What Is Itasha? Where Cars Meet Cute Anime Girls

Expressing oneself via car design is the very opposite of a new concept. We've been doing it for eons, and truth be told, genuinely unique commissions date back more than a century. Remember the coach-built cars that launched prior to the heavily standardized Ford Model T, as well as the hand-crafted masterpieces from the 1920s and 1930s? However, expressing one's appreciation for all things otaku via car design is a relatively new concept.
Itasha (1990 Nissan Skyline GTS-T Type-M) 100 photos
Photo: cloud2_1
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First and foremost, otaku is widely used to describe peeps interested in Japanese manga, anime, video games, and so forth. Oftentimes used interchangeably with the newer term weeb, otaku is more than a subculture. For some, it's the most effective way of coping with the dissatisfaction and hardships of everyday life. Think escapist fiction à la J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, to name only two heavyweights from the Western capitalist world.

Given the number of automotive subcultures that Japan has given us over the years, it should come as no surprise that otakus carved out a niche for themselves as well. This niche is called itasha, a word that was originally used to designate Italian cars imported to Japan (ita as in Itaria and sha meaning vehicle). Slowly but steadily, itasha became synonymous with vehicles decorated with manga, anime, and video game characters. There's a heavy emphasis on cute girls, especially those that fall into the moe category, moe standing for characters that draw out feelings of excitement, affection, devotion, and all that jazz.

The ita in itasha derives from the word itai, which can be translated as embarrassing, cringe, and painful. Otherwise put, an eyesore on four wheels. Cringeworthy or cultivated, we'll leave the judging of itasha car owners to those who criticize personal tastes whilst feeling confident about their own.

1990 Nissan Skyline GTS\-T Type\-M
Photo: cloud2_1
Itasha entered the mainstream in the 2000s with the advent of broadband internet. A subculture of the 21st century rooted in the twilight of the 20th century, itasha really came into its own in 2005, when an itasha vehicle took part in the Comiket 68 doujinshi convention, which was held at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center. Two years later, the first itasha convention was hosted in Ariake.

Originally a Japan-exclusive obsession, itasha has – obviously enough – garnered followers in other parts of the world. From the United Kingdom to the United States, there are too many countries for us folk at autoevolution to list here. Other notable hotspots include Taiwan, Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, Mexico, Australia, Germany, and Malaysia.

In addition to allowing otakus to express themselves, itasha further enabled the otaku among us to meet and network with like-minded individuals and those more interested in a given vehicle rather than the fictional character on said vehicle. Now that you're well-versed in the basics, you might be curious about notable specimens of itasha cars. Well, dear reader, wonder no more because we've compiled no fewer than 10 noteworthy examples of this subculture.

Ford Mustang x Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury

Ford Mustang
Photo: Kawaii Motorsports
Even if you're not into anime, chances are you've seen images or videos of a blonde teen with a sailor outfit. She is Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, also known as Pretty Solider Sailor Moon, and Usagi Tsukino in civilian attire. Her group of comrades includes Sailor Mercury, the first Sailor Guardian discovered by the protagonist, and the de facto brains of the group.

Running between 1992 and 1997 over 200-plus episodes, the original TV series made the Sailor Moon franchise a worldwide phenomenon. The release of Sailor Moon Eternal in 2021 brought the franchise back into the limelight, one year before a gentleman called Ben wrapped his S550 Mustang with both Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury. The 1990s anime isn't everything there is to this car…

Gifted with Corbeau seats, painted wheels, rear window louvers, and logos of aftermarket companies that include Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s RTR and MagnaFlow, the V8-engined pony further sweetens the deal with a ducktail-style spoiler. A tasteful opener for this list, although underpowered compared to the W16-engined hypercar we'll cover next.

Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport x Spike Spiegel and Ein from Cowboy Bebop

Bugatti Veyron
Photo: NYCexotics
Sailor Moon catered especially to the shojo crowd, with shojo meaning a target audience comprising adolescent females and young adult women. Cowboy Bebop is many things to many people, a 1990s television series classified as a neo-noir space Western. Clearly aimed at a mature audience, this anime further served (and continues to serve) as a gateway to the world of anime for us Westerners.

Guns, love, grief, space travel, existentialism, and so many more make Cowboy Bebop a medium-defining masterpiece. Easily one of the best animes of all time, the series directed by Shinichiro Watanabe also happens to feature one of the most epic soundtracks of all time, a soundtrack credited to Yoko Kanno's Seatbelts. Jazz, electronic, rock, orchestral, blues, pop, folk music, and everything in between these genres are featured. The OST augments every scene of this anime. One could argue that Cowboy Bebop without said music wouldn't be Cowboy Bebop.

That being said, care to guess who is the owner of this Cowboy Bebop-themed Veyron? Featuring main character Spike Spiegel and a very smart Corgi who goes by the name of Ein, the 16-cylinder land missile was purchased by Liz Uzi Vert prior to his 25th anniversary. The 2012 model year Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport was previously owned by Floyd Mayweather. The rapper's $10,000 custom wrap comes courtesy of New Jersey-based Car Effex.

Toyota Supra x Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion

Toyota Supra
Photo: carkoo_allen
The mecha genre was elevated to new heights by Neon Genesis Evangelion because creator Hideaki Anno dared to step outside the long-established tropes of the mecha genre. In addition to robot-like giant humanoid beings with near-godlike power, NGE ventured into strong, deep themes such as trauma, loneliness, identity, and the very nature of existence. It's not for the casual anime viewer, that's for sure, and certainly not for those who come from sitcoms such as Friends, Seinfeld, and The Nanny.

Asuka Langley Soryu, the pilot of Evangelion Unit-02, is one of the main characters of the franchise. A 14-year-old prodigy who desperately tries to prove her worth to the detriment of her own happiness and mental health, Asuka is the talking point of a GR Supra. Beautified with lightweight alloys mounted with Bridgestone Potenza rubber, the 'Yota features the scarlet and green of EVA 02 and some white, referencing the main color of the Mass Production Evangelions from The End of Evangelion of 1997.

It is easy to judge Asuka for not doing what's best for her, and it is similarly easy to criticize the MKV as being too much BMW. The truth of the matter is, the Supra couldn't be more different from the Z4 because the Toyota and BMW engineers went their separate ways early in the development process. How early? According to chief engineer Tetsuya Tada, right after both parties agreed on the tracks and wheelbase.

BMW i8 x Pokemon

BMW i8
Photo: Veluxity Exotic Car Rental
The augmented reality game Pokemon Go was released for iOS and Android devices a little over seven years ago. Regardless of which side of the divide you find yourself, Niantic's biggest game to date was awarded a whopping five world records by the Guinness World Records in August 2016, one month after Pokemon Go was officially released.

Capitalizing on the media franchise created by Satoshi Tajiri of Game Freak, the commercially successful game racked up a stupendous $206.5 million in revenue back in August 2016 alone. Not surprising in the least, many businesses capitalized on the craze, including an exotic rental company.

Enter the Paramount Luxury Rentals BMW i8 wrapped in the Pocket Monsters that many among us know and love, namely Mewtwo, Squirtle, Gengar, Zapdos, Bulbasaur, Slowpoke, and – naturally – Pikachu. Ash Ketchum, a.k.a. Satoshi, is featured on the front hood, where you'll also find decals of the exotic rental company and Custom Wrap Design.

Nissan 370Z x C.C. from Code Geass

Nissan 370Z
Photo: 911panda911
Pronounced C2 (make that Shi Tsu in Japanese), the green-haired woman known as C.C. is an immortal witch with the physique of a young adult. Code Geass central character Lelouch vi Britannia meets her under treacherous circumstances. Think Britannian military and terrorists. Not long after, Lelouch obtains the power (a.k.a. the Geass) of absolute obedience, putting him on a collision course with the ruler of the Holy Britannian Empire. Spoiler alert: Charles zi Britannia also has a special power.

Rather than spoiling more of the plot, let's take a moment to admire a 370Z plastered with C.C. on all four sides. Pictured with matte-black wheels, Michelin tires, and lowering springs, the car's pièce de resistance is the message written on the roof. "Better to hurt on the outside than the inside" can be interpreted in countless ways, but in this context, bear in mind that C.C. is an immortal witch whose real name is never shared with the audience. Spoiler alert: the protagonist eventually finds out her real name.

Turning our attention back to the rear-drive sports car, the 370Z is called as such after the naturally-aspirated engine's displacement and the Z line introduced by the S30-generation 240Z in 1969. The latest and most powerful Z yet is the… uhm… Z, for it packs the 400-horsepower VR30DDTT of the Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400. The automatic-only NISMO version belts out 420 ponies on full song.

Ferrari SF90 x Marin Kitagawa from My Dress-Up Darling

Ferrari SF90 Stradale
Photo: edcgrphcs
Based on a manga published by Square Enix, the anime known as My Dress-Up Darling took the Land of the Rising Sun by storm at the beginning of 2022. The increasingly popular franchise stars junior high school student Wakana Gojo, who spends his free time perfecting the art of sewing clothes for hina dolls instead of engaging his fellow teenagers in whatever teenagers do these days besides TikTok.

Classmate Marin Kitagawa discovers Gojo's well-kept secret, and – impressed by his talent – she confesses about her very own passion for cosplay. Given these circumstances, the main characters grow close to one another. By combining traits of romantic comedy and slice of life, and thanks to the excellent chemistry of the protagonists, My Dress-Up Darling strikes a chord with both the young and mature.

Penned by EDCGRPHCS and carefully applied by Vinyl Labs for Muse Autosport, the itasha wrap of this particular SF90 Stradale may ruffle some feathers. Ferrari, for example, has a thing for sending cease and desist orders to Ferrari owners who mess up with the original design of its production vehicles. The Deadmau5 Purrari comes to mind, a Nyan Cat-wrapped 458 Italia that the electronic music DJ and producer replaced with the Nyanborghini Purracan.

Subaru WRX x Revy from Black Lagoon

Subaru WRX
Photo: wraptorautostyling
Owned by Reddit user u/Best_Second7660, this WRX doesn't suggest Subie bro and thick vape clouds. "Although I am a machinist, everyone at my job compliments my car," said the owner. "People stop me all the time around town too. You'll get used to the stares and being stopped and asked for pictures. It actually brought me out of my shell in public."

Offered between the 2015 and 2021 model years, the VA-series WRX came with either a 2.0-liter turbocharged H4 or a 2.5-liter turbocharged H4. It's the first-ever WRX that moved away from the Impreza nameplate. The VB-series WRX won't go STI, though, because Subaru is more interested in pivoting to hybrid and electric vehicles nowadays.

As for Revy, the Chinese-American member of The Lagoon Company is one of the most powerful female characters in anime and manga history. The biggest tragedy of Rebecca Lee isn't her past, but rather how little the Black Lagoon anime and manga reveal about Revy's past. Black Lagoon has a spiritual brother in the form of Jormungand, which follows the story of child soldier Jonathan Mar and the incredibly fascinating arms dealer Koko Hekmatyar as they travel the world selling weapons to state armies, paramilitaries, and plenty other dangerous groups.

Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo x Hatsune Miku

Mercedes\-AMG GT3 EVO
Photo: Good Smile Racing
Founded in 2001, the Good Smile Company produces hobby products based on popular manga, anime, and video game characters, including a 1:8 scale model of Mikasa Ackerman from Attack on Titan. Seven years later, GSC became the title sponsor of Studie GLAD Racing in the hideously underrated Super GT. Come 2010, GSC entered a pair of Porsche 911s under Good Smile Racing in the Super GT's GT300 class.

The racing cars fielded by Good Smile Racing in the Super GT feature illustrations of Hatsune Miku, the anthropomorphic of a Vocaloid software voicebank developed by Japanese media company Crypton Future Media. The BMW Z4 entered by Studie GLAD Racing in the Super GT in 2008 is widely considered to be Japan's first-ever itasha racing car.

For the 2023 season, Good Smile Racing uses a Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo with a colorful wrap that features the twin-tailed virtual idol. 2023 was a particularly bad season for GSR, with the team finishing 13th in the championship. Be that as it may, GSR did win their class in 2011, 2014, and 2017.

Ford Focus RS x Lain Iwakura from Serial Experiments Lain

Ford Focus RS
Photo: inversetundra
A shy 14-year-old junior high schooler with few interests and friends, Lain Iwakura isn't easily understood. An introvert who is way more comfortable in the virtual world than the real one, Lain gives the impression of indifference at first. The protagonist has three other personalities, which enable the exploration of topics that include social alienation, paranoia, the unhealthy reliance on technology, reality, identity, and communication.

One could make parallels with the highly philosophical Ghost in the Shell, but frankly, that's like comparing apples to oranges. In any case, both franchises are highly praised works that shaped anime and the cyberpunk genre pioneered by American-Canadian author William Ford Gibson.

Owned by Scott Carey of Atlanta, Georgia, this striking Focus RS proudly flaunts the phrase "Close the world, Open the nExt" from Serial Experiments Lain. This phrase is shown at the end of every episode of the 13-episode anime, and nExt is a play on the NeXT company founded by Steve Jobs in 1985 after his ousting from Apple. Developed by NeXT and Sun Microsystems of Java fame, the OpenStep operating system was fused with Mac OS to create the Mac OS X operating system.

Ram 1500 Rebel x Rory Mercury from Gate

Ram 1500 Rebel
Photo: rebellious_rory
Our final entry is a half-ton pickup with a demigoddess from the Gate series on the rear doors. The off-road truck is more than just a DS-generation Ram 1500 Rebel with a nice wrap and ritzy wheels from Fuel. The passenger side of the bed reads: "Ruling over death means ruling over life. Death is the climax of life. To have the best death, you must honor life."

While not especially deep, Rory's words need to be interpreted through the lens of a supernatural being who has lived for nearly a millennium (961 years, that is). The physical incarnation of the god of death, Rory has the appearance of a 13-year-old goth lolita. As for Gate's plot, all you need to know is that the Japan Self-Defense Forces establish a forward operating base in another world – Rory's world – via a portal that appears in modern-day Giza, Tokyo.

Although the DS-generation Ram 1500 continues to be listed on the manufacturer's website as a 2023 model, the only trims available at the moment of writing are the work-oriented Tradesman and the better-equipped Warlock. The only way of getting a Rebel in this day and age is to upgrade to the DT generation, which carries a sticker price of $59,595. For the 2025 model year, the optional 5.7-liter HEMI V8 of the Ram 1500 Rebel will be discontinued for the Hurricane twin-turbocharged inline-six engine.
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About the author: Mircea Panait
Mircea Panait profile photo

After a 1:43 scale model of a Ferrari 250 GTO sparked Mircea's interest for cars when he was a kid, an early internship at Top Gear sealed his career path. He's most interested in muscle cars and American trucks, but he takes a passing interest in quirky kei cars as well.
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