ANIMEfringe Cover Story:
Made in Taiwan: Son May CDs versus Original Japanese CDs
By Ikusabe Wataru and Adam "OMEGA" Arnold
Are all your Japanese import CDs really from Japan?
If you've been taken in by a price tag that would match any domestic soundtrack, then chances are that you've been duped. Don't get us wrong, the CD may play fine and the packaging may seem sturdy. The simple fact is that many of your hard-earned CDs are more than likely from Taiwan. (insert shocking sound effect)
Not convinced? Ok, look at the spine of your CD's jewel case for the serial number. Imports all have a four letter company name, followed by a dash, and then a four or five digit number (mostly five digits these days). Some of the major companies that appear most often are COCC = Nippon Columbia, POCX = Polygram, and APCM =Appolon Inc. For Taiwanese companies, the company name consists of only two or three-letter words (SM/GGG/GA=SonMay and A8=Ever Anime) which are usually followed by a three digit number. The majority of the time, the first release is marked with 001 in a similar fashion as the Japanese imports.
Of all the Taiwan companies dealing in Japanese music, SonMay Records LTD is the most recognized and most frequently bashed on newsgroups because of the misconception that it is associated with Piracy. But this is simply not the case. SonMay has been around for longer than 10 years paying royalties and licencing fees to the Japanese companies to gain the rights to release music. If they didn't pay these fees, then it is highly unlikely that they would illegally pirate CDs in a time when large companies are in the public eye.
The reason SonMay Records LTD receives so much heat is the fact that many of their copyrights only extend to the Taiwan region, and due to the large scale of anime importation, large quantities of CDs have poured into foreign countries with expanding markets. These CDs are, in turn, being sold as originals at many hobby shops and online stores. It's not uncommon for companies to pretend they don't know where their products are going since they don't personally sell them overseas.
So what should the real cost of these CDs be? In all actuality, probably around $7 to $8 (US Dollars). These are just mass production products -- in other words, really just some fancy-looking CDRs. However, they have been trying to improve on the Taiwanese CDs' quality over the past few years, with almost the exact look and the side slips that Japan imports always have. Yet the differences are still relatively easy to spot. The quality on CD inserts is probably the easiest to spot because the printing seems to be more like a color-copy, complete with colorful flash-marks on some of the edges of words or phrases.
In Japan, there are hardly ever any CDS collections in Japan that feature over five or six different series on one CD. Anything like a "1999 Best Collection" is more than likely a Taiwan product, due to the high costs of copyrights to get different companies in Japan to authorize such a low-pricing product with songs from these money-making series, all on just one disc. But, Japan imports do have CDS collections from time to time, but they are almost always from the same recording studio or group, like some of the Two-Mix CDS collections, or from Glay, or Kinki Kids, etc.
Lastly, some Taiwan CDs use gold-foil discs to record on instead of the audio CD standard silver-foil discs. Though this becomes harder to distinguish as CD-R and CD-RW becomes more high profile, this can lead to production defects. On early Taiwanese Neon Genesis Evangelion and certain Sailormoon CDs there can be seen suction-cup like circles that appear on the underside of the CDs themselves. These circles do not hurt the CDs or their sound quality, but it may cause some CD-ROM drives to not recognize a CD of this nature when it is inserted.
For a quality-conscious otaku, this drop in quality is most depressing. The knowledge that a CD is not a true original can make any great collection seem cheap. True, distributors do sell the CDs for the price of domestic CDs. But this is only due to Taiwan import CDs costing around 40-20% less than a real Japanese import CD. This is due to the importation costs which cover the price of the CDs themselves, copyright fees, and shipping from Japan.
So how can you tell the CDs apart? Presented here is the ANIMEfringe's guide to detecting a fake from the original.
It is not unusual to find anime stores located in many regions of North America, though we do feel that it is certainly unfair for them to sell these CDs as real imports to customers who DO NOT know about the source and true nature of these CDs that they are paying for. With well over a decade of history behind them, SonMay and some of the biggiest record companies based in Taiwan had improved their product dramatically, when compared to some of their earlier products, with CD slips that looked like low-quality color copies. However, there are still traces and clues which consumers can see for themselves, to tell them from true imports:
1. The biggest clue among all would be the use of Chinese characters on the packages. Although Chinese characters can sometimes be easily mistaken as Kanji used in the Japanese language, they are far more complicated in structure and if your CD happens to be made in Taiwan, there is little doubt that you will find a Taiwan address of that particular company labeled somewhere on the CD, usually on the back side of the CD side slip, or near the edge of the back of the CD case. (as shown in circle 1 and 3 in example three below)
2. If you happen to have any of those "1999 Animation Best Collection" with a serial number starting with letters that were mentioned above, then you're holding a Taiwanese CD in your hands. It is VERY unlikely (if not entirely impossible) that several different record companies agreed to compile a mega-mix of hit songs from more than five seperate anime series on one CD. (as shown in circle number 1 in both first and second examples)
3. Check for the logos. (circle number 3 of both first and second examples)
4. Look closely -- there are sometimes faded color rings surrounding characters and graphics on the inside and outside of the booklet and the side slip that come with the CD if the product was made in Taiwan.
5. The easiest way is to ask. You are the one paying, you have the right to know. Ask the clerk at the store where these CDs are from. If you feel that they may not be too trustworthy, ask a friend who happens to know Chinese and/or may have had experience dealing with these kinds of anime products in the past (if your friend were living in the Taiwan/Hong Kong area around the late 1980s and the 1990s and happens to like anime, he or she more than likely has brought at least some of these CDs or cassette tapes from one of the Taiwan companies)
|Note: Click the thumbnails to see a full-size version of the image.
Here are two examples, including the side slips taken from the second Neon Genesis Evangelion Soundtrack and the Kidou Senkan Nadesico ~ Prince of Darkness ~ movie soundtrack. Shown in the first picture are the serial number , the CD list from SM typed out entirely in Chinese  and one version of their company logo . In the second picture are the serial number  of the Nadesico soundtrack, the multi-colored "Golden Animation" characters in Chinese  and the second version of their company logo. And shown in the last picture are the back covers of the CD cases, with addresses of their main office (which clearly stated that it's located in Taipei, one of the biggest cities in Taiwan) [1 & 3] and the Chinese translation of each track printed in yellow after the original names of the tracks .