Advanced Search

The Pirate Anime FAQ

A Guide To Unlicensed Anime and Manga Related Goods

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 to


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 organised 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.
Aargh! Shiver me timbers! - Pirate Anime Chibi


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 pirate 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.


On-line Auctions 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 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 in 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 especially be careful. You might want to consider avoiding certain dealers at these events.

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

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


How to spot Unlicensed Anime and Manga goods.

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 a pirate good. Bleech, Dragon Ball, Doraemon, Evangelion, Gundam, Pokemon, Sailormoon, Naruto and Totoro are popular with the 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 a lot lower than the legitimate products. Unlicensed goods are produced as cheaply as possible. So if the product looks shabby 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. Colour bleeding and unreadable or blurry small print is a good indication of bootleg goods. Poor graphical design with characters cropped badly, or bad colour combinations and characters with the wrong colour skin tones or hair colour 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!
Spot the fake


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 colour. 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


Strange English

Contrary to some beliefs anime and manga products with English that is either strange, 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".

It should be noted that it is very common for Pirate DVDs to have very poor English translations.


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 speckly skin colours.

However now with cheaper and more accurate colour 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. Colours 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.


Audio CDs

Because CDs can be copied in numerous different ways there are a lot of unlicensed anime CDs around. The three types of Bootleg anime CDs you are most likely to find are SonMay, Miya Records, EverAnime and Alion, they legal in Taiwan, but outside they are illegal. They all display their logos fairly prominently on the packaging and the CD.

More recently Alion have been producing a wider range of CD titles and not just Final Fanasty Audio CDs like in the past.

Quality is variable some are very good fakes, some are shoddy, since CD is a digital media, some pressings are near identical to the original others have plenty of faults, since there is little quality control, it is hard to say which is more common.

Both SonMay and EverAnime CDs packaging are of a lower quality than the original, they pass as originals at first glance, but close inspection shows that the inlay may be a bit speckley or have horizontal lines on them. If you can look at several copies of the same album, if the colours are slightly different shades, or if there are some other differences in the printing.

The cases are normal CD cases as they can be purchased in bulk very cheaply. To give you an idea of how much profit is being made from the sale of these CDs, some retailers are offered SM CDs at a wholesale price of $1 each! Now if the retailers are selling them off at $7 to $15 each you can see how much you are being ripped off. Also remember that no money what so ever goes back to the artist that produced the music in the first place.

All CDs have a number at the bottom, if you turn it upside down you should be able to see a fairly long number and possibly a bar code (maybe some Japanese lettering too). Most bootleg CDs have a short number, with the exception of SonMay CDs which often have a long number just like official CDs. If the number has been scratched off is also a clue to whether the CD is bootleg or not.

It should be noted although SonMay, Miya Records and EverAnime CDs are the most common kind of bootleg CD you are likely to encounter. Other bootleg CDs do exist, they include (but are not limited to):
  • Yuanding (also known as Top Circle)
  • Smile Face International Records
  • Smiley Face International Records (and other subtle variations)
  • Wisdom Records
Apart from avoiding any CD that has a or similar free e-mail account, (since a legitimate business would not use a free account because are negative to the company image), also avoid CDs and DVDs with e-mail addresses that end in .tw (the Taiwanese top level domain) or HiNet are a Taiwanese government owned telecoms company, and a legitimate business, with an ISP service, which any member of the public in Taiwan can get.
The SM logo appears on the cardboard sleeve, back of the CD case and on the CD itself. The colour varies to match the design of the CD. Older Son May CDs have a fax number and e-mail address. More recent ones have telephone number, fax number, e-mail address and their website URL.
SonMay Logo
The Ever Anime logo can be found on the cardboard sleeve and on the back of the CD. The CD does not have the logo, it does have EVER ANIME written on it. Being bootleg CDs they don't have copyright information but strangely enough some do have the standard blurb about unauthorised copying, lending etc...
Note the low quality of the printing.
Ever Anime Logo Ever Anime Logo found on CD Card Spines
Below is an example of the Miya Records Logo.
Miya Records Logo
Below are two examples of the Alion Logo. Apart from the low print quality look at the slight variations in design and colour used to match the CD packaging.
Alion Logo Alion Logo
Below is a sample of the Smile Face / Smiley Face Records Logo
Smiley Face Records Logo
Here is the Yuanding / Top Cirlce Logo
Yuanding / Top Cirlce Logo



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, colours 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 Neon Genesis Evangeion - Rei Ayanami Bag
Examples of Bootleg bags
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 colours 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 colour 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



This digital format is proving more popular all over the world with both licensed and unlicensed titles. DVD pirates used to sell VCDs claiming they are DVDs (as they will work in most DVD players anyway), however with more affordable DVD replication equipment this practice is now less common and pirate DVDs are sold instead. Your best bet to find out which DVDs have licensed English language versions is to check a dedicated anime DVD site such as Anime on DVD.

eBay is rife with pirate anime DVDs, so use extreme caution when purchasing DVDs from eBay and similar auction sites.

The following companies are all DVD pirates (a selection of their logos can be found further down the page):
  • Animation International
  • Animation Japan International
  • Anime Cartoon
  • Anime Cartoon International
  • Anime Studio
  • Another DVD Company
  • Digital International
  • DVD Ani
  • fx
  • Indian International
  • K
  • MAC (Manga Anime Cartoon)
  • Manga International
  • Video Animation
It should also be noted that recently DVD pirates have become more sophisticated using higher print quality and holographic stickers on their packaging, similar to official licensing stickers, to add an extra level of authenticity to their counterfeit products.

Like official companies, some counterfeit DVD firms even include their e-mail address in the small print along with other contact details. If they are using Yahoo, Hotmail or similar free e-mail account you can be certain they are DVD pirates, after all what sort of entertainment company would use a free e-mail account instead of a more high profile domain name?

Many pirate anime DVDs have certain factors in common, they are almost always set to All Regions or Region 0 which is also known as "Region Free". They have Chinese subtitles as well as the Japanese audio track, and many often have an English subtitle track which will vary in quality and accuracy of translation.

Also look at the price, you would not be able to buy a DVD boxset for $40 with all 26 episodes of a series on! If the price is too good to be true, then it is not the real thing.

A title that proves popular bootleg title is the "Archives of Studio Ghibli" DVD set (which is not to be confused with the official Archives of Studio Ghibli Artbooks). No legally licensed equivalent of this currently exists.

Very few officially licensed DVDs sold in Taiwan, Hong Kong and other Region 3 countries have English and Cantonese/Chinese subtitles, this includes "Spirited Away", "My Neighbour Totoro" and "Kiki's Delivery Service", which do have official releases (with English subtitles) but are still being pirated. More details about these titles can be found at

So remember, if it is set to Region 0 or All Regions and has Chinese as well as English subtitles there is a very strong chance that the title is a bootleg.

So if in doubt, check to see if it is out yet.

Anime companies including Manga Entertainment, Central Park Media and UK firm Kiseki do set some of their DVDs to all Regions or Region 0, so please take this into account when checking for pirate goods. Pioneer and ADV occasionally set their DVDs to Region 1 and Region 4 depending on licensing.

If you own a DVD and are uncertain if it is authentic after reading all this, have a look at the inner ring of the DVD near the hole in the middle. Normally there is a serial number in this area, just like a CD. If it has been scratched off, melted away or otherwise tampered with then that is another sure sign of a pirate/bootleg DVD. This number is used to identify the DVD pressing plant and has been removed so it cannot be traced.

It should be noted that Odex a Singapore based company do sell legally licensed anime DVDs and VCDs at a reasonable price, these are mostly Pioneer/Geneon titles.
Episode to Disc Ratio
When buying anime DVDs, remember the episode to disc ratio.
Anime episodes are normally 25 minutes. Companies, generally put 2 to 5, 25 minute episodes on each DVD, depending on the total number of episodes in a series. So a 26 episode series is normally spread across 6 DVD to 8 DVDs and a 13 episode series (such as Hellsing and Serial Experiments Lain) is spread across 4 DVDs. 26 Episode series are never spread across 3 DVDs. If purchasing import DVDs check the US Region 1 edition too, if the Region 1 edition has 6 or 8 while the "import" edition only has 3 DVDs, then the "import" edition is not legitimate.
If you do want be certain you are getting official import Anime DVDs, purchase them from reputable companies, such as, and
DVD Ani:
DVD Ani are a Korean based DVD company, they own the Korean licenses for the titles they sell. However they have some very bad habits, for example with several titles they own the Korean rights, but not the English audio or subtitle rights. For example with Galaxy Express 999 instead of purchasing the English audio track and extra features from ADV, DVD Ani just extracted them from another DVD illegally and put it on their edition. As a result we have classified DVD Ani as pirates, since they stole content they did not pay for from another company.
Archives of Studio Ghibli Bootleg DVD Set
This is the more recent edition of the bootleg Anime Cartoon International DVD set "Archives of Studio Ghibli".
Previous editions of this bootleg DVD set looked less authentic, making it easier to spot as a fake. Recently bootleggers have realised this and given their pirated goods a more official look. Anime Cartoon International has paid close attention to small detail such as the holographic sticker similar to a licensing sticker.

Front Cover of the Archives of Studio Ghibli Bootleg DVD Set Back Cover of the Archives of Studio Ghibli Bootleg DVD Set
Pirate DVD Logos
Below are examples of Pirate DVD Company Logos. The designs do change now and again, and vary to match the packaging of the DVD.

Anime Cartoon and Video Animation Logos look remarkably similar, despite some research, I am uncertain if they are the same company or two separate ones trying to play off each others image.
Anime Cartoon Video Animation
Below is the logo of Manga International who also produce pirate DVDs, they should not be confused with Manga Entertainment, who legally distribute titles.
Manga International
Here are two examples logos of pirates Anime Studio, with different colours used to match different packaging.
Anime Studio Anime Studio
Below is the fx company logo, this group of pirates often make DVD boxsets.
Below are two examples of the MAC Logo.
The MAC (Manga Anime Cartoon) Logo The MAC (Manga Anime Cartoon) Logo
This isn't always the case with pirate DVDs, but it is often true: Look for the DVD logo on the back, front and/or spine of the DVD case sleeve. They are not always on all three of these places for graphic design reasons, but offical DVDs normally have this logo appearing on the packaging as black or white or grey to match the packing design. Pirate DVDs often have the DVD logo with a printed gold effect which looks rather 1980's.
Cheesy Gold Logo



Because Fansubs are unlicensed they have been included in this guide.

Fansubbers are a group or individual who obtain anime not available in their local language. Then the title is translated and subtitled. The translation may be done by the fansubber, obtained from another fansubber (fansubbers trade scripts) or downloaded off the internet. The finished production is then put onto tape, or a computer file or other media (VCD or DVD-R for example), and then distributed for the cost of the media. As well as fansubbers there are distributors (Distros), who just copy and distribute the media.

When a fansub is made in a digital format such as DIVX, MPEG, Realmedia or Quicktime encoded file, they are sometimes called Digisubs (digital fansubs).

The quality of the fansub can vary greatly depending on the original source materials, the equipment the fansubber has, media they use to distribute and the format they choose. Quality of translation is also very variable from fansubber to fansubber. Although fansubs are unlicensed and a breech of copyright law, video companies in the western anime industry generally turn a blind eye. Fansubbers stop distributing the title as soon as the license has been bought by a company who will produce the title in their local language (this may not mean the fansubber's country). If they do not stop distributing titles when a license has been purchased by a video company the fansubber can be seen as video pirates and risk criminal prosecution. This is a area of debate in anime fandom, as some fansubbers still distribute titles that have been licensed in their local language. If the licensed version is heavily edited the fansubber believes that distributing the original is still permitted. Video Companies chose to ignore moral fansubbers for many reasons (which we will not go into depth about in this guide, but will in a future article).

Readers should note that the only real licensed fansubber were ADV's Fansub wing which owns the licenses for the titles it released, they distributed them directly via mail order on commercial VHS tapes (not the blank ones fansubbers use), so technically they are not real fansubbers, but wish to label themselves as such. ADV Fansubs only existed for a short while and were used to release older titles on VHS to satisfy fans demands while they waited for the titles to be released on DVD.



Digisubs are fansubs produced in a digital format such as DIVX, MPEG, Realmedia or Quicktime encoded file.

With the increased popularity and availability of broadband internet access, affordable CD writers and cheap CD-Rs fansubbing is no longer limited to tape as it was years ago and digisubs are the most common form of distributing a fansub. Peer to Peer (P2P) file sharing networks have also been embraced by anime fans to share their digisubs on-line.

Digisubs should not be confused with copies or rips of licensed anime DVDs. This is when a DVD is purchased and copied onto a DVD-R or onto a computer hard drive where it is encoded into another computer format for distribution, this is video piracy and is also illegal, but not tolerated by the Anime Companies.

Digisubs greatest advantage is also problematic for the moral fansubber. In the "old days" when fansubbing was restricted to VHS tapes, only a limited run of fansubs could be produced. Additionally each copy of the distributed VHS tapes were lower quality than the master copy and any subsequent copies also degrade in quality. This encouraged fans to purchase the titles they have seen fansubbed, so that way they can see a higher quality edition. A few more ethical anime fans buy copies of anything they have fansubbed when it becomes licensed as they feel it is a moral obligation to do so.

However because a digisub does not degrade when copied, it can easily be distributed to a large number of people, via high speed internet access or by trading/borrowing/copying CD-Rs with other people.

Normally when a title is licensed fansubbers stop distributing it, however because digisubs are so much easier to distribute a fansubber can no longer prevent others copying a digisub. Since most digisubs are of reasonable to high quality (again it depends who authors it etc), the incentive to purchase the licensed copy is less, this results in more casual or unconcerned fans not bothering to buy the title when it comes out on DVD.


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

If it is a toy or other moulded plastic good, look at the quality of the moulding, are the mould 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 moulds 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 moulds 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.

Below are examples of Xinzhida bootleg figures. These are Nendoroid Hatsune Miku figures.
Xinzhida Bootleg Hatsune Miku figures
Here is an example of the Xinzhida logo, which is often displayed on the packaging.
Xinzhida Logo


Playing/Trading/Collectors Cards etc...

The more popular the trading cards the higher the chances are you will come across fakes. Fake Pokemon 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 Pokemon cards you have? Does it flex when bent slightly? Look at the back of the card, counterfeit Pokemon cards often aren't the same shade of blue as official Pokemon 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 Pokemon 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 colours bootleg totoros are available in neon colours 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 maker pen, which may be the case then they are not real totoro dolls. Fake catbuses 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

Pirate 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. Pirate 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 colour 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!



Scanlations are to manga what fansubs are to anime. They have been included in this FAQ because they are unlicensed and point of interest, they not normally associated with bootlegging.

They are Scanned translations of the original manga hence Scanlation. Normally the original manga in Japanese is scanned into a PC and then the text in the speech bubbles are airbrushed out and replaced with a translation in English (or whatever they are being translated into). The quality of a scanlation varies depending on the source material, the equipment used and how good the translator is too!

Like fansubs technically Scanlations are also illegal. We are currently not aware of any publishing companies taking action against authors of scanlations. However from speaking to various manga publishers we understand that scanlations are harming the industry. Many publishers will not license a title once it has been scanlated as it can impact the demand and drastically harm sales.

Many fans reading scanlated manga on-line are not aware that they are unlicensed and assume that they're official. We advise readers to avoid scanlated titles and not support sites that distribute them.



Very few anime VCD imported from the Far East are legitimate, more often than not they will be pirate copies. There are plenty of legitimate live action movie and anime VCDs in the Far East where the format is popular. Like audio CDs Video CDs are easy to copy, making them a prime target for pirates. Manga Entertainment and Central Park Media did produce some with an English dub or English subtitles, but they are hard to find. Video CDs by the UK Company Kiseki do turn up in computer fairs across Europe. Since the quality of VCD is poor compared to licensed DVDs, and you are a lot more likely to encounter a pirate VCD than an official one, we suggest avoiding the VCD format.


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 colours looking dirty and washed out. With more popular shows they'll have the characters on a raised or cut out background. Frequently with these wallets the stitching has thick edging and the ends of the wallets are poorly finished.
Below are common examples of bootleg wallets / billfolds. Bootleg Wallets / billfolds



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


Pirate Anime FAQ Details

Can I link to this FAQ?

Certainly! Occasionally I receive e-mails from people requesting if they can link to this FAQ from their own website. You do not need permission to do so, please feel free to link to this site using the correct URL:


Details for Convention Staff

If you are involved in running a convention, you may be interested to know a special version of this FAQ is available for distribution. Designed to be easy to read in a busy dealer's room, it can be part of a convention book, or printed onto paper as a separate handout. You can download a PDF version here, and we adjust the details to fit your needs if required. If you do use this at your convention or event please e-mail with the details.


Translation Details

Anime fandom is world wide and crosses many cultural boundaries, so the issues in the Pirate Anime FAQ are relevant to many people! We are always looking for people to translate this FAQ into other languages. If you are interested please get in touch.

The following kind people have volunteered their time to translate and maintain this FAQ in other languages.

German Version - Coming Soon
Markus G. Igel

French Version - Coming Soon
Guillaume "LoneWolf" Estival
Lucas Bienaimé
Joseph Nesme
Loïc Matthey
Sandy Martin
Castillon Sylvain



The Otaku News and Anime Digital Team would like to thank the following people in the creation and support of this guide.

Alex McLaren of Otaku Publishing ( and for some very useful information on SonMay and EverAnime CDs, as well as some excellent information about international copyright law.

Jonathan Weeks (Editor of Animejin) for publishing his minutes from the AyaNext Convention Industry and Piracy Panel and for pointing out some better examples of DVD logos to use.

Special thanks goes to all the proof readers that double checked the guide to make sure it was accurate they include - Kathy Hassinger, Helen McCarthy and Thurston Sherman.

A big smile goes to Sarah Morrison, the Anime Digital artist for creating the pirate character and the spot the fake picture for this FAQ.

Additional thanks goes to the Anime Web Turnpike for making this FAQ their pick of the week (October 16-23 2000).

An extra thank you goes to Nikkou for mentioning this FAQ in Nikkou's Choice on the Anipike. Thanks for also including this FAQ on the rec.arts.anime.misc FAQ.

A thank you also goes to Animerica who mentioned us in their Aug/Sep 01 Vol 9 NO 8/9 issue. It's the one with a Gundam on the cover, page 96 if you want to look.

Urban Vision also deserve a big thank you for linking to this FAQ from their main page, further increasing their customers awareness of pirate goods.

Matthew Whiteley also deserves a pat on the back for sending the To Heart T-shirt picture.

Special thanks goes to Markus G. Igel for getting his head around this FAQ and translating and localising it into German!

Thanks goes to both Wilma Jandoc and Stephen Tang for scans and extra details of Alion CDs.

John Thacker for the information about Meat Spaghetti.

Daniel Hies for the MAC DVD Images.

Thanks, as always goes to Chris Beveridge the main man behind for allowing me to bounce some ideas off him.

Allie Bossaert and Corinne Leigh for various audio CD scans and some useful information.

And Michael, one of the admins at /., who approved my Ask Slashdot question. It was interesting to see the Slashdotter's responses and some of the post were very helpful.


Version Info

Made public 18th March 2018 - Updated the look and feel to match updated version of Otaku News. The changed Pirate Anime FAQ to Anyone sent to the old URL will be automatically redirected to the new one.

Made public 31st December 2017 - Minor update. Updated Scanlation section to reflect the harm it's doing to the manga publishing industry.

Made public 9th October 2014 - Minor update. Added Xinzhida bootleg figures to the Plastic Toys - Action Figures, Plastic Kits, Resin Kits etc... section, along with photos of packaging. Linked to Good Smile Company's Bootleg Information Page

Made public 6th April 2014 - Minor update. Added Anime Convention section. Some anime conventions are excellent at preventing pirate goods being sold, while others do nothing about it.

Made public 3rd November 2012 - Finally added Miya Records to the Audio CD Section! Added details of more bootleg products - bags and wallets / billfolds which are becoming increasingly more common.

Made public 3rd August 2008 - Moved Pirate FAQ from Anime Digital to Otaku News due to server downtime. Changed URL from to Changed formatting to match Otaku News layout. Added PDF download of the printable edition to the Convention Staff Section. Changed relevant text from Anime Digital to Otaku News.

Made public 3rd January 2004 - Minor updates, Where are pirate goods sold? has been changed making On-line Auctions it's own section with extra text and more warnings against eBay (plenty of the e-mails sent to the Pirate Anime FAQ have been concerning eBay). Also added is the Translation section (along with translators credits), so if want to translate the Pirate Anime FAQ into another language get in touch! Thanks to Guillaume and his team the FAQ is now avaible in French too!

Made public 17th August 2003 - Updated after a year of being busy. The Fansubs section has been updated since it drastically needed some attention. Scanlations have been added, as have Digisubs. The Audio CD and DVD sections have been updated with more details of pirate companies and how to spot them. The Strange English section was updated, since apparently Meat Spagetti is a real dish! Legal in Country of Origin has been added, and finally the Acknowledgements sections has been amended too!

Made public 2nd August 2002 - Plenty of updates since the last version! Added extra comments to the Packing Section, Copyright Information Section and Strange English Text. A whole new section on the recent high quality counterfeit Artbooks has also been added. Bootleg Alion CDs are now included with logo scans under the Audio CD Section (thanks to Wilma and Stephen). The DVD section has now got a more complete listing of Pirate DVD firms, along with extra details. Bendi has finally been added to Plastic Toys too!

Made public 13th June 2002 - The Pirate FAQ goes bilingual. Now available in German, translated and localised accordingly by Markus G. Igel. A German flag has been added to the top of the FAQ, along with thanks in the acknowledgement section.

Made public 23rd March 2002 - Added examples of pirate DVD company logos, text for this section was slightly adjusted too. Added the common To Heart T-shirt to the Clothes Section.

Made public 4th March 2002 - Slight adjustment to the Where are pirate goods sold? section with more details on eBay. Extra thanks also added for Urban Vision. More updates will be added to the FAQ soon.

Made public 3rd February 2002 - Finally the DVD Section has been updated and improved, the Archives of Studio Ghibli Photos were also added. Version Info has been moved further down the page to make other sections such as "Can I link to this FAQ?" and Details for Convention Staff more prominent

Made public 11th November 2001 - Finally got around to adding licensing stickers, something intended since version 1.1. Based on feed back the wording on the VCD section has been changed which is now slightly less conservative. E-bay warning added to the where are pirate goods sold section.

Made public 27th August 2001 - Changed Pirate Mascot and added Spot The Fake picture. Thanks Sarah! ^_^

Made public 30th July 2001 - Added details for printed version under details for convention staff.

Made public 20th July 2001 - Changed URL from to
Added details about nasty shirts to bootleg clothes and corrected minor spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Made public 30th April 2001 - Added bootleg clothes and extra acknowledgements as well as details to linking to this FAQ.

This was the first public release which was made public 7th October 2000.
Amendments to older versions include correction of spelling and grammar, as well as confirmation of information.


Copyright information

This document is copyright of Otaku News.
It may not be reproduced in whole or part in any form without the consent of the Otaku News Webmaster. In addition if this document is quoted the full URL should be included (


Advanced Search