Toxic image board 4chan has managed to stay online for the past seven years—amid boycotts and advertiser flight, after being implicated in several mass shootings, even as it was identified as a source of the conspiracy theories that inspired the January 6 insurrection—thanks, in part, to a $2.4 million investment from a major Japanese toy company.
A partnership agreement, obtained exclusively by WIRED, shows not only how current site owner Hiroyuki Nishimura acquired the far-right message board but also how Japanese industry helped finance the deal.
The text of the deal shows that Nishimura invested $800,000 of his own money, plus $4.8 million from his company—using cash from a major Japanese telecommunications company. But the most surprising part of the deal came from Good Smile Company, which acquired a 30 percent share in 4chan for its $2.4 million investment.
This contract was filed by 4chan to investigators with the New York Attorney General’s office, as part of that agency’s now-closed investigation into the May 2022 mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. WIRED obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request.
These documents for the first time confirm the opaque corporate partnership that has run 4chan since its 2015 acquisition, just as scrutiny increases on the money behind the long-running website.
That scrutiny may be weakening the resolve to keep 4chan going. According to Nishimura, Good Smile is in the process of ending its partnership with 4chan—this comes as the company’s lucrative deal with The Walt Disney Company is set to be terminated.
The investigation was opened by request from Governor Kathy Hochul, who asked her attorney general to probe whether 4chan could face civil or criminal liability for “promoting, facilitating, or providing a platform to plan and promote violence.” While the New York Attorney General’s office has declined to pursue criminal charges against the website and its owners, a spokesperson told WIRED that at least one other law enforcement agency is still investigating the website.
The New York attorney general is also calling for new legal tools to stop 4chan from promoting domestic terror attacks. Understanding the website’s corporate structure will be necessary to hold them to any US law.
Good Smile, bad times
For years, Good Smile has been effective at hiding its role at 4chan. While the company may not be a household name in the United States, its Nendoroid collectible figurines are a big deal for anime enthusiasts. According to the company’s website, it had nearly 4 billion yen ($27 million) in sales in 2021, mostly driven by those small figurines.
Good Smile produces licensed content for a variety of major brands, from major manga series like Attack on Titan to video games like Assassin’s Creed and movies like The Matrix. But Good Smile’s largest licensor is, without a doubt, Disney. The company markets dozens of toys and figurines from Disney properties, like Spider-Man, Buzz Lightyear, and Mickey Mouse.
In recent years, Good Smile has branched out into content creation, working with various animation and film studios, has opened online wholesale companies in China and elsewhere, and has even sponsored a Super GT racing team.
In 2021, former employees of Good Smile’s Los Angeles office—embroiled in a legal dispute about the future of their employment—countersued the company. In legal filings, they allege Good Smile was responsible for the distribution of potentially obscene sexually explicit anime products and merchandise (“lolicon”) and that it, unbeknownst to its family-friendly corporate partners, was funding 4chan.