It sounds weird but, although I’ve lived in Norway for years now, this was my first Banzaicon. It’s impossible to be a geek in this country for too long without hearing of Banzaicon – it’s got a reputation for being what the Norwegians call koselig – that is, comfortable, friendly and warm.
They weren’t wrong. Banzaicon was a lovely convention. I’d heartily recommend it (and to be honest, the flight fares from Norwegian Air these days are comparable to a National Rail trip from one end of the UK to the other, so depending on finances it’s not unrealistic!).
For those of you reading this from the UK, Larvik is in the south of Norway – yup, that’s right, even further south than the capital Oslo. It’s a small coastal town famous for a dark shimmery rock often mis-sold to UK customers as ‘black granite’, and for its port, where you can get ferries over the North Sea. But, more than that, Larvik is home to this epic anime convention. Once a year, the town gets taken over by a plethora of people in cosplay.
Well, that might be an overstatement. Attendees mostly stick to the convention center instead of running amok through town, but still, it’s fun to attend in cosplay and feel part of a Big Presence in a Little Town. I did enjoy the worried looks of the odd cyclist or dog walker who passed by.
This year the convention had upgraded to the Boligmappa Arena, but without experience of previous conventions I can’t comment much on this, other than to say many attendees thought it a big improvement.
I could not get over how spacious the convention was! I had cosplayed with a foam prop, and did not get it bashed accidentally even once. This is something of a success for me when it comes to conventions, as I’m used to being packed together with my fellow nerds like Sempai-obsessed sardines. This spaciousness made it easy to take photos without getting in too many folks’ way.
The convention was divided up into sections – as per this year’s theme, ‘Spaced Out’, they were all named after famous sci-fi starships. There was the Millenium Falcon room, the Enterprise, the Tardis… you get the idea. The main hall contained the majority of retailers, including my favourite shop in Oslo, Neo Tokyo. Upstairs were the art stands and individual retailers, including the UK’s very own Tab Kimpton of Discord Comics. I ran into quite a few people from the UK, which was nice, and encouraging for the convention to get such overseas attention!
The talks and workshops were varied and immensely interesting. A small selection included a Worbla workshop, a presentation on Western censorship in anime, a steel armour-making talk, a talk on cosplay and the transgender community, and a drawing workshop. My friend Hannah, who accompanied me as a photographer, is an artist by trade, and even she got something new and useful out of the art workshop. It really seemed like there was something for everybody here.
The main stage was across a bridge and in an annexed building, which turned out to be surprisingly large on the inside (perhaps this should have been called the Tardis room). Here, the opening and closing shows took place, along with the masquerade, skit competition, drama workshops and evening parties. The opening and closing shows were highly entertaining, with a good dose of humour and good, silly acting. On the Saturday afternoon I took part in the masquerade, being all cosplayed-up and ready to see if it differed at all to my usual con experience.
Oh boy, did it differ! There was an initial confusion as to what competition people were entering when we gathered at the alloted time and place, as the masquerade has different categories, but after a few minutes this was sorted and the process was so smooth and slick. I usually get tired standing around waiting for progress but I didn’t at all this time – it seemed to go by so fast and all in all seemed very well organised.
I did notice that many in the masquerade were suffering from nerves, as they did not spend more than a half second posing at the end of the catwalk. Unfortunately there’s no cure for stage fright (I still get it every time, it doesn’t go away!), but it makes me wonder if a talk or tutorial on catwalk presence would be a constructive topic for a future con?
The quality of cosplay was awesome! Sadly we were unable to find some of the best contenders in the Masters category after the masquerade, but they were truly epic. The convention as a whole, from art to crafts to cosplay, seemed so full of creativity, and had a real proactive vibe.
I had a slight criticism with the food – I was painted blue on the Saturday, and while they did have some wraps and things, there was no healthy food that could be eaten un-messily. I stuck to sweets and chocolate nibbles for most of the day – something I could handle as a sixteen-year-old, but I’m getting to the age where I can’t really get away with that any more. I think some straws would be a great idea for next time too, as many other people were wearing body paint or makeup around their lips.
However, on the food note, I found the convention staff to be exemplary in their committment to supplying everyone with water. The posters about keeping hydrated were everywhere, and it seemed that every fifteen minutes someone with a tray of water cups was asking if we needed any. I’ve been to some conventions on the past that have attempted to do this, but none have been as dedicated to this end as Banzaicon.
The ticketing system works via an adjustable lanyard you strap around your wrist. I was really happy about this, as I didn’t get stamped with ink that would ruin my cosplay, not get landed with a paper ticket I’d struggle to find somewhere safe to keep. Great for cosplayers, great for convenience!
Finally, everyone I spoke to was friendly and welcoming. I’d totally recommend this convention to anyone. Until next year, Banzaicon!
main image © Banzaicon