Greetings, Otakus! Solar here. This last weekend The Geekwave was invited to attend one of our favorite events of the year – Anime Banzai at the Davis Conference Center. Banzai is an event celebrating Japanese Manga and Anime, as well as Japanese video games and even American fandoms that tend to be followed by the same crowd. It’s held every year in mid-October (whenever the U’s fall break is, actually).
First off, several of you probably heard that we were recording an episode at Banzai this year and you might remember the awesome episode we did live from Banzai last year. We did record an episode, however due to some technical faults the files are completely unusable. These things happen sometimes, but I’m super bummed out that it had to happen on this episode. So I’d like to officially and sincerely apologize to the staff of Anime Banzai who helped us so we could do the recording, to Jelaire, who did an awesome job being my guest on the show, and to all of our fans who were looking forward to our anime episode. Rest assured that we promised you an anime episode, and you will get one.
Now, onto my review!
Banzai is, in my experience, the strongest community convention in Utah. I’ve been told time and time again that everyone helping organizing Banzai is a volunteer, and they do this because they love doing it. It’s the only convention I’ve been to where people come expecting to leave with 20 new friends. I suppose a good example of what I’m trying to say is the courtyard. There’s a big open area between the Davis Conference Center and the adjoining hotel, and every year this courtyard becomes a place for people to gather and hang out when they have down time between the convention activities. People go to the courtyard to meet people, dance, show off cosplay, and get up to crazy antics. At no other convention have I ever found a place where everybody goes just to hang out with other con-goers.
Anime Banzai is also one of the most cosplay-oriented conventions in Utah. Although let me be clear about that: You’re not going to find the professional cosplays of the 501st Legion or Laura Vamp here. What you are going to find is what seems like a ~90% cosplay rate, and some of the coolest amateur cosplays around. I’d probably venture to say this can be attributed in part to the dynamic character design inherent in Anime and JRPGs. Plus, Banzai doesn’t just have the big Cosplay Contest that every other convention has, they have many cosplay events. One that I attended this year was the Banzai Brawl, an event where teams of two cosplayers enter an RPG-style tournament, acting as their characters, choosing stats and powerup items, and then going up against other two-person teams. This year’s winners were a pair of characters from Final Fantasy VIII (a game that I sadly have not played… yet).
All that being said, there are times when its volunteer-driven nature shines through. Many con-goers often complain of bad organization, despite the fact that this convention is over 10 years old now. In my experience this year, my complaints were mostly geek-based and not really a problem with the convention itself. For example, this year’s Scavenger hunt was themed after The Legend of Zelda, however the organizer of the event showed a surprising lack of Zelda knowledge. When referring to cosplayers dressed as the Three Goddesses, she kept referring to them by their color, even after the crowd attempted to give her their real names. Also, one of the collectable charms was of a cuckoo, which was labeled on the sheet handed out to everyone as a Chicken. Which is totally something I can let slide, but if you’re going to give something a theme, it seems like using words from the theme’s vernacular is kind of a given.
Would I recommend Banzai? Absolutely. I had so much fun while I was there, from watching Anime in the viewing rooms to seeing people I knew from the U to watching an 8-foot-tall inflatable T-Rex cosplayer destroy a cardboard city in the courtyard. (That T-Rex is the star of many of the videos that have been posted to Banzai’s Facebook page this last week.) Banzai was the first convention I ever went to, actually, and I’ve gone every year since then.
Now, here’s the question that I know people want answered – Should I go to Anime Banzai or Salt Lake Comic Con? People hate it when people try to compare the two, and those people are justified. I’ve spent most of this article talking about Banzai as a self-contained entity, because all of the good things I’ve said about it are true. So you might understand why some people who have been going to and organizing Banzai for years (and other conventions, for that matter) are a little irate to see Salt Lake Comic Con pop up and become a mega-success. But as a neutral reporter, I’m going to be blunt with you: If you only have the money to go to one or the other, go to Comic Con. It has more things to do and see, more of that event feeling, and its tickets are only $10 more than Banzai’s. But know that you’ll be missing out. Banzai offers a convention experience that’s very different than Comic Con’s, and is especially unique if you are looking for a community of geeks that are really open to interacting with each other.
If you went to Banzai, leave us a comment about your experience. As for us, we’ll be looking forward to going back next year.