Anime fan bases have some of the most dedicated fans who are willing to shell out a pretty penny for some of their favorite shows.
If you’re new to the world of anime collectibles, you may find that while figures are some of the coolest things to own, they are also some of the most expensive merchandise to collect.
There are a few attributes of anime figures that really pile onto the price, sometimes reaching astronomical heights.
Why Are Anime Figures So Expensive?
1. Where They’re Coming From
Some of the best anime figures come straight from the home of anime itself, Japan.
Getting goods in and out of Japan has always been a struggle for everyone involved.
While being an island nation has many benefits and has kept Japan safe throughout history, that can also make it a struggle.
For a Japanese product to come to the United States, it needs to take at least an airplane, a boat, or both to get to you.
That’s not even considering the legal process the product and shipper must go through to commercially ship in and out of Japan.
Many requirements must be met in order to ship products from Japan out to the rest of the world.
Sellers must acquire the proper licensing and certifications for the product they’re shipping.
Japan has strict labeling requirements as well.
All of these things must be in proper order before the item is allowed to be shipped.
You can often see the same anime figures that cost anywhere from $50 to $100 US over in the United States inside Japanese claw machines.
It’s not just that some claw machines in Japan have nicer things, but it’s because the cost of production is vastly lower when it is domestic.
Worldwide shipping is extremely costly.
2. Smaller Production Runs
Smaller production runs can ensure that companies don’t waste money or resources.
Not all anime companies have large budgets for merchandise, so they don’t get to make much of it.
The toy and merchandise companies that make anime figures often consider the uniqueness of a product when compiling prices.
The more units of an anime figure that a merchandise company makes, the cheaper the costs for them because they can buy the materials that are unique to one particular figure in bulk.
When doing smaller batches, the merchandise company has to rebuy smaller batches of materials over and over again.
That means the merchandise company is spending even more on materials.
The anime’s production company does smaller batches, so they know that they aren’t going to waste money on unsold products.
They know if they make limited run items, collectors will flock to the items and have them sell out every time.
The anime companies are able to maximize the demand for anime figures by lowering their supply.
Smaller production runs of an object are also more environmentally friendly.
By limiting their anime figure supply, the anime’s production and merchandise companies are saving a lot of materials, energy, and money.
Japan is the 20th most eco-friendly country in the world and is making great strides towards creating a business world that is more respectful of the planet.
3. Small Target Demographic
While anime has become vastly more popular worldwide, the number of people who watch anime isn’t as big as some demographics, like sports fans.
Although the majority of Japanese people enjoy anime, the demand for anime in the western world still isn’t high.
You have to get people to watch a show before they will consider paying a lot of money for merchandise like an anime figure.
There are few other things to consider that also shrink the anime figure collecting demographic.
When an anime has a small or new production company, they often lack the budget to create merchandise.
They’ve made their fortunes from shows like Dragon Ball Z and One Piece and movies such as My Neighbor Totoro or KiKi’s Delivery Service.
Smaller production companies don’t have the same wealth or fan base built up to throw their resources at things like merchandise.
Also, the more niche the show, the fewer fans the show has overall.
Not every fan of an anime is going to buy merchandise.
When western anime fans watch anime, a large chunk of them illegally watch the shows for free or borrow a friends’ log-in for an anime subscription.
If a fan can’t even pay to watch their favorite show, how are they going to drop $50 to $100 on a single figurine?
They simply aren’t going to.
4. More Quality, More Money
Just like any other product, the higher the quality, the higher the price tag.
It makes sense for companies to charge you more for an item that will last a lifetime than one that will only last a few years.
When an anime figure has a high level of attention to detail, you will pay for every detail.
Typically, there are cheaper options or companies to get merchandise from your favorite show, but as you go lower in price, you will notice a steep drop in quality.
The sturdier the anime figure, the more expensive the materials are going to be to make it.
Higher quality anime figures tend to use polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. Polyvinyl chloride is a strong, thermoplastic material.
Companies choose to use PVC because it melts easily the first time, but then hardens and strengthens after it is shaped.
To cut costs, many merchandise companies have quit using polyvinyl chloride in favor of Polymethyl methacrylate, PMMA.
Polymethyl methacrylate is known for being just like polyvinyl chloride, but worse.
PMMA is brittle and fragile.
Many anime figure collectors are able to spot the difference between a figure being made of PVC versus PMMA just by looking at it.
Their disdain for the material has been made very clear to the companies who produce the figures.
5. Licensing Nightmares
Merchandise companies that produce anime figures and other goodies, like any company, do not want to get sued over copyright.
Not only would the merchandise company owe the anime’s copyright holder copious amounts of money for financial damages, but the merchandise company would have to cease production immediately and cancel any orders that weren’t already shipped out.
This would be a major financial loss for the company.
Instead, the merchandise seller must gain permission from the anime’s copyright holder in order to sell their products.
There are two types of licensing contracts that a seller can bargain for: exclusive and non-exclusive.
If a seller has gained an exclusive licensing contract, that means they are the only one with the right to sell merchandise for an anime.
A non-exclusive licensing contract would mean there is more than one seller who is allowed to create and sell the merchandise.
It can take some anime production companies a long time to find merchandise creators and sellers they can trust with their characters.
Although many anime production companies have learned that good merchandise can actually help a show’s popularity increase, it’s better for a company to have limited merchandise rather than no merchandise at all.
6. Research & Development
The most powerful tool in any company’s arsenal when creating a product is its research and development team.
The research and development are in charge of figuring out what an anime’s fanbase wants from their merchandise.
It’s up to them to take information from similar projects that the company or other companies may have found from the sales of their own anime figures.
The research and development team is the one responsible for deciding how much an anime figure will sell for and apply that knowledge when deciding how much to spend creating their own figures and how much to charge for them to cover all of the costs that go into creating an anime figure.
They’re also partially responsible for the design of the anime figure.
The process of research and development has been made vastly easier by the internet.
Research and development team members can scour the internet for fan recommendations, seeing what’s most popular in the show, and even release polls for fans to take in order to help shape their decisions.
The rest of the design decisions are left up to the artists and designers who work on the merchandise project.
7. Anime Figures’ Concept And Design Process
Before a single anime figure is made, someone has to design it.
The designer of the toy must decide how to create every detail of the anime figure.
These designers have to think about the size of the figure, the dimensions, whether or not it’ll be able to be posed, if it will need a stand or stand independently, which version of the character they’re going to create, and whether or not the figure will have additional accessories.
All of these decisions take time to think through.
If a figure is freestanding, then the figure designer has to consider where and how they will balance the weight properly.
Accessories also need to be carefully considered.
They need to fit onto the figure naturally without interrupting the character’s design.
The average anime figure designer is making anywhere from $31,000 per year to $69,000 per year.
Their average hourly wage is $23 per hour.
Anime production companies and merchandise companies consider the designer or designers’ salary into how much they are charging for their products.
The designers are an extremely important part of the merchandise-creating process and deserve to be paid for their hard and mindful work.
8. The Business Side Of Anime Figure Making
Anime figure designers and factory workers aren’t the only ones getting paid to work on a single type of merchandise such as anime figures.
There is a heap of meetings that take place in order to ensure that the merchandise is being made to the anime production company’s liking.
The first meeting typically sets up expectations that the anime production company has for its merchandiser.
This when the production company and the merchandise company talk about how much the production company is willing to spend overall or per unit.
If the production company is able to spend more per unit, the figure is more likely to be of higher quality.
However, if the production spends less on each unit, they will be able to create more of them.
The next big meeting is spent going over research and development.
This is the meeting that the production company and the merchandise will hold to figure out what potential consumers want most from an anime figure and how large their potential demographic is.
After the merchandise company knows what they should be creating, they start by creating a prototype.
After they have produced a prototype, the merchandise company will hold another meeting with the production company to see if the prototype is up to their expectations.
This is when the production company will make their critiques on the product.
The merchandiser will take these critiques and apply them to their next prototype.
This process is repeated until the production company is satisfied.
All of these meetings cost both companies money.
The people who prepare and go to these meetings aren’t doing it for free.
They are another consideration that both the anime production company and merchandise company must add to the production costs of the merchandise.
9. Marketing Is Another Necessary Expense
Marketing is the driving force that presses companies to victory.
Without any marketing, companies might as well not open or operate.
How will people buy an anime figure if they don’t know it exists?
Good marketing allows the demographic a company is trying to appeal to know there is a product to buy and they should want it.
Marketing doesn’t just include things like advertisements.
Those advertisements you see take a whole team of people to create, as well.
The marketing team will need to hire a photographer to take photos of the figurine.
The marketing team will also need to pay someone to edit those photos for their advertisements, whether that be the photographer or a separate photo editor.
The marketing team will also have to pay to place those advertisements across multiple media, the most popular being social media and other websites.
For online advertisements, a company must decide whether to use user-targeted advertisements or general advertisements.
The cost of marketing skyrockets when you consider doing it on an international level, as most anime merchandise has to be.
Different countries and their cultures have different types of marketing that work better for them.
This means that the marketing team has to do more research to figure out what kind of ad will work best for each target market.
They will also need translators to properly translate their advertisements for whatever language they need.
10. The Cost Of Packaging
If you’ve ever gotten an anime figure from Japan, you may have noticed how high in quality the box and packaging were.
Anime production companies want to make spectacles out of the packaging that the anime figures are coming in because they’re excellent for marketing.
As a kid, how many times did you receive a present from an older relative that was from a show you didn’t watch?
Oftentimes, grandparents, uncles, and aunts see a toy or collectible that looks like something you’ve watched because they don’t know Goku from Space Dandy.
The designer of a product’s packaging is counting on the flashy, distinct packaging to catch their eye.
Some packaging for anime figures is even interactive.
You may be able to turn the packaging into a set or backdrop for your figure.
This makes the packaging even more valuable, especially to anime figure collectors.
Having intact packaging for an item will increase its resale value greatly.
The packaging that your anime figure comes in can also be useful!
Many collectors who have anime figures with accessories keep their accessories in their original box to keep them from getting lost.
Anime Figures Are Worth Their Price
Although the price of some anime figures may be steep, when considering all the factors that go into the development and delivery of the production, the high prices begin to make more sense.
Avid anime figure collectors see obtaining and maintaining the figures as their hobby.
Hobbies are always going to be pricey, especially as you get deeper into them.
Buying an anime figure can also be seen as an investment if you ever have any intention of reselling them.
Many people work to create these works of art for fans to collect and own.
Each of them deserves proper recognition and pay.