Why Meitu, China’s adorable AI Anime filter, just shot to the top of international app charts

Why Meitu, China’s adorable AI Anime filter, just shot to the top of international app charts

In China, photo app Meitu is a go-to tool for retouching selfies. Their cute filters – think petals, pearlescent skins and dramatic blushes – have long been a staple of social media in China. However, it is only now that the app is making an international impression.

The reason? Meitu’s AI anime filter, which has shot the Honk Kong-listed application up the Apple and Android app charts.

Meitu, which translates from Mandarin as “beautiful picture”, allows users to transform photos 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,” considered an industry first at the time.

So far in December, the app has been downloaded more than 6.5 million times, a sixfold increase from the previous month. In Japan, it has been a top-three photo app since November. Twitter and Instagram have been flooded with photos of Meitu users next to their dreamy and artistically designed avatars. The company’s share price has duly jumped more than 60 per cent since mid-November.

Meitu is the latest AI image generator to achieve 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 followings . Their popularity has sparked concern among artists who claim the image generators are exploiting their work without credit or compensation. In the case of Meitu’s anime pictures, however, it seems that such pushback has yet to enter the discourse.

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Although much of the underlying technology used by these AI image generators is not new, the ease of use is that they require neither coding nor a powerful computer. It’s a point succinctly captured by Meitu’s claim to generate “creative anime-style images with one touch.”

Although China’s digital ecosystem is largely self-sufficient, 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 released directives that will make the creation of AI-generated media without labels or watermarks illegal from January 2023. It previously issued regulations making deepfakes illegal in 2020.

Meitu did not respond to a request for comment.

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