It was a cloudy Wednesday morning when I set out to meet the “Hentai King.” Walking from Pomona College to the parking lot near the intersection of Ninth and Amherst, I realized I knew almost nothing about the man I was about to meet.
What I did know was that this was the owner of a certain infamous Scion TC, perhaps best identified by the giant banner on its windshield reading “Hentai King.” “Hentai” is a Japanese word that refers to the pornographic sub-genres of manga and anime. I had heard stories about the hentai car from students who claimed to have followed it around campus or who had tried to snap blurry pictures as it sped past them on their way to class. From these anecdotal reports, I had gathered that the car was sporty, black, and plastered with lewd stickers of Japanese anime women.
Daniel Mendoza, an employee at Scripps College Malott Commons, was as easy to spot as his car. With dyed blond hair and thick glasses with a bubbly “K-Pop” inscription on the temple, he looked not unlike an anime character himself.
For Mendoza, “otaku culture” is an all-encompassing practice. “Otaku” is the Japanese word for people who occupy a kind of obsessive fandom, particularly in relation to anime and manga.
Mendoza’s particular vein of otaku subculture is called “itasha,” or “painful car” in English. The itasha trend involves covering a car with stickers and other decals centered around a single character from Japanese anime or manga. Typically, this character is a hyper-sexualized female protagonist known as a “waifu,” a rough translation of the word “wife” reappropriated with a Japanese accent intact into English-speaking fan communities. Despite his “Hentai King” banner, Mendoza draws a line between the lewd and the explicit, putting only semi-risqué images on his car and saving the most erotic pieces for his photo frames at home.
Before he became the “Hentai King,” Mendoza was simply the owner of a black Scion TC. It was during a habitual scroll through social media that inspiration struck.
“It started when I was on Instagram,” said Mendoza, explaining the first time he saw a picture of a car covered in anime stickers. “From there, I was inspired – I followed every single page that had itasha.”
But once he decided to delve into the world of itasha and to physically manifest his fandom on his car, he struggled to find that single anime character he wanted to represent. Ultimately, Mendoza decided on Haruna, an anthropomorphized version of the Japanese battleship bearing the same name from the 2015 anime series Kantai Collection.
According to the Kantai Collection subthread of the “Heroes Wiki,” Haruna is polite, humble, and always speaks in the third person. Her personal quote from the wiki page reads: “Fast battleship, Haruna, was appointed. You’re the admiral, correct? Please take care of me.”
And take care of her Mendoza has, by both showing her off around campus and keeping her free of vandals who would besmirch the car. In an Instagram post depicting a subtle scratch through one of the Haruna stickers, Mendoza wrote: “Although she is smiling, deep down she is hurt, and so am I.” For Mendoza, the itasha connection with Haruna is personal.
Mendoza is certainly not alone in his experiencing that connection. He first got involved with the Southern California itasha community through community meetups in Orange County, where he and fellow itasha enthusiasts would talk about anime and cars, as well as buy and sell decals. This is where Mendoza found many of his more meme-centric, pop-culture themed stickers, including ones with references to “Cash Me Outside” and “Damn Daniel.” When I asked him specifically about “Damn Daniel,” he told me “I had to get it, since it had my name.”
My final questions for Mr. Mendoza were about potential campus reactions to the kind of content he has been proudly displaying on his windshields for the past year and a half. We spoke about whether or not he felt, as a Scripps employee with a presumptive responsibility to uphold its institutional values, that his itasha participates in any overarching structures of objectification, and whether or not he cares what people think about Haruna.
“It did cross my mind,” Mendoza said. “But you just do whatever you feel like, if that makes sense. Anyone can do whatever they want to, and I did this. But I don’t mean to offend anyone, straight up. This is what I like.”