Welcome to Action Figure Collecting 101 Part 4- Imports! Hopefully, this is a short one, but where do you start when introducing the average domestic collector to the world of imports?
For me, I got my first import figure in 1982, when I was 9 years old. It was a Bandai Gardian robot. He was three robots that fit inside one another like a Russian Nesting Doll. There was a tiny little rubber yellow man who I used as my “Spike” when I played with my Transformers. My brother and I each got one and we beat the hell out of it. It was a wonderful toy, but 9 years old me had no idea it originated on the faraway island of Japan. All we knew is he was damn cool. I don’t even know how my parents found this in the Hills store or wherever they found it. We lived in Triadelphia, WVa. Not really what one would call a Toy Mecca. All I know is when I opened that box, it blew me away.
Let’s start with the whys. Why even consider purchasing an import, for instance, of a Marvel character that Hasbro already makes? Quality. Superior accessories, superior sculpts, superior articulation, and superior packaging. I don’t want to take away from the advancements Hasbro is making in face printing technology, but they still have a long way to go.
The downside? Cost. Your average domestic figure is around $22. Your average imported figure costs at LEAST $60, and that’s if you get in on the preorders.
What’s a preorder? Most of you know, but for those that don’t, it sets a ground floor for collectors to get in on. Case in point, I preordered my Padme for around $80. The last I saw, she was going for over $240 on places like eBay and Amazon. Had I not preordered that, I would absolutely not be able to find the figure for retail. Which means I wouldn’t own it, because I can’t justify that kind of coin on a 6-inch action figure.
“Ok, smart guy. How do I get in on preorders for imports?”
That’s kind of the rub, isn’t it? Lots of these foreign (to us) action figure manufacturers have licensure clauses that specifically prohibit them from selling their line in the United States, so as not to compete with the American holder of said licensure. Uncle George doesn’t want Bandai competing with Hasbro, because Hasbro sells more toys and has more money for products. What’s a non-Japanese citizen to do? Is it hopeless?
No. You can walk into almost any Barnes and Nobels bookstore and find the Bluefin versions of popular characters like Doctor Strange or Star-Lord. Bluefin is one of many North American distributors who put together special packages, with effects pieces and such, that somehow allows them to circumvent the non-compete clause I mentioned earlier. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t understand the kung-fu legal action needed, but they do that with no issues.
“Fine, but I want a figure that doesn’t have a Bluefin release. Like a Deathtrooper or Batman from Justice League. What now, nerd?”
First off, calm down. No need to get personal. This is what I struggled with as well. Sooner or later, if you collect action figures, you’ll start seeing pictures of figures that look way better than your figures. That have accessories you don’t have, nailing poses your figures can’t nail. And through it all, you’re going to start asking yourself, “Where do I get those toys? Those wonderful toys.”
Let me save you some time and get you started. First, the Japanese sites I’ve purchased from:
Lest we forget, The Big Bad Toy Store exists and I’ve never had an issue with any item I’ve ordered there. Unlike the sites above, they are aimed at the English speaking collector. However, BBTS has what is often times a deal breaker for me (as do most places). BBTS will not let you pay for a preorder when you place the order. You pay for it when it arrives. This all comes down to personal opinion, but that isn’t how I roll. Because I have a family, a band and other life interests, I can’t be cruising along with life and get hit with a $90 charge out of the blue because Bandai just got around to releasing their first quarter product in the last month of quarter three.
Paying upfront allows me to control my budget and stops potential life calamities. CDJapan allows it, but for my time, money and sanity, my goto shop for imports is almost exclusively Xavier Cal Customs and Collectibles. I get no money from the site (I doubt they even know I wrote this article) so I have no dogs in this hunt. I just consistently get good customer service, free and quick delivery and the gent that runs the site is always willing to work with me. There are other small shops like Toy Ninja that I’ve heard good things about, but I’ve never purchased anything from them so I can’t say either way.
If you are wondering how imports scale with your domestic releases, I’ll try to do a general run down (I say “general” because there are always exceptions).
Figuarts – Made by the Bandai Company. Smaller than it’s Marvel legends counterpart, these figures pride themselves on their face printing tech, attention to detail and articulation, and usually come with option parts to swap out. They usually restrict their offerings to movies. Oddly enough, some of their Star Wars figures are actually taller than their Black Series counterparts, which, like the marvel legends line, is made by Hasbro.
Mafex – Mafex used to be the punch line in terms of quality control. However, they have been getting better with every release. In some instances, I prefer the Mafex version over the Figuarts version (like the DCEU Deadshot). Mafex tends to focus on movie interpretations as well, but seem to be dipping their toe into the comic realm. I’m pretty excited about their upcoming (as I write this) Spider-man comic figure.
Revoltech – Revoltechs are a beast unto themselves. They are more cartoonish than any other line, seemingly based on the character’s looks in the Marvel vs Capcom games. They have a joint system that you either love or hate. In vanilla pictures, they do not look good. However, people that can make them work for them can really great some amazing poses. As part of my culling process to save money, I’ve decided to bail on the line. They look weird next to Legends and every other line except for themselves. This is, of course, my opinion. I do enjoy the line but sacrifices had to be made. For a closer look at the “Revoltech Joint System,” check out my Spider-man review.
Figma – Figma deals a LOT more with anime characters than Star Wars or superheroes, the bread, and butter of my collection. They somehow got the rights to the first Avengers movie (instead of Figuarts…?) and released a Cap, Iron Man, Thor and possibly the best Hulk figure ever made. Even with legs that fall apart. However, they scale really small. Their Cap looks great next to the first DC Icons Batman if that gives you a frame of reference. They recently released a comic Deadpool that looks pretty amazing, but I just couldn’t get another figure that looks silly next to the rest of my collection.
In conclusion, pace yourself. When I first discovered imports, I had to have all the imports. Did Mafex, Figuarts, and Revoltech all do a version of the same character? Then I have to have them all.
All. of. The. Imports.
As I just mentioned, I’ve since calmed down. For hero movie figures, I stick with Figuarts, same with Star Wars, unless Mafex has an exceptional offering. If Mafex beats Figuarts to the punch (IE Boba Fett or the MK 1) with a great figure, I don’t bother with the Figuarts. Mezco is an American company with import pricing. I’ve made the decision to stop buying their movie figures, and stick to the comic figures. Not that their movie figures aren’t exceptional, but I don’t need 5 versions of the MCU Black Panther. I already have the original Figuarts from Civil War along with the Hasbro CW figure, I have the Hasbro one from his solo (not to be confused with Solo) movie debut AND I am waiting on the new Infinity War Black Panther as I write this article.
My original approach was a shotgun blast of purchases. Now it’s more like a scalpel. Display space and budgetary constraints will always play a part in this hobby. Imports haven’t helped in that regard. However, imports have comforted my inner child that wept because he couldn’t get an X-Wing pilot outfit for his 12 inch Luke in 1978.
Knockoffs – A word of warning: A knock-off is Intellectual property theft. Basically someone figures out how to bootleg a figure, (usually with much less quality) and then they sell those figures on the internet as originals. Some are absolutely horrible. Others are very well done and hard to tell a difference. I can’t tell you if you should or should NOT be buying knock-offs. I tend to be on the side of If the company that made it/released it no longer sells it and the only way you can get a “grail” figure is by getting a knockoff then do what makes you happy. If the figure is still readily available for retail or slightly above from the company that invested their hard work and capital into the item, do the right thing.
While there is no “magic bullet” that helps one spot a knockoff, if you are looking to avoid them, maybe try the following: If it’s coming from China and the price is too good to be true, its a knockoff. Does it say “China version”? It’s a knockoff. In general, if the price is “too good to be true,” It’s probably a knockoff.
In summation, I hope this helps provide those of you in the dark about import figure collecting a little insight into the process. I am considering doing a 5th installment of this series. If I do, it is going to be about displaying your figures. Something I struggle with all the time.