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Introducing the wild and wacky world of itasha

Would you proudly wrap your car with your favorite anime character?

No, these vehicles are not your usual mobile condo advertisements. PHOTO FROM CHOKAIGI 2021

One of the easiest ways to drastically change the appearance of your vehicle is by wrapping it. This can range from transparent paint-protection films to those that really change the color of your car. Or, you can add graphics or decals to your ride with the wrap.

Thankfully, we’ve shifted away from the loud, eye-catching styles of the early-2000s tuner culture (see Fast and the Furious) to simpler-looking vehicles with an emphasis on certain themes like stance or luxury.

But in Japan, if you’ve been to a car show or went for a stroll in the Akihabara district, you may have seen a handful of eye-catching cars or motorcycles with anime or video-game characters on them.

Itasha are an integral part of Japanese car culture. PHOTO FROM TOGUE FACTORY

It’s called itasha, In English, it literally means “painful car.” For motorcycles, it’s called itansha. And for bicycles (yes, really), it’s called itachari. This kind of customization falls squarely into the love-it-or-hate-it territory.

Show off your favorite ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ pilot on your motorbike. INSTAGRAM POST BY URBAN_LYNX

Admittedly, results can vary depending on the execution (or what you decide to plaster on your car). Due to the nature of anime or video games in general, some attempts are trashy and shouldn’t be even allowed on the streets. But others spend a little more time and effort to make their itasha look tasteful. There are even some that roam the streets of our country, like this hot-pink Honda Civic EG with a Demon Slayer-inspired livery.

This pink EG was recently featured at a local car show. INSTAGRAM POST BY BUMPER2BUMPERCARSHOW

In motorsports, Good Smile Racing’s “Racing Miku” team is probably the most well-known, especially for Super GT fans. Hatsune Miku, a popular character who sings using Vocaloid (a voice synthesizer software by Yamaha), is the team’s mascot and has graced several of its speed machines like the BMW Z4 GT3, the Mercedes-Benz SLS GT3, and the Mercedes-AMG GT3.

If you’re a Super GT fan, you may recognize these colorful competitors. PHOTOS FROM GOOD SMILE RACING

Rapper Lil Uzi Vert is known to be quite eccentric with his vehicles. His collection includes an Audi R8 featuring Azusa from K-On! and Sinon from Sword Art Online, a Cowboy Bebop Bugatti Veyron, and a Bentley Bentayga themed after Kyoto Animation’s Kyoukai no Kanata. Whether you think these are tasteful or not is entirely up to you, but it’s always nice to see something different from time to time.

Lil Uzi Vert's cars are different from the usual crop of celebrity vehicles. INSTAGRAM POSTS BY CAREFFEX

Fans of the game Genshin Impact will be mildly amused to know that Cadillac had a collaboration with developer Mihoyo to dress up four CT4 sedans with four characters: Keqing, Xiangling, Barbara and Xiao. These four vehicles were put on display at the Guangzhou Auto Show last November.

It’s probably cheaper to buy a CT4 than to get the five-star character you want from the game. IMAGES FROM CADILLAC

Finally, if you want to give it a try yourself (without spending tens of thousands of pesos), you can hop on to video games like Gran Turismo Sport and Forza. It’s easy to make them with the livery editors, and you can spot other virtual itasha when going online especially if you play within the Asian servers.

You can waste hours designing your own livery in Gran Turismo Sport. SCREENSHOT FROM GRAN TURISMO SPORT

Yes, we know that this style of customization isn’t for everybody. Most wouldn’t want to be caught dead driving a car or motorcycle with graphics of a fictional character on the sides of their vehicle.

But that’s also the beauty of car culture in general. People are free to do whatever they want to their vehicles in order to express themselves. And if they desire to drive something that screams “I love anime, and I’m not ashamed of it,” who’s stopping them?

If you ask me, I would definitely do it on my car. It’ll have to be something a little sporty though, because I’m sure my family wouldn’t want to be seen getting out of our Mazda CX-8 with Kamisato Ayaka from Genshin Impact proudly displayed on the sides.

Sam Surla

Sam is the youngest member of our editorial team. He specializes in photography and videography, but he also happens to like writing about cars a lot.