From Euro to Hero - Otaku Thursdays (Otaku Month Ep.2)
Meet Kyiv Derevko, founder of Kawaii Motorsports, and the event he spearheads outside of his vehicle graphics business: Otaku Thursdays. Where 'anime, Japanese culture, and cars come to meet.'
Even the odd SLR McLaren.
At the same time, Kyiv began venturing into vinyl and sticker printing as a side business, leading to the formation of his first anime-themed sticker brand: “Project Itasha.” Wanting to bring more attention to it, he drew from observations on how collectables, like Hot Wheels - were such a popular cash cow during his Euro meets.
“I thought: why not an import/JDM-centered spin-off from my Euro Wednesday events?” - which led to the creation of a spin-off event in late 2015; instead focusing on imports and the tuner crowd.
The schedule for Kyiv's weekly event alternated between European exotics one week, with imports and anime-themed cars the other. Initially called ‘Weeaboo Thursdays’, it evolved into what it is now known as ‘Otaku Thursdays.’
"Why not an import/JDM-centered spin-off from my Euro Wednesday events?"
Alongside his personal brands 'Project Itasha', ‘Trap Senpai' & 'YukkiGarage', the event also gives exposure to Kyiv’s vehicle wrap and itasha design venture: ‘Kawaii Motorsports’.
But Kyiv & Kawaii Motorsports aren’t in this alone: the door is open to anyone looking to help put their products out there to the ever-growing otaku fanbase. “I initially put this together as simply somewhere for myself and other vendors to make some money on the side, selling our products, while people were around to admire and talk cars. Admittedly, at first and during the first few meets: I hosted Otaku Thursdays mainly for myself and my brands; the others being a bonus to anyone who happened to come by. I don't deny these were mainly a cash cow."
"When we rebooted OT in 2019, and revived it once more in the latter part of 2020 though: I saw people weren't coming more so for the cars; but mainly for the retail onsite and getting to hang out with likeminded people - which many were looking forward to do after the first stay-at-home orders. I also find myself wanting to make sure other vendors - smaller ones in particular, do really well."
"Which coming from someone selfish as myself, is a bit weird."
Kyiv highlights how his event, much like others in the Socal area, are great platforms to support local and emerging artists, outside of showcasing a few good-looking builds. “The event offers an outlet for artists and vendors to be able to sell their products (art/merchandise), without having to spend enormous amounts of money to apply for spaces in conventions; who might not even let them in, or permit them to sell their full catalogue."
(This applies especially to some of the more risque, or put to better terms - ‘cultured’ -, 18+ types.)
And especially with the current pandemic wiping almost every big event or convention off of the schedule for at least two years - until things improve - ensuring vendors and full-time artists continue to have some way to market their works is ever more important; as for some, it is their livelihood that they rely on.
No surprise there is always plenty of space allocated for itasha vehicle owners to showcase their own pride and joys alongside the artists. "We try to offer a more accessible and affordable way for the otaku and car communities to get involved, meetup, and even have a chance to network with one another. Weebs get to see a whole new realm of merch as well as itasha, which brings in an entirely new group of customers to vendors we have that day, as well as designers/shops specialising in itasha wraps like mine."
"The itashas and cosplays that really help promote Otaku Thursdays as whole came naturally with the fact myself, and most of the vendors/artists promote anime content." It's also no secret that some of the regular itasha participants happen to be cars that Kyiv and Kawaii Motorsports have personally worked with: from the initial mockup of the design to the decal's application, or cars which happen to be owned by some of his shop colleagues; some of whom are the very people who help make these character liveries come to life.
While I haven't yet had the chance to attend one of these Thursday night meetups in person, from the photos Kyiv provided and social media chatter I have seen on previous Otaku Thursday nights, these offer a great outlet for itasha owners to showcase their cars, and might even convince fresh entrants into the scene the very possibility of pursuing their own.
In fact, there are a few regulars to Otaku Thursdays you might recognise from last week's feature on Sugoi Saturday..
And if you are wondering: Yes, cosplays are a regular part of Otaku Thursdays. They are completely optional for attendees, but recently Kyiv has noticed they have been highly encouraged outside of the Halloween and Christmas seasons
"Last year's special Halloween event in particular, which had one of the biggest turnouts I've had with any Otaku Thursday I've organised to this day, was full of cosplayers. Lately, many of the event hosts have been encouraging cosplaying, even out of holidays, so its nice to see it becoming more normalised and encouraged at our regular local events."
Despite the gaps in between the regular schedule over the past year, Kyiv has observed that support has remained strong and consistent with each Thursday meet he has been able to put together. “When we came back from hiatus after the initial [Covid-19] wave hit us last year, I noticed the majority of the people coming to our event weren’t necessarily to see the cars. Mostly it was to check out what vendors had recently dropped, and the space to socialise.”
That’s not to say OT has had its fair share of growing pains here and there; most recently during an attempt to host one of their biggest ever events - akin to a scaled down convention - at a new location in downtown Los Angeles (which prematurely ended due to miscommunication among the red tape and paperwork to get the event registered). “Lately it has become difficult to find reliable venues that are safe to use, combined with trying to get approvals from property managers and local PDs without being immediately associated as part of the "takeover" scene that none of us want to support."
“It ended up being a complete mess - not what anyone was expecting and there was flack from 'those people' in the shadows - but even at our backup spot, we still had lots of people come by."
Despite the unexpected mishap, many still expressed they had a fun night 'getting their weeb on.' "No matter where we ended up, we got nothing but support from the vendors we hosted and the community that loves us."
But Kyiv is not letting these setbacks put him off continuing to expand OT and make it better.
"No matter where we ended up, we got nothing but support from the vendors we hosted and the community that loves us."
“Regardless, I am actively looking for a new, permanent home for Otaku Thursdays.” Alongside plans to collaborate with more partner brands and businesses in Southern California, like fellow livery print business 'VinylLabz'; hosting OT in more official, and ultimately bigger venues, such as convention centres, race tracks, or even tailgate-style in a stadium parking lot are some ideas Kyiv has brewing. After all, bigger is always better.
Looking forward, Kyiv reflects on his efforts over the past six years, owing largely to the supportive audience that keeps him, and the event growing further. “If you told me back in 2015 - even 2017, on what OT would become what it is now, I would have laughed at that thought. But truthfully, its hard to believe we are now widely regarded as a pinnacle of the Otaku/car community.“
“I am truly grateful for some of the people that came to the first few events, who still come to our events now - seven years later. I'm also grateful to the vendors who mutually support OT, even our peers all the way in Texas: Senpai Squad and Xpress Skins. While I take credit for creating OT as a whole, they are the ones who keep OT going.”
"If you told me back in 2015 - even 2017, on what OT would become what it is now, I would have laughed at that thought."
“If there is one thing I learned from doing this for the past few years, when I am actually ready to move this to the next level: the community will be there to support me and whatever direction I take with OT - ready and waiting.”
Kyiv Derevko (@yukkigarage/KvK Photography)
A really good read. I don’t really remember how I stumbled upon OT, but so glad I did. I remember going to a couple of the meets in Chino Hills and there were barely enough cars to fill up a row of parking spots, maybe 3 or 4 vendors tops. Some great times I’ve had with family and friends and everybody else that would attend. I’ve been going to ever since. To see OT grow to what it is today is just amazing, a couple parking spots in the 99 ranch parking lot in chino to we just about filled a parking structure in Little Tokyo. Can’t wait to see what comes next. Peace.