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How to Spot a Bootleg DVD
Posted on Thursday, July 24th 2008 by xenocrisis0153

This question came to me via PM this morning, so I figured I'd publicize a list of "red flags" you should look out for when buying DVDs. If you're going to spend money on anime, you might as well make sure your cash is going to the artists and producers, and not a gang of shady guys in a warehouse in Hong Kong. Read on to see the checklist of things to look for before making a purchase.

SIGN #1 - "Audio: Japanese ; Subtitles: English, Chinese, Malay"

Granted that nowadays, it's more and more common to see "Japanese-only audio" (anything by Media Blasters/Media Works, and now a few ADV advanced titles (i.e.,Gurren Lagann)), but subtitles in Chinese or Malaysian being sold in the US or Europe is the biggest indicator that you're holding a fake. Yeah, you'll get the art and you probably don't care about English audio... but good luck reading those English subtitles. They're usually paced too fast to read, incorrectly translated (come on, Japanese to Chinese to English? yeah, don't expect quality), and usually littered with typos. Case in point, the Bubblegum Crisis 2032 Complete Collection I bought when I was a n00b had the menu option to "Paly All".

SIGN #2 - "Region-free" or "Region-0"

Yes, region-free players exist, but not region-free DVDs. Region-coding is put in place by publishers for a reason, so the disk you're going to open up if you buy this is going to be something someone bought in one of those 100 disks for $9.99 cases at Walmart. Disk origin aside, you're getting something illegitimate that was burned on someone's PC in their shady basement. FAKE.

SIGN #3 - "Contains all 13/26 episodes on 2/4 disks"

I am aware that DVDs have expanded in capacity to cram the data on there nice and good and tight, but this hasn't become the industry standard yet, thus making it a sign that it's phoney. Case in point from my n00b-days: Please Teacher Complete Collection had episodes 1-4 on Disk 1 and episodes 5-13 on Disk 2. IF the industry were to just do a 2-disk release, the distribution would be more even.

SIGN #4 - "Published by (some-company-you've-never-heard-of)"

Memorize this list:
- ADV Films
- FUNimation Production Ltd.
- Bandai Entertainment
- Bandai Visual (now defunct, but their products are still out there under Bandai Entertainment)
- Geneon/Pioneer (now defunct, but their products are still out there under FUNimation)
- Media Works (a.k.a. Media Blasters)
- Viz
- Central Park Media (a.k.a. CPM)
- Manga Entertainment

If the DVD you're looking at doesn't have any of these companies listed, then you're probably holding a fake. If no company is listed, then you're definitely holding a fake. If you're not sure who the publisher of a specific title is, do a quick net-search... or use the Anime Reviews Database here at beautiful to find the relevant information.

SIGN #5 - The price is too good to be true!

Sorry... as pretty and attractive as $14.99 for 13 episodes may be, that's just $14.99 going into the hands of crooks. Why give them the satisfaction? Though I always say to support the industry, I'd say it's better to just keep your cash and watch fansubs than give your money to the bad guys. Anime is usually sold at a rate of $3-5 per episode. Some legit companies have been experimenting with cheaper releases; for example Simoun from Media Blasters (as well as other recent-releases by them) sells at MSRP $19.99 per volume, found as low as $12.99 on the internet... definitely a good price that's channeling the money back to the proper sources.

Exception... some series that have been out for a very long time usually can be found for dirt cheap (as low as $4 a volume) in some "bargain bins". Also, some companies, like FUNimation's "Viridian Collection", ADV's "Thinpack Collection" and Bandai's "Anime Legends", re-release recent series at discounted prices, in some cases immediately after the run of the original releases (ie, Mahou Sensei Negima, Burst Angel)

SIGN #6 - the series just finished its run on Japanese television and now the complete collection is available on DVD.

DVDs release on a schedule that typically paces episodes 4 or 5 at a time with a period of 2-3 months between volumes. Before volume 1 reaches stateside, however, there's usually a 3-6 month time-period in which details of the deal are ironed out. After the final volume is published, there follows a period in which the company likes to hold out for a bit to scoop up any last-minute buyers which can last anywhere from 3 months to 3 years after the final individual volume is released.

Anyone have any questions, leave comments here or hit up the thread in the Merchandise Forums. If you can think of more tips, be sure to share! Happy shopping. ^___^

pop quiz... how many violations can you find in this example:

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ryoshuu on Thursday, July 24 @
no offense meant. i do not have any questions, but I do want to point out that sometimes there is not an option to buy these products elsewhere. For instance I had to buy a cheaper version of Jubeichan (admittedly funny but not exactly high quality to begin with) from one of these sources simply because I could find neither the fansub nor through legit distributors (examples: Amazon and J-list). Yes you can fit 10 episodes or more on one disk, but the quality takes a hit then.

On the other hand I only knew some of this information so this was a really helpful article. Thank you so much for posting this up.

I am perhaps still a n00b at all this, but still I wanted to point out how cool this information was. lol.


sssl0202 on Thursday, July 24 @
Well I bought many "ghetto" anime dvds before.

Hell they are good enough to get by I'd say. Sure they have translation mistakes, but you can still get the story out of it. Bit annoying, but for the price they come it's not too much problem.

Video quality is usually poor, but again for price that is expected.

No English dub? No problem because I don't use that in the first place.

For many mildly interesting anime, I often don't think much about getting ghetto versions. Actually thanks to that I managed to save some money by not buying retail version. Like Sister Princess. That really didn't worth the purchase and I managed to save more than 50% by not getting the retail version.

The good ones, I go straight for the retails though. Haruhi, Lucky Star, Azumanga, Trigun, Ranma, Desert Punk, Kanon, etc etc etc.

As you can see, I end up buying too many anime, so those fake ones saves me $$$$. If they are really good, I end up buying retail anyway so I don't feel that guilty about it either.


EndlessWaltz24 on Thursday, July 24 @
Lol, one of my friends wound up buying One Piece Eps 1-300 through this, and god, it was the funniest and most annoying thing ever... and it wasn't because of the show. One of the most annoying things about it was having to read the subtitles with completely changed names (even luffy was to roofie O.o and I saw other problems like zoro being changed to some obviously non-japanese name, I think it was zhao or something). Also, the translations were horrible. Even with my very limited japanese language skills (1 semester in college) I could point out how they were not even remotely close to the meaning.

Sure, go buy boot-legged dvds if you have trouble finding fansubs, but do it at your own risk.
On a side note, I recently saw some boot-legs of Gundam Seed on sale with the covers of the cases coming from some obviously old, home inkjet printer with horribly pixelated pictures. It was a lil sad seeing so many people flock to the guy's stand.


xenocrisis0153 on Thursday, July 24 @
@1 - cool, no problem about posting the info... always glad to help out my fellow fans.

As to the statement about unavailability, I can see what you're saying, but that's more of an issue of something being out-of-stock, which to me, isn't a reason to buy bootlegs. There are tons of legit dealers out there like, etc that, even if they don't have them on hand, will offer to find copies for you.


kevinchaosvs on Thursday, July 24 @
haha thanks for the links Xeno. Now my options have widened further (^__^)


geokilla on Thursday, July 24 @
Why is it always that it's the Chinese people who make bootleg DVDs. We probably make the most >.> bootlegs out there, but people of other nationalities do it too....


Pokui on Thursday, July 24 @
i dont buy dvds anyway... so this has got nothing to do with me.. but i read it anyway


ErwinRommel on Thursday, July 24 @
It's because we are usually too clever for our own good. Our ancestors probably were the same; why else would we have a man like Confucius?

Great info but ultimately it just requires the consumer to have a sharper eye for details. It's no different then picking fruits at a grocery store.


tinker_s on Friday, July 25 @
LOL when i was a n00b i bought a naruto movie and a FMA movie and naruto's character was called shenin or something like that :P


Pompokopi on Friday, July 25 @
Remark about SIGN #4: of course this is only valid when resident in the US or Canada. Better is to check the company's name on the internet to be sure.

Examples of distribution companies in Europe from my own experience:
- Kaze
- Beez
- Declic images
- ...

About SIGN #2, this is USUALLY correct. But I believe to have seen a legitimate (100th) new version of a Dragon Ball box set which had no limitations on the region. I do believe they put it differently, something like "region 1-6". I know for sure that there are DVDs with multiple regions. I own a legitimate box set of Evangelion with region codes 2 and 4.

About SIGN #3, this is also USUALLY correct. But you can check the backside of the DVD case to be sure: if you see (or compute) that for example 6 episodes are on 1 DVD, check the type of the DVD. If it's DVD5, it's probably a fake. If it's DVD9, it might be a good one. Nowadays they put more episodes on 1 DVD (especially for boxes), but it'll have to be a DVD with more capacity. Otherwise the compression is so high that the quality declines. I've seen that in my n00bdays when I thought I had the complete Inu Yasha series for a reasonnable price...

Last but not least: don't think that if you buy it in a real shop (you know, in real life, with other human beings you interact with by using speach), it will automatically be legal stuff ! The authorities don't always know about this (anime is not so well known) and some of these shop owners even dare to ask prices similar to these of legitimate DVDs! Be careful !


tsukihanyou on Friday, July 25 @
I'm lucky in that I've never bought a bootleg DVD. I'm usually good about making sure that there is a company involved. I've also only bought a couple of animes (Elfen Lied being the well known one), so it was easy to make sure that it was legit. :D


xenocrisis0153 on Friday, July 25 @
@10 - Last but not least: don't think that if you buy it in a real shop (you know, in real life, with other human beings you interact with by using speach), it will automatically be legal stuff

Definitely a good point... my friend just the other day found some bootleg anime in a reputable DVD store. I guess some n00bie buyer out there thought he was saving the company some serious dough by buying a truckload of the cheap stuff only to be told by my friend that his whole stock of anime DVDs were unsellable.


prime_pm on Friday, July 25 @
Wow. You guys got me at #2. Good thing I don't sell to people.


leoxjm on Sunday, July 27 @
One thing: I own an actual, official DVD released by Central park Media/US Manga corps that's 100% legit AND all-region compatible. My understanding of it is that some (older) single DVD releases have gotten similar treatment, but not full series. All-region compatibility should make you suspicious, but it's not a 100% certain indicator of a bootleg.


Michel on Sunday, July 27 @
Hm, ordered a Chobits-box over the Amazon-Marketplace yesterday for 19 Euro (normalprice is about 40) from a company in switzerland. Now I read this I'm a little bit worried, but it's a known CD/DVD-order-company, so I hope it's safe...
...ok, I checked it, the normal store-price is 33 Euro, the price I payed was like a special for amazon...
I think on ebay you must be carefully, I bought some fake figure over a hongkong (...) based shop, the pictures where the right thing, but the item I got looked totally different...


kevinchaosvs on Sunday, July 27 @
#16 lol yeah ebay has always been known for such scams. thats why its best to go to specialised online stores instead (and a credible on at that.)


prime_pm on Sunday, July 27 @
Does "burnt copy from Netflix" count for #2?


teddyplanet on Sunday, July 27 @
Hmm...well, I was pretty iffy about my Sailor Moon DVD's all along, but I must have gotten lucky, since they're actually pretty good quality. But mine didn't have Malay or Chinese subtitles...are these fakes supposed to have menus? Mine has a menu to select the episodes, and to choose English subtitles...


kevinchaosvs on Tuesday, July 29 @
well if the menu don't have any spelling errors and looks professional enough, then I guess it's more or less safe to assume it's real.


sgwc on Wednesday, July 30 @
I'm a malaysian thus i know about #1.

Unfortunately it is very hard or should I say REAL HARD to find original DVD in Malaysia except for movies but anime.


freezingbeast on Wednesday, July 30 @

yea i have to agree with you on that, i see more ebay scams in the usa, chinese pirated stuff are actually pretty rare in the usa, probably because they cant' compeat with bt?


i think it alsio has to do with our comsumer culture and the lack of copyright awareness.
(yea there are actually "night markets" that sell only fake stuff and they are REALLY popular, as crowded then the tokyo subway during rush hour)

right now i'm on vacation in china and basically pirated dvds have driven the normal ones out of the main market, in both anime and hollywood movies. (well think of it this way, why would someone spend 200 yuan on a DVD when they can spend 10 yuan, and considering the average income of a person in the city is 2000-3000 yuan a month.... you get what i mean)

i have seen a few, and some of them actually have good quality (dvd rips), but the current movies have pretty bad chinese subtitles and a compleat inability to translate puns and jokes and etc.

and real anime dvds are almost non-existant in china.

but it is very very very easy to tell pirated from real ones, just look at the price, you'll usually get what you paid for.

@#19, menues are too easy to make these days, its pretty hard to tell from a person that did a decent job vs profesional job, and even more impossible to tell if it's a dvd rip.


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