Years ago, collecting anime cels was one of those things that set hardcore fans apart from casual ones. What better way to express your love for a show than buying an actual piece of it? The hobby has sadly declined over the years, likely because the anime industry went digital and stopped using cels. After all, it’s hard to get new fans excited over cels of shows they’ve never heard of. But if you’re an older fan, or just love animation art, collecting cels can still be a lot of fun.
What is a cel? In short; film is made up of a lot of still image flashed across the screen in rapid succession (for a movie, it’s 24 frames per second). In animation, each of those pictures is a drawing. Before computers took over, those drawings were done by hand in pencil, then copied onto a clear sheet of plastic (a cel) and painted by hand. The cel was then placed on top of a painted background, photographed, then tossed onto a pile as the photographer moved on to the next cel. Eventually (and sometime unscrupulously) those used cels would end up on the collector’s market where they would trade hands for years to come.
You can still find many of those cels available today. The prices can vary wildly; anywhere from a few dollars for a cel for of a side character in an unpopular show, to a few thousand for a cel of a key scene in a Ghibli movie.
One great place to look for anime cels is Mandarake, a chain of collector shops in Japan. Mandarake runs an auction site where, if you’re lucky, you can pick up a good deal now and then. It’s also a great place to find premium cels if you’re willing to spend big money to get the best. There’s no real organization, you just have to scroll through all the listings to see what’s there. The auctions usually last about a week.
Selection – Small and Random
Prices – Great – auction format allows the buyers to dictate the value.
Takamura is a Japan-based anime cel store. Prices are fair, and the store will often put older cels on sale. The site is well organized, letting you search by title. Make sure to check the Miscellaneous section for some good deals (I found some Gundam cels for next to nothing).
Selection – Wide selection and updated frequently.
Prices – Good. Prices are reasonable and older cels go on sale after awhile.
An American anime cel store that looks like it hasn’t been redesigned since the late ’90s. But it’s the functionality that matters, and Anime Link makes everything easy to find with an alphabetized series list on the home page. The prices are higher than the Japanese stores. It’s hard to judge pricing, as all cels are one-of-a-kind; but I think comparable cels that are $100 on Anime Link would go for about $50 on Mandarake Auction.
Selection – Wide selection that’s well organized
Prices – Okay. More expensive than the Japanese cel stores.
Another American store. This one has as good selection of about 1000 anime cels. It’s organized using alphabetical drop down menus, so you can quickly find the series you want. The downside is the pricing.
Selection – Wide selection, organized by series
Prices – High
Cel-Ga is a British anime cel store that also has a retail location in London. Their selection of anime cels isn’t as extensive as the American sites, but the prices seem to be a bit better, with some cels going for $20 or so. In addition to the regular store offerings, they also have an auction page for special items. The site lets you search by series, or category.
Selection – Decent, but smaller than most other stores
Prices – Fair. Probably one of the better non-Japanese sites in terms of price