Nendoroid toymaker sued by former execs over ‘over-sexualized anime figures’

Image: Good Smile Company
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Japanese toymaker Good Smile Company, which has business in the United States, is being sued by two former executives in a lawsuit that alleges the company engaged in tax evasion, discrimination, and selling “over-sexualized anime figures depicting minors,” which they said may violate United States’ obscenity laws. The former employees, Guy Brand and James Young-sik Kim, filed a cross-complaint in a California court after Good Smile sued the two former executives in 2020 for an alleged “brazen instance of corporate misconduct” that included breach of contract and unfair competition.

Brand and Kim, in their cross-complaint, also alleged that Good Smile profits from controversial website 4chan — and that the site has an office in its Tokyo headquarters.

Good Smile Company is a Japanese toymaker best known for its anime and gaming figures. The company has created licensed figures as part of its Nendoroid and Figma lines for games like Overwatch, League of Legends, and Cyberpunk 2077, and Nintendo franchises such as Mario, Kirby, The Legend of Zelda, and Animal Crossing. The company has also created toys for Disney, Marvel, and DC Comics, among others.

Good Smile filed its original complaint in September 2020, alleging that Brand and Kim — two former vice presidents who joined the company when their own operation was acquired by Good Smile — stole confidential information to create and profit from an alleged new, secret company. Good Smile had subsequently fired Brand and Kim.

The toymaker’s suit largely centers on an alleged contract with Netflix to produce a Stranger Things drive-in event that turned a Los Angeles street into Hawkins, Indiana during the pandemic. Good Smile’s suit says Brand and Kim conspired to push that deal to their own secret company, Imaginary People, and used their connection to Good Smile to “steal” the contract. An amended complaint was filed in July 2021 to allege that Imaginary People also stole opportunities from Good Smile for making masks and hats during the pandemic.

Good Smile is asking the court for $2 million in damages. On Sept. 1, Brand and Kim filed their cross-complaint, which went on to claim that Good Smile sells “oversexualized anime figures depicting minors,” including “teens and tweens in sexual positions,” with no buyer age restrictions.

Brand and Kim said that during their employment at Good Smile, they spoke to company leaders to express concern over how certain licensors — like Nintendo, Hasbro, and Disney — would likely distance themselves from the company after seeing these figures next to their licensed products. Though Good Smile does not create all of its figures, it does distribute them on its site. Among the other allegations is a claim that Good Smile has invested in the anonymous image forum 4chan, a website that has long been considered controversial because of the content it allows. (In the lawsuit, Brand and Kim specifically call out videos of the Christchurch murders in New Zealand, which were published on 4chan, as well as 4chan’s associations with Q-Anon and white nationalism.)

In 2015, 4chan creator Chris Poole sold the website to Hiroyuki Nishimura, who created 2channel, the website that had originally inspired 4chan. A source told Polygon that Good Smile is a “passive investor” in 4chan.

A Good Smile representative issued this statement to Polygon:

“This case, as Good Smile’s Complaint makes clear, is about corporate misconduct by the defendants in improperly exploiting Good Smile’s assets and goodwill for their own benefit as described the lawsuit. The Defendants’ cross complaint, in contrast, is based on demonstrably, knowingly, and provably false and defamatory allegations. Good Smile does not, however, comment on ongoing litigation, and intends to argue its case in Court, not in the press. And it will prevail when the facts are presented in the Courtroom.”

Lawyers for Brand and Kim told Polygon that their lawsuit “speaks for itself.”

Comments

Does the US have any "obscenity laws" anymore? It seems like such a thing would generally be seen as being in opposition to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment. As icky as some folks might feel that sexualizing cartoon minors is, I’m pretty confident that it’s legal to do so. The one potential gotcha might be if there’s some law about selling "sexual" content to minors, but I would be surprised if the fact that the sexual content featured minors actually played any meaningful role.

The first paragraph mentions "discrimination", but the rest of the article doesn’t. Would be curious to know more about that, because obviously discrimination is a very big deal.

Just as a note, there seem to be a lot of things brought up in these lawsuits that I’m interpreting as "morally deficient", but not necessarily illegal. That’s not normal, right?

Obscenity is not considered protected speech under the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court has established a three-pronged " Miller Test " (from the ruling in the Miller v. California case).

As for fictional child pornography in today’s legal environment, it’s very complicated. In 2002, parts of Child Pornography Protection Act of 1996 dealing with that matter were thrown out by the Supreme Court on the basis it was broader than the Miller Test; Congress subsequently responded with the PROTECT Act of 2003 with adjusted language to meet the standard of the various court cases, which specifically states "It is not a required element of any offense under this section [of US federal obscenity law] that the minor depicted actually exist", but still offers an affirmative defense if the depiction was of a real person over 18 (so an adult acting as a child), or if the visual depiction does not involve any actual (read: non-fictional) minors.

As for how this appears in practice, the subjective parts of the Miller Test and the PROTECT Act, and the relative rarity than an individual is brought up solely on such a charge (for those persons arrested under such a law, they tend to often possess pornography involving actual minors or other legal issues that trumps the fictional minors issue), it leaves legality of fictitious pornography depicting minors to be very much a "gray area" of the law.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_status_of_fictional_pornography_depicting_minors#United_States

Interesting, I had no idea this sort of thing still existed! Thanks for sharing this.

Gross but legal is right, AFAIK. As long as no actual children are involved, fictional depictions are considered legal in the US. Stuff gets contested in court cases like when somebody is caught buying a bunch of disturbing doujinshi but every case I remember hearing about, it’s been ruled legal. The ACLU and Comic Defense Fund have been involved in some past cases for free speech reasons, but I don’t know any case names for examples.

selling "over-sexualized anime figures depicting minors,"

I’m sure they’re inhabited by the millenia-old spirit of an immortal vampire so it’s totally fine.

On the other hand, I can understand the first embedded tweet to illustrate what I presume is on of the alleged over-sexualized anime figures depicting a minor, I don’t understand the other two that just seem like gratuitous advertisement for a company that allegedly depicts minors over-sexualizedly.

At first blush I felt the same way about the embedded images, but if obscenity could be a genuine legal issue, the context of their other figures might be valuable. For example, comparing the Jojo and the [squints] "goddess Evante", they are both done in an SD artistic style. I’m not sure to what extent source material would play a role in legal matters, but just looking at the figures without any understanding of that source material, I can’t tell the age of either of them. I’m guessing that Evante is a minor based on the context of this article, but if someone told me this was a 30-year old woman I’d believe that just as much as someone telling me it was a 6-year old girl, because with the SD art style there’s not much of a way to tell. And that difficulty to differentiate age may come into play were this issue ever to go to court.

The SD style certainly doesn’t help, it looks fucking awful even if the source material is already lewd as fuck. I’m fine with anime tits, but not with sexualising clear cut kids (even if they are dragons) and the style just fucking looks like a toddler in lingerie now

So basically these dudes got caught doing a corporate espionage and their only play is to countersue that the Nendoroids are too horny?

L and as well as also OL

Part of their counter-suit is just "You invested in 4chan." You don’t have to like 4chan to see these guys are clearly throwing anything they can at the wall, hoping to hurt Good Smile’s business in retaliation. It’s like catching the dude who robbed your house and him yelling to the cops that you have posters of anime girls up in there. Shameful, maybe, but it still ain’t illegal.

Reminds me of Apple yelling about itch.io having adult content on it while being sued by Epic. So they were guilty of… something… by association.

This sounds more and more like two people who got caught, and filed a counter suit with large buzzwords in hopes to capitalize on the Japanese culture of not wanting to be embarrassed or lose face in the public eye… and bully GSC into either a quiet settlement or dropping the lawsuit against them so they wont be embarrassed in the public eye.. even if their claims are patently false it can still cause embarrassment and drop in reputation.

American movies sexualize teens more than any of Good Smile’s products. The Nendoroids and figma lines are okay. Pop Up Parade does include swimsuit versions. The most lascivious you’re going to get are from $100+ Scale Figures line.

Sounds like a couple of execs desperate to distract from their own wrong doing.

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