Anime themed cars in Japan, or otherwise known as itasha, are quite easy to recognize due to their distinctive graphic works. The itasha is an art whereby individuals decorate their car bodies with fictional animation and video game characters especially beautiful females. However, such decorated cars may also entail attractive bold lines and writings in Japanese language. The trend has spread further to bicycles and motorcycles whereby they are referred as itachari and itansha respectively. While anime themed cars are usually associated with Japan, the movement has gained an international audience and similar decorated cars have been spotted in the U.S.A, Brazil, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong and even European countries like Germany and France.
The itasha culture can trace it historical roots back to 1980 when Japan mostly relied on imported luxury Italian cars. The phrase ‘itasha’ was used as pun for Italian cars but later the definition changed to a combinations of two Japanese words which when translated to English means ‘painfully embarrassing’ or ‘painfully expensive’ due to the high cost of acquiring the imported cars. It was during that time when Japan car enthusiasts and animation fans started decorating the interior of their cars with stickers of anime characters. It is also likely that the style of decorations was inspired by other vehicle decorating trends such as motorcycle clubs that were gaining trend at that time. Slowly, the decal stickers moved into the exterior and later paint jobs were added to the decorations. However, the trend was limited to a small circle in the 1980’s and 1990’s but gained much publicity in the 21st century especially after wide media coverage and the introduction of color printing technology. Other factors that led to the anime themed cars culture being widely recognized was its acknowledgment by the Comic Markets in 2005 and the Itasha Convection since 2007.
Further, anime themed cars in Japan are now featured in the mainstream market since Toyota unveiled the GT 86 model complete with Japanese inspired decorations. Other car manufacturers that have followed suit include Fujimi, Tamiya and Kyosho. The motorsports industry has also widely recognized anime themed cars especially in Japan and other international races whereby professional drivers decorate their cars with anime themed features sometimes even including the sponsors’ detail. The itasha culture has even been made more fashionable whereby it is featured in popular car racing video games and movies. Currently, there are thousands of graphic artists offering itasha stickers and paint jobs on any customized cars.