I was asked by my long-time Patreon sponsor Johnny Trovato about my thoughts on “The effect of budget figurines (like Banpresto sells for $20 each [2,000 yen]) on the anime figure scene.” My first reaction to this was simply, “Figures are expensive, man.” That pretty much sets the stage for my opinion on the subject. They fulfill a necessary space in the grand scheme of anime merchandise, but they could always be better–not in terms of quality but rather honesty.
Personally, I prefer to get higher quality figures even if it means I have fewer overall. The Banpresto figures tend not to have the best paint jobs or face sculpts, and pricier figures just have more attention to detail that I appreciate. I don’t typically go for the most costly ones, though, unless I really, really want it.
But the balance between quantity and quality is different from person to person, and figures can end up being an absurdly expensive hobby. I’ve known people like that, and I’ll be upfront when I say that I don’t think I’ll ever make enough in a year to comfortably keep that up. So in that respect, Banpresto figures are a nice compromise. They’re not going to be the best, but they’re not supposed to be. They’re a valid option for people who want figures but simply can’t or won’t pay for more. And unlike trading figures, which is designed to be a bit of a gamble (you never know which one you’re gonna get!), you know what the figure is going to be.
The problems with $20 anime figures come from two things, both related. First, their true purpose is as prizes for crane games in Japan. While there are apparently ways to master crane games and obtain them for reasonable prices, most people will probably end up spending more, perhaps even without success. Second, one of the big differences between more expensive figures and less expensive ones is whether you can look at the actual figure itself. Higher quality merchandise has clear packaging that lets you see what you’re buying, whereas the Banpresto stuff is hidden in opaque boxes covered in promotional photos that try to hide the flaws as much as possible. This is intentional but also disingenuous, as it potentially tricks people into getting a figure they wouldn’t have otherwise. In a sense, seeing them unboxed and on display at an anime con is a better thing, but in those cases they’re often marked up.
Ultimately, I don’t think Banpresto’s $20 figures are inherently a bad thing, and they definitely serve a part of the anime fandom that should be catered to. I just wish there wasn’t a degree of deception baked into the whole thing.