WHAT ARE ANIME FIGURES
They are the pride of any anime fan. They are not toys, but valuable art pieces, which should accumulate some real worth after some years.
You don't need to be a otaku or a avid collector to own a few figures. Everybody can be happy to share his room with a miniaturized version of his/her favorite character(s).
Lemme give you a friendly warning - this hobby can be expensive. If you find yourself short on cash most of the time, is not for you. A figure will not fill your belly or pay your rent.
HISTORY OF ANIME FIGURES
To say the truth, they don't really have any history for a very simple reason, they are actually a pretty new thing. And while some figures where produced already in the 90's, it was only in small numbers for dedicated fans and only a very few left Japan itself. But as anime started to be more recognized and leaving the image of being some simple "cartoon", the demand has grown tremendously and they started be available for other countries as well.
The increasing quantity of produced figures didn't means that they would have lost in quality. Actually the exact opposite, newer figures are much better as the old ones in terms of quality. Before 2006 they used pure PVC for them. Although is durable, it wasn't a very lucky choice for the fact, that pure PVC has the tendency to permanently bend after some years. Now they use a combination of PVC and ABS, which has great characteristics and the figure should remain in it's original form for several decades, possibly even for a lifetime. More expensive figures sometimes use polyresin or resin, though except the higher price, they are also less durable and have the chance to being chipped. Pure resin can be bought in all bigger shops to fix those.
As production increased, so did the attempt to create fake copies of them - called bootlegs. As you can guess, especially China really likes to do that. Although their quality increased a bit, they still lack a lot, and you don't need be a professional collector to notice them in seconds.
The most obvious part is that bootlegs often shine, while real always stay matte. This means that low quality material - with a lot of plastic is used and they have the chance even to break eventually. Another obvious part is the paint job. If looks too noobish, it's a fake. Also by the real ones, the platform contains the name of the company and the anime series from which the character is. Fakes often have only a simple "Made in China". Generally fans should avoid too cheap offers and buying figures on eBay. Buy rather in dedicated figure shops, where not that they are 100% genuine, but often even offer better prices and cheaper shipping as eBay ever would. If you buy second hand figures, ask the seller for some photos about the figure and the box seperately. The box can be another hint for detecting fakes, more pricey figures have holographic stickers and have a prettier box (boxes of bootlegs have washed-out colors, blurred text and from inside they are simple carton). Nendoroids are the most popular targets for bootleggers. Remember, except the lower quality, fake provides less joy and has near to zero collection value.
Just because a figure is cheap and/or has a "Made in China" on it's back it can be still genuine. Often even the most expensive figures are produced in China. This not due that the companies want to save costs, but mainly that Japan is a country which is very poor on raw materials and even if the paintjob will be done in Japan, the figure itself will be molded in China. Also not all genuine figures need to have holographic stickers. Figures under 50usd usually lack it, except Nendoroids, where is included on all.
STANDARD ANIME FIGURES (INTRODUCTION)
Figure sizes are divided by scales. The most common aspect is the 1/10, but we have also 1/8, 1/7,1/6 or even 1/4.
A 1/10 figure means that it will have 10% of the height if that character would exist as a person in real life. So logically they will come in variety of different heights, as long just as humans, some characters are taller and some are shorter. Average height for 1/10 is 15-17cm, but this can also depends on the positure of the figure - there might be some which are sitting or kneeling. Naturally then it will be smaller in height - 10 or less cm.
Altough is very hard to standardize figures, I try to divide now up a few main groups by quality level and price. (price can also vary according sold-outs)
STANDARD ANIME FIGURES (NOTABLE COLLECTIONS)
Prize figures (companies: SEGA, Furyuu, Banpresto, Taito - size: usually 1/10 - price range: 15-30usd)
Figures of the poor fans. The name "prize" comes from that in Japan those figures are often included in crane games. Cheap and manufactured in big numbers, machine painted and often a bit rough. But some of them can come out really pretty, escpecially the recent ones. Their advantage except the appealing price is that they cover a huge number of characters and series, often even mere side characters. Altough they don't have a standardized stand, multiple characters from the same series should have the same. Ironically exactly due the low initial cost, those figures are all genuine. Simply they are not worth the effort for bootleggers.
Beach Queens Series (company: Wave - size: 1/10 - price range 40-70usd)
Probably the most popular standard figure series ever. Always 1/10, always in swimwear, always the same standardized stand and always only females.
Although are more expensive as Prize, they have a much higher quality level and still cover a huge number of series and characters, especially focusing on the new series. They often have included items like swimming rings or beach balls. Bespectacled characters have removable glasses with real glass. Also they have a neck-joint which enables to horizontally move the characters head.
Staind Series (company: Media Factory - size: 1/10 - price range 40-60usd)
Tries to unsuccesfully rival Beach Queens, but characters are usually in school uniform or casual clothes. Only the most popular characters. They come with transparent
stand and their face can be changed into a different expression. Future of this series is questionable due many mediocre or even negative reviews.
SkyTube Series (company: Alphamax, size: 1/7, price range 80-120usd)
Beach Queens for the rich guys, with bigger size and breathtaking paint job. Focusing often only on the most sexiest anime characters and some figures come with cast-off, means their bikini top can be removed where you can find uncensored female breasts. You get what you pay for.
Certain companies might hold license for certain series. This happened by Ben-To, where the characters where produced only as Prize figures by SEGA.
STANDARD ANIME FIGURES (MENTIONABLE COMPANIES)
Alter - In very high regard by the most collectors. While the quality rivals to the luxury ones, the prices mostly stay bellow 100usd. Always 1/8, but too bad that they didn't standardized their stands.
Bandai - produces Gundam mechas for Sunrise. While a appealing price, more hardcore collectors consider those only as toys.
Griffon Enterprises - got popular especially by Ikki Tousen releases. Size 1/6 and figures have even name metal plates on their stands. Despite this the price rarely exceeds 80usd.
FREEing - The company producing really sexy figures from 1/8 up to 1/4. And while the "smaller" ones are somehow affordable, the 1/4 can cost over 200usd. Those often wear even real clothing.
Kotobukiya - This company produces some very pretty figures at affordable prices. Usual height is 1/8. The only company which has offices also outside of Japan.
MegaHouse - Their 1/7 and 1/8 scales figures are great. Also producing non-scaled mainstream figures like DBZ or Digimon.
Orchid Seed - Almost exclusively 1/7 and only females, often girls with some connection to combat.
Phat! - a relavitely new company making cute figures at reasonable prices. Recently they also produced some nedoroids for Good Smile.
Q-Six - produces hentai figures. From 18+ only.
Revoltech - produces exlusively mecha figures, mainly from Muv-Luv or Armored Trooper Votoms. Really good quality/price ration.
NON-STANDARD FIGURES - NENDOROID & NENDOROID PETITE
Produced by Good Smile Company in price range from 40usd. Nendoroids are extremly popular (if not the most) chibi-styled figures due their cuteness. They are basically parodized versions of the characters with oversized heads and small bodies. Unlike others figures, they aren't made by scale, but each of them is arround 10cm height regardless the height of the anime character. This is natural due nendoroids are meant to be deformed. Nendoroids are in numbered boxes, in order to track how many different ones where produced until now. They come with a variety of items, interchangeable faces and hands. But unlike Figmas, here the whole hand is changed, as long they dont have a elbow or wrist joint.
Petite nendoroids are the same, but smaller - in average 6,5cm in height. Due this they often come in a box where multiple of them are included.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned, they are the most frequent target for bootlegs.
They are also nendoroid-looking figures which aren't really nendoroids. This happens sometimes when Good Smile doesn't gets the license for a certain series. A good example would be Sora no Otoshimono, which has been produced exclusively by AmiAmi with a special stand featuring the logo of the series.
NON-STANDARD FIGURES - FIGMA
Produced by Max Factory in price range from 40usd. Have the same characteristics as nendoroids, but with real life proportions. They always come in 1/12 and with a standardized multi-purprose stand. Is not even uncommon that a figure has even 2 stands, in order to simulate more advanced action. Figmas have also several more joints as nendoroids (knees, elbows, wrists), to simulate real poses or moves from the anime. Their faces and hands are removable and exchangeable. Due the same size, included items are compatible with any other Figma figure.
In Japan they are even companies which produce exclusive items for them, like bicycles, mopeds, sport bikes and even chairs & tables into class or club rooms. Just as their rival does, boxes are marked with a numbers, showing how many different Figma's has been produced. Currently this number should be arround 180.
NON-ANIME ANIME FIGURES
Produced figures aren't really focused only on anime. There are several figures made from visual novels. For example figures from Little Busters! where available years before the anime started. And certain series got popular exactly due the figures, the best example would be To Heart 2. Tamaki from this series is probably the most popular character in the history of anime figures.
Although very cool, I don't recommend them to keep on the same shelf as human figures. Those are often 1/100 on scale which means true height will be 10x lower.
They have though more appealing price, 25-40usd and exchangeable weapons. By same series produced by same company weapons are always compatible.
TAKING CARE OF YOUR COLLECTION
Quality here on there, figures doesn't like sunshine, so never put them towards windows. Also by cleaning them use lukewarm water without chemicals. They are waterproof, but some chemicals might create a reaction with the paint. Also try to not drop them. While figures theyselves are very durable, their stands might break. On a sidenote, certain sellers offer universal stands.
http://myfigurecollection.net/ - the HQ for all collectors. It has a huge database, what you cannot find there, that doesn't exist. You will there find also links to several figure shops, which will be the best choice if you decide to collect them.
Please don't quote, since I'm always adding new things into this article. If you have questions, ask them directly. If you want to add something, PM me or comment bellow.
All those photos are taken by me from my own collection.
1 - Two Prize figures by SEGA and Banpresto. Just as awaited in this price range, the details aren't a match for the
higher class ones.
2 - A great example that even cheap figures sometimes turn out really nice. Real good job on Cecilia, SEGA!
3 - Although SEGA is the main producer of the cheap ones, there are also smaller companies like by this, namely Furyuu.
4 - Two Beach Queens in their boxes. The boxes have the name of the characters and the series displayed.
5 - A Figma with included items and interchangeable body parts. Also by Strike Witches you could select between ground and air combat version. Note the number on the box.
6 - A luxury and expensive figure made by Alphamax. The holographic logo is very visible. Due it's pose, she was bootlegged a lot (and they are very ugly) I found like 20 on eBay
7 - Looks like Nendo, but it isn't one. Instead Good Smile, it was produced by AmiAmi as can be read from the box.
8- A Staind figure & box. It has also a equippable face with a different expression.
9 - A hentai figure made by Q-Six. Her breasts are naked, therefore the box is designed to hide them.
Photos contributed by the photographer Alain Rafer http://alainbrian.deviantart.com/
Since those are purchasable prints, I cannot share the full size images.