Toys are one thing, but merch can’t possible be pirated — right? Unfortunately, the answer is “wrong”.
Anime merchandise such as CDs, DVDs, accessories, and apparel are actually some of the biggest profitmakers for copycats — they are cheap to make and easy to sell. These are the three things anime shops doesn’t always tell you about your purchases:
The item is meant for sale in a different market.
Some CDs or DVDs that look suspiciously like fakes are actually originals, but meant for different overseas markets like Taiwan, Thailand, or Malaysia. To adjust for local market preferences, these items are usually priced lower than their original Japanese counterparts; however they are also made of lesser quality compared to the Japanese originals.
The trouble starts when local shops take these copies and sell them here, and at highly inflated prices — almost at par with the prices of Japanese items, therefore fooling some customers into thinking they are Japanese imports.
For customers who unwittingly purchase these items thinking they are from Japan, they are ultimately disappointed when the item is not as well-made as the genuine article, does not have the premiums advertised in Japanese magazines and websites, or has booklets and other print material printed in Chinese instead of the original Japanese.
The item is an illegal reproduction.
This is where things get a little dicey: some items are a mass-produced illegal reproductions of actual merch sold in Japan. Think keychains and novelty pens, notepads and sticker sheets, and other consumables that are easy to pass off as originals.
They might even be made by the same factory producing the genuine goods, but without the knowledge of the original copyright holder. They are made with less stringent quality control and sold with more shoddy packaging, so they are pretty easy to spot from originals.
Unfortunately, they are still big sellers as stores are selling them at cut-price rates, compared to the several hundred pesos they might cost if bought from an online store based in Japan.
They made the item themselves.
Least but not least, some items — especially t-shirts, bags, and jackets, are made by the stores themselves, based on designs of official apparel. Some stores go as far as attach tags and labels on the napes of shirts and jackets and in the interiors of bags and pouches to make it look like the items are original.
What is even worse is the blatant cheating going on with the price tags. I saw some items go for as much as PhP 3000 (or JPY6,000) — which is highway robbery considering the store may not have spent more than PhP 1000 in producing the faux item they are passing off as genuine.
If the item is fan-made and there are no measures taken to conceal this fact, then I’m all for that — but if the store tries to pass off their little craft projects as genuine, then we have a fraud case on our hands.
There are probably a lot more shady goings-on in the local anime retailer scene, but as I am not a big fan of local cons they may have gone under my radar. One thing is for sure though: sometimes the biggest stores are the biggest offenders, so caveat emptor (buyer beware). In the grand scheme of things, that little bargain you scored might not have been much of a bargain after all.