Anime. A diverse chameleon in the cartoon world. It’s easy to dismiss this infectious animation from Japan, relegating it to childhood fancy. Not so fast. Yes, wads of bubblegum and silliness can be stumbled upon in it. Every medium of entertainment isn’t without its spectrum. Yet Anime can also be rich in theme, full of engaging characters who are thrust into the complexities of mythology, lore and culture.

It had been a while since I watched anime. Once, Vegeta sat at my workspace, in hard plastic Super Sayan glory. I’d spend hours combing my one and only local comic book store for anything Rumiko Takahashi, gushing over Ninja Scroll or renting anything suggested to me. Just to check it out. Is it really a huge deal that I wished and wished to meet Totoro at a bus stop? We could share an umbrella in silence. Maybe high five or hug. I lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of Hello Kitty and the Sanrio section in a shop at the mall. Erasers. Notebooks. Sandals. Even a toaster that sparked a childhood quest to brand my morning toast with her feline visage.

Life, as it inevitably does, expanded. Other things took center stage and overshadowed my Anime Love. Then I moved to Utah, and heard about Anime Banzai. I had to go. Being that anime runs the gamut from all ages family-friendly adorable to rather grown up and risqué themes, I wanted to see how our community celebrates such a diverse and influential art form.

The 12th Annual Anime Banzai started out humbly in 2005. The “End of the World” Japanese Animation Club at Salt Lake Community College expected about 200 people to show up to it’s inaugural event. They got 600 instead. The signs were evident. Anime fans wanted a place to assemble and celebrate a slice of Japanese pop culture. It’s worth hitting up. Believe it.

The three day event, held this year on October 20-22, took life within the Davis Conference Center in Layton. As I strolled through the parking lot, a diminutive Naruto Uzumaki rolled on by in a wave of cosplayers dressed as various characters. It’s pleasant to see how many families attend Utah cons together and thoroughly immerse themselves in the spirit of cosplay fun.

After checking in, I wandered the halls without a plan. Not a problem. I came upon a couple rooms setup with screens for viewing. In Viewing Room 2, the schedule read Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer. Instantly, I thought of my friend who first pointed me in the direction of author Rumiko Takahashi, and I sat in the back. Pulling out the program in the tote bag received at check-in, the artwork on the the cover struck me. It’s a well put together booklet with eye-catching artistry properly capturing the event. Simply stunning.

My next stop; the game room. Video gaming, that is. Anime Banzai offered its attendees a selection of arcade and console games to try. Free of charge. Interactive dance games like In The Groove 3, stood alongside classic arcade offerings. The past and present shared playtime in console version as well. Seeing that old grey brick of a Nintendo console sent my mind back to when my dad bought us our first one. Of course he had to play it for a solid chunk of time before we did. You know, quality control. Right, Pops?

If tabletop gaming has your heart, they’ve covered you. In the Card & Tabletop Gaming Room, a helpful staff member suggested to play a game first. Try it out. When you find one you think you’d like to dig into, he encouraged you to create a character and play.

Having the events rules sung by faithful Banzai Guest of Honor Steve “Warky” Nunez during the Opening Ceremonies while other Guests of Honor, Sean Chiplock and Michaela Laws popped on stage for a brief backup dance made the audience laugh. The guests selected came across as engaging and approachable. A refreshing quality. They genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves. Anime Baznai felt blanketed by an overall electric joy and excitement.

The staff made a huge an impact on me. Everyone I came across approached Banazai-goers with pleasant demeanors and gracious support. At the Repair Station, I met a mother and daughter team from South Jordan who conveyed that attitude well.

Many cons offer a repair station. Cosplayers spend time and effort delving into their passion for creating the right look. What happens if you pop a seam, lose a button or your makeup runs? Repair Station to the rescue. Here’s one place event organizers flex their generosity muscle. Some cons charge a fee. Anime Banzai does not. Bonus; it’s operated by The Carroll Family. At the time I happened upon it, Liz and Katie were at the helm.

Liz helped create The March of Dime’s Haunted House in the 80’s. She and her husband also enjoy crafting renaissance fair costumes. They’ve passed their love for cosplay onto their children. She’s seen the station grow. Anytime they needed supplies, Anime Banzai provided it. The complementary service is offered to all attendees. Safety pins, hot glue, wig caps and more are available, along with a wealth of costume building knowledge offered up by Carroll tag team.

Artist’s Alley is one of my favorite spots to check out at any Con. I met two mega-sweet comic book creators from Florida. Tiffany Ciper and Selan Spike. One booth drew unexpected excitement from Banzai attendees. Yes, the artwork was tight. But the soap. The soap brought them in. Bizarre & Wonderful Handmade Soap. Wash Your Hans, a delightful peppercorn and vanilla scent, was my favorite. All made in lush goat’s milk. Definitely something I wasn’t expecting to see among the heap of talented artists.

I can’t say which cosplay was my favorite. It’s obvious those who dedicated their energy to coming in character enjoyed embodying their anime of choice, as much as spectators enjoyed seeing them come to life. While I waited outside to catch a glimpse of a possible RWBY cosplay meet up, I looked over my shoulder and saw a little kid dressed as Freddy Fazbear. You know, of the delightful Five Night’s at Freddy’s horror video game? I wanted to ask if I could snap his pic. But when I looked over again, he’d vanished. Not like that. He was leaving with his parents. Still, I wasn’t expecting a tiny Freddy behind me.

The Davis Conference Center lends an intimacy to Anime Banzai. It gives it a feel of accessibility and openness, spreading out and embracing attendees with a inclusive hug. Anime does a wonderful job of Inviting in its fans, who may sometimes be shy or seemingly awkward otherwise, and Anime Banzai provides a meeting place facilitating self-expression, supported by a community of acceptance. My wish is as it grows, its able to retain its heartfelt vibe.

By the end of it, I’d seen enough Pikachus and poke trainers to conclude Pokemon is immortal. A number of specific ninjas to see Naruto Love runs deep. And an array of cosplay telling of the art from’s diversity. My blended genealogy revels in seeing a piece of Japanese culture celebrated with such passion. Anime Banzai is a keeper. A gem in Utah’s treasure pouch of delectable happenings lauding the diversity of all things geek.