People like to compare Funko Pops! to Nendoroids, and I understand why. They’re both aimed at being affordable collectible figures based on various franchises. What makes Nendoroids different, aside from the higher price, is the fidelity. They all have working joints allowing them to be posed with much greater finesse than Funko Pop! and many other figures and statues. To accentuate this purpose, the Happy Smile Company has made playsets: backdrops in which you can pose your figures for photos or just to make your playsets look nice.
I’m evaluating the playsets by three different metrics:
- Quality – By “Quality,” I’m looking at the detail of the playset itself. Like what objects are in it and things like that, in addition to how broadly you can use the playset and what Nendoroids fit the setting. Some Nendoroids may look great when put into a school festival, while others make you ask how a fighting robot from the future got there. It’ll also account for things like moving parts for drawers or cabinets.
- Availability – What I mean by “Availability” is how hard it is to get your hands on the playset. The price of these playsets can vary wildly on Amazon and other marketplaces. Because they are also shipped from Japan, the price only gets higher. The cheaper the playset is, the higher the score it’ll get in this section.
- Serialization – “Serialization” refers to if the playset is a part of any collection or subseries. Usually, this means there are multiple playsets on the same topic, like two or three playsets about a gymnasium or something like that. The Nendoroid playsets don’t have any subseries, so it’s more of a question to see which playsets thematically go together.
Now let’s get the guide started!
First Point Upfront
The best Nendoroid playset you can buy is the Nendoroid Playset #01: School Life Set A. It was the first one I covered for a reason. Schools are one of the most common settings in anime, meaning this fits with a lot of anime, but more than that, it just looks cool. The props are excellent but lack transferability, but it makes up for the sheer quantity and quality of what you get.
The School Life Set A is the stock standard playset that fits with most Nendoroids. It’s a simple and easy schoolroom. It has a desk and a desktop computer, so I can’t complain too much about it. It even connects with the School Life Set B to get the complete picture. Even when factoring in its ability to connect with Set B, it is relatively basic, only coming with two desks, but it has impressive versatility by being a school.
- Quality 7/10 – This playset doesn’t have much of anything special about it, which I did have to knock points for, but it doesn’t do anything wrong precisely. It’s a classroom that includes desks, computers, and even a green chalkboard. It has everything you need and is vaguely generic enough to fit with many Nendoroids.
- Availability 7/10 – It costs roughly 25$ when converting Japanese Yen to USD, but that doesn’t account for shipping cost, which varies. Its score is further dragged down due to how hard it was to find this set on websites like Amazon. Buying directly from Good Smile is definitely the way to go.
- Serialization 9/10 – As I mentioned, it connects to another School Life Set to get a bigger picture. And there are also other school-related playsets like Gymnasium and Culture Festival to go with it, earning good points in this category.
- A nice generic playset that goes with lots of Nendoroids
- Connects with School Life B to get a more comprehensive playset
- The playset is so generic that it doesn’t have much going for it.
Culture Festivals are a hallmark of anime for a good reason. Not only are they a pretty important part of Japanese school life, but they also serve to break up the usual flow of many anime. Getting the protagonist involved in group work with characters from groups they’d struggle to meet otherwise. The fact that they’re so common in anime really makes this one work well with so many figures.
- Quality 9/10 – This playset reminds me of the anime K-On! Which came out way back in 2010 and had me feeling my age. That being said, it’s a perfect playset that can work with many figures. It’s got a lot of props like guitars, a piano, and a saxophone. And these aren’t just pieces of the background. You can pick them up! The guitar case even opens and closes too!
- Availability 7/10 – It costs about $15 USD before accounting for the shipping cost. It’s honestly an excellent price, making it cheaper than most of their actual Nendoroid figures. It remains almost impossible to find on websites like Amazon if you can find it.
- Serialization 9/10 – This is another playset that has a B Set that goes along with it. Putting them together gives you a complete set, fully fleshing out the scene since it is, once more, a school-themed playset that fits with many of the other playsets Happy Smile has released.
- The pieces of this playset, like the guitar, can be moved and used by Nendoroid figures.
- It is very cheap, being more affordable than their figures.
- With all that’s included in the playset (the piano, saxophone, guitar, and case), it’s a bit cramped when put with other figures.
As an American, I find this playset more than a little funny. It’s idealized in the most bizarre sense, with a complete fireplace, a deer hanging over the mantle, fine painting, with wine on the table to boot. I wish I got to live as good as this playset thinks, but I suppose I’ll just have to settle with vicariously living through whatever Nendoroids I put here.
- Quality 9/10 – I really like the aesthetic and everything else about this playset. It’s very homely but in an overly lavish style that reminds me a lot of the Joestar Manner from Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood. You can do scenes of excellent day-to-day living or maybe give it some moody lighting to give new context to a scene. The versatility really is this playset’s most vital asset.
- Availability 7/10 – The playset costs around $30 USD before accounting for shipping. It’s not the cheapest nor the most expensive, but that’s enough money to give me some pause. It’s also virtually impossible to find, even on sites like Amazon, so buying directly from Good Smile’s website is the way to go.
- Serialization 7/10 – This playset has better versatility than I initially thought. It has the usual thing with the Nendoroid playset, where you can connect both Set A and Set B to get a complete scene, but the Cafe Set doesn’t clash with this one. The two are demonstrably different sets, but they both share the same aesthetic, which makes them good for paired photo shoots.
- The over-stylized western aesthetics make it a lot of fun to pose your pieces in.
- Its price per playset is kind of high, making buying both Set A and Set B reasonably expensive.
This set is the polar opposite of the one above it. One delighted in over-the-top western aesthetics, while this one switches things up with the same goofy exaggeration. This playset is an ode to Chinese aesthetics with rounded windows and a room divider. I picked playset A over playset B because it is the more interesting of the two options, giving it the most potential.
- Quality 10/10 – Everything in this set is done really well. It includes a lot of detail that brings the entire thing to life, like the desk and folding screen, but the window can be swapped between Winter and Spring just to give it even more variety. The lamp is another excellent detail because it adds a nice cozy feeling to the playset. The bamboo room divider has a nice decal on it, which I find lovely.
- Availability 4/10 – This playset is one of the more expensive ones. It comes in at around $45 USD before accounting for shipping which is a lot for a single set. On its face, getting set A and Set B will run you about $90, which is a steep price. You can buy other playsets and Nendoroids to go along with it for that price.
- Serialization 5/10 – The serialization of this playset also isn’t the best. It’s held back by a lack of anything else with a matching ancient Chinese aesthetic. The only playset that goes with it is the other Chinese Study Set B, which connects like they usually do.
- This is one of the best-looking playsets Good Smile offers.
- It is extraordinarily expensive. You could buy multiple other playsets for the price of this one. Make sure you can afford it before you shell out the cash.
This is another playset themed after Japanese school l life. This one, in particular, is based on Japanese gyms with a focus on sports and physical education. It’s got more detail and effort than I would initially expect from a playset. Depending on which version of the set you buy, Set A or Set B, you’ll get a cark of basketballs, a cart of volleyballs, a score counter, two basketball hoops, and a bench. I personally went with Set A because it has more things I’d consider helpful, namely the scorecards, which I prefer over the other set.
- Quality 7/10 – There’s nothing wrong with this set per se, but I find something about it fairly mundane. There’s nothing in it that really jumps out and grabs my attention. No piece I immediately want to have or use. The fact that it’s a gymnasium also has me taking a few points because it’s not as versatile as some of the other playsets. The last anime I watched that actually had a gym in it was Kaguya-Sama: Love Is War, and I finished that months ago.
- Availability 6/10 – Like all the other playsets, this one is super hard to find. Most brick-and-mortar retailers won’t sell this at all, and it’s a toss-up if you can find it at more specialty stores. Even websites like Amazon might not have this for sale, let alone in stock. You’ll want to check Good Smile’s website for this. These also cost around $38 USD before accounting for shipping. That’s a pretty high price for one set, let alone both Sets A and B.
- Serialization 8/10 – While it isn’t part of any series, aside from having a Set A and Set B, Good Smile has made multiple sets themed around Japanese schools. You could collect them all to do themed photoshoots with all the sets. They will be pretty pricey, so maybe you’ll want to check if you can fit these into your budget.
- It comes with a lot. A cart of basketballs, volleyball, a volleyball net, and other things.
- This cost around $38 USD per set, making it pretty expensive.
An “Engawa” refers to a common piece of Japanese architecture. It’s that porch you commonly see characters sitting on outside their homes in anime. This playset is one of those, and it’s a very good recreation. The fact that they’re so ubiquitous in anime even gives it a with so many figures you can put this out of versatility. You can put it with so many figures that it’s not even funny. I’m not lying when I say this playset is one of my favorites.
- Quality 10/10 – Not only does this have the most versatility out of any of Happy Smile’s playsets, but it also looks the best while doing it. There’s an undeniable charm to the scene that brings to mind so many anime that its kind of unreal. You can look forward to putting virtually every Nendoroid you have in this one scene. They managed to do a pretty good job of making the playset even look like it takes place outside.
- Availability 6/10 – This is much like every other playset, where these are impossible to find. Amazon is a bust. The idea of seeing one of these in brick-and-mortar stores, even if they specialize in Japanese collectibles, is a joke of a thought. You’ll need to go to Happy Smile’s store to find it. You’ll still be spending around $35 USD on this, so it’s not cheap, either.
- Serialization 7/10 – Per the usual, you can connect this with Engawa A Set to make a larger scene. Thankfully, this isn’t the only playset themed after Japanese aesthetics. You can get the Japanese Life Set A and B to go with this one, but they aren’t a genuine series, nor do they connect as A and B Sets usually do.
- This one is the most versatile of all the Nendoroid playsets.
- The sleeping cat prop is moveable and can be placed in any of the Nendoroid playsets you want. (It’s also adorable)
- The playset is not only reasonably small, but it’s decently expensive as well.
Considering the company that makes Nendoroids are based in Japan, it was practically inevitable that we’d get this playset, and thankfully it’s a really good one. There’s a lot to love about this one, from the props of the sitting table with Dango on sticks to the sword propped to the side and even a sliding door that moves. However, what I like most about this playset is the rotating wall. It’s a cool thing that was honestly unnecessary to the entire piece, but I’m so happy that they included it.
- Quality 9/10 – I like the Japanese Life Set B due to how simple it is. The props aren’t very transferable from one playset to another, but they work as well as they need to for this one playset. Everything about this playset gives it a lovely homely feeling that makes it good for nice, relaxed photoshoots and scenrios. I do have to take points for the setting being too retro-Japanese in style. Any Nendoroids from animes that take place in the modern day and forward don’t fit this playset very well.
- Availability 6/10 – This playset will cost you around $30 USD, a bit of a high price but not the highest price for selling these playsets. That said, their prices can vary widely due to things like shipping from around the world to second-hand sellers, so be careful. You’re best served to go to Good Smile’s website, where the prices are most consistent. You may have some trouble finding it in stock, though.
- Serialization 8/10 – The Engawa Set we talked about above comes to this playset’s rescue. The two playsets not only share a similar style and aesthetic but color palette. That makes them go together better than most other playsets. It creates a nice inside and outside scene for you to set up at your leisure. I think there’s a lot of potentials to tell a basic story with these playsets in particular.
- This playset looks really good with a beautiful Japanese aesthetic.
- The most versatile playset you can find since engawas are so common in anime.
- Per the usual, Happy Smile’s playsets have a Set A and Set B, which connects, meaning you’ll want to buy both to get the whole scene.
Despite Cafes being a western invention, they are surprisingly ubiquitous in anime and western movies, and I can see why. It presents an interesting place for characters to meet and move forward in the plot. This playset does an excellent job of capturing the aesthetic and feel without being so specific to a series that it clashes with other Nendoroids. I chose Set A because I thought it managed to be the best representation of a cafe that it’s easiest to identify with a glance. The menu on the wall is even written in English, which is a pleasant surprise.
- Quality 8/10 – I like the way this one looks. It brings to mind many of those idyllic cafes you see on TV where the drinks are either fancy espressos or simple but intriguing cups of coffee. How I wish I could afford to go to something like that. If you ask me, this playset is a pretty good way to vicariously live out that fantasy. It has an astounding amount of props, like everything on the table and that potted plant in the corner. The window is genuinely transparent instead of faux-frosted, and you can even customize that menu to your liking.
- Availability 6/10 – I don’t know why these playsets are so hard to find. They’re amazing! Some of the best go with small figures, but for some reason, next to none of them are even on Amazon. Putting that aside, this playset will cost you around $35, which is a price right in the middle but leaning towards the higher side of things. The set does look super good, so I consider it worth it.
- Serialization 5/10 – The biggest downside to this playset is how little there is to go with it. You can get Set A and B, but that’s about it. I suppose the Western Life playset also looks good when paired with this one, but it’s not that good of a match. It’s a little disappointing that they don’t have anything to go with it, like a classical Japanese teashop, but I suppose we’ll have to settle for this single one.
- The entire aesthetic of the idealized western cafe is one of my favorites.
- The serialization of this playset is relatively poor, with no other cafe playsets to go with it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How Many Nendoroid Playsets are There?
Answer: Without counting the A Set and B Set as different things, there are around 10 Nendoroid playsets. If we count the A Set and B Set apart, then the count is 20.
Question: When did Happy Smile Start Making Nendoroid Playsets?
Answer: Their first Nendoroid playset, the School Life set released way back in the far-off year of 2017.
Question: Where’s the Best Place to Buy Nendoroid Playsets?
Answer: The best place is definitely the Happy Smile Store. It’s hard to find them on places like Amazon, and second-hand marketplaces like eBay have prices that vary wildly. Happy Smile’s store is not only consistent, but they have everything listed in an easy-to-find way.
Nendoroids are pretty cool, and these playsets are as well. They are an opportunity to enhance your figures by giving them a proper backdrop. Personally, I like to take photos of the scenes I create, so the playset’s small size works pretty well with the desk lamp I use for lightning. Beyond that, I appreciate the variety they offer. You can make a lot of scenes using what they offer, and the props have a decent amount of transferability among them, so you get more bang for your buck. I do wish they were easier to find (and cheaper to boot), but I can see why they manage to remain so exclusive. They’re good products with a healthy amount of demand. I hope this list helped you find the right Nendoroid playset you were looking for, and if not, it gave you the correct skills to find the right one. Happy hunting!