LAYTON — Ten-year-old Ayden Essler, of Perry, may well have been the youngest person attending the eighth annual Utah Anime Banzai convention on Friday.
The Esslers — Ayden, mother Alisha and older brother and sister — decided to make the event a family affair. Dad had no interest in attending and stayed behind.
Ayden was dressed as Izzy Izumi, from the Digimon Adventure series. He selected the character because he’s a fan of the Digimon video game.
While Ayden may have been the youngest anime enthusiast at the three-day conference at the Davis Conference Center in Layton, Tom Cooley, 62, of Magna, may well have had the distinction of being the oldest convention attendee.
Cooley was dressed as a soldier from the television anime series “Fullmetal Alchemist.”
“I had this made,” he said of his costume, which looked similar to what a Civil War-era soldier may have worn.
It took three weeks to complete the costume, Cooley said. It includes an intimidating black eye patch and an old soldier’s hat.
Cooley has been fascinated with anime since the 1970s.
“I think it is crazy fun. I love the energy, the youth,” said Cooley, who was attending the conference with friends.
Cooley and Ayden were just two of the thousands expected to attend the conference.
Two hours after the event opened Friday, registration lines still snaked their way around the outside of the center. Nearly 90 percent of those waiting in line were dressed in costume and armed with a prop.
Utah Anime Banzai is an educational convention focusing on Japanese anime (animation), manga (comics) and culture. The event is sponsored by Utah Anime Promotions, a nonprofit educational organization.
This is the third year the conference has been held at the Davis Conference Center, said Chris Allen, marketing director for Utah Anime Banzai.
“Davis treats us amazing. The venue is exactly what we need,” Allen said.
“It allows us to treat our attendees to a really great experience.”
About 3,500 people attended last year’s event, Allen said, and it would “not be too much of a stretch” for this year’s event to top that number, based on the growing interest in Japanese animation.
Based on preregistration of 1,200, predictions were that attendance could reach 4,000.
In 2005, the first Anime Banzai held in Salt Lake City drew about 600 people.
The growing popularity of the event is a result of being able to provide something different for everyone, Allen said.
Many of those who attend are interested in the costume aspect of the convention.
“A lot of people dress as their favorite characters from the shows,” Allen said.
This year’s convention theme is Japanese mythology.
“I love anime,” said 23-year-old Ian Allred, of Logan.
He said it took him a couple of months to save the money he needed to buy his costume, Soul Reaper from the anime series “Bleach.”
Allred’s costume consists of a domed straw hat, a brightly colored kimono and black sandals.
Others were there to enjoy the conference vendors, the games and contests and the panel discussions.
This year, 110 panel discussions are scheduled, including instruction in how to understand the Japanese language, Allen said.
In addition, this year’s event includes speaking engagements by special guest voice-over anime actors Chris Patton and Micah Solusod, as well as David Vincent, who is also a television producer.
“It’s a great event for our community,” Davis Area Convention & Visitors Bureau President Barbara Riddle said of the conference.
The event brings an economic impact of $491,000 to the Layton area, Riddle said, based on its attendees staying at area hotels, eating at local restaurants and shopping in nearby stores.
Making this particular convention special is that many attendees are in costume, Riddle said, making them easy to spot when they are out in the business community.
The anime conference continues through 5 p.m. Sunday. The cost is $30 per person today, $15 per person on Sunday, or $40 for an all-session pass.