Thursday, October 9, 2014

My Personal Thoughts about Gundam Bootlegs

What I am about to say in this article is an incomplete personal set of opinions on what I do think about the whole bootleg thing. I have actually edited it to be not as sharp as it would actually be if you talked to me in real life. I also haven't included my observations on how the damaged Filipino culture has probably contributed to the whole situation. Anyway, here goes: My thoughts on the rise of support for Gundam bootleg kits in the local community.

Being a veteran in the local Gundam community, and a founder of one of the earliest formal fan communities for Gundam in the Philippines, I've admittedly gone way past the stage of the fan boy into the part of the practical, almost jaded hobbyist.

However, what gets my goat on a personal level when it comes to the local fan community for the Gundam franchise is the issue of bootleg kits. And that's why I'm making this article, because I really am getting tired of "holding the torch" as it were, for what have been termed as "elitist Bandai ass-kissers."

Here we go:

1) "I don’t want to practice modifications on a Bandai kit, it's too expensive!"
Well, then, plan your modifications out carefully. Also, learn how to hunt for parts you need across all the market groups in Facebook. There is nothing wrong with doing things slowly and deliberately. I'm known for kitbashing myself, and as some of my friends know, I've taken years in some cases to find all the parts for a kitbash I have in my head.

2) You can’t just tell us not to have Gundams because we can’t afford it!
Newsflash: you CAN afford Gundam model kits and toys. However, you will have to save up for it. If you feel jealous because some person with more financial resources has a bigger collection than you, then you are in a hobby (take note, I said "a hobby", not "this hobby") for the wrong reason.

A hobby is supposed to be something that makes you relax, not one where you play catch-up to the Joneses. Take it from me, I started out wanting to have the biggest collection in town. It got tiring after a while, and I realized I enjoyed it more when I focused only on getting what I really wanted among the kits.

3) Bandai and Bankee are just pricing things too much! Stick it to them! Buy Bootleg!
Sure. Along the way, you should shout all that to all the factory floor workers that Bandai employs to produce these kits you love which you are buying bootlegs of. Along the way, tell it to the people who design the toys, and to the people who are paid by Bandai, one way or the other, to bring the cartoons to life.

Aside from the Bandai and Bankee executives you hate, there is a whole ecosystem of people who may not have their jobs in the future, if bootlegs keep on eating into profits. 

I am disappointed that people who have jobs, and know how this sort of thing can affect the jobs of other people, can still support bootlegs.

4) Gundams don’t belong to Bandai!
Yes, they do. Although Sunrise or Sotsu (I'll get back to you guys on that) probably holds the copyright for Gundam itself, Bandai is the ONLY company allowed to make Gundam model kits and toys, unless otherwise licensed out, and subject to approval.

That means that all these other bootleg brands are exactly that: criminally-produced bootlegs. It also means that they are not, and will never be, Gunpla. The term "gunpla" is actually copyrighted, I think, by Sunrise/Bandai to denote Gundam plastic model kits.

And for people who don't give a hoot about copyright, all I can say is: I was in a band that did release albums (we're still around, by the way). And it was frustrating to see our work being pirated. That was our creativity and money that we put into the production of our album, our music. To see others make money from it without any of it coming back to us is frustrating, to say the least.

5) You can’t tell me what to do with my money!
You are perfectly right on that. However, we do have the perfect right to tell you all the uncomfortable truths that comes with supporting bootlegs. Freedom of speech, remember?

6) You're just being an elitist Gundam collector!
I think that using social and economic class wars to further your defense of buying bootleg products is ridiculous. It's ironic that bootleg supporters are beginning to act like an elite class on their own, yes? You can make a case for who started what first, but at the end of the day... who is supporting criminal activities?

To be honest, I don’t really care what people buy with their own money. However, what I do care about is that people are not thinking of the consequences.

Here are some people don't realize:

1) The rise of "exclusive," "limited," and "online" kit releases
If you know your sales are dropping, then the next best thing is to make sure that you can assure yourself of profit even with a limited run. Say hello to limited releases with expensive price tags, available only through select outlets.

2) The longer slack times in between new releases
Aside from sudden bursts of new kits with every new cartoon, there will be less new kit designs produced in the slack times in between series. That's because Bandai has to be choosy about what will sell. After all, mass production won’t be as profitable as it used to be. This also applies to less new designs coming out. You want that lesser-known unit that you love to finally have a model kit version? Tough cookies.

3) More variants
Yes, what's one way to maximize the output of a kit design? Make more variants for that one design. It's one way to cut costs for product design, while at the same time maximizing the profitability of one design.

Final thoughts
Do I think that Bandai should lower prices? Yes, but then, I do not know that actual production costs they have, nor how much the raw material is at this point (something most people don’t think about: the rising prices of high-quality raw plastic material). Neither do I know their marketing and sales costs.

I would dearly like for Bandai (and Bankee, the local distributor) to come up with a lower price point for the whole Gundam line. However, the truth is, they are in it because it's a business. If they are only breaking even, or worse, losing money, then there is no use in keeping it going.

And for some bootleg supporters who think this is a good thing, that Bandai will remove itself from the Gundam equation, think about it this way:

- One way that Bandai can earn without making new Gundam kits is to become a copyright protection arm, so that they can go after bootleggers more aggressively, focusing all their resources simply on defending the Gundam copyright.

- All those Gundam bootleg makers, seeing that there is no more Bandai in the market, will slowly but steadily increase their prices, without increasing quality. Yes, some of them will come up with new designs, but most will prefer to just run their molds ragged, while jacking up the prices. Remember… they're in it for the money, too. They just didn’t have to pay for all the creative, marketing, and sales costs that Bandai did. And that will make them greedier.

I could go on and on with more, but hey, I think I just hit the thousand-word limit. I'll probably write another article on this same subject. Stay tuned.

Photo: "Gundam in Tokyo", by Shuichi Aizawa c/o