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What is Meitu? The kawaii anime makeover app goes viral

The photo-editing app skyrockets in popularity. Now, no one is safe from being turned into a cute cartoon character.

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Meitu is the latest selfie craze to hit social media. It combines facial recognition with anime-like filters to make you look like a rejected Sailor Moon.

The free photo-editing app, available for iOS and Android, lets you take selfies or upload pictures from your camera roll. The latter option kicked off a viral trend, and now no one is safe from being portrayed as an adorable anime character.

Just look at how kawaii it's made Texas Sen. Ted "Lucifer in the flesh" Cruz and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Meitu has been extremely popular in China since its release in 2008, with more than 456 million active users and 6 billion photos created a month. It's been installed on more than 1 billion devices, according to Meitu Inc. The company reportedly aimed for a $3 billion valuation for its IPO in Hong Kong.

But for a photo-editing app, Meitu has some rather unusual lines of code in its iOS version. And the Android version asks for an awful lot of permissions. This has raised concerns the company could be spying on users in order to sell data to ad-targeting firms. Meitu didn't respond to a request for comment.

See also: Here's why we're not downloading Meitu

The app recently gained international popularity, and now has 430 million users outside of China. Before January 10, Meitu was hidden as the No. 317 ranked app in the "Photos & Video" section of Apple's US app store. After an update, which added the ability to give any image an anime makeover, Meitu spiked to the No. 4 ranked app in the category. And it continues to climb Apple's overall top charts. It's currently above other popular free apps like Waze and Yelp, but is still several below Snapchat.

Since January 2016, Meitu was downloaded about 230,000 times in the US, according to Sensor Tower. A whopping 10 percent of those downloads came in just the last seven days.

Meitu promised to grant users a "cross-dimensional beauty" -- maybe if the other dimension has "Kill la Kill" or "One Punch Man." The app comes with several editing tools to adjust your skin tone, remove acne, make your face slimmer and taller, and enlarge and brighten your eyes. It also has special effects and brushes to make you look like a cartoon character.

Here's my before and after, so you get an idea of its effects.

meitu.jpg

I am very kawaii.

Alfred Ng/CNET

The app's quick rise in popularity seems to come from people doling out anime makeovers that nobody asked for. Some of our favorites so far included the president-elect and Severus Snape.

And if you decide to do a Meitu-inception, you're going to get some weird results.

First published Jan. 19, 2017 at 11:19 a.m. PT.
Update, 3:26 p.m. PT: Adds more background on Meitu and privacy concerns.

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