If unsuspecting guests at the Bakersfield Marriott Hotel this weekend don't know what anime is, they're sure to have some idea by the time they leave. It will be impossible to miss the hundreds of fans of Japanese-style animation and comics, many in costume, who will descend on the hotel for two days of guest panels, art, gaming and fun for the Bak-Anime convention.
"There are kids here in costume running around the lounge area," said convention organizer Steve Wyatt. "The place is packed with kids in costume, and the parents who brought them."
But Wyatt is quick to correct himself. Last year's 1,400 Bak-Anime attendees range in age from children to young adults. He hopes this year's attendance will beat last year's, and the three guests of honor, each of them voice actors in anime and video games, should help that goal.
Kyle Hebert voiced Ryu in "Street Fighter," and again as a cameo in Disney's "Wreck-it Ralph." Fans will also know him from "Naruto," "Dragon Ball Z" and "Fullmetal Alchemist."
Christine Cabanos has voiced characters in "K-On!," "Oblivion Island" and "Skullgirls."
Cristina Vee has also voiced a character in "K-On!" as well as others in "Tekken Blood Vengeance" and "Knights of Sidonia."
The three will host question-and-answer panels and will be around for autograph sessions.
"They usually do voices and say something in character" when meeting with fans, Wyatt said.
Other panels include sewing with April Loughridge and prop-making with Cedric Kelly -- both known for their cosplay (costume play) -- and a talk by local actor and sideshow performer George the Giant.
In between panels, attendees can also participate in the cosplay contest and art contest. In Artists Alley, they can check out unique pieces from 20 local and regional artists.
New this year is a swap meet, a fans-only market where guests can buy and sell used collectibles. Wyatt has seen these fan swap meets succeed at other conventions, and if the fact that the 12 spaces are already sold out is any indication, it should be a hit at Bak-Anime too.
Paladin's Gaming Castle and The Gaming Spot will set up various tabletop games and ProLab Gaming will have video games to play throughout the weekend.
While he respects anime, Wyatt is the first to admit that he doesn't know a lot about it. He started Bak-Anime after fielding dozens of queries at the second annual Bakersfield Comic-Con (which he also organizes) on where was the anime.
"So at the third Bakersfield Comic-Con, I got up and I said, 'Anyone who's really interested?' and we did it that year," Wyatt said, remembering the 100-or-so people who expressed interest then and there. "I went, 'As long as you'll support me, let's do this. But I have to have your support because I don't know what I'm doing!'"
Support him they have. The event, started in 2010 and run by Wyatt and friend and anime expert Dan Houck, has grown each year. It outgrew its original location at the DoubleTree by Hilton Bakersfield years ago. But no matter how big Bak-Anime gets, Wyatt doesn't think it will ever leave the Marriott.
"The anime show will never leave here because one of the fun parts is (the show) has a late-night electronic dance" Saturday night, Wyatt said. "It's only for attendees. We don't let any outside, bad elements in."
Keeping out that bad element is important for safety, of course, but also for maintaining a positive environment.
"They come here and no matter who you are, what you look like, who you dress as, what you like -- there's gonna be somebody here that likes the same thing and feels the same way," Wyatt said. "There's no judging. You get a thousand kids here from every race, gender, sexual orientation, financial level and nobody is better or worse than the others. Everyone accepts everyone here."