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Why Are Anime Figures So Expensive? Part 2: The Answer

Published on March 04, 2021

Welcome to the Solaris Blog! ヾ(῀ʚ̴̶̷́  .̫ ʚ̴̶̷̥̀ ῀)ノ”
Okay, we know this is long overdue, but we’re finally back at it, here to tackle that burning question: why do anime figurines cost so much? (ര௰ര)
And, in case you missed it, make sure you check out our first part to this question where we take a look at how anime figures are made. Why is production of anime figures relevant to the question at hand? Because understanding just how time-consuming and demanding the process behind making figures is makes it clearer why they end up costing what they do. 
But, now that we’ve gone over the production process, what’s next? What else could possibly explain why anime figures cost as much as they do? (๑•̆૩•̆)
Anime Thinking GIF
Well, there’s actually a lot, in fact. From the cost of production to the nature of the goods themselves, there’s a whole slew of factors for prices being what they are. We’re looking at the biggest reasons behind them, so let’s not delay any further and get right to it!

1. Makes li-sense, no? 

As you know by now (if you’ve read Part 1, that is), there’s a lot of time and effort put into researching which characters will ultimately become a figure. That’s its own process, but once decided, the company will have to ask the anime creator or its license holder for permission to use the character’s image. 
Permission granting is not usually done through friendly banter and handshakes, but rather by way of licensing — something that gets pretty expensive pretty fast.
Anime Money GIF
Sadly, anime merchandising data is quite sparse and not nearly as abundant as data about broadcasting, which we were able to find some info about. However, something worth noting is the tale of how Astro Boy spearheaded anime’s reliance on merchandise to generate revenue. By underselling broadcasting rights, a series could first build an audience who would be interested in paying for merch. 
Astro Boy Retro GIF
It’s pretty natural to think that this Astroboy formula would have changed over the years, but, surprisingly, merchandising is still one of anime’s primary revenue streams. Based on AJA’s 2019 report, domestic merchandising was the highest income source and accounted for 42.7% (66.9% if you include pachinko and the likes) of the industry’s revenue. (ʘ言ʘ╬)
If that number doesn’t already stick out, consider its weight when compared to broadcasting’s relatively measly 23.5% share of revenue. By the way, that number COMBINES TV, film, and digital broadcasting. Yeesh. 😱
Anime No Words GIF
So, with that cleared up, how much is licensing then? Of course, there’s no clear-cut answer since it really varies. Depending on the series, the distributor, and much, much more, the costs can really run the gamut. However, take these numbers in for a moment:
  • Toei Animation didn’t specify how much each of their series earns in terms of licensing fees, but they reported income of over $291,000,000 (USD) from licensing alone in 2019. 
  • The 2005 film Guyver had licensing fees of $746,665, even though it’s a relatively unpopular film. 
  • While not a data point, the process of obtaining broadcasting licenses is detailed here and oof, is it a process. 
Of course, this data only helps us out a bit since we don’t know how these numbers reflect the realm of merchandising licenses, but it’s enough to give us an idea that the costs are not cheap. Really, they’re the farthest thing from it. (ㄒoㄒ)
Since the manufacturers already have this massive fee to offset before they’ve even started selling a figure, it’s easy to understand how this can drive up a figure’s final retail price. 

2. Things will get better (quality-wise, that is) 

Much like an aged wine, time seems to be a good friend to the world of anime figures. Improvements within any industry are always expected (practice makes perfect, as they say). The world of anime figures is no exception and has definitely seen an explosion in quality improvements over the years, as well as a nice diversification of product offerings. ( • ̀ω•́ )✧
Anime Impressed Eyes GIF
For starters, let’s look at how different the more OG figures looked like in comparison to what we see today. 

Let’s have some quality time

While changes in quality usually happen in small steps (thus making it harder to notice how much things have improved), we luckily have some figures with new and old versions to remind us how much the world of figures has evolved. ミ☆( *uωu人)+゚
From one of the most well-known manufacturers, Good Smile Company, comes a shining example: the Nendoroid. As if overhearing our discussions for blog ideas, Good Smile did us a huge favor and re-released two of their earlier Nendoroids from Death Note. These aptly named “2.0” releases of Light and L really show off just how far the Good Smile offerings have come:
Good Smile Death Note Nendoroid Comparison
The original releases look almost comical next to their updated counterparts. For starters, the originals lack many sculpt and paint details. You can see how the 2.0 versions integrate so many features we have come to expect with current Nendoroids: gradient painting to add levels of depth, detailed sculpting (down to the freakin’ toes, man), and a more uniform style that pays a better homage to the original source. (ᵒ̤̑ ₀̑ ᵒ̤̑)
But improvements have been pretty sweeping across the board. Some might argue that there are limitations with Nendoroids since they’re much smaller and usually cheaper figures compared to all the options out there. So, let’s take a look at a scale figure producer — specifically one that is famous for its high-quality (and high price tags…). Of course, we’re talking about Alter!
Now, we have to say that Alter was still way ahead of the curve with their earlier figures. There was definitely still a base level of quality with Alter in its beginning stages, but it pales in comparison with what they produce today. Seriously, just check out some of these comparisons of similar figures released in Alter’s early and later days.
Alter Asuka Figure Comparison
Asuka honestly looks amazing in both figures, but there are some obvious upgrades. The first release does a great job of recreating the exact image of Asuka from the source material, but does little in terms of translating her 2D form into our 3D world — her overall appearance comes off flat and is missing the vibrancy of the later release. This could very well stem from the figure’s lack of variation in paint colors and textures — the company’s earlier attempts at shading also come off looking more dusty than deep. It’s not bad, especially for 2006, but is no match for Asuka’s later figure release from Alter. (ノ・ェ・)ノ
Alter Saber Figure Comparison
Next, let’s look at these two Sabers — it’s immediately noticeable how much more dynamic the poses have become. The movement and velvety matte textures of Saber Alter’s dress is on a whole other level. It’s deeper colors add subtle shading to create a jaw-dropping level of realness that almost begs you to feel the material. Saber of Black’s dress is not bad at all, but looks so much more basic in comparison. Even the smaller, less eye-catching features of this 2006 release, like her hair and shoes, come off looking more dull in comparison.
Alter Comparison Figures
Even some smaller sculpting and painting details have dramatically improved over the years. KOS-MOS’s (1) outfit is meant to be tight-fitting (and def looks great 😏) but doesn’t fit quite as snuggly as Lila’s (2). The way Lila’s outfit really showcases all her curves and edges and even pinches at her body a bit (like her garters) really makes such a difference for how realistic it comes off.
Also, KOS-MOS’s vibrant hair doesn’t wow us as much as some of Alter’s newer releases. Take Plachta (3), for example. Her hair has a similar shade and sheen (in the source material) to KOS-MOS’s, but looks completely different thanks to the use of glossy, translucent paint which is honestly stunning. It’s such a small, but drastic change that really elevates the figure to new heights. (⑅ ॣ•͈૦•͈ ॣ)
It’s not hard to see how much figures have really evolved — obviously, techniques were not as developed, but earlier figures seemed to focus too heavily on transplanting a character from their 2D appearance into figure form without consideration for how it would turn out as a 3D model. Conversely, figures these days now seem to focus heavily on blending those two things to create an entirely new representation, bridging that gap and recreating our favorite characters in a different light.  (◕‿◕。)
But all these changes for the better mean higher costs — higher quality materials and greater time investment (since sculpting all those details don’t happen in the blink of an eye) aren’t free and will end up hiking up the final price.

All shapes and sizes 

Another huge benefit we’ve seen come along is the variety of different figure lineups — we’ve got Bandai Spirits, ARTFX J, and behemoth statues from Prime 1 Studio to name just a few. __φ(..;)
The reality is that the catalogue of anime figures is constantly expanding and adapting to the changing demands of anime lovers who buy them. Some are looking for more affordable options whereas some are willing to dish out a pretty dollar for that top-shelf quality — in fact, most collectors are looking for a range of options all along this spectrum of offerings. 
With that in mind, let’s briefly touch on a couple of these options that’ll make the more budget-conscious collector bust their wallet out à la Futurama’s Fry. 
Futurama Fry Money GIF

Go ahead, pop off

Perhaps one of the most recognizable players in the world of anime figures is Good Smile — they have some great scale figures, but they are also well-known for their Nendoroid series, which is one of their most popular since it offers a lot of variety for a much smaller price tag (and smaller figure). 
The Good Smile CEO has even mentioned that they started to really recognize the opportunity Nendoroids presented since the demand was much higher than expected. So, it’s no wonder they debuted their new series Pop Up Parade! Pop Up Parade focuses on bringing affordable figures to beginner and experienced collectors alike. \(^O^)/ 
The range of characters already offered is pretty jaw dropping considering how young this series still is. But one of the greatest things about Pop Up Parade is that it delivers the fun of scale figures for a fraction of what many scales go for now. Of course, the poses are not nearly as intricate or dynamic as some other scales, but it still is mind-blowing how Good Smile’s maintained their quality for such a good price!

You’re a prize!

Another sector seeing a lot more options come forward is prize figures. For those unfamiliar with them, they’re simply figures you can win from claw machines in Japan. These figures are mass produced solely for the purpose of claw machines, which means they’re usually won and not sold (if you have a prize figure, notice how it doesn’t have a barcode?). These figures are lower on the quality spectrum, but so too are their prices. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
So many franchises are starting to see prize figure releases which means there’s a lot more options for collectors. We’ll be honest — prize figures aren’t gonna blow your socks off with their quality. If anything, they might actually put them back on with how underwhelming figures can sometimes turn out. But again, the price is just right with these ones! Unless you’re actually trying to win one at an arcade, that is... (#`д´)ノ;

3. Hate the game, not the player

Okay, so this is by far the biggest thing to consider when asking what makes anime figures expensive: they’re collectibles! 
The very nature of anime figures — limited runs that are open for purchase at MSRP during the pre-order period — dictates just how crazy the aftermarket can be for these items. 
Anime Money GIF
The easiest way to boil it down is to say that production of a figure has a strict cut-off date. Once this date passes, it’s going to be a lot harder to get one in your hands. Of course, some retailers will order extra stock so they can still sell them and some figures get re-releases, but the reality is that this is never a guarantee. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. (*_*;
And that’s where the aftermarket comes in. The aftermarket is where people go to buy and sell items that have closed preorders or are out-of-production (meaning you can’t get additional stock from the original manufacturer). This means they’re a lot harder to find. Because of this, prices can really jump and dip depending on the demand and availability in the aftermarket. 
Anime Money GIF
There’s no one formula to dictate how much a figure’s value will translate to in the aftermarket — it’s not about the figure’s MSRP or how amazing it may be. It’s just the basic formula of supply and demand. In the end, these conditions in the aftermarket are the biggest drivers in dictating what a figure’s value becomes. 
Anime GIF
In fact, almost all figures will see an increase in value post-release since supply becomes limited once pre-orders close. These increases aren’t necessarily staggering and can be a matter of a few hundred yen, but some figures do see price jumps that can make you cry. (T⌓T)
Take a look at this figure of Morrigan — she retailed at ¥12,000 (pre-tax) in 2016 and even had a re-release in 2018 but if you’re trying to find her new in 2021, you’re gonna expect to have to pay around ¥40,000 (at the time of writing)! That’s right — this figure has tripled in value despite the original release only having been five years ago WITH a subsequent re-release not too much later…
Capcom Morrigan Figure
Even the cheaper figures can get a huge aftermarket value boost — just look at this Kuji prize figure of Bakemonogatari’s Hitagi. 
Hitagi Prize Figure
She was a double-chance figure (meaning there was a second lottery round after the original Kuji) and only had about 100 figures available total. It goes without saying then that her aftermarket value is through the roof!
Finding her is near impossible, as she rarely makes an appearance for auctions or sale. But if you look at Surugaya’s buyback price for her, it is very clear how much she’s worth, especially when you see that it’s 19x the price they’ll pay for another one of Hitagi’s Kuji prize figures. /(.□. )
(fun fact, but Surugaya has sold it before on their site for a heart attack-inducing ¥70,000!!!)
Cash slap GIF
Figures are not the only collectible to see these kinds of gains in value; there’re many other well-known examples in the Western sphere like baseball cards and designer fashion drops. They all boil down to the same premise and can lead to similarly staggering jumps in value. Sometimes, it’s enough to consider turning to collectibles as an excellent option for diversifying your investment portfolio. 
I know, investments and economic principles might not be the first thoughts that come to mind when you look upon your shelf of prized figures. But, as it turns out, these figures hold more value than just the emotional kind we usually attribute to them. So, if your family or friends ever bog you with questions over why you spend money on anime figures, you can simply turn up your nose at their limited knowledge of investment assets! Hmph! 
anime hmph gif

That’s a wrap!

To be honest, we could drone on and on about what makes a figure cost what it does. We’ve barely dipped our toes in the water, but hopefully this article will help better answer the question of why anime figures can be so expensive. 
Ultimately, anime figures make a lot of us fans happy. They’re a recreation of our favorite characters that we can transplant from the screen into our own space, a true joy that makes this hobby as exciting and fulfilling as it is. Even if the prices don’t always make us as happy, having a collection that you’re proud of and excited by is more than words can ever explain. 
Umaru happy GIF
Let us know your questions or comments about why anime figures are expensive and happy collecting everyone! ヾ(°∇°*)
Till next time! <( _ _ )>

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1 comment

  • There are a lot of valid points here. I started collecting figures way back in 2007 and the jump in pricing is just scary. The prices in the 10 thousand JPY were only seen in super figures, like the 1/4 scales, or the really rare ones, which were not from anime series. The normal figure prices around those days was 4000-7000jpy being the 7000 already expensive and amazing. Surely the quality has gone up but back in the days there were really good quality figures at cheaper prices.
    My take on these prices is just the boom in anime worldwide because in 07-10 although there was already a big follower base, it was nothing like today. Still own a fair collection of figures which include some rares in mint condition

    Killer0178 on

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