It's time for Bakersfield to get a bit animated. On Sunday, local fans of anime and manga -- Japanese animation and comics, respectively -- will gather at the Bakersfield Marriott for the fourth Bak-Anime.
Along with 36 vendors and 15 artists, the show includes special guests such as artists Billy Martinez and Nate Watson and voice actor Roger Craig Smith -- known for his work for the "Resident Evil" and "Assassin's Creed's" games as well as being the English voice of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Organizer Steve Wyatt said the event began three years ago based on requests from attendees of Bakersfield Comic Con, which he also runs.
"The people of Bakersfield are good people, and they asked for it. There are 15 high schools in town, and 13 of them have an anime club. They don't have comic book clubs but they have anime clubs. Anime dominates our cartoons now."
The 48-year-old remembers when the non-American options were scarce. "We had three shows when I was kid: 'Kimba the White Lion,' 'Speed Racer,' 'Ultraman,' which was live action. They were great."
With such a wide variety of anime and manga available today, Wyatt turned to an expert and longtime friend, Dan Houck, to assist with the event.
"I called a friend that organizes the Sac-Anime show to help. ... I know the comic books, he knows the anime. I help him out with the show up there, and he helps here."
Wyatt said the Sacramento event is one of the biggest anime shows on the West Coast, drawing 7,000 to 8,000 guests per year. Although the Bakersfield event is considerably smaller -- with 1,100 attendees at last year's show in the spring -- it has grown, expanding beyond its original location at the DoubleTree by Hilton Bakersfield.
"It has grown a lot since we started, that's why we have moved it to the Marriott, since it is a bigger facility."
With fans ranging in age from 12 to just under 30 and with a penchant for costumes (more on that later), Wyatt said it was important to book a venue that gave guests plenty of room to walk around and gather.
"We put the artists outside, in the hallway. It is three times as wide (as at the DoubleTree). People can kick back out there (in the lobby).
"These kids want to have fun, they don't want to be cramped. Kids stand around and talk to each other. They know this stuff (anime and manga) more than comic book people know comic books."
Along with the outer area featuring 15 artists, rooms will be set up for vendors, anime screenings, Cardfight! Vanguard and Magic the Gathering gaming tournaments and other events, including talks with special guests and the cosplay (costume play) masquerade.
At the Bakersfield Comic-Con in October, "plenty of people showed up in costume because I offered a discount (on admission). This one I don't have to give a discount. Literally half the people that show up come in costume."
While those looks range from the latest in anime and manga to popular video game characters, Wyatt said attendees go all out.
People can sign up for the contest that day, with 30 open spots for individuals or groups to compete. Costumes will be judged on craftsmanship and runway or performance. (A full list of rules is posted at bakanime.com.)
Wyatt said he expects about 1,000 people to attend (but he "prepared for 1,500"). If arrangements can be finalized, he plans to announce the date for the next anime show, which would span two days.
"We're hoping for the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving. Most people are home that weekend."
'Big' talk of local Comic-Con
After Sunday, Wyatt will forge ahead planning the next anime event and Bakersfield Comic-Con. The annual local comic book convention -- which grew in attendance by 25 percent in 2012, raising just over $1,500 for the Bakersfield Rescue Mission -- isn't until Oct. 27, but it made a bit of news this month when it popped up on "The Big Bang Theory."
In the Jan. 10 episode, titled "The Bakersfield Expedition," Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj head to Bakersfield but have their car stolen after stopping to take photos clad in their "Star Trek: The Next Generation" costumes.
A big fan of the show, Wyatt said he enjoyed the episode although he only found out about it a couple of days before it aired.
"I thought the costumes were great. I think they did a great job making Sheldon into Data. I love the show, and really enjoyed the episode; too bad they never actually made it to the (Bakersfield) show.
"I wish I had some heads-up, I did put it on the Facebook page for BFCC to let people know it was coming up. It makes me wonder if they heard about the show (since it was last October) and then wrote the episode."
He found a bit to critique in the episode's B story with the girlfriends Penny, Bernadette and Amy venturing to a comic book store for the first time to find out what all the fuss is about. While there, the male customers stare at them in wonder until store owner Stuart chides them: "Can you please stop staring? They're just girls. It's nothing you haven't seen in movies or drawings."
"Not everyone stops when a woman walks into a comic book store because there are women there," Wyatt said. "It's a dated concept.
"I know a lot of very intelligent women who like comic books. My wife buys 'Captain America' and 'Jonah Hex.' I don't read them, she does. There are just as many women who read comic books. It's about 60 to 40 (ratio men to women) at San Diego Comic-Con."
Wyatt said he plans to seek permission to screen the episode at the October event. And he has one other "Big Bang Theory" request.
"I plan on writing them a nice letter thanking them for using it. I'm thinking of asking for a signed copy of the script for the raffle next year."