Let's face it -- if we love an anime series or movie and happen upon some merchandise pertaining to that series or movie, we are assaulted by a horde of little devils telling us to buy it. I have seen many attacked in such a manner, and few wallets live to tell about it. However, not all purchases are equal, so since this fate is inevitable, let us discuss purchase options.
The very commonplace purchases consist of the anime itself (on videocassette or laserdisc) and audio compact discs featuring that music you've come to hum in your sleep. Secondary purchase categories include pencil boards, wall scrolls, and posters, all sporting every possible combination of images from an anime title (they're also great for covering strange wall markings). For those of you who want the world (or Cornell, at any rate) to know that you're a die-hard fan of something, one can always go with an anime T-shirt or sweatshirt. At AX '97, it seemed like there was a dress code of sorts in effect, insisting that everyone in attendance wear an anime-related clothing item (if you really want to have fun, I suggest you wear an anime T-shirt to some large public place, like Disneyland).
Playing cards are also a popular choice. Although you will generally find better image selections on posters, pencil boards, or wall scrolls, playing cards are a fun way to get a lot of images. The high quality card decks are really worth their $5 price tags.
Now although all of these are really great items (I personally own several from every category), there are times when one wants to own a three-dimensional representation of a favorite anime character or mecha. For these urges, I suggest that you turn to a world I just recently discovered, models. Although I have known of the existence of such things for quite some time, I never wanted to spend the time and money on a model. Why? Well, if you're like me, then your expensive model will be magically transformed from shapeless, uncemented pieces into a shapeless, cemented mass after a few hours of work. I have absolutely NO talent whatsoever when it comes to painting models, so I have carefully stayed away from the realm of models. However, recently I did a little research into that very realm (mostly spurred by the report of cheap prices) and happily found affordable, easy-to-build, and best of all, pre-painted models.
Apparently, the realm of models has grown to encompass the low-budget, no-talent fans like myself, while continuing to pay service to the talented, and in many cases, rich master model builders. The price range of models varies from as low as 500 yen ($4-ish) to 59,800 yen ($460-ish). [You can get a transformable Escaflowne model for 30000 yen!] They come in tons of shapes and sizes -- some pre-assembled, some snap-together, and others totally unassembled and unpainted. The medium also varies, from plastic injection to soft vinyl to molded resin. If you are worried about limited choices, don't worry. Although Gundam and Macross models continue to dominate, many other series and movies have had their various mecha designs injected, shaped, and molded into 3-D. Not into mecha? You too have your choice from a wealth of figures. With a similar price range and state of assembly, you too can own your very own anime character! (sort of)