How to Spot A Bootleg Anime DVD or Blu-ray

What Are the Differences Between Official and Illegal Anime DVDs?

Teenager boy watching television, using remote control
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One of the biggest issues affecting the anime industry, both within Japan and abroad, is the distribution of illegal, unauthorized DVDs and Blu-rays. Not only do these take money away from the creators and the official companies but they also, more often than not, include a less-than-professional translation which negatively affects the viewer's overall enjoyment of the anime series or movie.

Here are six quick and easy ways to tell if your anime DVD or Blu-ray is a bootleg.

Check the DVD or Blu-ray Packaging

While some bootleg copies can have great disk labels and covers, many have rushed designs that are produced on someone's home computer. With a little scrutiny, buyers can notice things like pixelization on the cover artwork or even a DVD that says "DVD-R" on it. A lot of bootlegs also use cheaper paper for the cover insert (think printer paper vs high gloss) and it's not often that you'll see one with those impossible to remove "Security" stickers all over the jacket. Likewise, if the DVD comes in a plain sleeve or another alternative packaging, you probably have a fake on your hands.

Check the DVD or Blu-ray Audio

If there's no English dub, then it's probably a bootleg. There are exceptions to this of course, such as a true import DVD from Japan or some official releases of smaller niche series that couldn't justify the production costs of an English dub, but in general DVDs and Blu-rays released for the North American audience are going to have an English dub.

Check the DVD Region

DVDs and Blu-rays released for North America and Canada are Region 1 or Zone A. Official imported DVDs and Blu-rays from Japan will be Region 2 or Zone A. Illegal bootlegs are almost always Region Free or Region 0.

See If the English Subtitles Are of Professional Standard

Companies who hire trained professional translators will not use any Japanese words or honorifics in their products' English subtitles. An official release shouldn't have any san, chan, or kun and definitely no random Japanese words such as sensei or senpai. An illegal anime bootleg DVD or Blu-ray release normally features a big mix of language mixing in their English subtitles due to the inexperienced translators used for their production.

(Note: In an attempt to save money, many major official anime distributors in North America are now hiring inexperienced translators to subtitle their releases and as a result, the overall quality of English subtitles in new releases has decreased dramatically since the 80s and 90s. There are still some good official releases though which is why it's always worth reading anime DVD and Blu-ray reviews before purchasing a new title.)

Check the Price

We all love a bargain, especially when it comes to anime and we'll be the first to admit that you'll sometimes luck into a really good (and legitimate) find. So while price alone shouldn't make or break your decision, it may be worth taking a closer look at an item before buying it.

Investigate the Seller

A DVD bought directly from Amazon is probably okay, but a DVD bought from an individual seller through the Amazon marketplace isn't guaranteed. Similarly, if you're out buying at a convention or on eBay, you need to pay a little more attention than you would if you purchased something from a known and reputable dealer.

More Tips to Avoid Being Burned by a Bootleg

  • If you're still not sure, do some research. Compare the artwork and packaging to a release that you know is legit.
  • Check the release dates. Most anime DVDs are released in Japan before they hit the states, so if you're looking at a copy of something that you didn't think was out yet, you might want to double-check before you buy.
  • If you're buying at an online auction such as eBay, check the descriptions, most (but not all) legit sellers will say "this is not a bootleg." Even more important, however, is the description itself. If the seller tells you that it's "high-quality audio/video," it's probably a rip.
  • Use common sense. While you can't always tell a bootleg from the real deal until after you buy, there are usually some pretty good indicators to help you weed out most of the fakes. If it's a rare edition and the seller has a large number of copies for a really cheap price, you're probably looking at a bootleg. The bottom line? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Edited by Brad Stephenson