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Buyer Be Aware - Bandai High Grade 4 Bootlegs

By John Polzinetti (2003)

Bandai's High Grade figures are popular with many collectors for their detailed sculpts, paint jobs, and also for the wide selection of monsters that have been included in the series. New sets, released to coincide with the latest Godzilla film, usually sell in the $18-$22 range, but the earlier sets can go for much more. The High Grade 2 set from 1995 is the most rare, selling for $250 or even as much as $400 at its peak. As far as I'm aware that set has never been widely copied, nor has the original HG 1 set from 1994 (although that was officially re-released by Bandai, even the reissue set has sold for over $100). Why most of the High Grade sets have escaped bootlegging I don't know, but the 4th set in the series (consisting of Burning Godzilla, Godzilla Jr, Gigan, Angilas, MechaGodzilla 1974 and Godzilla 1998 aka US Godzilla aka GINO) hasn't been so fortunate. Originally appearing on eBay in the late summer of 2000 those bootleg sets remain common to this day.

The most reliable way of distinguishing the bootleg HG 4 set from the genuine Bandai figures is to look for the copyright and mold markings. As with most (but not all) bootlegs, these HG 4 knockoffs don't include the Bandai & Toho copyright markings (found on the tail of each figure). The genuine figures should have a copyright date and be marked either BANDAI MADE IN CHINA or B. CHINA, and will also include a set of either three or four small circular indentations ("dimples") in a triangle or diamond pattern (the Burning Godzilla has 3 dimples in a triangle pattern, all the other figures have 4 dimples in a diamond pattern). By contrast, the only writing that appears on the bootlegs is the word CHINA; all other markings have been removed.

Image depicts bootleg markings, top; Bandai markings, bottom
Bootleg Markings, top; Bandai markings, bottom

Since most of these bootlegs are sold over the Internet you probably won't have the option of looking for the copyright marks before you buy. Fortunately there are paint differences between the real Bandai set and the bootlegs, and knowing what to look for is almost as good as being able to physically check for the markings.

Burning Godzilla - The Bandai figure is done with the burning effect using a dark translucent reddish-orange vinyl. The burning areas on the bootleg are in a much lighter vinyl, a pale yellow instead of dark orange/red. Another tip is the eyes: The bootleg's eyes are painted very sloppily with a lot of orange paint to mark the eye. If you're looking at a small picture you would hardly be able to see the Bandai figure's eyes at all; if they're very large and obvious, you're looking at a bootleg. Another big difference is size (the bootleg is much smaller; almost ¼ inch smaller) but this isn't something you can tell without both figures being side-by-side.

High Grade 4 Burning Godzilla, left; bootleg on the right

Godzilla Jr - Color is a giveaway here. The Bandai figure is painted with off-white / cream colored toes. The bootleg's toes are painted in stark white. Another good tip-off is the eyes. Like the Burning Godzilla, the bootleg Godzilla Jr's eyes are very sloppy and instead of neatly following the mold the eyes are just two circles of white with red circles at the center. This might sound technical, but if you know to look for it, this can be an obvious tip-off.

(left to right) HG 4 Godzilla Jr, Bootleg

Angilas - After the Burning Godzilla I'd say Angilas is the next easiest bootleg to identify without having the figure in-hand. The biggest difference between the Bandai HG Angilas and the bootleg is the paint (or lack of it) on the spines on his back. The Bandai has white paint on the tips of the spines, but the bootleg doesn't. This usually shows up even in really bad pictures, so if Angilas' back looks like it's one uniform color the same as the body, it's a bootleg.

High Grade 4 Angilas, left; bootleg on the right

Showa MechaGodzilla - The most striking difference between the genuine Bandai HG 4 MechaGodzilla and the bootleg is the significant size difference but you can't really tell this without having a side-by-side comparison (in which case you could look for the copyright marks). If you're lucky enough to get a picture of MechaGodzilla from the side, there are obvious differences that can identify the real thing from the bootleg. MechaG's "ears" should be pretty large and oval-shaped, whereas the bootleg's are very small and more of a circle than an oval (the difference is enough that in a nice clear pic you can tell them apart even in a front-on shot). Also, the bootleg has very significant lack of detail in the nose (being very blunted instead of pointy) and in the spike at the top of the head.

High Grade 4 MechaGodzilla, left; bootleg on the right

Godzilla 1998 (aka US Godzilla, aka Tristar G, aka GINO) - As with Angilas, paint differences give the bootleg US Godzilla away. The Bandai figure has heavy gold paint at the cheek and jaw line, and while the same areas on the bootleg are also painted they're so faint the paint can barely be seen. The lack of silver paint on the top of the head is another tip-off, but depending on the quality of the picture you're looking at this can be a tough detail to spot.

High Grade 4 Godzilla 98, left; bootleg on the right

Gigan - No help here. As you can see from the picture there are some differences between the original Bandai and the bootleg (primarily size and tone of the gold paint), but you'd really need a side-by-side comparison to reliably pick them out. The only tip here is that the bootlegs are usually sold as a set or in separate auctions from the same seller, so check out other items from the same seller.

High Grade 4 Gigan, left; bootleg on the right

Here's a summary of the ways to spot each these bootlegs: