Anime Banzai is the largest Japanese anime convention in Utah, and it just celebrated its 10th anniversary last weekend at the Davis Conference Center in Layton. The 3-day convention went Friday through Sunday, Oct. 17–19. I have personally attended this convention since the second year it started, and I never tire of it. The enthusiasm and quality cosplay at this convention is nothing like you will ever experience at another convention in Utah. While Anime Banzai does cater to a smaller niche of people compared to Salt Lake Comic Con or FantasyCon, it is by far the most fun and entertaining of the conventions. You don’t have to be a huge anime nerd to attend the convention, you can go just to have fun and enjoy yourself—it won’t cost you much either.
Day one, Friday, started off bright and early at 8 a.m., with the registration line ending somewhere outside of the conference center. As soon as you entered the building there were panels and events to attend. I decided to go to the “Make and Take Kitty Ears” panel. At this panel attendees made and decorated kitty ear headbands to wear. All of the supplies were supplied by the convention and there was no limit to how many decorations or supplies you could use.
After this panel, I decided to attend some more informative panels that, as a cosplayer, seemed like a good idea. The second panel I attended was “Cosplay, from Concept to Reality”, where the panelist discussed how to bring your cosplay ideas to life, no matter how difficult or impossible they seemed. Many cosplayers have been experimenting with different ways to make armor and props—myself included—and getting advice and tips on how to do it is always appreciated. There were many more cosplay-related panels that I wish I could have attended, like how to properly use leather for costumes, or even how to cosplay on a budget. The amount of cosplay related panels was amazing. I feel like Banzai’s panels covered all of the important issues of making cosplay.
When I wasn’t attending cosplay related panels, I decided to check out some more entertaining panels like “Godzilla Jeopardy” or even “Sailor Scouts vs. The Negaverse.” These were not the traditional lecture type panels by any means—they are fully interactive and are meant to keep the entire crowd on their feet, which they did. Everyone in the “Godzilla Jeopardy” panel participated in some way, even if they knew nothing about the giant lizard monster, and at the end of the panel the winners were given hard-to-collect Godzilla items. The “Sailor Scouts vs. The Negaverse” panel renewed my love for my favorite childhood anime, Sailor Moon. This panel brought back so many feels and nostalgia that I left the panel with a few new Sailor Moon obsessed friends. The day continued with more amazing panels and equally amazing cosplay. There was so much going on at this convention all the time that it was hard to keep up, and it was almost impossible to see all of the things that you wanted to. It would take 5 or 6 SLUG writers to cover the entire event.
Day two, Saturday, was the biggest and busiest day at the convention. There were cosplayers as far as the eye could see, and convention attendees bustled through the halls constantly trying to keep up with the convention. This was also the day of the big Cosplay Contest, where only the best cosplayers were put to the test—not only with their costume, but with optional skits and improv as well. Even if you don’t cosplay yourself, this event was not one to miss. There are usually less panels on Saturdays at Anime Banzai, but there is still so much you can do. There is always an ongoing festival in a tent outside the building where you can play games, win prizes, and meet new people. I met an entire group of people cosplaying as Full Metal Alchemist characters who convinced me to take the State Alchemist Exam with them later that evening. The State Alchemist Exam is an exam that exists within the Full Metal Alchemist anime, and Anime Banzai brought it to life. The select few who were able to pass the exam were awarded their state-officiated alchemist pocket watch, just like in the anime. I ended my Saturday night by collecting autographs from some of my favorite voice actors who were at the convention.
Day three, Sunday, was the last day of the convention. It was more like a half day, but my favorite panel was held on this day. The one panel I waited all weekend for had finally arrived. The “Studio Ghibli: Need I Say More?” panel was only an hour long, but an hour was all I needed. I’m not going to lie to you, this panel was all about fan service for all my fellow Hayao Miyazaki-obsessed peers, but even I, the self-proclaimed know-it-all of everything Miyazaki learned a thing or two at this panel. The panelists discussed fun facts about the movies, Miyazaki and his work with Studio Ghibli. After a brief discussion on the fun facts the panelists had the audience come up to the front and share their favorite Miyazaki moments from the films. At the end of the panel they raffled off some rare collectibles that I imagine were not cheap to get. Before the Miyazaki panel I attended the “In the Name of the Moon I Will Punish You!” panel, a Sailor Moon-themed panel. Unfortunately, I cannot say that my experience with this panel was as great as the Miyazaki themed panel. It felt more like a boring college lecture than the interactive and exciting panels that I had been attending all weekend. I’m sure that the panelists had good intentions, but it seemed very last-minute and was quite unorganized. It felt like they had put it in there just to fill up some time on Sunday.
Even if you didn’t want to attend panels, there was still a lot for you to do. The convention had three large rooms open during the entire convention – a card game room, a general board game room, and even an arcade. There were Magic the Gathering, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! card game tournaments being held non-stop in the card game room. The arcade room had Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, old school Atari and Nintendo consoles and other really cool arcade machines. There were Mario Kart and Dance Dance Revolution tournaments running throughout the convention, too. If you spent a little too much time on the Dance Dance Revolution game, there was always free ice-cold water available for you. The gaming halls were also a nice break from the busy hallways and packed panels.
With all of the free panels and entertainment that Anime Banzai provided it was very clear that the event organizers care a great deal about their attendees. There was always something to do at the convention, and nothing other than the merchandise cost anything. Compared to other conventions held in the valley – like Salt Lake Comic Con, I always leave Anime Banzai with a feeling of satisfaction. I’m not saying that I dislike Comic Con by any means, I just always leave it feeling like I needed more money to do all of the things that I initially wanted to do before I went. Anime Banzai was happy to spend the money on its attendees in order to keep them happy and entertained, and that is completely obvious to anyone who goes.
On top of all the free entertainment, the autographs and pictures from the celebrity guests were free as long as you are willing to wait in line for them. The celebrity guests who came to Anime Banzai this year were Chris Patton, Jan Scott-Frazier, Vic Mignogna, Chuck Huber, Warky T. Chocobo and Sonny Strait. Each celebrity guest had the choice to do their own panel, multiple panels and dedicated time for signing autographs.
Although Anime Banzai is my favorite convention, it also has room for improvement. As I have said before, I have been going to Banzai for many years now, and the last few conventions seem awfully similar. The panels are always different from year to year, usually centered on popular animes at the time and focused on the issues that cosplayer’s are trying to tackle, but a few things never change—the venue, the vendors and most importantly the size.
I feel like Anime Banzai has hit a plateau that will either make or break it. The organizers can keep doing the same thing every year and watch their numbers start to shrink as people grow bored of it, or they can take a risk and try going bigger and better. I honestly cannot tell you if the number of attendees has increased since last year, but what I can tell you is that they have enough attendees to move to a bigger and more conveniently located venue. The majority of the people who go to the convention are from Salt Lake City, and we all know that there is a convention center located directly in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City. The Salt Palace Convention Center could offer a great opportunity for Anime Banzai to grow up into a large convention. They could take it one step at a time by starting with a small area of the convention center before deciding if they need the whole building. This would require more advertising on their part, which I don’t see a lot of to begin with. I can’t speak for the organizers of the convention, because I have no idea how to organize one, but from my own personal experience attending it I feel as though they have the means to expand it.
The current convention center also limits the amount of vendors they can have, which means that you are seeing a lot of the same stuff every year. The vendors are put into 2 small rooms, and in order to keep the rooms from becoming overcrowded, there is always a long line to wait in at any time during the convention. On top of that, there is no posted time anywhere around the convention that says when the vendors will officially be closed for the day, which is disappointing for those of us who are indecisive. The vendor rooms close when the traffic through them slows down, which makes sense, but it can happen at any time during the day. The convention should have official vendor times posted on the doors of the vendor rooms and in the information pamphlets they hand out.
To get a little more nitpicky, Anime Banzai could also use more variety as far as their food services go. They have been using the same school cafeteria style lunch services provided by the Davis Convention Center for years. Now, I realize that there are a lot of restaurants around the convention center, but as someone who spends all day at the con I just want to be able to walk down the hallway and grab a quick bite to eat instead of having to drive off the location.
All in all, I enjoyed my experience at Anime Banzai 2014. I hope to see this convention grow and improve in the next few years.