The Begginer's Guide to: Figure Collection

So, you are looking to get into figure collection? But, you are not sure where, how or when to start. With so much information available online these days, it can be confusing to know what to read and which of it is important. All of this can come across as being rather intimidating and overwhelming for a newcomer.

For that reason, I have compressed all of that information into a simple five step guide to ease you into the wonderful world of figure collection. Beginning with:

Lesson 1: Research

With so many place to get information about figures online, where do you go to which has it all in one place? Simple, My Figure Collection, or as known to most simply as MFC. This community driven website is the complete encyclopedia of all things figures and more (straps, posters, clear files, you name it) with an extensive catalogue of all past, present and future releases. These entries are complete with release information, prices, pictures and even links to online retailers. Covering everything from "Grail" figures to obscure "Garage" pieces, if you can think of a figure, chances are MFC has got you covered. On top of that, the site also has a very powerful "Advanced Search" tool allowing for searches based on individual character, series or even a specific release (like Ichiban Kuji, for example). Because it is community driven, there are even user additions such as reviews, pictures, articles and clubs. Be a member, join the community!

On the off chance that MFC does not have sufficient information about a particular figure you are researching, you can always fall back on good old Google search. These days, there are no shortage or figure reviewers out there, some doing it full time and others doing as a past-time just like us here on Tiro Finale. Often, these reviews would come together with high resolution pictures to give you a better idea about the quality and detailing of each figure. These are often a better reference point compared to manufacturer pictures which ought to be taken with a pinch of salt, as manufacturers would always like to display their product in the best light. Of course, not every reviewer is a professional photographer so picture quality is undoubtedly going to vary. While your mileage may vary, it is always recommended to take a close look at both user and manufacturer photos beforehand to get an idea of what you will be getting. Unless, you are planning to pre-order, in which case manufacturer photos and reputation are all you have to work on.

Which returns us back to the start of this lesson, "Research". Make sure you do your fair share of it because the last thing you want is to be disappointed with your purchase. The initial and yet, most fundamental step, research.

Lesson 2: Retailers

Now that you have done your research, there is the matter of sourcing said figure. Physical or online, it does not really matter. For the sake of convenience, I will only be talking about online retailers because unless you live in Japan, more specifically Tokyo, you will be hard pressed to find any physical retail store which can better the prices offered online.

Right of the bat, I am going to introduce to you my two all-time favorite stores, Mandarake and Amiami! Mandarake initially started of as a shop selling pre-owned manga but, have since grown to become not just an otaku-staple but, a household name too. With several stores located in Japan, they have an online store too, to cater for their international customers. When it comes to re-sellers, Mandarake is arguably the best and are really hard to beat. Not only do they offer one of the lowest prices around, their website has great multi-lingual support for all your international purchasing and shipping needs. Previously, you would need to know rudimentary Japanese to improve your search queries. Now, they have begun to do translation in-house. While it is far from perfect, it is definitely one step forward for all their international customers. One thing you do need to keep in mind though, a large majority of Mandarake products are pre-owned which explains their low prices. Nevertheless, their definition of "pre-owned" is extremely loose. For example, an unopened-box with the smallest of dent is rejected from shipment and subsequently sold in Mandarake as a "pre-owned" product. Therefore, if you're not a collection perfectionist, this is the perfect place to get your figure fix at bottom dollar.

If damaged or pre-owned goods are not your thing, there is always AmiAmi. An online retailer catering to all needs of Japanese hobby goods with an emphasis on figures, AmiAmi is my go to choice and recommendation for purchasing or pre-ordering new figures. While other stores may offer similar services as AmiAmi, few can even come close to the amount of pre-order discount offered by AmiAmi. Often, you would be looking at a 15-30% discount off the retail price for pre-orders. For international customers, this would mean their shipping fees are completely negated. While AmiAmi does not have any physical stores, there are plans to open one in Akiba Culture Zone, a great location in my opinion. So, there is that to look forward too!

Of course, there are many other online retailers too such as Tokyo Otaku Mode, Hobby Search and HLJ to name a few. Each with their own distinctive benefits and loyal customer base. For example, Tokyo Otaku Mode offers free shipping for newer releases and HLJ has seasonal sales. If you are feeling adventurous, there is also Yahoo Auctions where some of the greatest deals can be found. Rakuten is a surprisingly good place to visit albeit its lack of focus on figures. Lastly, never forget about the official manufactures retail sites such as, Good Smile Company's Online Shop which offer exclusive pre-order bonuses on a number of their products when purchasing directly from them.

Lesson 3: Save

Now, despite all that research and hunting, you are unlikely to progress without one key component, money. Fact of the matter is, figure collection does not come cheap especially concerning the premium ones which can set you back many pretty pennies. While it is true that prices can vary anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 Yen per figure, it is also true that you get what you pay for. Prize figures cost are cheaper to own but, the quality if significantly poorer compared to premium scale figures. Hence, you get what you pay for. That is not to say that price always equates to quality as abiding by such absolutes would make us, as consumers, absolutes too. Absolute idiots that is. Fortunately, the quality of prize figures have improved by leaps and bounds compared to 5 years ago. Nevertheless, as Lesson No. 1 has taught us, research always comes first. 

Which comes back all the way to the core of this lesson, saving. While this may not be as big of a problem for working adults with more "disposable income", I find this tip to be an especially compelling one for students. Working with a limited pool of funds, prioritization becomes very important and you will have to learn the virtues of saving whenever and wherever you can. Walk, instead of taking the bus. Cook, instead of eating out. Work a part-time job, instead of lazing around. These little things do eventually add up and you would be genuinely surprised how far you can stretch a single dollar.

When your new figure finally arrives on your door step, it will be that much more worth it knowing that you have sacrificed something to literally earn it. If you're having apprehensions, you should not because as far as hobbies go, figure collection is still great value for money. For the amount you spend, each figure ends up taking a significant amount of display space. Coupled with a diorama, they are always impressive to look at and admire. On the other hand, if you do not have financial issues, saving still remains relevant because never forget, figure collection is a "want" and not a "need".

Lesson 4: Start Slow

Here on Tiro Finale, we are strong advocates of value. We would never advocate rushing into a purchase headlong only to regret it later. Similarly, figure collection can be a huge financial commitment for anyone which can result in some bad decision making along the way. As such, this lesson focuses on starting slow and learning the ropes along the way. Very often, many collectors make the mistake of buying into the hobby extremely quickly, amassing a large collection in a short amount of time and finding themselves bored and/or burned out after just a short period of time. That is what we are trying to avoid while keeping the hobby of figure collection both interesting and relevant.

In terms of starting slow, Nendoroid figures manufactured by Good Smile Company is always a great place to start as they offer fantastic value for money. Covering a myriad of series and characters, you can expect to pay approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Yen for one. This may sound like a lot initially but, for the quality and detail you are getting, it really is not much.

If scale figures are more your thing then, prize figures would be a very good place to start. Prize figures are those often seen offered in arcade game machines (UFO Catcher, Crane Game, etc.) and lotteries (Ichiban Kuji) as prizes hence, the name "Prize" figures. Of course, these are now offered commercially via retailers too. While they may not have the finesse and attention to detail that Nendoroids do, they make up for it in sheer size and collectible satisfaction. Having a large scale figure placed in your display shelf or desk does have an added effect smaller, deformed figures do not. Like I have mentioned earlier, prize figures these days can be of rather good quality with some manufacturers pushing out really good ones. My personal favorites are those made by FuRyu and Banpresto (especially the SQ series). As always, do your research first (Lesson No. 1) as things can vary on a case-by-case basis.

Once you wrap your head around this bit, you will be on your way to amassing a collection so large you will have trouble finding space to display them yet not regret a single one.

Lesson 5: Laws & Customs

Now, the last bit is more of a technicality but, one that I ought to let you know nonetheless. It is very important to know your country's duty laws or you may be charged an exorbitant duty fee upon arrival. On top of the already expensive shipping, this can be a real nightmare for many collectors. There exists a workaround by declaring your purchase at a minimum/zero value or as a gift which is aimed at circumventing the duty costs. Not all retailers will do this and it is usually upon request only.

The next part is shipping which in its most basic form can be broken down to two main categories, SAL and EMS. SAL is equivalent to snail mail and can take anywhere from 2 week to 1 month to arrive. It has the cheapest shipping with tracking but, there is no insurance. There is also a size limitation as SAL is intended to be "Small Packet" although, that small packet can work up to be pretty large. EMS, on the other hand, is akin to express delivery with your package arriving within a week. The shipping costs significantly more but, there is free optional insurance provided. Useful if you need your figure urgently.

There exist other courier services like FedEx and DHL too but, those work very similar to EMS with the only exception being, with EMS, the local shipping is handled by your nation's postal service. If you are out there for the extra peace of mind and do not mind the extra cost, feel free to go with these options if they are offered.

Lesson END

So, there we go, five (not very short but,) simple steps to getting started in figure collection. I am sure for some of you that may have been a bit too long so, if I were to cut it short:
  1. Research - MFC is your friend, always reference photos
  2. Retailer - Mandarake & AmiAmi, always solid recommendations
  3. Saving - because figures cost money
  4. Start Slow - it's not a race, slowly build up a collection you will appreciate
  5. Laws - shipping and duty fees can be scary, get acquainted beforehand
And, that is all there is to it. I hope you have found these steps mighty helpful in your first steps to figure collection. Until the next time, thanks so much for reading and have yourself a wonderful day ahead!


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