The Bootleg Anime FAQ

Posted by Shadow Anime on

This article forms a guide to bootleg/pirate/unlicensed/counterfeit goods, it is done in a Questions and Answers format. The main aim is to inform about pirate anime and manga goods, how to spot them and why you shouldn't really buy them. This guide should also be of interest to people who collection video game merchandise and similar items since the same basic principles apply.

This article is divided into two parts, the first explaining what pirate goods are and the second explains how to spot them, giving example of common goods out there. When referring to money the prices will be an approximate in US Dollars, although we have a world wide readership, and the issues discussed concern anime and manga fans all over the world, many of you will be familiar with the rough price of your local currency in US Dollars.

Comments, questions, suggestions, amendments and other feedback should be sent via our Contact Us form.



  • What are Unlicensed Goods?
  • What sort of unlicensed goods are out there?
  • Why do some retailers sell them?
  • Why shouldn't I buy them?
  • Why do some people buy unlicensed anime goods?
  • Where are pirate goods sold?
  • On-line Auctions Sites
  • Anime Conventions
  • How to spot Unlicensed Anime and Manga goods.
      • Quality
      • Price
      • Packaging
      • Copyright Information
      • Licensing Stickers
      • Strange English
      • Legal in Country of Origin

      Products and what to look for:
      • Artbooks
      • Audio CDs
      • Clothes
      • DVD
      • Fansubs
      • Digisubs
      • Plastic Toys - Action Figures, Plastic Kits, Resin Kits etc...
      • Playing/Trading/Collectors Cards etc...
      • Plush Toys
      • Posters and Dirty Tricks
      • Scanlations
      • VCDs
      • Wallscrolls
  • Can I link to this FAQ?

What are Unlicensed Goods?

Unlicensed goods are also referred to as pirate, counterfeit or bootleg goods. They are produced without the consent of the copyright holder of that anime/manga title. Some are fakes of legitimate goods on the market, others are "original" as they are based on the anime or manga but are not like official merchandise.

What sort of unlicensed goods are out there?

All sorts of things, CDs, videos, models, action figures, plush toys, wall-scrolls most merchandise. Books are rare as forging a book has a narrow profit margin and most people can tell by print quality. There are some pirate art books and stationary, but this is quite uncommon.

Why do some retailers sell them?

Some retailers are unaware that they are selling unlicensed goods, this could be because they don't know enough about anime goods, or maybe they want to make a bigger profit, as unlicensed goods are cheaper. Some retailers knowingly sell these goods for numerous reasons.

Why shouldn't I buy them?

How would you feel if you spent a lot of time, talent and energy creating something, and then a fake goods company came along, copied it and made a load of money, not giving you anything at all?

Unless you live in Taiwan or another country that hasn't signed the Berne Convention (unlikely) it is illegal to import them, your customs office has the right to confiscate these goods and would probably destroy them, you wouldn't get a refund of any kind either. US Citizens should note it is also a federal offence to import, buy, sell or trade these goods.

Often the production of unlicensed goods is used by organized crime to launder money made from selling drugs, pornography and prostitution and to generally expand "business" opportunities.

Also quality of the goods is often a lot less than official goods. Unlicensed goods go through little, if any quality control, often rushed into production.
They haven't been tested by the relevant safety bodies and could be harmful to children.

Another more important reason, is money from anime/manga merchandise licenses go into making more anime and manga, so buying unlicensed goods is hurting the anime and manga industry. No one can say how much it is hurting the industry as the bootleggers are not exactly legitimate businesses and don't release their sales figures.

Why do some people buy unlicensed anime goods?

More than often people don't know they are buying pirate goods, so are unaware that they might be getting ripped off one way or another. Another is cost, collecting anime and manga can be an expensive hobby, so fans are sometimes willing to sacrifice quality for a cheaper alternative. Occasionally the legitimate item might not be available, so fans go for bootlegs in this case too.

Where are bootleg goods sold?

We giving you the answer to this question so can avoid them, we hope you don't intend to go to the places we mention in search of unlicensed goods.

Places that sell legitimate anime and manga goods might also stock unlicensed goods (as mentioned before knowingly or unknowingly), Sci-Fi shops, China Towns are more likely to stock such goods as nearly all Anime and manga bootlegs originate from the Far East.

Some anime and manga retailers have a policy not to stock unlicensed goods, you may want to ask them about this if you are really concerned. As a general rule of thumb the bigger the retailer the less likely they are to stock unlicensed goods.

On-line Auctions sites such as eBay, Amazon's Market Place and similar services are frequently used to hawk pirate goods for more details about this please read the On-line Auction section below.

Online Auction Sites

On-line Auction sites such as eBay, Amazon's Market Place and similar services are great places to pick up some items cheaply. Buyers should be aware that many of the "bargain" DVDs on these sites are in fact bootleg DVDs and should really be avoided. Most of the auction sites on the internet have this problem, but some deal with them better than others.

Beware of eBay. Due to recent court rulings finding eBay not liable for the trade of Bootleg goods on their website, it is strongly advised to use caution when purchasing goods from eBay and similar online auction and trading sites. The sale of pirate merchandise seems to be on the increase on such services and many seem uncooperative when people complain about pirate goods being sold.

Currently eBay seem to remove only really obvious pirate items from their auctions. Many people have tried and failed to get eBay to remove pirated DVDs and other goods from their listings. Only retailers signed up to eBay's VeRO Program appear to have had any success in removing bootleg items.

Recently it seems that finding pirate DVDs on eBay is a lot easier than finding legitimate ones, 3 Disc DVD box sets seem to be especially common. In other words eBay is rife with bootleg anime DVDs! Remember eBay make their money through people listing items on their site and don't have the resources to check every auction. Perhaps if more people complained to eBay, something would happen.

Reading eBay's User Agreement for setting up an account you will find this disclaimer:
"We are not involved in the actual transaction between buyers and sellers. As a result, we have no control over the quality, safety or legality of the items advertised, the truth or accuracy of the listings, the ability of sellers to sell items or the ability of buyers to pay for items. We cannot ensure that a buyer or seller will actually complete a transaction." [User Agreement Section 3.1 -]

This is a pretty standard disclaimer, but one you should remember when purchasing things from eBay and similar auction sites.

Anime Conventions

Anime Conventions, expos, festivals and similar geeky events are a great place to pick up merchandise. However just like going to a shop, you need to be cautious. The key thing to ask is does the event have a bootleg / pirate goods policy? Also is it actively enforced? Some events have a strict dealers policy and will only allow dealers which also have a good stance against pirate goods. The dealer liaison at the event will know which dealers sell pirate goods and ensure they are not allowed at their events. New dealers will also be vetted. These events are great as you can shop with confidence.

At the other end of the spectrum there are events which don't care, they just want to sell tables in their dealers hall to make more money. We're also aware of events that have a pirate goods policy, but either don't enforce it, or are lax with their enforcement. It's at these events you need to be especially careful. You might want to consider avoiding certain dealers at these events.

If you do suspect a dealer is selling pirated goods, discreetly bring this to the attention of the event organizers. If they do actually follow up on your suspicions this is a good sign. If they don't really seem bothered, or come up with excuses, this can be a cause for concern.

At these events, it's always best to vote with your wallet. Don't support dealers selling pirated goods, only support dealers selling legitimate merchandise.

How to spot Unlicensed Anime and Manga goods.

    • Quality
    • Price
    • Packaging
    • Copyright Information
    • Licensing Stickers
    • Weird English
    • Legal in Country of Origin

    Products and what to look for:
    • Artbooks
    • Bags
    • Clothes
    • Plastic Toys - Action Figures, Plastic Kits, Resin Kits etc...
    • Playing/Trading/Collectors Cards etc...
    • Plush Toys
    • Posters and Dirty Tricks
    • Wallets / Billfolds
    • Wallscrolls

If you are unsure that the merchandise you are buying is genuine or not you should closely examine the product and consider all these factors. The more popular the anime series the more likely there is to be pirated goods. Bleach, Dragon Ball, Doraemon, Evangelion, Gundam, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Naruto and Totoro are popular with bootleggers. After awhile you will develop a sense of what is an unlicensed good and what is not.


As mentioned before, the quality of unlicensed goods are typically a lot lower than the legitimate products. Unlicensed goods are produced as cheaply as possible. So if the product looks iffy, chances are it is not the real thing.


Normally import anime goods are often expensive for the retailer to buy in the first place, once they have added their mark up the goods are hardly going to be cheap.

I wish it was as easy to say if the price is too cheap to be true then it is a bootleg, but now anime and manga is becoming more popular, goods can be picked up at a reasonable price. Some retailers even have sales or special discounts to shift stock, so compare price with quality. Some retailers have latched on to this, upping the price of the unlicensed goods in order to trick the consumer that they get what they pay for.


Official goods normally have good quality packaging that is well designed. Look at the print quality of the packaging and see if it is up to scratch. Is the design consistent with the anime/manga title?

Also look for printing defects such as moiré lines or horizontal scanlines. Color bleeding and unreadable or blurry small print is a good indication of bootleg goods. Poor graphical design with characters cropped badly, or bad color combinations and characters with the wrong color skin tones or hair color is also a good give-away when looking for pirate merchandise.

Copyright Information

Copyright information is a good way of spotting bootleg products, more than often they don't have any kind of copyright information, if they do the company names are usually spelt wrong. Remember Copyright information is part of the small print. Look for the ©. A P in a circle means who produced the goods and bootleggers are just as likely to use it as producers of licensed goods.

Note when looking at the small print look at the spellings of company names. Nintindo and Studio Ghiblu are not the official spellings of Nintendo and Studio Ghibli!


Licensing Stickers

A very good way of spotting official Japanese merchandise is to look for Licensing Stickers, these small stickers are often silver, holographic or another reflective color. They normally have the company, brand or title logo, with some copyright information. Each company tends to use a different design and change them every so often as an anti piracy method. They are normally located on the bottom right corner of posters and calendars. Packaged/boxed goods such as action figures generally have them somewhere on the front of the packaging. Plush toys often have licensing stickers on their removable card tags. Official licensed goods sold in America and other countries rarely seem to have their own form of licensing stickers, so in that case, you will have to go by the quality of the product as well as look for other details to be certain if you are purchasing a licensed product.
Some examples of licensing stickers
Movic Licensing Sticker Tokuma Shoten Licensing Sticker Nibariki Licensing Sticker Bandai Gundam Licensing Sticker

Weird English

Contrary to some beliefs anime and manga products with English that is either weird, doesn't make sense or is just plain nonsense is not a clue to spotting unlicensed goods. In Japan English is cool, characters yell in English for special attacks, moves and magic. Although English is taught across Japan, few Japanese people have spent enough time in an English speaking country to write proper English. Rather than hire a translator, sentences are thrown together, and checked to see if they seem right (but not by anyone qualified). This strange form of English is sometimes referred to as Japlish or Engrish and is often heard in J-Pop and can be read in Japanese music magazines. I have seen all sorts of things with this on, varying from underlays that call Lina Inverse's ultimate spell (Dragu/Dragon Slave) "Drug Slave" (which is a funnier spell if you ask me), to sentences that use vocabulary that is just bizarre.

What is more worrying is that it is not just anime and manga goods that are affected by this strange phenomenon. Some JAL programs used to (and still might) call Shepherds Pie "Beef Stew with Potato Sauce".

Legal in Country of Origin

Some unscrupulous sellers state that pirate goods they sell are legal in the country of origin (especially with Audio CDs and DVDs). This is true in Taiwan where they still have some catching up to do with international copyright law, however unless you live in Taiwan chances are these goods are illegal due to various copyright treaties. Also remember that no money goes back to the original creators to fund more productions.

Products and what to look for


Until recently spotting a bootleg artbook for an anime or manga title was quite straightforward, because of the low profit margin in pirating books the print quality was poor so it was easy to spot fakes. Some of the worst examples were badly scanned images, with scan lines or very speckled skin colors.

However now with cheaper and more accurate color reproduction available some very high quality counterfeit artbooks have started to appear on the market and as a result are harder to spot. The decent counterfeits can be hard to identify. If you compare these artbooks to official anime and manga artbooks the subtle differences are easier to notice. Colors on the counterfeit books are duller than the originals, yellows and oranges are also slightly washed out. Dirt and tiny marks may also be printed on these books, but it may take time to find these. It is worth taking note that some official artbooks do have textured covers (such as many Studio Ghibli artbooks), these covers are something that is currently not replicated when producing a counterfeit artbook.


Bootleg messenger style bags have started to become a more common occurrence. They are fairly easy to spot. Look for the common signs, poor graphic design, images being badly cropped, colors being off or washed out, or not fitting with the series in question. Additionally the quality of these bags tend to be poor. The bags often lack any kind of tags from the series or the bag manufacturer. The more popular the series, the more likely you are to find a bootleg variant of the bag. The most common designs are Bleach, Naruto and One Piece.
Bootleg Pirated Fake Anime Messenger Bag Backpack
Notice with the bags below they are all the same type of bag, just with a different image printed on. In most cases the images on the bags below have either been scanned from another source or taken from the internet and printed on the bags.

Examples of Bootleg bags


These are not to be confused with Cosplay (fancy dress) clothes, which are not mass-produced. Like all unlicensed goods, some clothes are produced without the license holder's permission. Unlicensed clothes are not that hard to spot, commonly sold in unknowing Sci-Fi / Comic Book Shops, Skateboard Boutiques, Market Stalls and shops that sell clothes for clubbing.

Although the range of clothes varies as fashion changes several factors always seem to appear with unlicensed clothes. Lack of copyright information is the most common, either on the front of the clothes or on the labelling. Another common trick is to change the colors when anime characters are used, in an apparent attempt at avoiding any copyright problems. Reds are normally changed to purple or dark blue, hair and eye color may also be changed.

T-shirts are the most commonly sold clothes, and print quality is variable. Recently in the past couple of years girls tops, with designs printed all over them have become more widespread, as well as 100% polyester shirts (often called Club Shirts or Hawaiian style shirts). Both are quite tacky compared to normal quality clothing. Sometimes they are accompanied by random Kanji lettering that could have been taken from anywhere.
For one reason or another bootleg all over print T-Shirts of Multi from To Heart are common. Often Multi's hair has been changed to orange. Left is an image from the show, note how good the image quality is compared to the T-shirt right.
Multi Image To Heart Shirt

Plastic Toys - Action Figures, Plastic Kits, Resin Kits etc...

If it is a toy or other molded plastic good, look at the quality of the molding, are the mold lines a bit bigger than they should be? Is the toy painted well? Do the details on the model look blobby or too light? Look for quality.

Is the copyright text somewhere on the model? Often it is hard to tell until the model is out of its packaging. Plastic kits often have the copyright information on every sprue (the plastic thing that everything is stuck to).

If the Kit says Phantom on it then it is an unlicensed kit from Korea. Phantom kits were formally known as Elfin Kits who have produced bootlegs of all sorts of anime kits. In order to so they acquire licensed kits and make molds from them. Since they are made from kits and not the master models Phantom kits will always be lower quality than the original licensed product. Phantom also use their molds for too long as a result the later kits produced are of a substantially lower quality.

Bandai kits and action figures have also been counterfeited by a firm called Bendi, using a logo like the red Bandai box, except with the name Bendi in it's place.

Xinzhida is a bootleg brand. They generally make bootlegs of figures made by Good Smile Company. Xinzhida branding is generally prominent on the box. The boxes also generally say the name of the series / franchise on. For example - "For The Hatsune Miku" or "For The Attack on Titan". The plastic of the bootlegs can be inconsistent. The paint work is often crude and detailing is often missing. Printed gradients such as details on eyes (where one colour fades to another) is often missing or of a noticeably lower quality.

Good Smile Company also have an excellent figure bootleg information page that compares bootleg copies to the original official figures.

Playing/Trading/Collectors Cards etc...

The more popular the trading cards the higher the chances are you will come across fakes. Fake Pokémon cards are probably the most common, some are easy to spot others are harder. Check the material they are printed on, is it the same as the other Pokémon cards you have? Does it flex when bent slightly? Look at the back of the card, counterfeit Pokémon cards often aren't the same shade of blue as official Pokémon Cards, often it is too dark or looks washed out. On the front of the card the copyright information could be incorrect with Nintendo and the other copyright holders names spelt wrongly. Check for the artists name, it could be spelt wrong or even have the wrong name. The card may be completely holographic/shiny on the front, or have a funny pattern on the hologram. Another give away is packaging if they are in the original foil wrap check if the ends have been crimped, official Pokémon card packs always have the silver ends of the foil crimped. If it is just in a plastic wallet, take the card out and have a look. After all the rarer cards are expensive and you don't want to spend money on a fake.

There are also unlicensed traditional playing cards. Often these are easy to spot as they don't have any kind of copyright information on them. Print quality is often poor and variable in a single deck.

Plush Toys

These are those lovely stuffed toys that you see.
Firstly look at the quality of the stitching, make sure it is consistent and is to a high standard. Now look at the toy's face, is it symmetrical if it should be? Look for a maker's label of some kind, either one attached by a bit of plastic or one properly sewn in and check them for copyright details.

Official Totoro dolls (and other Studio Ghibli plush toys) are of a very high quality, they all should have very nice fur, be well stuffed and have both a makers label sewn in and a card attached by plastic thread. Unlicensed Totoro dolls are of a lower quality by comparison, with the Totoro's arms being too long and/or fat, the same sometimes applies to the ears. The fur is a bit shorter and feels cheaper. As well as being available in the official Totoro colors, bootleg Totoro's are available in neon colors such as bright green. One of the easiest ways to spot a fake Totoro is to look at the chevrons (the triangles on his chest if he has them, not all do), if they look like they have been drawn on by a marker pen, which may be the case then they are not real Totoro dolls. Fake cat buses tend to have darker brown fur, and sometimes no stripes of any kind, more than often they are not stuffed fully and look a little floppy.

Posters and Dirty Tricks

Pirated anime posters are fairly easy to spot, the only trouble is inspecting the poster if it is sealed. Licensed posters always have copyright information somewhere on the poster, this is usually in one of the corners. Pirated posters vary in quality and materials used, over the years I have seen pirate paper posters made from different quality papers and more recently they are getting harder to spot. Some pirate posters like licensed posters, can be printed on a plastically paper, these pirate ones seem to be mass produced as the only information on them (except maybe the series logo) is an order number.

All pirate posters seem to have printing defects of some kind, it may be speckles of color where there shouldn't be. It might have slight horizontal lines (an indication of being run through a scanner or an image being enlarged too much), browns in general look poor also.

What about dirty tricks I hear you cry? Well although it is not selling unlicensed goods what some retailers do is buy an anime calendar for (lets say) $15. Since some anime calendars have the dates right at the bottom they are just right to be guillotined and sold as individual posters at around $5 each! This can be very tricky to spot, the best way to do this is have a look at several posters and see if they are exactly the same size. Guillotining old anime calendars and using them as posters in your room is a great way of making them last longer and saves money, but please don't sell them as individual posters, after all it is dishonest!

Wallets / Billfolds

Wallets / billfolds are popular with bootleggers. Just like bags, they'll have an anime character or picture from a show printed on them, with the graphic design looking off and colors that look dirty and washed out. With more popular shows they'll have the characters on a raised or cut off background. Frequently with these wallets the stitching has thick edging and the ends of the wallets are poorly finished.

Wall Scrolls

It is hard to tell the quality of a wall scroll if it is packaged up, so you may have difficulty looking at the product. Both licensed and unlicensed wall scrolls use the same plastic mounting. Print quality on the other hand is often a lot worse, colors are often very speckled. Again look for copyright information at the bottom or a corner of the wall scroll.


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