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The Outrageous Gray Market for Pokémon Cards in China

By Weilin Li
Nov. 22, 2022 updated 12:45

Pokémon Trading Card Game (PTCG)’s certified artist Naoki Saito signed a rare Lillie card in September for a Chinese fan going by Akira. The player at that time said they would "cherish this card for the rest of their life."

However, about two months later, the signed Lillie appeared in a card shop in Akihabara, Japan, for 15.98 million JPY (~110,000 USD). Leading people to suspect that the fan had resold it for a large amount of money.

Following that, both Chinese and Japanese fans began to dig up more information about this incident. A gray market on used product platforms in China and some behind-the-scenes tricks to get illustrators’ signatures have surfaced as a result.

Fans suspected that "Akira", in this case, is not a real name. The signature requestor probably chose the name because it was common, and they could sell the card to a real "Akira". In this way, they were able to facilitate a higher resale price.

There is another trick in the gray market, where some “fans” know that Japanese illustrators do not understand Chinese and so will use the Chinese name of a character, or even of "Xiaozhi” (Ash Ketchum) as their supposed names, making the signatures more valuable.

As we reported in our previous article, after the case of Akira, a Douyin (TikTok) video caught the eyes of fans. A man named "juju in Japan" claimed to have bought a rare card pack from a closed card shop for 2 million JPY, which had the Lillie autographed by Saito in the package.

Pokémon card Lillie in the Douyin VideoPokémon card Lillie in the Douyin Video

At first, fans thought that the video proved Akira had sold the signed card to the shop owner mentioned in the video and that the Lillie card had then flowed into the market.

However, some screenshots from the second-hand platform Xianyu showed that the Douyin video was simply created as a joke. The video creator was the same one who asked for the signature from Saito and who owned the signed card. And he was considering selling this card for 15.98 million JPY (~110,000 USD).

A conversation between a seller and a buyer for the Lillie card, proving the video creator was actually the card ownerA conversation between a seller and a buyer for the Lillie card, proving the video creator was actually the card owner

In the meantime, on the Internet, there were several other screenshots from a fan group, "Douyin President Dream Fan Group", and a person called "President Dream" claimed to be the fan who asked Saito to sign the card.

President Dream didn't think there was anything wrong with his approach of "cherish it and resell it".President Dream didn't think there was anything wrong with his approach of "cherish it and resell it".

The similarity between the Xianyu seller and the fan group organizer was that they both introduced themselves as "President Dream". So, President Dream may be Akira.

Besides this, because the names of a Bilibili video creator, “President Fly", and "President Dream", are similar, some Japanese fans mistakenly thought these two people were the same person.

However, in a livestream, when asked whether there really exists a scalper chain in China that specializes in defrauding the signatures of Japanese artists, this card collector was vague, citing "putting an end to Internet violence" as an excuse.

Some Pokémon cards of LillieSome Pokémon cards of Lillie

The prosperity of the collectible market in recent years has dramatically increased the sale of Pokémon cards, making it the card game with the largest market share in Japan, surpassing Yu-Gi-Oh!

Pokémon officials have taken many measures to control resale and combat the increasingly frenetic second-hand market hype, such as increasing the issuance of some rare cards.

But still, the illustrators are not in an advantageous position. It was speculated that they are usually paid slightly over 100,000 JPY (~710 USD) for drawing these rare cards. Their autographs are purely for fans. Except for the appearance fees of some exhibitions, it is almost impossible for them to further monetize their work.

However, if people in disguise as fans can deceive artists into signing rare cards, they can earn millions of JPY by reselling, putting the artists at great risk of losing the trust of Pokémon officials and real fans.