Japan has a strong heritage in not only pop art (like anime and manga), but also mobility, with inventive staples like Onikyan car wheels and Dekotora Trucks.
And what happens when you bring those two together? Itasha.
This is a car styling trend that emerged in the 1980s, but has been given a fresh lease of life with new car breeds and emerging tech. Itasha means literally painful or cringeworthy in Japanese, and refers specifically to vehicles that have been decorated with anime, manga, or video game characters.
Itasha isn’t just limited to Japan though — anime, pop culture, and automotive enthusiasts have taken the trend globally. To find out more about the trend, I spoke with Koriey Dixon, owner of Carmic.con. He organizes the local Itasha community to provide display cars for anime, comic, and auto events. Think COMICON, but for fans of cars, anime, and American animation.
Dixon views himself as the steward of what he calls “American Itasha.” This builds on the shoulders of the traditional Japanese Itasha, but adds video games, comic books, and other elements of global pop culture into the mix.
He’s part of what he calls “a wild, beautiful community of people who just appreciate the artistry” of artful vehicle modification.
Yep, you saw that correctly: you can even wrap the windscreen!
How are Itasha cars decorated?
The cars are wrapped with basically just one big sticker over the entire car. Companies like 3M, Avery Dennison, and Arlon make huge vinyl prints.
Itasha enthusiasts can collaborate with artists to get the designs of their dreams onto vinyl and then onto their cars.
Prices range anywhere from $800 for smaller decals to $10,000 for elaborately designed full wraps.
Dixon notes that while the wraps are designed to last about seven to ten years, up to five years is more realistic. His most recent Itasha is a Tesla Model 3 wrapped with Naruto fan art. He believes these projects can’t be impulsive — and need to be inspired by their original designs unless you get explicit permission from the artist or company. Smaller companies are more likely to give permission, as they are happy for the promotion.
For people wanting to get their first wrap, Dixon advises:
Do your research. Don’t talk to just one company or one artist. Don’t be afraid to shop around. Because you know what you love and want. You might have an artist who makes the artwork style that you want to put on the car. But sometimes, the pricing can get expensive, and the best thing to do is to take your time, don’t rush, and just shop around.
What’s next for this meeting of art and tech?
Dixon explained that some people use QR codes in their designs to communicate with fellow enthusiasts. This made me think about what might be possible in the future.
Recently at CES, we saw car innovations such as BMW’s concept iX Flow, a car made covered with an a car covered with an e-ink display (yep, like your Kindle).
Image a car covered with digital anime that changes according to the weather? Or vehicles that show movies on top of the roof? Or on a digital billboard?? Or in the windows???
The options are endless, especially when the car is stationary to avoid driving distractions. Check out this example: