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Spotting Anime Merchandise Bootlegs

Counterfeit and pirated anime merchandise are a growing concern as they invade the consumer market with low quality unlicensed goods and imitations. Avoiding bootlegs can be hard as a new hobbyist and it can be soul-crushing when you realize your first figure or tapestry was a cheap knock-off. Here at Otakumart, we’ll help you learn what to look out for and equip you with knowledge surrounding bootlegs.

Anime Figure Bootlegs

Anime Figure bootlegs and copycats are very common and can be distinguished with a keen eye for detail. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.


Box Quality

Bootleggers tend to use no box or create their own with low quality materials. Tell-tale signs to look out for are:

    • Thin cardboard box (easily warped and discoloured)
    • Pixelated photos on the box
    • Badly cropped images
    • Figure does not fit perfectly in the clamshell blister (buckling and discoloured)
    • Colour bleeding

Always compare the box to authentic ones online! Unboxing videos and official websites are helpful.

Missing/Misspelt Logos and Information

As the production of bootlegs are illegal, bootleggers will remove, use the wrong font/colour or misspell the company’s name or link in Japanese or English to avoid trademark infringement.

  • Serial numbers are often incorrect as well.
  • Bootlegs will have poor translation and missing information such as the figure version and scale.
  • Unreadable or blurry small print is a good indication of bootleg goods.
  • Chinese rather than Japanese or English text

Sticker of Authenticity

The Sticker of Authenticity is incredibly helpful in verifying the authenticity of a product however, companies are not consistent with them and some releases will not have them. They are hard to replicate and are a good indication that they are authentic. Companies will occasionally change the sticker design to prevent piracy.

Authenticity stickers as shown on authentic anime figure boxes

The Figure:


Bootleggers mass produce counterfeits by pouring a mould over an authentic figure or using discarded moulds from official manufacturers that have become disfigured after extended use. This will lead to deformed figures. This causes warped details and other issues such as:

  • Rounded hair tips (from re-moulding)
  • Large,noticeable and mis-matched seams in clothes and hair.
  • Ill-fitted parts
  • The figure base may be missing or incorrect.

Painting and Texture:

Authentic figures are painted by hand using many paints and go through screening and checks to ensure they are not defective. Bootleggers on the other hand are known for their bad quality paintwork and have known to:

  • Paint out of the lines and smearing.
  • Broken lines
  • Use the wrong colours and shade badly
  • Missing or wrong textures(shiny/waxy) and gradients(solid colour instead of fading)
  • Cross-eyed figures are common

Movement & Joints:

Joints in bootlegs are badly made so they are noticeable, don’t hold their place and require huge force to move. They will tend to lean as they do not fit properly on their bases or have weak joints. Nendoroid bootlegs may even have connected parts where official versions allow for separation and movement.

We’ve included some comparison images:

The differences are hilarious!

Bootleg Tapestries & Posters

Official and authentic tapestries, prints and posters have the logo of the manufacturer AND the rights holder printed on one of the corners. They will feel silky and thin unlike counterfeits which are thick and rough with low quality material and over-stretched prints(fuzzy). Counterfeits tend to have washed out colour and horrible craftsmanship as if printed with inkjet. It is usually hard to tell when they are in their package but luckily some manufacturers will put authenticity stickers.
Always look for the copyright holder and pay attention to printing details. If you’re buying a B2 tapestry(~515 × 728mm) for around $20 then it’s very likely to be a fake.

These are authentic tapestries.  Notice the Authenticity sticker, licensing holder, country of origin, etc.
This is an authentic tapestry. Notice the detail even when up close!

Bootleg Plush

Authentic plush have the manufacturer’s label sewn on or attached via a plastic tag with copyright information. Bootlegs do not or are replicated with misspelling or missing information. Bootleg plush are also lower in quality:

  • Wrong body dimensions (longer or shorter arms, ears, etc.)
  • Short, cheap fur
  • Bad stitch work
  • Missing or incorrect details (Stripes, patterns, colours etc.)
  • Not fully stuffed
These are authentic plush! No matter the size, they still come well packaged with the appropriate info tags and copyright.

Other common products that are bootlegged/pirated:

  • Artbooks
  • Audio CDs
  • Clothes (Cosplay and props)
  • DVDs
  • Other Plastic Toys (Figures, model kits, resin figures etc.)
  • Playing / Trading cards

Common Places for Bootlegs:

  • New online stores that dropship their products.
  • Conventions
  • Online marketplaces/auctions (Ebay, Amazon, Trademe, Facebook, etc.)

Common listing names for Bootlegs:

  • Unlicensed ver.
  • International ver.
  • Just simply calling it “Sexy Japanese Anime figure girl toy” etc with a ton of keywords at the end. (cute, action figure)
  • Unbranded ver.
  • Recast

Problems and Dangers of Bootlegs:

Money that could’ve been made by official anime licenses are lost to bootleggers. This hurts the anime and manga industry.

You will own an inferior product with a much lower resale value.

Bootleg scrolls/posters are occasionally stolen artwork.

Duplicate/replica swords are extremely dangerous as they are poorly made. Bootleggers are always cutting costs and so majority of bootleg swords are not full tang and therefore lack stability. Imagine a young teen playing with a cosplay sword prop in a crowded convention and the blade swings off the handle possibility injuring others or himself.

Materials used to create bootleg plastic figures and kits are incredibly cheap and can be toxic. Hobbyists who have received bootlegs have noted they have a distinct foul chemical smell.

Bootleg plush are occasionally filled with cheap and dangerous material. Stitched with fish wire. Filled with fiberglass. Etc.

The lack of regulations and standards in the bootleg industry has allowed for child labour, extortion and relation to organized crime. Bootleggers are criminals and by buying from them, you are promoting them.

Merchandise like keychains are cheaply made and break easily. Colours will tend to fade in a week of use.

Bootleggers use our ignorance against us. “It’s cheaper” or “I don’t really care” are not a good excuse to support and promote these industries that are not even supporting your favourite anime producers in Japan.

Tips for Avoiding Bootlegs Online

  • Ask for pictures! If a seller is selling a figure but only uses the official pictures, don’t be afraid to ask for pictures of the figure and box. If they refuse then it might be best to move on.
  • Ask the seller where they got it from. If they tell you it’s from Aliexpress then best to move on.
  • If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Look at seller reviews/reputation.
  • Myfigurecollection will tell you whether there are bootlegs of certain merch and figures with pictures to compare.
  • Read the product description. Avoid if it mentions anything like “unbranded” etc.
  • Join forums and talk to other collectors on how to spot bootlegs!

Tips for Avoiding Bootlegs at Conventions

  • Avoid merch that have no or bad quality packaging. Official manufacturers are very strict and have high standards and will always do their best to keep their products protected.
  • Keyholders/keychains from Japan will never be sold without a bag on them or gold twist tie and most times there is an attached tag with company information. However it is good to note that some vendors may choose to take the packaging off for convenience and to display them nicely. Most vendors will happily explain and show you the packaging they have removed.
  • Bootleg plush are incredibly common. Always look for the copyright information on their tags!
  • Authentic Japanese packaging tend to have a crisp loud sound to them when squished. Bootleg packaging(if they do have them) are thin and weak.
  • Always look at the quality, price, packaging, authenticity sticker and copyright information!
  • If you spot a bootleg tell the vendor. Some vendors may not know they are selling bootlegs.
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