by Michelle “Ms. Geek” Klein-Hass
Itasha, “Painful Cars,” have been a subculture of Otaku culture for quite a while. It evolved from randomly plastering stickers on cars, to full wraps and custom paint jobs celebrating favorite characters from anime and manga. There are now Itasha car shows in Japan, and the Itasha craze has spread throughout Asia and even to America.
However, what if you don’t have a car, like a lot of people in Japan, especially Otaku? Bicycling is a mainstay of transportation in Asia, including in Japan. So it became natural for Otaku to also decorate their bikes. Presto! The Itachari, “Painful Bike” was born.
Usually turning a bike into an Itachari is a labor of love. It’s done by fans, and requires a lot of hard work and hassle. However, the marketing departments for a few anime have actually released official bicycle mercy. Most notably, Khara, the studio responsible for the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, released three Rebuild bikes. The bikes were ostensibly designed by Rebuild animation director and character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. A purple and green mountain bike was based on Eva 01, with two “fixie” single speed bikes modeled on Eva 00 and Eva 02 respectively. They were not really overly “tricked” like fan-created Itachari, and Sadamoto made the weird choice of going with 20 inch wheels.
Good Smile, the high-end figure company, made high-end bikes. They feature their racing team’s mascot, the most famous Vocaloid of them all, Hatsune Miku. They released them in 2013 and 2014, and they were actually used by their bike racing team.
And now, Sanrio’s Show By Rock!! franchise, which started out as a video game and became an anime, is releasing a series of five bicycles. Unlike the Good Smile and Evangelion bikes, these new bike tie-ins feature fully decorated rear wheel covers featuring characters from the series, just like the fan-made Itachari bikes usually have. They are also a lot more, shall we say, “colorful” than the commercial tie-in bikes that have been released previously. Take a look.
These ready-to-ride Itachari don’t come cheap. They cost the equivalent of $6,000 US, give or take a few dollars. However, the artwork is not just a temporary wrapper, it’s literally baked into the bike’s finish, and the art on the wheel discs is printed directly on the wheel discs.
Will these be accepted among the Itasha/Itachari subculture? There is a strong element of DIY to the subculture at present, as the bikes and cars are, again, a fan labor of love. Rolling up with a ready-made Itachari…is it somehow “cheating” in this subculture? That remains to be seen.
Full disclosure: your friendly correspondent here is also in the process of building a sort-of Itachari of her own. I had to make some compromises because bicycle theft is epidemic here in Los Angeles where I live, so the covered wheels were right out because they’d preclude the use of locking devices through the wheels. However, I added a locking “trunk” to the bike, and custom graphics are being vinyl-cut for me as I write this. You can follow the progress of my bike project here: https://www.facebook.com/Rei-Chan-Zero-Zero-Art-Bike-967610156663433/