What Makes an Anime Figure Expensive?

What Makes an Anime Figure Expensive?

What are the primary factors that determine the pricing of anime figures and their impact. Together with examples of luxury and affordable anime figures.

Last updated: 2024-02-08
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TL;DR
The misconception about the expense of anime figures may stem from the perception of their lack of utility. Additionally, fans accustomed to accessing anime for free through torrents may hesitate to spend money on anime-related merchandise. However, several factors influence the price of figures, including materials, size, detail, character popularity, and rarity. Independent factors, such as the customer's location, also play a role.
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375 min read

Are Anime Figures Really Expensive?

One of the possible reasons for the notion that anime figures are costly may stem from the perception that items should serve practical purposes to justify their value. Like a smartphone, a watch or simply a pencil each has it's practical application. And let's face it, anime figures don't offer much in terms of utility. However, viewing them as art pieces can shift this perspective, aligning with the essence of anime as an art form. And that what figures do - they serve as a tangible medium to embody the artistic essence of anime. They are there to be enjoyed, admired for their craftsmanship, giving our favorite characters embodiment, and of course, collected.

Merchandising is still 46.4% of Japan's animation-related market size

Based on AJA 2022 report*

Figures also belong to the primary category of means to support creators. The latest reports from 2021 still highlight merchandising as the most significant revenue stream for the domestic anime industry. While we can't precisely determine the portion allocated to figures, the domestic animation-related merchandising market size in Japan is estimated to be around 663.1 billion yen out of a total of roughly 1,429 billion yen total domestic market size, constituting about 46.4%.

Now that we have a better understanding of what figures represent in the industry, let's delve into the specific properties and factors that influence their prices.

Factors Affecting Figure Price

Figure Production Materials

Materials play a significant role in determining a figure's value. Generally, figures crafted from high quality materials will have higher prices. For instance, Polystone (basically using stone powder) and Resin figures lean towards the high end and allow figures to achieve a higher level of detail. While PVC and ABS are more affordable and easier to work with. However, it's worth noting that expensive materials can also be more brittle and be closer to statues than dolls.

More details on anime figure materials can be found in our post here.

Amount of Detail in a Figure

Appreciating the figure details - you can see the wrinkles on shirt and boots.
Snow Hatsune Miku with marked clothing detail
© Crypton Future Media / FREEing
This is a winter themed Snow Miku you can find her here.

The level of detail put into making the figure correlates with price. Detailed figures require meticulous effort during both the crafting and manufacturing process, resulting in higher prices. On the contrary, the more abstract the figure the less labor and are typically cheaper. Bootlegged figures often compromise on detail to reduce manufacturing costs significantly, resulting in a noticeable drop in quality compared to authentic counterparts.

Figure Size

Pop Up Parade regular and XL version size comparison
Size comparison between a regular Pop Up Parade and XL version figure
© Good Smile Company / Hajime Isayama KODANSHA / "Attack On Titan" The Final Season Production Committee

It is probably the most straightforward factor to the cost of figures. Larger figures require more materials and depending on how it was made it may require more work, hence their higher price tags.

Figure Manufactured Quantity (Rarity)

The crowd's desire to own a figure is another significant variable affecting its price. Typically, more expensive figures are pre-ordered, and once the pre-order period ends, the manufacturer knows how many should be produced. After the pre-order period, obtaining the figure becomes increasingly difficult if there is no leftover supply in stores. However, scarcity can be further heightened if the quantity is limited by the manufacturer, resulting in a first-come, first-served scenario. All these tactics allow the price to rise well above the actual value due to created scarcity.

Anime Character Usage Rights

Licensing fees for the use of famous anime characters can range from 8-10% of sales!

Information from 2016 Trademark practice information source (https://www.tm106.jp/)*

Even after addressing all the physical aspects, there's still the matter of licensing. The owner of the anime character rights must grant permission to the manufacturer. A good example is the Sanrio company, renowned for creating the "Hello Kitty" character. This company generates over 40% of its total sales just from licensing fees. According to several blogs, their licensing price for toy usage is 5.833% of sales, while for other applications, it ranges between 4-6%. However, for more renowned anime characters, this fee range soar up to 8-10% of sales!

Extra Costs

Shipping and Taxes

Currently, most anime figures are designed and produced in East Asia. Typically, Japanese companies handle the design process, while mass production occurs in China or other manufacturing countries. This setup means western (or non-Japan based) fans mostly have three choices to getting them:

Anime figure delivery - your 50 Nendoroids are finally here.
Anime delivery girl with a deliver package
animeGenius
Buying options for non-Japan based fans
  • Check if the company operates in their own country (small chance). Major companies like GSC have offices in the US, offering shipping from local warehouses.
  • Seek physically closer independent reputable resellers. Ideally, choose one based nearby or even in your own country. They may offer lower prices than direct shipping from Japan, since if they order bulk or as official partners with manufacturers they can get discounts. However, it's not rare for resellers to inflate prices to boost profit.
  • Purchase directly from Japan, the ultimate anime source. However, this option often comes with the highest additional costs, covering shipping fees and various taxes, which vary widely depending on the destination country.

Figure Examples Expensive vs Cheap

So using the above mentioned points (apart from extra costs), we can make a comparison how visually different are expensive and cheap figures:

Expensive figure example

Usual expensive figure features
  • High grade materials
  • Highly detailed
  • Size above average
  • Popular anime character
  • Cherry on top -> Limited edition
1/4 Denji (Standard ver.) - Ultimate Premium Masterline (UPMCSM-01) - Prime 1 Studio
1/4 Denji (Standard ver.) - Ultimate Premium Masterline (UPMCSM-01) - Prime 1 Studio figure
©Tatsuki Fujimoto/SHUEISHA, MAPPA

Prime 1 Studio - Chainsaw Man (Standard ver.). Figure properties:

  • Materials include polystone
  • Highly detailed
  • Big - 57cm (22.44in) height
  • Limited -> according to manufacturer's website only 50 are planned to be made
  • Well-known main character of the series - Denji

check, check, check and check.

Total cost: $1,099

Cheap figure example

Now for much more affordable anime figures, we simply need to go into the opposite direction of expensive properties.

Much much more affordable figure properties
  • Very common - low grade materials
  • Details are abstracted
  • Small small small
  • No limit - buy as many as you want
  • Lesser-known background anime character
Bandai - Demon Slayer Kagaya prize figure.
Bandai Demon Slayer Suwarasetai Figure - Kagaya Ubuyashiki
© Bandai / Shueisha / Demon Slayer production committee

Prize figures are arguably the best category for finding inexpensive figures. They are typically designed to fill gachapons (capsule machines) and crane machines, which means they are produced in large quantities and often lack barcodes.

The one in particular we are looking at is Bandai - Kimetsu no Yaiba Suwarase Team 5 Chuugoukaigi - Demon Slayer Kagaya prize figure

  • Materials include PVC. PVC is a very popular material in budget figures.
  • Not very detailed
  • Small - 45mm (~1.77in) height
  • Quantity unknown, but likely much bigger than 50 (Prime 1 studio figure quantity)
  • Background character from Demon Slayer series, rarely appearing on screen - Kagaya Ubuyashiki

Total cost: $2.5 (¥364) - estimated

Sum Up

So sure, anime fans may perceive figures as expensive because they struggle to see their practical utility. Together with being accustomed to getting anime content for free through illegal means *cough cough* torrents *cough cough*, fans may hesitate to invest in figures, viewing them as non-essential items. However, figures offer more than just physical representations of characters; they serve as a tangible means of supporting anime creators financially. And by purchasing figures, fans contribute to the industry's revenue streams, ultimately enabling the production of more anime content in the future.

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