(Anime Trading Card Collections Article Part 4) Anime Collections – trading cards, Idol/Lami cards and Shitajiki
part 4 of 5

There are a ton of things around that are a bit like trading cards! People who collect trading cards also tend to collect notebooks, furoku (freebie goodies from manga and anime magazines), cassette indexes, dojinshi, manga, stickers, and stationery of various other kinds. Further afield, you'll find people with collections of cels, key chains, figures, toys, models, cd's, videos and any of a dozen other things. But two of the most common things I find trading card collectors have are Idol Cards (also called Lami cards) and Shitajiki.

Idol or Lami cards are trading cards which are produced independent of box/pp/pack sets, and which are individually laminated with a sturdy laminate so that you can safely carry them around with you in your wallet or otherwise without damaging the card. Some people have pictures of their grandchildren in their wallets, others have pictures of Sepiroth. What can we say, it's a nice little keepsake of your favorite character or show! Lami cards are produced and sold individually. They are often issued in little lots of three to six (in some odd cases more – the last lot of Angelique lami cards released included 15 or so different ones) cards at a time. You can buy any one image you like, or try to be a completionist and get them all. Lami cards cost about 100 yen in Japan for a standard card, and sell in America for anything from $1.25 to $2.25 for a current card. Older cards and more rare ones go for more, of course. Once older or more unusual cards get onto ebay, they can go for absurd amounts – I wouldn't pay more than $12 for one that I really really wanted. Occasionally you can find a real treasure, like a 1980's Dirty Pair card or something along those lines. One of my correspondents has identified one of their cards that is from the mid-70's; there may be ones that existed even further back! There are hundreds of series that have lami cards out, from Tonari no Totoro (typically at least $5 a card) to Nurse Angel Ririka (cheap!). Many times you can find lami cards for series for which no other trading cards were ever released.

There are jokes about what lami cards are good for, but really they're just momentoes. Still, fans justifying their habit have noted that they can be used to build very sturdy card houses, as extremely small frisbees, to obscure pictures of frightening people that come in new wallets, to divide powder (um… powdered sugar, for instance), to use as a table-tapping device to replace a cigarette pack when you're trying to go cold turkey, to clean under your fingernails, to brush crumbs off the table, as bookmarks or… ah… well, they're really useful. Really. And look, they're cute! (Adjusting halo to try to look more ingenuous.)

All legitimate lami cards will have some sort of image on the back (not just 'Kodak!') and the company/copyright information as well. Many will have the little square import sticker for the company on them as well. There will also be a whole bunch of little numbers! Look for four-digit numbers, often followed by letters. These numbers will identify the card number. A card that says 1288D was issued in December 1988, and was the fourth image released in that lot. There will also be an A, B, and C that were released, and there might be E, F and so forth, although there's no way to be sure whether there are more unless you find them or there is another number on the card: Some cards have ongoing series so you'll also see a 'normal' card number on the card. Card Captor Sakura and Rurouni Kenshin are this way, with both numbering types. That way, if five cards for a given series are issued in November 1997, they'll be 1197A, B, C, D, and E, but will also be numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Then when another three come out in March 1998, they'll be numbered 0398A, B, and C, but will also be numbered 6, 7 and 8. Numbering like this is a godsend because it really helps to know what you're missing in a set, otherwise it's just up to guessing and research as to whether another set was released in between that you don't know about.

The four-number date and letter standard seems to have been widespread as far back as 1985. Occasionally you'll find a weird deviation from it (I have a card with the code BR-191), but usually it's the norm. Sometimes you'll see something a little special in the numbering code, along the lines of 1988D EV. In this case, the card was released at a special event as a promotional or limited edition print. It might have been a card they only sold at the Comic Market, or at a Game Show or other fair. G cards may be for a movie or OAV release that came out at the same time as the TV series. I have also seen FE, KY, and other odd two-letter abbreviations, but don't know their meaning – I think FE indicates a Fair Event, but KY or KT seem to be codes the company uses for different distribution or production points. There are often multiple printings of a lami card, and the code, color or design on the back may change, but there is no 'guide' available to tell you how many printings there were of any given card, nor which printing you have, so it typically does not impact the value of the card except to fanatic collectors. These folks usually find out about the multiple printings either by buying them as they come out or by collecting older series and noticing that some of the backs are brown and some are aqua, for instance, which indicates multiple printings and now they have two sets to complete instead of one!

Here's a good site for some more information on codes and what they mean, including more extensive information and some scans of various codes as well as further information on lami collecting in general. Derby have put up as much info as they could find, and there are some additional comments from Derby (and from me! –b) on the hobby, with more detailed info on licensed items, who collects and why, and so forth. Nifty page, and nifty Derby too. ^_^

Derby's Lami Info Page

Many lami cards are released in large print runs, and when you only need five or so to complete each little lump set, you don't have to be nearly such a scavenger as you do to complete most trading card collections (unless you decide to start on the rare or old sets). Sometimes they're even released all together in a little folder, as a set. Lami cards have an odd pattern of popping up in the US market in gobs three to five years after their release in Japan, so many times you can find good deals on things that are pretty old or were previously thought unusual.

Variations on Lami cards –

One type of Lami card you may run across is called a Doki Doki card (this is the sound of a heart – like *ba-dum ba-dum* in English). On the back side of the card they have a little "love meter." It is made out of the material that changes color depending on heat, and two people can touch the two sides to "measure" their love. Costs a bit more to start with in Japan, so of course it costs a bit more here too.

Another type is the clear card. In this case, it's not lamination over a paper card, but rather a card made entirely of plastic. These can be very pretty jewel-like cards! They're normally a little smaller than an average lami card because they don't need to have laminate extending a centimeter around the edges, and costs a bit more to start with in Japan. Some people don't think they should be included in the 'lami' heirarchy, but it makes perfect sense to me since they are totally made of lami material with perhaps a clear image slip in the center, and are distributed in exactly the same way.

Doujinshi (amateur-produced) lami cards also exist, where people draw their own images and then laminate them. In this case the lamination is usually much lighter weight or heavier weight than the standardized industrially produced cards, and you won't find the same codes and copyrights on the back. There are obvious copyright issues here, which are harder to sort out than with bootlegs because sometimes companies issue one-day character licenses to allow doujinshi (or dojinshi) artists to sell materials at large market events in Japan. Most Americans can't possibly know enough about these licenses to know which doujinshi are authorized and which are not.

Here are some good places to get Lami cards other than ebay – compare prices, series and images you want! My apologies if I've missed any awesome sites - This is not to say that nowhere else is good, just that these are reliable vendors I'm used to dealing with, who carry wide selections at reasonable prices. Look all over the web for more resources if you like, and stop back periodically to see if new items are in or anyone's holding a sale.

US Anime A wide range of stuff, and they focus on getting the newest unusual things in – sometimes get doujinshi lami from special events when they go to Japan and spend long weary days slogging through Comiket for the sake of fans here

Splash Page Comics
Worth note for keeping the lowest prices; even on older materials they don't take a markup

Luthien Enterprises (remember to convert prices from Canadian – much better bargain than you think looking at the price at first)

Lami cards will fit in regular 9-card trading card protector sheets - look for slightly deeper ones if you wish to cover the entire lami area well. You can also trade Lami cards like trading cards – some card collectors will have a lami trading area on their web site too. If you've got spares to trade for things you want, you can ask on the anime cards mailing list (animecards@yahoogroups.com – you'll need to join the group at yahoo first before you can send and receive mail from there) to try to find trading partners. Lami cards are also a normal part of the stock of many vendors at anime conventions.

A quick look at Shitajiki (That's "Shee–tah–jhee–kee")

Shitajiki, or pencil boards, are much more useful! Well, unless you treasure your collection so much you don't want to let anything get dented. ^_^ Shitajiki are not generally considered trading cards, but there are a few cases in which an item which looks suspiciously like a shitajiki was released as a 'card trading collection' release, including Morning Musume and Card Captor Sakura editions. So I'll cover them quickly here and if you want to read more about them I have another shitajiki article over here.

Shitajiki are sheets of plastic imprinted with images. In Japan, they're used to slip under the top sheet of your writing pad so your writing doesn't indent all the pages beneath. They're moderately stiff, too, which gives more stability to what you're writing on. Of course, this also means that ones that are used often get little indentations all over them. In Japan, they're little 200-yen throwaway stationery items. In America they typically cost $5 and up (the more rare ones go for up to $60 in auction – and there's the odd occasional story of one going for $200) and people collect them as durable, unique art pieces. Frequently the images on them can be found in no other print form than shitajiki.

Shitajiki are typically about 10x7 inches in size and a couple of millimeters thick (yeah yeah, once you start measuring Japanese stuff you'll find yourself using metric half the time too, but I'm not totally converted yet). Most shitajiki are made of hard plastic, though some are more flexible, and some may be released in cardstock paper or cardboard – the latter type are normally a little freebie giveaway in one of the girls' and boys' weekly or monthly manga magazines. Usually shitajiki are basically rectangular in shape, with rounded corners, but sometimes they can be die-cut, like one Tenchi Muyo board that has a top shaped around the images of a bouncing Ryo-oh-ki. They can be opaque or translucent (which often lends itself to pretty effects).

Most shitajiki are sold in a clear slipcover of plastic so that you can see what you're getting, but the ones which have been sold as trading collection items for CCS and Morning Musume are sold in 'packs' like card packs, only containing one shitajiki at a time, so that you can't see what is inside, thus attempting to introduce the 'trading' idea to the shitajiki item type. If you find an oversize, very thin 'card' pack for these titles, and it says L-card for CCS, you'll be getting a translucent shitajiki of unknown image.

There is one new variant version of the shitajiki called a 'card case,' where a paper picture is inserted in a heavy clear folder. These are ok as long as there is copyright information on them, but there are cheaper versions out of Hong Kong which are not licensed materials (copyrighted ones are ok to purchase, that is, but don't expect them to be as stiff or generally as useful as shitajiki). Most legitimate shitajiki will have copyright information on them, although a few will have odd exceptions. Promotional shitajiki sometimes only say something like 'Shogakukan Winter Fair 1997' and if they are the type that has many manga or film cover images across a plain sheet, they might not have any additional copyright information or codes. Cardboard manga magazine shitajiki giveaways may not have any code, although they'll often have the name of the magazine, i.e. 'Ribon' or 'Nakayosi.' A few of my commercially released plastic Clamp Boards for Rayearth and RG Veda just say 'Clamp in Wonderland since 1992' or something along those lines. The vast majority, however, have a copyright line on the back. Most will also have identification codes just like lami do. There is the occasional odd exception (Showa Note or Animetopia may have a twelve-digit id code or a very short one on older boards) but for most boards after 1985, there is a date code and possibly a letter in addition to the company item ID codes. If there are multiple boards released in one series at one time, they'll have a letter in addition. I have a group of Fushigi Yuugi boards that are a good example, numbered 1295A, B, C and so forth.

Bootleg alert! The new Shitajiki that have copyright codes and codes on them like AB2001 are not legitimate licensed goods! Beware of pirated fakes!

This site has a good discussion of codes on shitajiki, along with some other useful info on bootlegs, how to hang posters without damage, etc.:

Drooling Anime Fan Sales Product Notes page

Shitajiki sometimes have second, third, or more printings. Some will be reprinted in the same form, while others will have variations in color, tones, or code notations. It's almost impossible to know all about this – Abel at US Anime knows quite a bit about the variations in reprinted boards, and he has noted in our conversations that it's very difficult to know about without having exposure to an enormous number of boards.

The largest personal shitajiki collection I know of is D-San's, with over 800 boards, but Abel says some people have 3,000. Several people I know have over 300. Most people collecting at this level have quite a few rare and unique boards, many with sets that cover every board ever released for a given series or artist – which can get tough when promotional boards or manga magazines boards are included! It can get expensive too – collecting Samurai Troopers shitajiki often means spending $30-$40 a pop fighting over them with other people on ebay (I would think that the price eventually would go down when everyone who was interested in them got one, but the supply never seems to catch up to the demand), and there are a good twenty or so I've come across so far. Buying them when they're out new is less expensive, but it also pays to keep a good eye on all possible sources to catch those unusual ones that sell out fast and then cost as much as an equivalent weight of gold.

This is the most extensive online archive of shitajiki images (but they're far from complete, so if you have images that aren't on the site, please send them in to help it grow!) for reference: Shitajiki Online They have started a Lami gallery, clear file gallery, and several others as well. I encourage you to contribute!

One shitajiki storage note– If you store your shitajiki in boxes, keep the clear plastic covers on each shitajiki so the shitajiki don't scratch each other (remember that this can happen even in covers if you have too much weight on the stack!). I prefer to keep them in binders so I can flip through and look at them easily. I use Silver Age comic sheet protectors for this purpose. It's getting harder to find silver age sheet protectors with the three-ring holes, so you could get the regular ones and some of those office supply strips you can stick on pages to make them have a three-ring hole extension (these can also be hard to find though!). Noriko's keeps a good stock of the silver age sheets with three ring binder holes in stock for online orders.

For collecting both shitajiki and lami cards, I would give the same piece of advice I gave regarding trading cards – do your research! Don't just dive into ebay and pay $80 for an image you've never seen before, only to discover it's on every sales site the next week for $5. Take it easy, learn as much as you can before you start investing, and focus on investing wisely in what you really want. Don't buy junk or something you won't like just because it's cheap, and do keep your budget in mind (heaven help you). Think through what you want before you make a deal, and then keep your deals, whether you are bidding on something or trading for something. I think if you dive in you'll find it's a fun and rewarding hobby – I hope this helps you to start!


Anime cards part 1, 2, and 3,are right through here!

And an update addendum is over here including news on AP cards, shitajiki, lami and a few other notes for 2002.

Becca Norman is a Director for Nan Desu Kan Japanese Animation Convention in Colorado.