Anime Banzai 2017


To Clarify, I’m not that into Anime. It’s fine, there are certain shows I don’t mind watching, but I very rarely seek out anime to watch.

I don’t know much about it. I know even less about the massive culture that surrounds it. You can imagine the outsider feelings I had when I attended Anime Bazai. Utah’s premiere Anime convention.

Usually I’m good at recognizing pop culture. I can point out characters from (western) TV, movies, and comic books fairly easily. Here I was lost. There were tons of people cosplaying a million different characters, from what had to be a hundred different shows. However, to me they all blended together in a sea of foam and fabric. The outfits were all extravagant, and well crafted. Even if I didn’t understand the reference I still enjoyed people expressing themselves in brightly colored costumes. It’s fascinating experiencing a convention so singularly dedicated to one thing. Especially something that I wasn’t a part of. It felt as though I could witness the experience as a whole without being a part of it. It wasn’t like the bigger commercial events I was used to covering.

The convention as a whole was definitely rough around the edges. The timing of some of the panels was off, many of the hosts felt like they were just amateurs winging it, rather than practiced professionals, and it felt like no one was quite sure what to do with press. It was rather bizarre. Especially compared to the clean cut, sterile experience of the larger conventions I’ve been too. I think, this messiness is what made the experience so interesting. It didn’t feel like it was all just there to turn a profit.

The hosts felt like Amateurs because they were. They were just fans excited to be there and share their love of something with a group of like minded people. Things didn’t need to be orderly, because everyone there was just excited to be there. To be somewhere they could let go, and open up around people who felt the same. This was a convention but on by fans for fans. This was really just a place for fans to hang out and participate in their hobby together. Which may be the mission statements for some of the bigger conventions, but it never feels quite like that’s what’s happening. This never felt quite like the glorified shopping malls conventions can easily turn out to be.

Something that really caught my attention was that there was just a room where people were watching Anime on a projector. It didn’t matter that they were at a convention they were just doing the things they wanted to do. Everything was just so focused on making sure the fans had a good time. One of my favorite parts of the convention was the artist’s alley. I love art. I love art even at the larger conventions I go to, but there It gets to a point where a lot of the art starts to look the same. Same Characters, same poses, same styles. There it was a task to go through and find the truly unique art. At this convention. It was all brilliant. Maybe due to the small size of the alley it was easier to see the artist’s personal style come through, but I think a lot of it is that these are the artists who want to be here showing their art to people who will really appreciate it. There was actually a wide array of styles and types of art. It wasn’t all just fan art done in the same anime style.

Friday Night, we decided to stay a little longer and attend the formal ball, just to see what it was gonna be like. It required a semi-formal dress code, so I threw on a tie and headed in. This experience was wild. It was just a bunch of people enjoying themselves. Having a mini-prom after the first day of the convention. Everyone was dancing and having a good time. People who may not get to have that experience elsewhere get to have it here. It goes back to being able to open up and enjoy themselves around like minded people. Here they have a safe space to let loose.

Something else that I found fascinating about the convention is that there was stuff going on constantly, such as panels at midnight. The convention took place in a hotel, so attendees were encouraged to get rooms and hang out all weekend. The experience went beyond the simple convention.

This is the convention experience I want to have. The whole time I was there I kept thinking, wow I wish I was into anime so I could really be a part of this and enjoy it with everyone else. Or more precisely I want this to be the convention experience for the things that I’m into. Even though I’m not a part of this community, I’m glad I got to witness this cool event.

2 thoughts on “Anime Banzai 2017

  • This was the first time I’ve gone to a smaller convention, and I absolutely fell in love with it. Everything about anime bonsai was just so different and it made for a much more personal event that I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. With the big comiccons or anime cons in bigger cities that draw tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, it doesn’t feel like it represents the correct meaning of the word “convention.” I mean sure. There’s cosplay and panels and photo shoots and hangouts and all that. But like you mentioned above it’s just that more sterile atmosphere that just gets more uncomfortable when you realize that it’s overall purpose is to take you for every possible dollar you have. I guess I finally realized after 15 years of going to large conventions, I really have missed out on these other conventions that you never hear about. Mostly because a lot of these bigger conventions I’ve been supporting all these years are responsible for completely burying the smaller cons. Either by completely overshadowing and causing attendance to dwindle so much that they have no choice but to end their run, or outright absorbing them into the bigger conventions entirely. I’ve read that there are numerous smaller cons that were running for years, maybe decades that were silenced by big cons, and it’s really a shame. There’s just a lot of magic that you can’t get from larger cons no matter what big names they have.

    Something very different about bonsai was hearing the stories of these volunteer staffers that made the whole thing happen. These people volunteer. They spend an entire year preparing for the event in their own spare time while holding one or more full-time jobs or going to school and not only do they not expect anything in return, but they make huge personal sacrifices,many of which I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bigger con director or head make unless they get a large sum of cash in return. Bonsai volunteers don’t get paid. Their love and passion for the convention and the fandom shows just by that act alone. One of the department heads told me about how his wife and kids all volunteer across different departments, so it becomes one of their annual family getaways and they always have a wonderful time. One of the game room staff told me how the guy who runs the game room had gone through several major surgeries that took up most of his year, but continued planning and even held meetings from his hospital rooms. I talked to a girl who helped put together trinkets for a scavenger hunt, and ended up taking unpaid time off to help get them all made in time for the convention because a number of staff wasn’t available to help at the last minute. Just a small look at the huge personal sacrifices these staffers make, just so that they can bring a once a year, 3 day event to life for everyone to enjoy.

    Just knowing about all of this made me curious to see what other smaller conventions were like across the state. I’ve found several different smaller conventions that I would have never known about had I not done some searches, and they cover all kinds of fandoms. We have a bronie convention, a tabletop gaming convention, a cosplay convention just for teens, a furry convention, a doctor who convention, just all kinds of conventions run by the same type of volunteers who give their blood, sweat and tears to make them happen. It’s just unfortunate that when you ask most people to name a convention in Utah, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is comiccon, and then they’re surprised to learn that many of these other conventions have been taking place for years before comiccon started (I think bonsai started in 2002!). Comiccon makes enough money, you’d think they would be willing to help out smaller conventions by maybe offering them some space for free or at a deep discount so that they can help get these smaller conventions some more attention. This sort of thing never used to bother me, but after experiencing bonsai, I’ve found a whole new world of all kinds of conventions that don’t feel like the same cash grab.

    I really hope other people learn about these smaller conventions. Comiccons are ok and they draw huge crowds and bring in the big bucks. But conventions like bonsai feel more personal, with more of a community focus. No drama, no cliques, I didn’t even run into any of the usual animosity that I experience between other cosplayers at comiccon. No one gave me the thousand-yard-stare because they were jealous of my cosplay or thought it wasn’t good enough. Bonsai is the kind of convention where you can hang out with fans, cosplayers and guests and everyone is on the same personal level.

    I’ll still attend comiccon, maybe for a day just to hang out with friends and maybe get an autograph. But I can’t wait to attend bonsai 2018, and I can’t wait to begin my journey into all of these other wonderful conventions that I’ve found.

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