Bak-Anime welcomes Neil Kaplan, the voice of Zarkon in “Voltron.”

Japanese pop culture will be on full display at the Kern County Fairgrounds, with colorful characters plucked straight from your television, when Bakersfield’s premier anime convention returns Feb. 2-3.

Bak-Anime is the largest convening of anime fans in the city, taking place over two days chock-full of comic expo events, including Q&A panels with world-famous voiceover actors, video game tournaments for “Rocket League” and “Super Smash Brothers,” cosplay contests and tournaments for all your favorite card games, including Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon, Magic: The Gathering and even classics like Dungeons & Dragons.

Bak-Anime has been running for nine years and attracts hundreds of fans from all over the Central Valley. Originally a part of Bakersfield Comic-Con, fans requested an anime-only expo separate from Comic-Con. Starting as a one-day show, Bak-Anime now takes over two buildings at the Kern County Fairgrounds.

“At Comic-Con, we got about 6,500 people and 2,400 of those were kids under 12. Anime is more about video games and pop culture and brings in a younger audience,” said Steve Wyatt, co-owner of Bak-Anime who also runs Bakersfield Comic-Con with co-owner Dan Houck. Wyatt hosts comic-cons and anime expos all over the state, but has been a resident of Bakersfield since 2005. His years of experience is a huge part of the growing fandom in Bakersfield.

“The first year, we got about 600 people,” he said. “By the fifth year, we went to two days so we could have a late-night dance and do fun things on Saturday night. It slowly grew.”

More than just a tradeshow, Bak-Anime is a local convening and social gathering for anime fans.

“Bak-Anime is a dealer’s room, an artists’ alley, it’s a playing area and a place for people to hang out and gather,” Wyatt said.

Guest speakers for this year’s event include Tara Sands, who is the voice of over 30 “Pokemon” characters, including the beloved Bulbasaur; Kenny James, the voice of Bowser from “Super Mario Kart”; Neil Kaplan, who played Optimus Prime in the American version of the “Transformers” TV Series; and Vic Mignogna, most famous for roles in “Streetfighter II,” “Naruto” and “Dragon Ball Z.”

Wyatt uses his years of experience in the industry to connect celebrities like Mignogna with Bakersfield locals.

“Vic is one of the best guests and a personal friend. He’s about as big as you can get,” said Wyatt.

Bak-Anime tickets are only $20 for the entire weekend.

Attendees can purchase wares from local anime collectors at the Bak-Anime swap meet, which is the perfect time to not only sell your own collectibles, but also find rare items and connect with other local fans. To participate as a vendor in the swap meet, vendors must sign up in advance and pay a small $8 fee. 

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