There is a very interesting and detailed article on the figure and otaku scene in China (specifically Shanghai), as well as how Japanese companies operate there, over at Nikkei (onerous registration required to read it all), brought to my attention via foo-bar-baz. The interview with Alter’s China office is especially interesting. Surprisingly, it is not a market completely awash with fakes, and seems to be growing healthily. I provide a summary translation below for your information and enjoyment.
The article is an interview with the Alter Shanghai’s rep, taking place at Shanghai’s otaku building “動漫城”. 動漫 is a combination of the characters for “move” (animation) and the man part of manga, meaning anime and manga. The third character means castle. The building houses Hobbystock Shanghai’s specialist shop.
This is called a “hobby” market rather than a “toy” market, as products are aimed at those over 15.
“Leaving us aside, there are many fakes in this building, but the otaku over here look at the products seriously.”
Once China was used to dispose of leftover figures
Why did you locate an office in China?
We originally just used to off load our unsold stock into China. It was an unstable market. Our company got permission to operate formally in April, 2006; our competitor Good Smile also has permission.
Are the figures made in China or Japan?
They are designed and prototyped in Japan (see here and here for tours of such provided by Danny Choo), but manufactured in a Guandong factory, and leave for the rest of China or Japan by way of Hong Kong.
The government’s concern is safety rather than pantsu
Do you have problems with your more risqué products?
Yes, there are a lot of panchira and the like, but there are no problems. Safety standards for hazardous materials have come to the fore recently.
Isn’t there fallout from the likes of the recent toothpaste scare, etc?
Our products may be made in China, but the regulations for toys don’t apply as the government only classes products for 14 year olds and under as toys, but ours are for 15 and over.
These sorts of products are for hardcore fans, right?
The price range for our premium market segment is 5000-10000JPY per item. Not cheap. Figures are often based on characters from late night shows, OVAs, and games; even in Japan they may not be well known.
And there are buyers in China in spite of this?
Yes, there are lots of otaku over here. The release schedule is even the same as Japan,
The otaku age range is the same as in Japan
So already there is no time lag between Japan and China in this genre? How are sales?
Sales are still a little complicated. Students and company employees in their 20s and 30s are the main customers.
The article runs to 4 pages, along with plenty of stuff on media restrictions and the like, so I provide interesting snippets from here on:
It is thought that the net and pirate editions are the basis of figure popularity
By the way, how are otaku looked at over here?
Many Japanese mock figures. A negative image is indeed attached to otaku. But here there’s none of that. There’s no atmosphere of ridicule for otaku. You like what you like, and what’s wrong with that? You don’t need a reason. Maybe a bit like Americans.
Since there are so many traps (fakes and inferior goods), they look at things even more seriously than the Japanese.
The government is promoting the anime/manga industry isn’t it? There’s a favourable wind blowing for otaku here.
Regarding that, honestly I get the impression things are heading in the wrong direction. Overseas anime was banned from primetime spots on TV. Young people have been shut out of anime; I think it is necessary to be more open if this is to be truly promoted.
The article provides a long digression into how the Chinese government restricts foreign TV programming and sees them as a “new opium”, etc. I’m sure you get the gist.
It doesn’t have to be Japanese. I’d like people to realise as long as it is real, it’s good.
The young Chinese who come to your store have a earnest look in their eyes, don’t they?
That’s very important. We need to cultivate discerning eyes – so people no longer want fakes, however cheap they are.
Young people here don’t care if it’s Japanese. They like what they like. But the people in the trade here need to study up… there’ll be no progress if China continues to think as long as it’s cheap it’s good, without regard to the whether it is fake or genuine.