Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Scratching That Building Itch

Being a Lego collector in the Philippines isn’t easy. Retail prices here for Lego can get pretty crazy, often times reaching double the price compared to other countries. And this is the main reason I’ve resorted to other means to satisfy my building cravings….

OK before I get any further, if you have ANY problems with bootleg and knockoff toys, then I suggest you don’t read any further.

Anyway, it was back in 2014 when I bought my first bootleg Lego minifigure and since then, the bootleg Lego market has grown substantially bigger and bolder with numerous manufacturers from China producing endless copyright infringing products every month. And what can I say, I have gotten a lot of these bootleg sets.

Now I know that there are a LOT of Lego purists out there (some close friends of mine at that) who HATE all these bootleg Lego stuff, and I respect that. But at the end of the day, I’m just being practical. Lego in this country is just insanely priced and it’s just not the main focus of my collection, so I get these knockoff sets like I said to scratch my building itch.

In just 2 years I have bought quite a number of sets and I’ll be the first to tell anyone out there….no matter how accurate these sets can be, the best bootlegged sets do not compare to the original. You can feel it in the individual brick quality and in the actual build, Lego really is the superior product. But the best ones come close enough for me.

The bulk of my bootleg Lego purchases have revolved around superheroes, Avengers, Justice League and so on. But what I was really looking to get into was Star Wars. For some reason however, bootleg Star Wars sets weren’t as common. Sure they would come up with a speeder bike or some none descript ship now and then but none of these bootleg companies ever released any of the more iconic vehicles like the X-Wing, Tie Fighter or the Millennium Falcon. That all changed however this year.

In 2016, newcomer company (or at least one I had never heard of before), Lepin beat out all the rest in releasing bootleg versions of the new Force Awakens Lego line, which included an X-Wing, Tie Fighter and you guessed it, a Millennium Falcon. Granted these were the updated Episode 7 versions, they were good enough for me and despite having never bought anything from Lepin, seeing that none of the other known reliable bootleggers released any other versions, I grabbed these sets once they were available.

One thing that is common with bootleggers is how they refrain from using the actual names of the product, character or license. Case in point, 3rd party Transformers would produce their own version of Optimus Prime and name him Red Truck Robot or something like that. The same is true for Lego bootleggers. While the packaging is practically identical, you will not find “Star Wars” or ‘Avengers” anywhere on the box. Instead, you get stuff like “Space Wars” or “Space Fights” and in Lepin’s case, you get “Star Wnrs”. Now I get what they were going for I guess….Star Winners? I think they would have been better off calling their product “Star Dogs” cuz all I got from their name was ‘Star Wieners”.

Anyway, silly names aside, I guess you all want to know how these sets turned out. Well simply put they turned out pretty OK. Now based on these sets, I would have to say that Lepin definitely isn’t the best bootleg company out there. I would give that title to either Sheng Yuan or Decool. But I would say Lepin falls a level or 2 below. Ok, so the brick quality is quite nice, and the build is solid, but aside from that, Lepin falls short on everything else.

First you have the minifigures. While Sheng Yuan or Decool can produce minifigures that are almost identical to the original, you won’t have any trouble identifying Lepin’s as bootlegs. The prints on the faces just don’t look right and in some cases, the minifigures even sport the wrong hairpieces. Another nitpick worth noting was that the helmets of the X-Wing pilots were molded in solid plastic which meant solid visors that Lepin didn’t even bother to paint a different color…but again, if you are after the vehicle builds like me, all these sub par minifigures are serviceable.

Second, you have the sticker sheets. Now while I may have lucked out on my Tie Fighter and Millennium Falcon, the cut of sticker sheet of the X-Wing was terribly out of line so I had to resort to scissors to properly trim the stickers. I did read that this was a common problem with the first batch of Lepin sets so they must be fixing this in their later sets.

Finally though, the most unforgivable sin of these Lepin sets was that all the ones I got had 1 or 2 pieces missing! Yes I know, since these are bootleg sets it shouldn’t come as a surprise that parts would be missing. But in my 2 years of collecting bootleg sets, these were the first sets that actually weren’t complete. Now I know I could have just been really lucky, that I never got an incomplete set before this, but I really think this is more of a rookie mistake by Lepin. Luckily, the missing pieces weren’t that crucial to the build and I was able to find replacement parts in my bucket-o-extra pieces.

Anyway, at the end of the day, average minifigures and missing pieces aside, these 3 sets were very fun builds. The end product was pretty good and held together very well (unlike some other companies..I’m looking at you Dargo) and definitely well worth the money I paid for them. How much you ask? Well on Amazon, a legit Force Awakens Millennium Falcon costs about 150 USD….or about 7,000 PhP. Locally this set is selling for around 9,500 PhP or more. For the bootleg Tie Fighter, X-Wing AND Millennium Falcon I paid a grand total of 4,200 PhP which is a little over HALF of only the legit Millennium Falcon on the US market! Not bad!

To close, I would just like to stress again, that if you are a Lego purist and frown upon all these Lego bootlegs then more power to you. I totally respect your opinions on the whole bootlegging issue. I am definitely not out to start any discussion or debates on the evils of knock off products. As for me, I know exactly what I am getting every time I buy any of these bootleg sets, and that is a cheaper imitation of the real thing, flaws and all…and I’m good with that.