Continuing Animefringe's series on the wonderful world of anime on the web, this month we take a look at importing.
One day, perhaps a week or year from now, going down to your local Suncoast or Borders simply won't be enough to satisfy your craving for anime and manga. Perhaps you're a gamer who can't wait for games the latest consoles to be released in your country. Fear not! This month's Web Showcase is all about importing.
These sites were chosen because I know from personal knowledge how easy they are to use and, because of the unknown territory of importing, their reliability.
DVDs and CDs
It's easy to play a CD. One can buy them from any place in the world and they will play on any CD player. DVDs, however, are slightly more complicated. Before even considering importing a DVD, you'll first have to make sure it's compatible with your DVD player. DVD players in the US generally only play Region 1 DVDs whereas Japanese and UK discs are Region 2 encoded. Some DVDs are multi-regional, but the vast majority of discs are encoded to play only on particlar players. Also, Region 0 discs - a certain subset of multi-regional DVDs - almost always indicate bootlegged discs. There are some exceptions, such as UK distributor Tartan, but few legitimate authoring houses code their products in this particular region. It is also important to note that most Japanese DVDs do not come with English subtitles.
I love CDJapan. In fact, I've been importing from them for a couple of years now. Based in Tokyo, CDJapan is actually the English-language arm of a company called Neowing. The site itself is entirely in English and the prices are in US dollars as well as yen. The shipping is a little expensive, but they are super fast. I've had items arrive the morning CDJapan sent the dispatch email.
Another excellent feature is their reward scheme. For every purchase, customers receive points which can be redeemed - in batches of one hundred -- for merchandise in later purchases. Frequent customers will also receive emails containing coupons -- typically featuring discounts around 500 yen.
CDJapan also has a separate section for Japanese films with English subtitles, which is always nice for those of us who may not be fluent in Japanese. Additionally, they send notification emails based on previous purchases or favorite artists - a feature I find to be immensely useful. Customers can check out the site for good advice on importing, in general. They host a comprehensive FAQ, and they even indicate whether DVDs are 'first pressings' and come with goodies (such as posters or slipcases) or limited editions (such as the Sonny bust that came with first pressings of I, Robot).
Ah, His Master's Voice. This site can be viewed in both Japanese and English -- always a nice feature. It is the only major store to mail games outside the territory for which they're manufactured, so for game importers seeking rare titles, HMV is a must-visit!
Stocking a vast selection of music, DVDs, and games, HMV Japan should be the first place you look for that elusive enka CD. The fact that customers can find most items via an English menu gives HMV a healthy advantage over Amazon Japan.
HMV is an excellent site for hard to find items or games not available elsewhere. Everything I've purchased in the past was delivered within a week, and their shipping rates are reasonable.
Games and Consoles
Remember, apart from a few exceptions, one cannot just pick up a Japanese game and play it on your bog standard PS2, but don't worry; importing is perfectly legal. In fact, it's becoming more and more common -- especially with the launch of the region-free Nintendo DS and Sony's PSP. It's also worth mentioning that there are hundreds of games -- from anime related releases to dating sims -- which never make it out of Japan. There are plenty of sites that offer advice on playing imports (such as www.ntsc-uk.com) and the stores themselves are happy to answer technical questions regarding an order.
This is my personal favorite site for importing. Not only do they sell games for every single console I can think of, they also sell pre-owned games and hard-to-get special editions of games such as such as Rez.
Play Asia is easily navigable, with links to official sites in addition to original content. It is updated regularly, and they already have sections of the site devoted to the Xbox 360, the PS3, and Nintendo's Revolution, complete with technical specifications and a vast number of pictures.
They also provide a variety of shipping options and sell everything one might need to begin importing games. When I bought my NTSC-J PS2 and first game, I also received free cables and some random Japanese snack-things along with a US$5 coupon. Good value or what!
The company is based in Hong Kong and sells games for American, Japanese, Korean and Asian consoles. More recently, they began selling movies, CDs and Japanese magazines. Their customer service team is also incredibly helpful. They can answer any queries regarding games or importing.
Another fine site for all your importing needs. Lik Sang also has a base in Europe, which makes it convenient for folks like me. The site itself is well designed with an option to see prices in a variety of currencies. Lik Sang also stock interesting bits and bobs like key chains and those must-have Nintendogs plush toys.
Lik Sang also stock Famitsu, the expansive empire of magazines which cover all aspects of Japanese gaming and other random items like cheat discs for you Japanese PS2.
Shipping is fast and there is also the added bonus of reward points on each purchase. Lik Sang also offer free shipping on a lot of their titles and regularly update the main page with all the gaming news you could ever want.
National Console Support
If you want special editions, head here. Last year, National Console Support was the only place to stock the limited edition Japanese version of Silent Hill 4: The Room outside the Land of the Rising Sun. They also stock older consoles and games, such as the Saturn, along with other interesting items such as imported figures and a variety of magazines.
They are based in the US, which makes them ideal for people who are beginning to import but are a little unsure about importing straight from Japan. National Console Support also has a huge catalogue of games. They've been in the importing business since the Year Dot.
My only complaint with this site is the fact that they have two shops, which are distinctly different from one another. This can be confusing when you are trying to locate your order. Regardless of this, the staff is helpful and this is a good place from which US gamers can start importing.
Manga and Miscellaneous
Some of these sites require a little knowledge of Japanese, but don't worry; by the time you consider importing from these sites, you'll be thinking about learning Japanese!
Want a strategy guide you saw advertised on the website of your favorite Japanese game? What about untranslated copies of your favorite manga series? This is the place to go! Amazon has a worldwide reputation, but you will need the name of the item you want before you can order. On the upside, the layout and ordering system (which can be viewed in English) is identical to the American and British stores.
I love Amazon. This is the place to go for manga, strategy guides and hard to find art books. Be warned, though: shipping costs are prohibitively expensive, so bulk-buying is the name of the game. Amazon Japan will not ship computer games outside of Japan, and if you live in the UK, you will probably end up paying tax if you buy over £45 worth of DVDs or CDs from them. Sadly, Amazon uses highly recognizable packaging which Customs Officers just love!
Japan Queen specializes in second-hand manga on a strictly first-come, first served basis. If you see a volume of manga you want, put it in your basket. One never knows when it might be back in stock.
The site itself is a little disorganized for my tastes but if you want manga really cheaply, this is the place to visit. Also, shipping is a little pricey, but they do offer several options, depending on how fast you want your goods.
I had to mention this site. Regular readers will have seen various weird and wonderful items in my Wanted! list over the last couple of months.
J-List stocks thousands of items from Japan - from traditional clothing to sweets to certain adult items for that special otaku in your life. The best part about this site is that you can also buy Japanese translators, dating-sims, manga and idol photo books all in one place. J-List is also an excellent place for those hard-to-find, gorgeous anime calendars which are produced in Japan every year.
So, if you ever feel the need to buy weird keychains, sandals, or even your own authentic sailor suit uniform, J-List is the place to go.