This post is made to help collectors with questions regarding the quality of items and to debunk fabricated myths about particular toys and figures. For further reading on this topic, please refer to HS Hobby’s excellent blog posts located here and here.
We often get asked by new collectors whether or not our figures are made in Japan or if Japan version figures are superior to Asia version figures. This is only natural as all collectors would want to avoid getting something that’s not worth their purchase. To make the long story (or blog post) short, figures are not manufactured in Japan. They’re made in China. But that doesn’t mean that they’re of poor quality or are bootlegs. Here’s why.
See the image on top? Those are Good Smile Company’s plastic cases for their decoration masters (dekomasu in Japanese). Decoration masters are what we’d call prototypes or molds. These are the references which the company uses and shares with their manufacturing personnel before actual production of a figure or toy. Decoration masters are made in Japan. If you’re buying a genuine toy made by a Japanese company (Alter, GSC, Max Factory, Bandai, Kotobukiya), then it is 100% sure (or 99%) that the molds are made in Japan (in some special cases, such as Bandai’s DX Sentai Robots line, it will be made outside of Japan but it is still an official mold by the company).
Well what about actual production then? In the early days, when things like outsourcing were still not popular, actual production of Japanese made products were made in Japan (ask your granddads who had those metal DX Voltes V robots and they’ll tell you). However, with companies looking to cut costs and increase production yields of their products, a lot of manufacturing nowadays is being done in China, including your original GSC or Alter or Bandai figures. This is not just a toy thing. Your iPhone or whatever gadget you have is designed in California (like the figure dekomasu is made in Japan), but it’s actually made in China. This is the current reality in the world today. China has cheap and plentiful labor, lots of warehouse space as seen above and has the resources to make huge amounts of products in a relatively shorter time. But does that mean that your toy or figure is of less quality? No. Because quality checks and approval are still made by the Japanese.
Well what about bootlegs then? They’re also made in China BUT as mentioned earlier, quality checks and approval for authentic figures are made by the Japanese. Bootlegs do not have such stringent approval processes. In addition, factories where authentic figures are made are also owned by the toy companies themselves so not only are their products top-notch, but the equipment they use is also top-notch. The same cannot be said for bootleg makers who can only copy the general shape or form of a genuine figure but often lack the attention to detail and polish that the real thing has, as seen above.
So how do you determine a bootleg? It’s certainly not by simply saying that all figures made in China are immediately fake. Remember: Determining a bootleg can only be done properly by actual inspection of the product. If the product has an excessively sloppy paint job, less than perfect sculpting and/or loose parts, then that is most likely a bootleg you’re holding. Sometimes you can even determine them by looking at how the box print looks like (although it is still advisable to also check the figure itself).
Well what about Japan versions and Asia versions? Is one superior over the other? To give you the quick answer, NO. Why then do companies such as Bandai have a Japan and an Asia release for their toys? It has mostly to do with marketing and stock allocation more than any other. While it is true that in the past (1980s and 1990s), Japan and Asia versions usually had minor differences in the product themselves, nowadays, there is no difference between buying a Japan market S.H.Figuarts Kamen Rider and a Hong Kong market item of the same kind.
Why is that? Both use the same dekomasu of course, which means that they come from the same source. As said earlier, a lot of the fuss surrounding a Japan version and an Asia version item is really just in the presence of some stickers and sometimes differences in box art. The actual item itself? Completely the same. The only toy line so far that’s had differences in the actual product for Japan and Asian release is the DX Sentai Robot line (as mentioned in the HS Hobby post) but with the newer releases, the differences have become almost negligible.
Going back to the iPhone example. There’s iPhones being sold in New York and in the Philippines but does that mean that the ones sold in New York are superior to the ones in the Philippines? No. They’re both made in China and both have the same features ergo both are of the same quality. The same holds true with toys. The reason for companies having Japan and Asia versions is really just for marketing and allocation to their different resellers and distributors in various parts of the world. An item with a GSC Shanghai label is bound for distribution in China whereas the same item with no label is bound for distribution in Japan. Does that make one product inferior than the other? No.
So the next time a reseller tells you that a Japan version product is better than an Asia version one, its most likely that he’s not well-informed or knowledgeable or he’s simply looking to make a quick buck out of you by giving you false and misleading information. Remember, it’s always best to know the facts first. We hope this guide will help you in making sound purchases in the future. :)