I always thought one major tenant of anime fandom is the power-consumer aspect. This is particularly special to imported fandom because usually it means navigating foreign shipping, different language websites, different business practices between stores and consumers, and simply a larger array of factors to keep track of when shopping. And given anime is pretty much as commercial as fandom gets, it’s even more so something intrinsic to be a fan, or at least more related to fandom itself.
Of course I don’t think it’s the only way to fly, but it can be fun navigating those shark-infested waters (and there are lots of sharks between here and the far side of the Pacific, I suppose), technically, to get what you want. With internet shopping exploding in Japan (about 5 years too late) it’s something that is now advanced enough to trouble yourself with, should you be up for the challenge.
The biggest hurdle in this kind of consumerism is one that is based on lack of information. I mean, I think Ichiban Kuji figures are largely still purchasable because of this. Banpresto’s new line of merch (it goes beyond figures…like this ramen bowl I have at home) they introduced in 2007 is kind of a lottery set. Retailers can buy a whole set of it, and sell raffle tickets (500 or 800 yen or whatever) where you’re guaranteed to win something. This means a lot of what goes into the set is worth less than 500 or 800 yen. This also means some items in the set is not only worth more than 500 or 800 yen or whatever, but also makes doing a raffle something desirable (even if irrationally so). Bandai makes it back by selling the set. Retailers makes it back by selling tickets, which total (tho assuming at some point not every ticket sells) to be more than the cost of the set. Or at least this is what I think how Ichiban Kuji is suppose to work. Here’s an older write-up for the One Piece readers.
The thing is, there are some pretty serious figure collecting otaku out there who would buy direct the whole set, just because 2-3 figures in the set is worth their while. I mean an entire allotment is well under a couple thousand dollars, if even one. It may be the smart thing to do, especially when you can split the duplicates with someone. Typically one set comes with a few A or B prizes and more C, D, E, and subsequent prizes. Each prize level probably has a few different varieties of things you could get. So it gets you partly like how trade figures could as well.
And just like how some retailers sell open-box trade figures at a markup, some do the same with these Ichiban Kuji sets. I can’t say at what price they break even doing this, since at that point it depends a lot more on how attractive a particular set is, how rare a particular figure in that set can be, and how much it goes for. More importantly, since each Ichiban Kuji set only has a handful of the top tier PVC collectible figures, the supply of it is definitely limited.
Thankfully, because of this non-single-product aspect of Ichiban Kuji sets, it’s not really marketed as such. People who may be hardcore PVC figure collectors may not know about specific figures from a set in which could be similar to one of those 4000-8000 yen single figures. And I think this is how it is at all possible to collect specific figures from Ichiban Kuji sets.
Of course, this is not some kind of secret. Attractive figures from specific sets are sold at a big markup even at Japan’s domestic retailers, let alone export/import operations. That is, if they’re sold individually. So there’s another kind of price ceiling there.
So on top of worrying about the usual traps of mail ordering (which is not a lot these days), there’s the more-than-usual shipping, the exchange rate, the bargain hounding aspect, the availability aspect (since individual figures are kind of like a secondary market thing), and then there’s competition for the limited quantities among buyers who are stuck with proxy or a handful of online sites for all their Ichiban Kuji deals.