Anime Banzai brings Japanese animation convention to Davis Conference Center

LAYTON — It may not be anywhere near as big as FanX, the annual comic convention in Salt Lake City, but what this little gathering lacks in size it more than makes up for in enthusiasm.

Anime Banzai, the state’s annual anime convention, returns to Layton this weekend. Theme for this year’s convention is “Heroes and Villains.” The event begins at 9 a.m. Friday, Oct. 19, and continues through noon Sunday, Oct. 21, at the Davis Conference Center, 1651 N. 700 West, in Layton.

Anime is the Japanese word for “animation.” In the United States, the term is generally used to denote Japanese or Japanese-style animated film or television entertainment.

Chris Allen is advertising director for Anime Banzai. While fans of anime are certain to turn up at the convention every year, dressed as their favorite characters, he also invites those who know absolutely nothing about the art form.

“You can definitely just show up and be immersed in the convention,” Allen said. “The biggest thing is just to come and have fun. That’s it.”

As in past years, the three-day convention will offer a variety of “stuff to do,” according to Allen. Want to see new anime shows and discover what’s out there? Check out the viewing rooms. Interested in what’s going on in the industry? Drop in on one of the panels or presentations. Competitions, games, demonstrations, make-and-take classes, dancing and more will also be offered — including special 18-and-older events after 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. There’s also a vendors hall with DVDs, books, publications and other merchandise for sale.

Anime Banzai will also feature a number of celebrity guests, representing a cross-section of the art form, including:

David Vincent, an award-winning voice actor and director, based in Los Angeles, who’s done “tons and tons of shows,” according to Allen.

Steve “Warky” Nunez, who has done a number of voice-actor gigs, along with being a singer in the parody LDS band They Might Be Elders.

Kiba Walker, a voice actor and musician from Dallas.

Natalie Hoover, a well-known voice actor in anime.

Ben Dunn, a comic book artist working in the Japanese art form manga.

And the best part, Allen said, is that all celebrity interactions are included in the price of admission.

“One of the big differences between us and a traditional comic con is that they charge extra for guest autographs and photos,” he said. “With ours, it’s all part of the deal.”

This year marks the 14th year for the Anime Banzai convention. It all started with the End of the World Anime Club at Salt Lake Community College, according to Allen. A decade and a half ago, members of the club had just returned from another anime convention in Denver when they decided to start their own.

“Basically, they said, ‘That was fun. Let’s put one on ourselves,’” Allen said.

That first Anime Banzai was held at the community college.

“They expected 100 people, and 400 came,” Allen said. “It’s been growing every year.”

This year, organizers expect about 3,500 people in attendance at the conference. The majority come from Utah, although Allen says they do have enthusiasts attending from outside the state.

For those newcomers who want to do a little homework before showing up at their first anime convention, Allen recommends visiting the Crunchyroll website at www.crunchyroll.com. Similar to Netflix, Crunchyroll is a streaming service that offers anime programming. You can watch programs for free with advertising, or pay to remove the ads.

“It’s one of the best places to check out new shows and get to know about anime,” Allen said. “And one of the nice things, it will give recommendations of things you might like.

Allen also invites newcomers to join the Anime Banzai Facebook group, where members are always happy to make recommendations to the uninitiated.

The conference isn’t sold out, but online sales have closed. Tickets are only available at the door.

A three-day pass is $50. Cost for one-day passes depend on the day — $30 for Friday, $40 for Saturday, and $25 for Sunday. A $5 discount is offered for first responders and military.

For more information or a schedule of events, go to www.animebanzai.org.

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