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SYFY WIRE Toys and Collectibles

How international scalpers are changing the Japanese toy production market

By Loryn Stone
Akihabara Tokyo

In Japan, the collecting market is thriving. Toys and collectibles notoriously cost hundreds of dollars, and are produced in very limited quantities. And at any point when a market is strong like this, there will be people trying to turn a profit at any cost.

The international expansion of the market has led to new challenges and uncommon responses. Most recently, the evolution of the market was driven by the Neon Genesis Evangelion EVA-01 Test Type Metal Build Action Figure. This item, a brand-new release from February 2019 originally retailed for ¥23760, or about $250. It was promoted for over a year; demand was fevered. People all over the world were excited to add one of these new Metal Build Evangelion to their collections, as it would be the first high-end Eva Unit 01 figure since the Soul of Chogokin release back in 2003, which was followed by a Soul of Chogokin Spec version in 2007 and again in 2008.

Fast forward to February 2019, and Japanese fans arrived to find huge lines at every store in the famous Akihabara toy district. But alongside the everyday fan and toy collector, overseas buyers were ready to pounce. Colleagues visiting Japan on business reported that there were up to 20 people buying up the Evangelion figure at whatever the unit limits were at each store. This left many fans understandably upset. Not only did limited numbers swooped up by oversea scalpers prevent them from obtaining their toy, but the toys then appeared for sale online in just a few hours at more than double the price.

Evangelion Metal Build EVA-01 Test Type

Bandai, with the help of original Evangelion designer Ikuto Yamashita, heard the complaints and took action. It's the first noted time that the company has done so over such a public outcry. They went into reissuing the toy to meet demand; now, just one month later, unit numbers have increased. For a country that is typically one and done, this reissue just one month later is a big deal. Over in Japan, anime series have an arc and then the story is over. TV shows end after a prescribed number of episodes. And toys have a limited run — only so many pieces are made and it's over.

But with the Neon Genesis Evangelion EVA-01 Test Type Bandai Metal Build Action Figure, additional product is arriving on the shelf just one month later. To reiterate, this is not how Bandai typically conducts business in Japan. This has also brought attention to the issues of modern commerce in Japan and how to combat the flippers.

So far, even limiting the items to one per person has no effect on the hordes of "gang-style" buyers. But for now, if you're patient you can pre-order the 2nd release at not too much more than normal prices. Currently, it's sold out, but you can keep your eye on it over at Big Bad Toy Store and Entertainment Earth.

I turned to my friend Scott, a renowned toy collector and seller, for some insight on this situation. As an annual visitor to Japan, where he restocks on toys to sell for business, he has seen a trend; overseas buyers, presumably from China, have flooded Tokyo. This has led to a constant rising of prices in the collectible world. China has a trade deal with the US that lets them have non-competitive shipping rates via e-packets. This means buyers from China can come over, buy items, and sell them from their home country to the US at a considerable advantage (such as free shipping).

A local Japanese business would have to pay five to 10 times as much for the same item to be shipped; additionally, the sales tax there is scheduled to jump from eight to 10 percent this October. Because of the way the law works in Japan, Chinese buyers can use with their passports for tax-free shopping, saving another 10 percent. That creates a huge discount on top of the nearly non-existent shipping costs to the US, thus beating the Japanese seller again. Therefore, collectibles have been plucked clean by overseas toy sellers.

Evangelion Metal Build EVA-01 Test Type

The much more laid-back Japanese sellers don't have any (legal or fair) way to counter this. Their only recourse is to raise prices to try to dissuade oversea buyers. Unfortunately, this has had no effect except to clear out any affordable stock. Scott says he has both witnessed this firsthand and has been told this personally from several of his contacts and proxies in Japan.

The shopping experience in Japan is also very different. For example, in some stores, if you want an item you have to write down where in the store the item is located. Then go to a waiting line to get an employee, and said employee will procure the item; then you have to go to a different line in order to pay. Sometimes this is where cultural clashes occur, as often, the overseas buyers don't want to wait in the two-line system. That demand to "get it now" causes racial tension, only hurting the reputation of Chinese toy buyers in the eyes of the Japanese sellers and conflict in the industry.

So keep away from those Amazon listings, boys and girls! Even if they say they are from Japan, there's a good chance those items are really shipping from China. Read the feedback and you'll see where your Evangelion is coming from.