As toy collectors we all know the trials and tribulations of hunting down that shortpacked Transformer or hard to find figure. Collecting things like mainline Transformers, TMNT, Star Wars, LEGO, etc is something that many people including myself enjoy; the things you love to hunt at retail. But what if I told you there was another juxtaposition of toy collecting; ones you have to import? ON THE INTERNET!
Like many others, I find myself fascinated with other toy lines that you normally can’t find at retail or on a domestic website such as BigBadToyStore or Captured Prey. These toys generally come from the land of the rising sun – Japan. I’m sure you’ve at least heard of some of the lines that umbrella Japanese toys, but if not that’s okay. I was virtually clueless when I started, too.
As someone who really only collected the standard mainline figures you find at your typical retail stores the first year I consider myself collecting, I know firsthand that the jump to the other spectrum of toy collecting can be a bit confusing, which is why I’m here to help! In my own words, I’d have to say the main reason (among many others) I collect Japanese toys is the combination of the quality and creativity.
One of the most popular and highest regarded line of toys are the ones included in Bandai’s Tamashii Nations line. What exactly is Tamashii Nations? It’s a subline line by popular toy company, Bandai, that caters to collectors and higher end toys. Like most imported toys, these aren’t meant for children, even in Japan. The most popular lines underneath the Tamashii Nations line are: S.H. Figuarts, D-Arts, S.H. MonsterArts, Super Robot Chogokin, Robot Damashii, S.I.C (Super Imaginative Chogokin), and many more. Each of these bring their own unique aspect to the table.
NOTE: Chogokin just means “Super Alloy” in Japanese, which commonly points to the toy having some amount of diecast metal in it. (You may hear Gokin sometimes, Chogokin is just Bandai’s trademarked version. They mean the same thing.)
While all of these sublines feature something specific about them (S.H. Figuarts being mainly for action heroes, D-Arts being video game characters, MonsterArts for Kaiju) they’re all tied to the common encapsulation of Tamashii in terms of quality and distribution. While Tamashii Nations items are distributed by Bandai in Japan, a company called Bluefin Distribution brings some/most of the Tamashii Nations over to North America so that collectors may get them at a cheaper price.
NOTE: Bluefin doesn’t bring everything over for distribution, just mainly things that they anticipate to sell well in North America.
There’s no doubt something for everyone in one of the Tamashii Nations line, and with Bandai getting new licenses at a rapid pace, things are getting pretty exciting for fans.
Figma’s are another popular line for collectors, and are produced by Max Factory, which is owned by GoodSmile Company. While they consist mainly of anime schoolgirls (TEHEHEHE!), there are some Figmas that appeal to other collectors such as myself, most notably the recent Nintendo releases. Unlike, say, S.H. Figuarts, which produces mainly action and super heroes, Figmas can be pretty much anything, ranging from a preteen schoolgirl to RoboCop.
Although I don’t own too many Figmas, I can say that in my opinion they’re probably the greatest in terms of plastic quality and consistency with the moulds. I have yet to have a negative experience (sans some of the prices I’ve paid!)
NOTE: Since Figmas can be very different from each other in terms of size and build, your experiences may differ between them. While overall the line is great, not all Figmas are created equal!
Figmas are often notoriously bootlegged, so be careful when shopping on sites such as eBay. If a price is too good to be true, it’s probably a knockoff.
Although they tend to be a little lower quality than the previously mentioned lines, the Revoltech line by Kaiyodo is still a serious competitor in terms of import toys. While most lines tend to at least stick to a central build, Revoltechs are all over the place and can range from Finding Nemo to Monster Hunter. Yes, there are Finding Nemo and Cars Revoltechs. Obviously those aren’t the only ones though, as they also feature Evangelion, Zone of the Enders, Gurren Lagann, and more.
NOTE: Revoltechs are known for their “Revoltech joint” which is basically a spherical joint that can be universally attached to most other Revoltech parts for easy and ridiculous part swapping. They’re also often used in customs for added articulation.
Revoltechs also tend to drop in value overtime. Of course this isn’t the case for all, but I’ve found some can be found for fractions of the original cost on eBay and other marketplaces, so if you’re curious, check there first.
Play Arts Kai are created and distributed by Square Enix, which most people know for creating video games. As you probably guessed most Play Arts Kai figures deal with video games, most notably Metal Gear Solid and Halo. There are other non-video game lines involved such as Cowboy Bebop and Full Metal Alchemist, but for the most part all PAK figures are involved with some sort of video game. The main problem that most people tend to have with Play Art Kai is the often poor QC (quality control.) I’ve unfortunately seen some very bad headsculpts, but on the flip side I’ve also had very few problems with the Play Arts Kai toys that I own.
NOTE: Play Arts Kai figures aren’t close to the same scale as the lines listed above. Instead they’re less articulated, but range from about 9-11″ depending on the character.
Play Arts Kai prices can also be all over the place. Some Metal Gear Solid figures were $50-$60 at release, while Solidus Snake is set at $120 for release. Some original Halo figures were about $60 and the new Halo 4 ones are quoted at $80. Play Arts Kai figures can also tend to be stylized in a unique way, which can be most easily seen on the Halo figures. While I don’t mind the different look, it may rub some the wrong way.
These aren’t the only lines that are imported, but these are generally the most popular. For some general rules of thumb on how to go about ordering, and where to order, check the section below!
Thankfully to save me some trouble, thedaytimeninja.com contributor, Suri, has went through the trouble of making these awesome infographics explaining where and how you get your hands on Japanese imports! (click on the images for larger versions.)
Overall, importing toys can be a very overwhelming and nerve racking experience. With some many options, vendors, and not to mention using the Japanese Yen currency, it’s easy to decide not to mess with it. With the right knowledge and determination to start collecting these lines, a whole new experience can be open to collectors!