Anime streaming site Bilibili faces domestic boycott ahead of Hong Kong IPO over Japanese show accused of insulting women

Jane Zhang
·4-min read

Bilibili, the popular Chinese video platform known for its anime offerings, is facing an ongoing boycott from some domestic merchants following criticism of content considered insulting to women in the Japanese show Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation.

After pulling four episodes of the anime and halting the release of the fifth episode, the company said in a statement on Wednesday, “Respect is the cornerstone of the community and the basic guiding principle for operating Bilibili. This includes respect for users, content creators, different genders, various interest groups, cultural circles.”

The statement came after cosmetics brands Ukiss and Spenny, domestic skincare brand Lin Qingxuan, and contact lenses merchant Sigo.cn all announced that they would cease cooperation with the company. Bilibili said it will conduct a one-month “rectification” that will begin during the Lunar New Year to spot and erase problematic content and accounts.

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The backlash presents new business risks for Bilibili, which is hoping to raise US$3 billion in a second public offering in Hong Kong in the coming weeks. The company initially went public on the Nasdaq in March 2018. The hot internet platform has seen its stock value rise 14-fold since going public, a testament to its strong appeal built on a niche community of subculture fans, most notably fans of anime, comics and games (ACG).

As the company’s profile has risen, it has sought to pivot from a niche platform to one with more mainstream appeal, becoming more akin to Google’s YouTube. The popularity of Kuaishou, a short video-sharing app that went public in Hong Kong this month, is also fanning speculation that Bilibili, with its Generation Z appeal, could also be a hit with investors.

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Many Chinese internet users called Bilibili’s response insincere, saying it lacked an apology. “Very disappointing,” one user commented under Bilibili’s statement on Weibo.

“Avoid the important and dwell on the trivial,” another person wrote. “The company said nothing concrete.”

After Bilibili started airing Mushoku Tensei last month, some users complained that the show featured “paedophilia” and “soft pornography” that was insulting to women. The show was taken down on Sunday with a notice citing “technical issues”. On Monday, the company also banned the account of popular content creator LexBurner, who had several million fans on the platform and had criticised the controversial anime.

After banning LexBurner, Bilibili released a statement saying the user “made many inappropriate comments during live-streaming” and has “violated the relevant rules of Bilibili’s community”. The company’s handling of the issue sparked more criticism, which is what led brands to cut ties with the streaming site.

A Bilibili spokeswoman said on Thursday that the company has no further comment regarding the issue.

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Since going public nearly three years ago, Bilibili has seen rapid growth. Monthly active users (MAUs) have more than doubled from 77.5 million in the first quarter of 2018 to 197.2 million as of last September, according to the company.

“Bilibili expanded too fast [in recent years], which has caused dramatic cultural conflicts between old users and new users,” said Arch Pei, an independent internet analyst who previously worked at Sinolink Securities. “As long as Bilibili still treats user growth as the core strategy … such things will happen repeatedly. ”

While Bilibili tries to deal with the fallout of the Mushoku Tensei controversy, the bulk of the company’s revenue seems to be secure. Mobile games and value-added services made up 39.5 per cent and 30.4 per cent, respectively, of the company’s 3.2 billion yuan (US$475.1 million) in revenue in the third quarter, financial filings show.

The categories of advertising and “e-commerce and others” respectively contributed to 17.3 per cent and 12.8 per cent of revenue that same quarter.

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