There are so many different sub-cultures that spring from simply being an automotive enthusiast. One of those subcultures that has been gaining popularity in the US as of late is the Itasha culture. By now, you may already be familiar with the meaning of ITASHA 痛車. For those of you who are not, it literally means “Painful Car.” It’s a play on words which describes cars that have anime, video game, and manga character based liveries. The idea of the name is, that a car with anime graphics on it is painful to look at and the owner must be embarrassed to drive around normal society. However! While the name and normal reaction to most normal people in society remain true, the owners of such cars are not embarrassed at all. In fact, they proudly drive their creations wherever they want, and enjoy expressing and enjoying their passion just as any other automotive enthusiast would. That’s what made it appealing to me.
If you’re still confused on what Itasha is, Alexi from Nori Yaro explained it best:
Being a fan of all things Japan, including the otaku culture, I’ve always enjoyed looking at photos of these cars online and in various magazines. Being a graphic designer as well, it’s only natural that I wanted to design one of these myself. It was in 2014 when I introduced to Darren Balico, the owner of an epic drift S14. Working with Darren, we’ve created a couple of interesting versions of Itasha livery for his car. Always a crowd favorite at car shows and drift events, not to mention on public roads! Darren is an awesome dude who breaks necks on the daily and is always positive. Gotta love that vibe!
Fast forward to 2017 and Jonathan Paik. Jonathan and I met online (this is not a the beginning of a dating story, so get that out of your head!) via Darren. Darren had first mentioned Jonathan at First Class Fitment 2016. He mentioned there was someone who wanted to build a track car that pays homage to the Goodsmile Racing Project Hatsune Miku 2013 Z4 livery. Since I’ve always wanted to work on a Miku Racing livery, I was instantly captivated by the idea. I heard Jonathan owned a sick R32 GTR, so I was already imagining how to make this work for that platform. After chatting with Jonathan, he then mentioned it was an AE86 being built by Touge Factory. My jaw dropped.
After recovering from the shock of hype, I then realized, as what usually happens, when someone wants itasha graphics, they don’t realize how much work actually goes into a project such as this. First and foremost, it is not cheap. You could easily buy a set of brand new TEs, a Voltex wing and a pack of JDM kitkats with a similar budget (or fly to Japan for that matter). I then explained to Jonathan, what this project entails. It would not be an easy feat. It would require quite a bit of design work, extensive printing, and application work. Jonathan, being the bad-ass that he is, only had one answer: LET’S DO IT.
As this is an homage to the original, the first thing to do was to imagine how the artwork will fit the body of the AE86. Obviously the lines are a lot different than a Z4, but we wanted the flow to remain the same. What is interesting about the artwork of the goodsmile racing liveries, it progresses from front to back as if it were a single continuous design. I very much wanted to keep that concept with the 86 but also make sure some of the key elements from the Z4 were in place. After having the basic concept in place, it was time to move on to the character.
Hatsune Miku. If you’re vaguely familiar with anime, you’ve probably come across this character at some point or another. Alexi of Nori Yaro again, said it best, she’s basically a virtual singing idol that came to popularity some time ago as a mascot and voice for Vocaloid, a singing synthesizer app. After the initial release, the character gained incredible amount of popularity which sprung to all sorts of marketing opportunities. Video games, live 3D concerts (not kidding), collabs with the likes of Murakami and Pharrell, and inevitably, the Goodsmile racing project, driven by none other than NOB himself.
Every year, Goodsmile racing releases a new livery design for their racing platform. One of my and Jonathan’s favorites has always been the 2013 edition. This design features Miku on the side and on the hood. This is where the real challenge begins. Since there’s not just a library of high res graphics available, the character art needs to be redrawn in illustrator for large format printing. There are a couple ways to do this. The easy way, which is just draw a bunch of shapes, color them, and call it a night. The hard way, match all the details as much as possible to the real life version. With any project I work on, quality and execution are the top priority. It was no different here. Every small piece was drawn as its own shape. I then used a series of meshs, shades, gradients and layer effects to achieve the desired look. In my opinion, you can’t take on a project like a Miku Racing homage and cut corners on the character design.
I won’t disclose the amount of hours it took to accomplish this, but I will tell you, this took a good portion out of my personal life! I was very happy with the results. After the design was complete, the next step was the prepare for print. Here are a couple of process shots for perspective
It was then time to send off to printing. The print and application can make or break any itasha project. It’s always best to ensure whoever is doing the job is a professional that takes pride in their work. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a discolored distorted mess on your car. No one wants that right? In this case, the challenge was even greater. The AE86, being a track car, functional aero a must, has the rare Crystal Body Yokohama body kit, over fenders, TRD rear wing and a GT-Wing to literally top it off. Some of the more challenging parts are the door handles and side skirts believe it or not. Fortunately for this project, the good people at Pro Vinyl did not disappoint. Incredible job done both on the print and application. If you look closely, the gray strip is actually in chrome. An extra touch for when this machine is making moves on the track.
Speaking of which, Jonathan has been straight up about this build from day one, it will be raced. This is not the typical itasha themed build commonly seen, which consists of an OEM/lightly modded car with a few bolt ons. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact, I applaud any Itasha owner that supports and keeps the culture going. This AE86, the livery, as loud as it is, isn’t where the story starts and ends. After all, it is being built at Touge Factory.
Touge Factory has a build thread on their blog for this project. If you’re interested in seeing the progress, here’s the latest post on this build: http://tougefactory.com/shop/2017/03/project-update-k24-ae86-part-3/
Seeing this car in person was one of the main reasons we traveled to Chicago. I must say I’m pretty happy with the results! The debut was very well received by the Wekfest spectators and staff. We were selected for the livery of the festival award, which was a great honor. Thank you Wekfest!
It’s been a pleasure to be a part of this project. Very glad I was able to assist Jonathan in achieving his vision for this build. I feel there is definitely room for some refinements to the design but we’ll see! In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing Jonathan take Hatsune Miku on the track this summer.
As for me, I might be inclined to take on another Itasha project, but not sure when. Perhaps on my own car one day. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re interested. Find me on IG at: @yo_edo
Thanks for reading! Salute to the fellow Itasha fans/owners, Otaku, and JDM car enthusiasts out there.