Chinese video platform Bilibili (NASDAQ: BILI) is facing a wave of criticism for promoting a cartoon that some claim sexualizes females with a pedophilic tone. Several posts and articles on Chinese social media platforms, including microblogging site Weibo and film review site Douban, are now calling for a boycott of Bilibili.
How did it come to this? Bilibili, a popular video site known for its ACG (Anime, Comic, and Games) content, started to broadcast the Japanese anime Mushoku Tensei in January. The show, which features a middle-aged man reincarnated in a dream, stirred controversy for visualizing the character’s sexual fantasies. As one of the main cartoons promoted by Bilibili this season, Mushoku Tensei gathered more than 70 million views shortly after the fourth episode was released last Monday.
However, the latest episode led to more controversy. In the story, the protagonist persuaded his mother, as a reincarnated child, to live with the father’s mistress and a baby born out of wedlock. A Bilibili creator known as LexBurner, who is well-known for controversial and provocative comments, hosted a livestreaming session to over 9 million followers harshly criticizing Mushoku Tensei and directly verbally attacking its viewers, further amplifying tensions between the show’s fans and opponents.
On Sunday, Bilibili announced in an official post that it will discontinue the weekly update of Mushoku Tensei and pull all available episodes, due to a “sudden technical issue.”
The day after, LexBurner’s account was blocked for “inflammatory remarks and for attacking other users,” which is a violation of Bilibili’s community guidelines. “As a signed creator of Bilibili, LexBurner should comply with Bilibili’s regulations and is not allowed to make any remarks that hurt the company’s reputation,” said the firm in a post, adding that the creator’s actions constituted a breach of contract.
The debate over Mushoku Tensei quickly started spreading to other Chinese social media platforms. On Douban, the show received a rating of 3.7 out of 5 with comments saying it “supported disturbing and inappropriate values” and that “Bilibili should show more responsibility.”
A reportable offense
A Douban post collected evidence that Bilibili frequently hosted problematic videos and discussions on child exploitation and others that sexualize females, claiming that Bilibili should be reported to authorities such as the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Mayor’s office of the city of Shanghai, and the Internet Crime Complaint Center, as well as the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, where Bilibili is reportedly mulling a secondary listing.
The backlash against Bilibili is by far not an isolated case. Video platforms such as YouTube and Netflix are dealing with similar issues on how to regulate sensitive content. In 2019, YouTube announced that it banned more than 400 channels and disabled comments on tens of millions of videos following a growing controversy concerning pedophilia. Many advertisers walked away from the video platform.
Out of touch with the community
In the latest debate, an old conflict between the ACG fan community and Bilibili, which is aggressively expanding its userbase and content offerings, yet again bubbled to the surface. Some complain that Bilibili is straying from its ACG roots.
Meanwhile, the video site is flexing its muscles in the capital market. For the third quarter, the company generated RMB 3.2 billion (USD 475.1 million) in net revenue, a 74% year-on-year increase, while its average monthly active users rose 54% YoY to 197.2 million. Bilibili’s stock surged from USD 25.46 to USD 140.12 in the past year, reaching a market cap of USD 42.68 billion.
Several brands, including glass shopping platform Sigo and sanitary product company Sofy have fled the platform over the controversy. Sofy announced on Wednesday that it canceled its cooperation with Bilibili for the upcoming Spring Festival Gala. “Sofy firmly opposes and resists any insulting behavior and speech against any women in any form,” the firm said in a Weibo post.
On Wednesday afternoon, Bilibili said that it’s going to launch a one-month content cleanup campaign during the Chinese New Year holiday. “We won’t disrespect any users,” reads the announcement. “We’re glad to accept and discuss users’ criticism toward our management of the community. We will acknowledge mistakes and make progress.”