Brands pull ads from Bilibili amid boycott over perverted anime series and sexist user comments

Society & Culture

While the Chinese streaming site hasn’t directly addressed the boycotts, the distasteful anime series at the center of the controversy was taken down for “technical reasons.”

Mushoku Tensei

A growing number of brands are halting advertising on Bilibili, a Chinese video-streaming service popular among young people, as part of an intensifying protest of the site’s failure to curb misogynist comments and its promotion of sexually suggestive content.

An anime series for ‘lowlifes’

At the center of the controversy is a Japanese anime television series called Mushoku Tensei: Isekai Ittara Honki Dasu, or Jobless Reincarnation: I Will Seriously Try If I Go To Another World. Adapted from a light novel that was originally published in 2012, the anime series concerns a 34-year-old unemployed man who is looked down upon by his peers for not having a purpose in life. However, after he dies in a car crash, the man is reincarnated into a fantastical world as a newborn baby gifted with an overwhelming amount of magic power as well as the mind of a grown adult.

The series premiered in Japan last month, and soon became available to stream on Bilibili with Chinese subtitles. But unlike how it’s treated as sort of a “niche product” on Japanese networks — the series is shown at midnight with adults as the target demographic — Bilibili aggressively advertised it as teen-friendly show, despite its frequent depiction of the protagonist’s fetishizing and pedophilic behavior, including stealing used underwear from his teacher and molesting young girls. 

The show was first called into question earlier this month after LexBurner, a contract-bound content creator that had over 9 million followers on Bilibili, went off on an unprovoked rant about the series’s fans in a livestreaming session hosted on the platform. Calling them “lowlifes in the society,” LexBurner said their love for the show stemmed from their dissatisfaction with how life panned out for them and their fascination with an alternate reality where everything worked in their favor and they could fulfill their creepy sexual desires without facing real-life consequences.

Jobless_Reincarnation“If you are successful in life, there’s no point in trying to understand or emphasize with a character who is of a much lower social class, and whose actions and willpower are much worse…My life motto is ‘Successful people are successful wherever they go. Garbage will always remain garbage,’” he said.

Unsurprisingly, LexBurner biting critique upset many of the series’ fans, who said they felt offended by his condescending attitude and unfair categorization of people. They mass-reported him to Bilibili for inappropriate and insulting remarks. Bilibili responded to their complaints by  suspending LexBurner’s accounts. 

Lack of respect for female users

As the controversy surrounding LexBurner escalated, a coalition of women started to bash Bilibili for mishandling the situation. Their main argument was that punishing the livestreamer for his opinions was completely beside the point. The root of the problem, as they saw it, was the website’s lax policies around policing sexual content and its reluctance to more stringently moderate misogynist comments posted by its male users. 

As many of the critics pointed out, the Nasdaq-listed service has a track record of hosting sexually suggestive videos and creating sexist promotional material to lure attention. They said they had been ringing the alarm about weird, implicitly sexual comments on videos of little kids on the platform, but it never did anything meaningful to fix the issue. 

Their criticism resonated widely and boycott calls started to emerge, with internet users of all stripes calling for Bilibili to ramp up its efforts to make its environment less toxic and abusive for female users. The protest was later joined by several local brands, such as Sofy, a manufacturer of feminine hygiene products, and UKISS, a Nanjing-based cosmetics brand, who have announced their support for the initiative and pledged to shift their ad money away from the platform. 

“We firmly oppose and strongly condemn any forms of insulting behavior or remarks against women. We respect women and care for them. It’s our mission to offer better products and services to every woman,” Sofy said (in Chinese) in a Weibo post today. 

While Bilibili hasn’t directly addressed the boycotts, it has taken down the controversial anime series for “technical reasons” and announced today that it would launch a month-long campaign to crack down on problematic content on its platform. “Respect is the cornerstone of Bilibili’s community,” the website wrote (in Chinese). “We don’t want to see people engulfed in endless rage and disputes. We will try harder.”