Itasha is a fusion of the anime (Japanese-based cartoons) and automobile tuning lifestyles. Auto customizers adhere larger-than-life sticker decals of their favorite anime characters onto their rides.
While itasha loosely translates to “painful” in Japanese, the foreign word evokes the opposite meaning in metro Phoenix. The name brings joy to folks who witness custom-designed cars emblazoned with Sailor Moon, Pokémon, Demon Slayer, and other types of anime-inspired graphics.
Local car builders, many from the itasha group, are prepping for October 8-9, when they’ll all connect at WestWorld of Scottsdale for the BeMySecret Cars & Anime Con.
Add cosplayers — folks dressed as anime, comic book, and pop culture characters — to the itasha mix, and this is one of the first-of-its-kind events in metro Phoenix.
BeMySecret (BMS) is the anime subdivision of Gearhead Society, an automotive lifestyle and car show brand from Los Angeles that has been hosting car show events for seven years.
“It only made sense to combine both companies and bring BMS Cars & Anime to the public to unite two worlds into one that we are so passionate about,” Ana Ayala, co-founder of BMS Cars & Anime, said in a recent Phoenix New Times interview. “My husband Giovanny Ayala is the president of Gearhead Society” and “he also is the president of the car club Team Elevate. So as a family, we decided to unite his love of the car scene with my love for anime.”
Ana Ayala, 27, like her husband, also modifies cars. One project is a Toyota MR2 imported from Japan with its steering wheel on the right side of the cockpit. Her other project is a Honda Civic. And being a graphic designer by trade and fusing the anime and import tuning lifestyle, it was a smooth segue into creating Gearhead Society and her BeMySecret merchandise and promotional materials.
“We chose Scottsdale this year because we needed a larger venue,” she continued. “Arizona has also been a big supporter of Gearhead Society car shows.”
At the inaugural anime and car show last year in Chandler, Michael Guevara of north Phoenix took the Best of Show trophy with his dragon motif 2019 Volkswagen Jetta. His whip, which he calls “The Red Dragon,” is a 2-year project wrapped with dragon graphics in a reflective vinyl material. Guevara, a 38-year-old auto detail business owner, added a tilted hood and 19-inch white-colored and gold-flaked Vossen wheels.
The VW also has a “full trunk design set up with Dragon Ball Z embedded in the floor of the trunk,” he added. “I grew up watching the Dragon Ball Z series; that’s when I thought of an Asian dragon [motif].”
Dragon Ball Z is a Japanese animation series about Goku, the main character, and the Z Warriors, who protect mother Earth and its inhabitants against evil. When Guevara shows his ride, he adds Dragon Ball Z skateboard decks and pillows to his show display. He also plays the Japanese cartoon on his Xion car audio-video system customized by HZ Custom Audio in Phoenix.
Also set to appear at the show: a 2019 Subaru WRX STI with Zero Two graphics, a ’22 Subaru Impreza sporting Demon Slayer stickers, and many more itasha, assured Ana Ayala.
“The most iconic and popular racing anime of all time is Initial D,” she said.
Initial D is a Japanese cartoon that revolves around import car customizers and racers. The primary vehicle, an ’80s Toyota Corolla, is decked in a black-and-white panda-colored colorway — which inspired many people in the U.S. and in metro Phoenix to mimic. The homages by building cars to resemble the aesthetics of the Initial D cartoon also play a vital part in the itasha movement.
Some of the vendors at the show will carry Initial D merchandise.
At the BMS show, “there are all sorts of vendors promoting and selling their product simultaneously,” Guevara said. “And don’t forget there will also be card game competitions” — including a Yu-Gi-Oh! tournament.
The two-day show will have dozens of booths packed with exclusive con merchandise, anime voice actors, and meet and greets with folks from the animation industry and cosplay scene.
Kantasy and Jess Schoen, both from Arizona, are two of many well-known cosplayers who will parade around the event and pose for photographs.
“For us, BMS Cars and Anime Con is about more than just combining two worlds,” Ana Ayala added. “From my husband’s viewpoint, building a car takes a lot of character, drive, and meticulous decision-making. Each car is as unique as the owner that made it. For myself, the breadth of artistic skill, creativity, and culture surrounding anime is as unique as each designer, spectator, artist, and attendee of our events.”
Where: WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 North Pima Road, Scottsdale
When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 8;
noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, October 9
Tickets: $30-$35 per day / $50 for both days