spotting a bootleg figure. We’ll even do a quick comparison of an authentic figure and a bootleg so you can get more familiar with spotting a fake.
So, without further ado, here is the Solaris Japan's ultimate guide to bootlegs!
 

What is a bootleg?

Fake Pikachu GIF
Simply put, a bootleg is a figure that does not have any proper licensing or approval. Generally, bootlegs are copycats (normally of lesser quality) of actual, licensed figures which are sold to collectors or vendors under the guise of the legitimate figure.

How do you know if it’s a bootleg?

Spotting a bootleg is sometimes easier said than done. But sometimes it is easy - case in point: Saber versus Sader.
Saber vs Sader
If you have any doubts about the authenticity of a figure you own or are interested in owning, check out our tips on how to spot a bootleg below!
 

How do you spot a bootleg?

*If only every bootleg were as easy to spot as Sader!* 。゚( ゚இ‸இ゚)゚。

We’ve been selling anime figures for over 10 years and many bootlegs have been brought to our attention over the past decade. There are some telltale signs that we’ve come to recognize when inspecting figures; if you notice any of these, definitely be on the alert and check to see if you spot more than just one red flag!

The most common giveaways 

The tough thing about bootlegs and authentic figures is that sometimes there are manufacturing flaws for a legitimate figure. There can be the occasional paint bleed or poor production in general; even with age, some of the figure’s elements can significantly degrade.
But if you notice your figure has a few of these flaws, it might be a good idea to check out known bootlegs online to see if yours looks more similar to those than to the actual figure.

Sticker of Authenticity

Sticker of Authenticity

This one is an easy giveaway! If a figure includes a sticker of authenticity from the manufacturer, you should definitely expect it to be there.
Important to note, though, is that a manufacturer might not always be consistent with seals. One release might include a seal, while another may not so keep this in mind!

ू(・ิ ॄ・ิू๑) *Psst, if you don’t know where to look, MyFigureCollection (MFC) is an awesome resource!!*

One of the toughest things about seals on a box, although rare, is that sometimes they don’t originally come included. A perfect example of this is Tamashii Nation’s Body-Kun and Body-Chan: after their original release, bootleggers went crazy and began selling a huge number of fakes. In order to put buyers’ minds at ease, Tamashii Nation began including a holographic seal of authenticity in 2017. But this also means previous releases are now under more scrutiny since they were not released with this sticker. ((유﹏유|||))

Logo

Logo missing from a bootleg box

Another common giveaway is the company logo. Even though the production of bootlegs is generally illegal, bootleggers often don’t include a logo since this is direct trademark infringement. In some instances, bootleggers may include a logo, but there will be a slight misspelling in an effort to trick you - be careful!!
Fake URL from fake figure

Box

Real vs Fake Bootleg Box

The boxes for bootlegs really run the gamut, but there are a few things to watch out for. First, we would recommend checking online to find photos of the authentic figure’s box.
If the box you see is completely different, check to see if there were any previous releases with a different box (very rare). If not, there is a very high chance you have a bootleg.
If you’re having trouble finding photos of the box online, check to see if the photos on the box look pixelated at all. Bootleg boxes normally use photos of the figure from the manufacturer, so the quality is distorted when image size is blown up.
The colouring is usually off as well - check out any black spots on the box and see if the shadowing and highlighting are complex and detailed. Most bootlegs will have poor image quality and these parts will look more blocky and less detailed. 
On top of this, the cardboard is normally very thin and weak, meaning warping or tears are especially common. 
While not technically part of the box, the tissue wrapping around the box of a bootleg, if included, is usually very opaque or glossy, not matte and translucent like that of an authentic figure. 

Plastic Blister Quality

Cheap Blister

The blister pack for a figure is one of the most important parts in keeping the figure safe during movement. Manufacturers will normally make sure the blister will offer as much protection as possible so the plastic will be strong and the cutouts will hold the figure well.
With bootlegs, we’ve commonly found that the blister will be taped shut with copious amounts of tape. The quality of the plastic is normally very flimsy and will bend and warp easily.
Additionally, the spots in the blister will not fit the figure well; they will either be too large or will have a shape that does not seem to match that of the figure.

Smell

Stinky GIF

The quality and materials of bootlegs are usually subpar at best. Because of this, bootlegs can sometimes have quite a chemical-heavy odour.
If right out of the box, you’re hit with the heavy stench of what can best be described as cancer-laden plastic, you might have a bootleg in your hands.
Keep in mind that if your figure is a bit older or has had some sun/heat exposure (is the box sun bleached?), the paint can degrade and begin to smell so make sure to check for other warning signs!

Face 

Levi Nendoroid Bootleg
The face is sometimes a dead giveaway of a bootleg and usually a good starting point when unboxing your figure. The differences can be hilariously striking, but they can also be a little more subtle.
Manufacturers normally publish close-up photos of the figure, so be sure to use these when checking your figure for any abnormalities. Make sure to check the details of the eyes, nose and mouth to see if there are any significant differences! ( ° ͜ʖ °)

Hair

Rounded Hair Tips
A figure’s hair is usually a good place to check when worried about a bootleg.
A lot of anime figures are carefully painted at the hair to create a sense of body and depth, with gradients or shadows/highlights used to make a more realistic appearance.
Many bootlegs are not able to copy this and the painting of the hair is usually blocky and poorly shaded if shaded at all.
Another key point is the shape of the hair! With recasts, the tips of the hair, which are generally pointed, become more round at the ends and might become entirely misshapen. If the hair doesn’t have the same shape as the original, it could be an indication of a recast.

Sculpting

Bad Sculpt

Some bootlegs are made from the old moulds of actual, legitimate figures!
*Although in the case of Sader, it looks more like there was mostly freehand work.* ლ(ಠ_ಠლ)
Manufacturers have to replace their moulds since, after extended use, they can begin to deform and negatively affect the quality of the production process.
Bootleggers will normally pick these up and begin using them for their own production, so defects in the sculpting are very common. Especially since bootleggers do not consistently replace these moulds, these defects can grow in severity and number!
Some bootleggers also recast a figure to create their own moulds; normally this entails the pouring silicone around the figure to get a lookalike mould, but the shape of the figure will often change slightly and some details on the outfit can become obscured or distorted.
Very Visible Seams
Lastly, the seams are usually much more pronounced in bootleg figures and not as well blended. While seams are a normal part of a figure, a really obvious and noticeable seam isn't.

Painting

Bad Painting
Bootlegs are infamous for their poor paint quality. Sometimes the colouring will go out of the lines, or the lines themselves will be poorly drawn. Gradients and textures are usually badly done or are skipped altogether.
Look at the most detailed parts of the figure because this is where you'll normally find indications of a bad paint job. Look for stripes or for small areas with a lot of detailed paintwork to see if you spot major defects. 
Because there are no checks in place for quality, paint bubbles are also really common with bootlegs. If the quality of the painting looks really poor, check to see if there is a known bootleg of the figure.

Joints

Weird Joints

The joints of an authentic figure normally allow for smooth posing and almost no resistance when being adjusted. They are also made to blend in with the body of the figure so they are not overtly obvious.
With bootlegs, though, the joints of a figure are normally poorly or awkwardly made. The pose-ability is severely impacted (jerky movement or a lot of force required to adjust) and the joints can also be very noticeable (they may stick out more or have large amounts of space between parts).

China Version

Confused image
If you see a figure being listed as a China version, International version, or Unlicensed version, you’re almost certainly looking at a bootleg.
The only time this is NOT the case is if the figure is officially released with these modifiers in the title (like Hatsune Miku v4 Chinese)!
Check MyFigureCollection to see if there is any official mention of these titles and, if not, avoid these sellers!
 

Can you spot the bootleg?

Let’s walk through some of the signs of a bootleg with Makise Kurisu, a super popular figure! Check out the photos below of an authentic Kurisu and a bootleg Kurisu. What differences do you see?
Makise Kurisu Authentic versus Bootleg Box
Makise Kurisu Authentic versus Bootleg Bottom of Box
Makise Kurisu Authentic versus Bootleg Blister Pack
Makise Kurisu Authentic versus Bootleg Back of Figure
Makise Kurisu Authentic versus Bootleg Front of Figure
From a quick glance, the bootleg looks almost identical to the authentic figure! (◕⌓◕;)
However, with a closer look, you’ll notice there are some giveaways. Let’s check them out!

The Box

Makise Kurisu Authentic versus Bootleg Box Numbered

  1. Something that is really common with bootleg boxes is faded colours due to poor ink quality. You’ll notice that the authentic figure’s box on the left is much more vibrant.
  2. The quality of the box is another giveaway. Look at how thin the cardboard is and how easily it warps (as does the plastic window!).
  3. The Kotobukiya logo is missing from the box!
The Bottom of the Box
Makise Kurisu Authentic versus Bootleg Bottom of Box Numbered
  1. Again, the Kotobukiya logo is missing from the bottom!
  2. Mentions of Kotobukiya are purposely misspelt (except for one oversight?) so that the text looks like it matches, but actually doesn’t.
  3. This one is a little tougher since you’d have to do some research to find the issue, but the JAN code printed on the box is incorrect. Googling a JAN number should normally bring up the associated product (which, in this case, is definitely not Kurisu!).
  4. Again, this one is tough unless you somehow have Kotobukiya’s address memorized, but they have intentionally mixed around some numbers of the address on the box. This makes it so it looks like its real and matches, but actually does not.
The Blister
Makise Kurisu Authentic versus Bootleg Blister Pack Numbered

  1. The blister quality is really bad and is tangled up right out of the box. You can really see how thin the plastic is. Blisters are normally quite sturdy, so the quality is immediately a red flag.
  2. The baggies for the accessories or additional pieces are very different. Without knowing what the normal baggy looks like, this is a tough one to spot, but the plastic from the bootleg is really cloudy.
The Back of the Figure

Makise Kurisu Authentic versus Bootleg Back of Figure Numbered

  1. Look at the tips of Kurisu’s hair - notice how they’re rounded? This is usually an indication of a recast (aka bootleg).
  2. The worn texture of her coat looks like an oddly coloured camouflage pattern due to the different colours not being blended. This is not normal for an authentic figure!
  3. The black stripe is much thinner than it’s supposed to be and the paint has a lot of smearing.
  4. The seam of her shirt is really misshapen and the thickness and colouring are inconsistent.
The Front of the Figure
Makise Kurisu Authentic versus Bootleg Front of Figure Numbered
  1. Her bangs are misshapen and rounded at the tips!
  2. There are two inconsistencies with her eyes: first, under the pupil is supposed to be two stripes of a white gradient, but the bootleg has two thick, solid white lines. Secondly, the eyelashes are not drawn individually but are recreated as a thick, black line on top of the iris.
  3. Her mouth has a thick coloured line between her lips to distinguish the shape, but the bootleg only has faint colouring on the lips.
  4. The tips of Kurisu’s hair are again rounded, but look at how one of the strands is completely bent in the wrong direction!
  5. Again, the paint job is bad. The lines are super shaky and look like they were (carelessly) freehanded.
  6. Just like from the back of her coat, the black stripe is thinner than it should be and also has a lot of paint smearing.
  7. Very noticeable again is the pattern on her coat to mimic an aged texture. While the blending on the authentic one helps to recreate this look, the bootleg’s paint job makes it look more like she’s about to go on a hunting trip.
 

Why are bootlegs an issue?

Shaking head no GIF
Bootlegs are frowned upon by most of the collecting community, but much of the dialogue fails to address why this is so. Some collectors see bootlegs as an opportunity to save money while continuing their hobby, whereas other collectors see it as fair competition to large manufacturers, who can sometimes charge a heavy penny for their figures. However, there are concerns about the industry of fake figures that should be addressed.

Quality

Jake AT "I'm Sick" GIF

 

Quality is not specific to the figure itself, but also to the materials used during manufacturing. The manufacturing process is not focused on oversight or regulations (for obvious reasons), so much of the materials used are incredibly cheap and potentially dangerous. For example, some bootleg children’s toys smuggled into the UK were found to have high levels of cancer-linked chemicals. The dreadful quality of a bootleg can sometimes go beyond what meets the eye.

Supporting the bootleg industry

 

COMPLEX Fake! Inside the Terrifying, Trillion-Dollar Bootleg Industry Promo Slide

 

The bootleg industry is a vicious one as many bootleggers are often involved in more than just fake figure production. Many times, these fake figures are only one vein of income for large criminal groups. While difficult to confirm, some stories of illegal procurement practices go so far as to include intimidation and physical violence towards workers at legitimate figure factories.
Additionally, the counterfeiting industry is notorious for its use of sweatshops and child labour. Without any regulations or standards to uphold operations, bootleggers will look to produce as much as possible for as little as possible.
The Simpsons Sweatshop GIF
Lastly, the support of bootleg figures doesn't just affect a manufacturer with lost income and support. The anime industry as a whole relies on merchandise sales, so everyone from the figure manufacturer to the anime creator will bear the brunt of these lost sales.
 

What can you do to protect yourself from bootlegs? 

What can you, a collector, do to protect yourself in this battle against fake anime figures? In addition to being familiar with the warning signs of a bootleg, here are some of our other recommendations:

1. Check the price - is it too good to be true? 

Extreme Reaction

Sometimes during the search for a figure, you’ll come across the deal of a lifetime. While a good price is not a definite indicator of a fake, it can be a warning sign. Check out the reputation of the seller: do they have a track record of selling bootlegs? What are their reviews and rating overall? If the seller’s reputation is poor and the figure is significantly cheaper than its market value, there’s a good chance it could be a bootleg.

2. Is there a known bootleg of the figure?

 

Searching Online GIF
Again, MyFigureCollection is a great resource, so make sure to check it out if you haven’t done so already! If a known bootleg exists for the figure, MFC will show a red warning with the figure details. If you see this warning, be cautious when buying!

3. Request photos and check for signs of a bootleg!

Taking Photo GIF

If you are buying online and the listing photos are not of the item itself, check with the seller if you can see some photos of the item! If the seller refuses and there are multiple warning signs of a bootleg seller, you might want to reconsider placing an order with them.
 

That's a wrap! 

While the battle of the bootlegs isn't likely to end in the near future, collectors can take steps to protect themselves as much as possible. The community of anime figure collectors is as robust as it is active, so don’t be afraid to reach out to fellow collectors if you have questions about a figure or its authenticity. And if you have any questions or suggestions for us, don’t hesitate to reach out. Thanks for checking out our ultimate guide and happy collecting! ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ
   
Share on FB
Share with Twitter

Older Post Newer Post


5 comments


  • Bootlegs are a problem when they trick you to spend 200$, but if youre buying something thats an “official figure” por 20$ but its actually a bootleg and the differences with the official arent that noticeable (like a lot of bootlegs) then i wouldnt mind.

    Cosk on

  • HUGE, I mean HUGE Haruhi Suzumiya fan. Being of the first anime series I’ve ever completed during my sophomore year of highschool as well, the release was timed perfectly for young me and around that time I hoarded so many figures and buttons that I have on display to this day. But looking at them over the years, I think a few may be bootlegs. They look gorgeous for bootlegs though, and the only reason I suspect moreso is the fact I never got a box for them. They where sold to me at a flea market or convention in bubble wrap and in a cardboard box. Ever since I heard the term “bootleg figures” I’ve extra precautious and continue to work on my collection, carefully. This article was just what I need to learn how to spot the differences of a real/fake one and the tell-tale signs on the boxes themselves! Thanks so much for this informative, in-depth article!!

    yang gi on

  • I get so paranoid about bootlegs lol. I bought an S.H figuarts Lucario figure for 34 dollars at my local video game store. It seemed too good to be true so I was thinking it’s a bootleg but, no. It’s not. Good quality and the box is fine too. Though his ear things can fall out if moved too much.
    Box quality should have been a giveaway for me! Thanks for the tip with that. It’s hard to figure it out when you don’t have the real one next to it.

    Dana S. Richardson on

  • Nice and very usefull article. Expecialy for the begginer anime figure collectors!

    Maja Profeta on

  • Great article! I almost bought some of them, before starting to realize some things were not quite right. Thanks for this post :)

    NJPW on

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published