Why Meitu, China’s Adorable A.I. Anime Filter, Just Skyrocketed to the Top of International App Charts

Why Meitu, China’s Adorable A.I. Anime Filter, Just Skyrocketed to the Top of International App Charts

In China, the photo app Meitu is a tool for retouching selfies. His cute filters—think petals, pearly skin and dramatic blushes—have long been staples of social media feeds in China. However, it is only now that the application is making an international impression.

The cause? Meitu’s AI anime filter, which pushed the Honk Kong-listed app up the Apple and Android app charts.

Meitu, which translates from Mandarin as “beautiful picture”, allows users to turn pictures they upload into anime-style images. The feature is the latest in a series the Xiamen-based company has released since 2018, when it created a real-time product called “Anime Avatar,” which was considered an industry first at the time.

So far in December, the app has been downloaded more than 6.5 million times, a six-fold increase from the previous month. In Japan, it has been a top-three photo app since November. Twitter and Instagram are flooded with images of Meitu users along with their dreamy and artistically hacked avatars. The company’s share price has risen by more than 60 percent since mid-November.

Meitu is the latest AI image generator to reach mainstream use in 2022. The likes of DALL-E 2, Midjourney, Lensa AI and Dream Studio (running on open source Stable Diffusion) have all carved out their own aesthetic niches and loyal niche followers. Their popularity has sparked concern among artists who claim that the image makers are exploiting their work without credit or compensation. In the case of Meitu’s anime images, however, it appears that such backlash has yet to enter the discourse.

While much of the underlying technology used by these AI image generators is not new, the ease of use is, as they do not require coding or a high-powered computer. It’s a point succinctly captured by Meitu’s claim to generate “creative anime-style photos with one tap.”

Although China’s digital ecosystem is largely self-contained, the size and amount of data it generates — Meitu, for example, has 52 million daily active users on the mainland — gives developers advantages when it comes to iterating on new features. Sometimes there are crossover successes, notably TikTok, which is the international version of Bytedance’s Douyin.

China’s Cyberspace Administration recently laid out regulations that will make the creation of AI-generated media without tags or watermarks illegal starting in January 2023. It previously issued regulations outlawing deepfaking in 2020.

Meitu did not respond to a request for comment.

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