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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.