Hugely-popular Chinese video entertainment platform Bilibili is facing an ad boycott from Chinese brands after its airing of a controversial Japanese anime series sparked user criticism that the site appears to tolerate misogynistic comments and content.
The controversy comes just months ahead of an expected secondary listing of Bilibili shares in Hong Kong. The company’s shares already trade in ADR form on North America’s NASDAQ exchange.
Bilibili is the platform of choice for Gen Z users interested in anime, comics and gaming, and rose to prominence due to its vast anime catalogue and witty, meme-savvy subculture. It has recently sought to go more mainstream and step into the space occupied in the West by an app like YouTube.
Some consumer brands, however, announced Wednesday that they will stop working with the streamer amidst online blowback from users angry that it hosted the controversial show “Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation” and also appeared to censor those critical of its decision to do so. Brands that have cut ties include contact lens seller Sigo, cosmetics brands UKISS and Spenny, sanitary napkin vendor Sofy, and skincare company Lin Qingxuan, among others.
“We firmly oppose and strongly condemn any forms of insulting behavior or remarks against women. We respect women and care for them,” Sofy wrote on Weibo to announce its decision.
“Mushoku Tensei” began airing with Chinese subtitles on Bilibili last month, but was soon accused by users of featuring pedophilic and soft-core porn-like elements that are disrespectful of women.
An adaptation of a 2012 novel, the show follows an unremarkable, unemployed 34-year-old man who gets a second chance at life after he dies in a car crash and is reborn in a fantasy world as a baby with magic powers and all of his adult memories.
Despite being marketed by Bilibili as a mainstream show appropriate for teens, the series includes sexually-charged plot elements like the main character stealing used underwear or using his mental powers to give an underage relative an orgasm at a funeral. State-controlled tabloid publication Global Times cited the content as “violating mainstream values” and “being inappropriate for underage audiences.”
Among the first to criticize the show was one of the site’s top live-streamers, an influential content creator known as LexBurner with more than nine million followers. In a widely viewed rant on Feb. 1, he said the Japanese series could only appeal to “lowlifes in society” dissatisfied with their lives, who enjoy the idea of an alternate reality where life is easy and their sexual yearnings fulfilled.
As criticism of the show mounted, Bilibili on Sunday pulled its four existing episodes and stopped the release of a fifth. The show’s page now states the content is unavailable for “technical reasons,” a common euphemism for censorship.
But after the show’s many fans complained en masse to Bilibili that they found LexBurner’s commentary condescending and insulting, the site also banned his account on Monday, explaining in a statement that he had “made many inappropriate comments during live-streaming” and “violated the relevant rules of Bilibili’s community.” Although LexBurner has since issued an apology, the site is now suing him for violating his content-creation contract.
Meanwhile, a vocal group of female users have galvanized around the moment to accuse the platform of broader sexism in its tolerance for misogynistic and sexually suggestive content, in addition to having mishandled the “Mushoku Tensei” situation. Local outlet China News reported that the site appears to have shut down many accounts of female users criticizing the show, but not those of male users using similarly strong language.
This push from female users has ultimately been the catalyst that led local brands to cut ties.
Founded in 2009, Bilibili first went public on NASDAQ in March 2018. It has since grown rapidly, with its stock value rising over 14-fold and monthly active user pool more than doubling from 77.5 million in the first quarter of 2018 to 197.2 million last September. The secondary listing in Hong Kong is hoped to raise $3 billion of additional capital, according to the South China Morning Post.
Around 40% of the company’s revenue derives from mobile games and around 30% from value-added services, with just 17% and 13% of revenues coming from ad- or e-commerce-related business, respectively.