Japanese toymaker Good Smile Company has been financing the controversial, often hate-filled message board 4chan, according to new documents uncovered by Wired.
The toy company, which has business in the United States, is best known for its anime and gaming figurines. Its Nendoroid and Figma lines in particular are popular with collectors for their licensed figures: Good Smile has toy lines for games like Overwatch, League of Legends, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Cyberpunk 2077. Both Nintendo and Sega have licensed their characters for toys based on franchises like Kirby, Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Sonic, and Animal Crossing. The Walt Disney Company is also a major partner, with dozens of Nendoroid toys for its different franchises, including Marvel and Star Wars.
Good Smile was required to file documents with the New York attorney general’s office during an investigation into 4chan’s role in the 2022 racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, where 10 people were killed and three were injured. These documents outline how 4chan owner Hiroyuki Nishimura acquired the message board, inspired by Japanese message board 2channel that Nishimura founded, from 4chan creator Christopher Poole in 2015. Nishimura put up most of the money for 4chan; Good Smile Company purchased a 30% share in a $2.4 million investment, Wired reported, and has been quietly involved in the website for years.
A Good Smile representative confirmed to Polygon in 2021 that the toy company was a “passive investor” in 4chan, but did not share the scope of the deal. News of the Japanese company’s investment was first alleged in lawsuit filings obtained by Polygon; Good Smile and two of its former employees counter-sued each other over a contract dispute related to a Stranger Things drive-in event. Guy Brand and James Young-sik Kim, the two former employees, also accused Good Smile of tax evasion, discrimination, and selling “over-sexualized anime figures depicting minors.” That’s where the 4chan connection came in, too — Brand and Kim called out the the anonymous image forum for its associations with mass shooters, QAnon, and white nationalism. The two alleged that Good Smile had a 4chan office in its Tokyo headquarters and profited off the site. The lawsuit was later settled out of court.
The New York attorney general Letitia James will not pursue criminal charges against 4chan or its owners, but “at least one other law enforcement agency is still investigating the website,” Wired reported.
4chan has been a controversial site for years, but was pushed into the public eye after the Buffalo shooting. The shooter’s 180-page manifesto references racism and antisemitism often found on the site. Some also credit 4chan as a breeding ground for QAnon conspiracies, white supremacy, and propaganda. Surface level, the forum isn’t only used for those reasons — it’s also got gaming, cooking, and entertainment boards. But that influence is a dangerous uncurrent running throughout the site.
Good Smile is reportedly looking to divest from 4chan, according to the report.
Good Smile’s connections to 4chan have made partners “anxious,” Wired said. Disney, one of Good Smile’s biggest partnerships, will not renew its deal with the toy maker after Wired informed the company of its involvement in 4chan, according to the report. Polygon has reached out to Disney and several other companies — Riot Games, Sega, Blizzard Entertainment, and Nintendo — that have licensed characters for Good Smile’s toys. We’ll update this story when they respond.