Bootleg toys. I know what you are probably thinking when you hear that term. Something along the lines of the hilarity found here, perhaps? Does your mind go right to the toy section of your local dollar store, or perhaps to an open-air alley market in your nearest city’s “Chinatown”? Normally we associate the thought of bootleg toys to be wrapped around shoddy products based on (or downright copied) intellectual properties by factory owners of ill-repute. The Man in the Anthill’s linked article shows us that that is a completely natural association. However, every once in a while a bootleg toy comes along that breaks from the traditional sloppily painted “Spader-Man” or “Robert Cop” knock-off. Sure, the questionable legalities and potential copyright issues remain, but sometimes the bootleggers are actually somewhat adept at making a solid toy. Enter this set of bootleg Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on the NECA comic book figures from a few years back. These have been popping up on eBay from a few different sellers as of late (or one seller with multiple accounts), and the $50 asking price is just too good not to move my piqued interest to full commitment, so I grabbed a set just to see how these “knockoffs” turned out. Well, for my first foray into bootleg toys, I am pretty surprised by the end result of these less-than-legal little plastic men. Er, turtles.
First, I think a little background on the history of these figures (or at least the official ones) is needed. Back in 2008 (or was it 2009?) NECA did something that no one outside of Playmates toys had ever done: they created a TMNT action figure line. The line was also based on the Turtle’s comic book roots, which was, again, something that no one had ever done. Plus, they made them super-articulated (yep, no one had ever done that either) and got the incomparable Four Horsemen to handle all of the design and sculpt work (seeing a “first time” pattern here?), which resulted in Turtle figures like we had never, ever seen before.
The reaction to those Turtle figures was about as universally positive as any I have ever seen for an action figure line. The quality, paint, articulation, sculpts, and everything else was top notch with these figures and they still remain some of my absolute favorite action figures that I own. There might have been some grumbling from the comic uninitiated fans that the masks were all red, but that was the point and NECA probably never had the rights to make the multicolored masks anyhow. The four Turtles saw a variety of different releases in different packaging types with various accessories, and they even got a full-on black and white set to really recall their pulpy days.
The line managed to add a San Diego Comic Con Exclusive April O’Neil, along with some Mousers, but unfortunately, the prototypes of Shredder and the Foot Soldiers that were shown never met the bright lights of production. This obviously caused much sadness and rage (depending on the personality type) for many a fan. I still don’t think I have gotten over that because I was already way down the road in wanting Splinter, Casey Jones, and some others as well. Sigh…
NECA blamed the lack of moving forward on the fact that the Turtles were only a success in the US market and were pretty much duds everywhere else. I know a lot of people did not buy into that, but that is how the turtle shell cracked, and really, at the end of the day, we were left with probably the best TMNT figures to date, and got a bit of a supporting cast as well.
If you missed out on the set, you have probably had a very rough go of it since then, if you have wanted to add them to your toy shelf. The price has skyrocketed on them since they went out of production and I hope you chose your spot well when you had to offer up a pound of flesh to acquire them. Well, bootleggers are opportunists if anything, and it seems they have gotten whiff of the escalated value of these guys because it looks like the old NECA molds are being used for full-on production again, or, at the very least, those molds have been recreated to near-perfect accuracy to produce this particular set of figures.
Really, pretty much everything has been taken into consideration with these figures, and that is something really rare when dealing with unofficial products. The “tube” packaging has been recreated and the inserts are very close to what was included with the official versions. Heck, even the NECA logo remains on the printed material. Of course, there are going to be some obvious signs that these are NOT the actual NECA figures, so if that is what you are looking for, these will certainly not be for you, but I have to say, when it comes to quality and production value, these figures are right on par with just about anything you can get from a legit toy manufacturer today.
Obviously, these figures feature the cartoon-colored masks instead of the all-red versions from the comics. For some, that will be a bummer (but I DO think you can get bootlegs of the red versions as well), but I think for a lot of collectors this will be acceptable, or even preferred. Let’s face it, no matter important “knowing your roots” might be, I don’t think there is anyone that would argue that the Turtles are better known with the blue, orange, purple masks with red reserved specifically with Raphael. For me, I got to roll the dice on some bootlegs of some of my favorite figures in a different iteration. Sure, they might not be accurate to any source material, but they still make for fun and colorful figures.
Again, the level of recreated detail in these figures is pretty astounding. Even the picture on the front of the package insert features the figures with painted masks, and the art on the back has the multi-colored masks as well. That does not even get into all of the touches of the figures, and I have to say, with the exception of a couple of aesthetic and tactile differences, I am hard-pressed to find a great divide between the official and unofficial versions of these figures. Furthermore, I cannot come up with a single reason to cast a negative light on these over the real figures either because the differences between the two are just that — differences.
So, what are the differences? Well, the masks are obviously different colors, but the paint used throughout is slightly more shiny than the what was used on the NECA figures. I think you can see it in the pictures, and it seems to be more apparent on the masks. Also, the joint pegs are painted on these figures instead of being cast in green, so there is some potential for paint flake, and I suppose that is the one area where there is a slight dip in quality as pegs cast in the actual color of plastic is certainly preferred. The joints (for the most part) are more fluid in these figure than before, but they are certainly not weak. This means you get a bit better range of motion out of some places (the hips, knees, and elbows), but not quite as good in others (the ankles, shoulders, and abs). Finally, the plastic used for the hands and feet is stiffer than the NECA versions, so Raph, Leo, and Mikey don’t grip their weapons quite as tight.
Speaking of weapons, aside from Donny’s bo being noticeably softer, I cannot tell a difference in quality from the official to the fakes. There is no detail lost or dulling of blade edges to be found with them. Now, for some reason, I expected the handles on Leo’s Katana blades to be blue and Mike’s nunchucks to be orange, but that is not the case with these figures. Not to say that it is a question of quality or even style, just that, for some reason, I was expecting it.
Honestly, I think the pictures pretty much speak for themselves in terms of aesthetic quality and the with exception of the fragile-seeming shoulder/biceps connection that the real figures have, I have absolutely no issues with the quality of these knockoffs. Now, that is not to say that maybe the plastic or the paint does not conform to all safety standards, so if you are thinking of picking up a set of these, I would certainly not let young children play with them or put them in their mouths. In fact, they have a pretty strong “new toy” smell that you just know is chemical-laden. But that is just a good rule of thumb for all action figures, though.
Okay, make no mistake, we absolutely DO NOT think that making bootlegs of a company’s property is the right thing to do, so this review is not an endorsement of the practice. The US has extremely strict laws around this that is usually in the best interests of the intellectual property owners. However, in China (and much of the East), it is a different ballgame. So I totally understand not supporting the sales of these figures based on that, and I will admit that I still feel a bit guilty about it, but since NECA (a company that I do care about) no longer makes these figures, I went ahead and gave them a shot. You can make up your own mind about how you feel about buying bootlegged items.
However, if you are not bothered by the philosophical dilemma, I think you will really like what you get for your money. The quality is like, 95 percent there and the aesthetics are spot-on. These are probably better than a lot of figures you can get today from actual companies, so make your decision as you will. If you missed out on the real NECA versions (I am sorry, because they rule) this is certainly an easy way to find your Turtle Power.