Pirates / Bootlegs
A pirated (or bootlegged) anime is basically an illegal copy of an anime series which may or may not have already been licensed. A majority of pirates are lower in picture quality and the subtitles are often misleading, to the point where you can't understand what the characters are saying. Basically, it's bad.
So before you hid that 'Bid now' button, how can you tell if the anime is pirated or not? Follow these simple guideline.
These are the thing you should look out for in the description section of a listing. You can tell whether the anime is genuine or not because the seller gives away that information.
Number of disc
A majority of licensed anime holds no more than 4 - 5 episodes per disc. A pirated copy, though, holds up to 8 - 9 episodes per disc. To put that in perspective, a 26 episodes series will need at least 6 DVDs for a licensed copy, and about 3 for a pirated one. So, if you see something like "All 26 episodes on 3 Discs", it is likely that you're looking at a pirated anime.
However, just like my teacher used to say, "Life is not meant to be simple". And unfortunately, he's right. There are legit anime series where the episode count per disc is higher than 4. Fruits Basket (R4, Madman), for example, keeps 26 episodes across 4 discs. So does Slayers (R4, Madman).
Rule of thumb - Beware of the listings that say "all 26 episodes on 3 discs" or "all 13 episodes on 2 discs".
I said earlier that some subtitles of pirated anime are so badly translated that you don't understand what the characters are saying. You'll only know that when you put that DVD into your DVD player (which mean you would have bought it already). So how can you tell on a listing (ie. before you buy it)? "Available subtitles" is the answer.
On a listing, most sellers will tell you what kind of subtitles are available. To spot a pirate, check for subtitles that say "English and Chinese". As far as R4 anime DVD is concerned, there is no Chinese subtitle in anime. (and I doubt any R1 or R2 DVDs have them either)
As usual, there is an exception to this rule. IVL is a Hong Kong based company that sells licensed copy of anime like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. On their DVDs (which is R3), there are Chinese and English subtitles. I am also aware of legit anime companies in South East Asia (eg. Singapore) also have Chinese subtitles.
Rule of thumb - Beware of the listings that say "English and Chinese subtitles".
Audio track is another way of telling. R4 anime (especially those licensed by Madman) all have Japanese and English audio. Pirated anime usually just have Japanese. They can't afford to hire voice actors.
However, some anime does not conform to this rule. Ghost in the Shell: Innocence is an infamous case in point. The R1 disc was released with just the Japanese audio.
Rule of thumb - Beware of anime that only has Japanese audio.
In my opinion, region coding is probably one of the world's worst concept ever conceived by human (but we'll have to leave that for another day). Funny enough, it is one way to tell whether an anime is a pirate or not.
As far as I'm aware, I'd say more than 95% of anime around the world are region coded. If a listing says something like "Can play on any DVD player" or "Region FREE", watch out.
Rule of thumb - Multi region, no go.
PicturePicture is also a fairly reliable source in telling whether you're looking at a genuine or a pirate. There are certain things to notice on a DVD cover, providing that the sellers put up a picture of the actual DVD. Assume that they do, look for the follow signs.
One effective way to tell is to compare the front cover to a front cover that you know is genuine. How do you do that? Well, let's say you're looking at buying a R4 Patlabor 3 Movie Special Edition from someone on eBay. So off you go to the Madman website (the company that licensed the show) and do a search on Patlabor 3. Does the front cover of the picture in the listing matches that on the Madman website? If it does, give it a tick.
Rule of thumb - Check with the licensing company before making a purchase
Pirated version of an anime series usually are stored in a slip case.
Just like everything else here, there is an exception to this rule. Irresponsible Captain Tylor (both OVA and TV series from Madman) are stored in a slip case similar to those used for bootlegs.
Rule of thumb - Watch out for anime that are stored in a slip case
A majority of R4 anime sold in Australia are by Madman. Their company logo can be found on most DVD covers. If they are not present on the cover, they should be found on the spine of the case.
The same goes for anime from other regions. Some prominent R1 anime companies include Bandai, ADV, Pioneer / Geneon, CPM, Viz, The Right Stuf International (TRSI) and Amigo.
Rule of thumb - Look for a company logo
For R4 anime that are sold by Madman, an OFLC rating is always displayed on the DVD cover as required by law. Back in the old days, it is white, and is located at the bottom left corner. Nowadays, the infamous colour coded OFLC rating can be found in the same location, but in colour. It is very obvious to the eyes.
As you should have figured out by now, there are exceptions. R1 anime, for example, does not hold information on ratings. Some companies have a "suggested viewing audience" printed on the back cover of the DVD. Unless the seller has a picture of the back cover, you're unlikely to find it. And that does not separate a pirate from a genuine anime.
Rule of thumb - When buying R4 anime, look for the Madman company logo and the OFLC rating on the front cover.
Seller feedback is a good indication. Sometimes it's not so. But you can tell. Comments from previous buyers like "Not happy with the pirated copy I received" or "Item is quite obviously bootleg" (these are real comments taken from dissatisfied customers) give you a serious warning sign that the seller is selling a pirated anime. If there are one or two comments like this, it might be an isolated case (of course, you have to take into account the nature of the seller's business, what they sell, etc.), but if you see 5 in the past month that says the same thing, you know what you're dealing with.
Rule of thumb - Read the feedback before bidding
Unlicensed anime litters eBay daily, shows like Naruto and Bleach are very common. None of these shows have been licensed to companies outside Japan at the time of writing this guide, so if you see them, avoid them (and then ignore the other anime from the same seller).
So how can you tell if the show has been licensed? That brings me to the next point.
Know your Anime
Knowledge is the number one way to combat pirated anime. You know if the anime is not even out on DVD in Japan, yet it is already selling on eBay, it is a bootleg.
Before you even venture onto eBay, visiting some anime sites, like ANN. Do you homework. Ghost in the Shell SAC is licensed by Bandai, released in Australia by Madman, and contains 7 volumes. If someone is selling it in a slip case on 3 discs with English and Chinese subtitle, you know what to do.
Rule of thumb - Do you research.
In summary, if, after looking at the picture and read through the description and still feel uncomfortable or unsure about the anime, don't buy it. It's better to miss out than to have spent the money and then regret it later.
This is a guide only, and should be treated as such. There is no foolproof way of telling unless the DVD is physically in you hand. However, I am hopeful that by following this guide, you can filter out most of the anime in question on eBay. Happy shopping, and don't out bid me for my next anime ^_^.