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Buyer Be Aware - Bootleg Bandai LittleGodzilla and Megalon Figures

By Bob Schneider & Richard Cox (2001)

The ethical implications of unlicensed or bootleg collectibles is a topic of great debate in the collecting community. Most of the controversy seemed to be triggered by two knock off products which made their way from China into the American market place. These copies attracted a lot of attention because they are based on two of Bandai's most popular models, Little Godzilla and Megalon, they're both good quality reproductions, and perhaps most significantly, they're reportedly only the first releases in an entire upcoming line of unlicensed Godzilla figures.

I'm not going to waste space here by recapping the arguments for or against unlicensed knock offs. If you're still undecided on the issue, you can find plenty of opinions, both pro and con, by searching the archives. And if you've already made up your mind against bootlegs, be aware that I'm not endorsing either the practice in general or these products in specific with this review. Whether unlicensed copies are ethically right or wrong and practically good or bad for the hobby, the fact is they are out there on the market, waiting to be purchased by consumers looking for a lower priced alternative to legitimate collectibles. Let's find out how good of an alternative these Little Godzilla and Megalon knock offs really are.

Bootleg LittleGodzilla
Bootleg of Bandai LittleGodzilla
(image courtesy of Greg Cordero)

Obviously, the most important criterion in judging a copy is how well it stacks up against the original model. Unfortunately, I don't have access to an authentic Bandai Little Godzilla or Megalon figure for a side by side comparison. In lieu of that, I referred to every picture of either figure I could find, including printed photos in Sean Linkenback's Unauthorized Guide to Godzilla Collectibles and Dana Cain's Collecting Japanese Movie Monsters, as well as scanned images posted at Club Tokyo and the Collectibles Corner at Saiko's GojiWorld. These pictures provided a good reference in evaluating the accuracy of the reproduced sculpts and paint jobs. But one thing I couldn't determine from the pictures was how these knock offs compare in size to the originals. Because of unavoidable shrinkage of materials when casting molds from an existing model, copies are generally a hair smaller than figures produced from the original molds. That point is particularly relevant in this case because according to some reports, the bootleg manufacturer that produced these knock offs managed to get its hands on the original molds Bandai used for its production runs instead of casting inferior molds from a particular figure. I can't verify this claim but it certainly looks like a possibility -- the figures are extremely well detailed with none of the quality loss you might expect from something produced using a copied mold. The pattern of scales on Little Godzilla's belly look sharp and distinct, for example, as do the serrated edges of Megalon's drill bit hands.

Bootleg Megalon
Bootleg of Bandai Memorial Box Megalon
(image courtesy of Greg Cordero)

Both figures are molded from thicker, harder vinyl than any of Bandai's recent products. In fact, the knock offs feel heavier than most similarly sized older Bandai figures I've seen. The bootlegger's vinyl seems to have a slightly flatter finish which makes the original Bandais look a bit glossier and more lustrous, and the authentic Little Godzilla appears to be tinted a lighter, more yellowish shade of green. Otherwise, though, the knock off castings are quite similar to the originals. Animal rights activists, by the way, will be relieved to hear I didn't find any bugs embedded in the vinyl. Insects hanging around some other Chinese sweat shops recently weren't so fortunate, alas. Care for a Mosquito Meltdown Godzilla, anyone?

Considering the accuracy of the castings, it's no surprise that the paint jobs are equally faithful to Bandai's originals. The bootleggers copied the color schemes very closely -- the only significant difference I could detect on either figure is that the knock off Little Godzilla's pupils are more orangish than the original's tan. Note that the Megalon's paint job is based on Bandai's Memorial Box reissue of the figure, which sported a slightly different paint scheme than the original release. The copies were painted with about as much care as Bandai usually devotes to the job. The highlights on Little Godzilla's back or Megalon's collar of plates are a bit splotchy, but judging from pictures, no more so than some of the authentic figures from Bandai's production runs.

When fellow list member John P. received his bootleg figures, he reported that the markings etched in relief on Megalon's back weren't fully painted in. I noticed some gaps in the paint job on my figure too, particularly on the left wing, and like John, assumed this was a minor production flaw. But then I carefully examined the pictures of the Bandais and discovered, to my surprise, the same paint gaps at almost exactly the same spots on the originals. Apparently, at least on some figures, Bandai's painters were the ones who didn't quite complete the job; the bootleggers simply duplicated the error.

Licensed Bandai figures are identified with a copyright marking usually located on the bottom of one of the feet. This marking is conspicuously absent from the knock offs, though the words "Made in China" were left intact. (That's what I like to see -- an illegal bootleg operation that's still proud of its national heritage.) Naturally, the figures don't come with attached tags, either. My knock offs came packed in plastic bags instead. Those of you interested in purchasing an authentic Bandai Little Godzilla or Megalon, be warned: if you can't inspect the figure for the tell tale markings on the feet, at least insist on an attached tag. These knock offs are close enough to the originals that some shifty dealers will no doubt attempt palming them off at a substantial profit as the Real McCoys.

Love 'em or hate 'em, bootlegs have become part of the hobby and they aren't likely to go away in the foreseeable future. To the contrary, a knock off of Bandai's VT-4039 King Kong (which will violate the rights of not only Bandai and Toho, but RKO as well -- three rip offs rolled into one!) is reportedly the next scheduled release and more models, from this and other unlicensed manufacturers, will inevitably soon follow. If you refuse to support illegal products, you'll want to avoid these items like the plague. But those who don't have any ethical objections should consider themselves lucky if future knock offs are as well made as the Little Godzilla and Megalon copies.