Overview: Out of the several smaller conventions in South Carolina, Columbia happens to be the home of not one, but two conventions! Nashicon in the spring, and Banzaicon in the fall. Attending smaller conventions is always a gamble because many small conventions do not have the resources or the experience to put on a huge show, and while Banzai was not the most guest, nor panel heavy convention I have been to the people and intimate interactions with guest's and panelists are what made this convention special in it's on way.
Guests and Panels As to be expected in a southern convention Vic Mignognia was a guest of honor. I say this only from expirence, it seems no matter how small the convention is, if it's a southern convention there is a good chance Vic Mignognia will be there, but in addition to Vic, Lisa Ortiz was also in attendance. Lisa Ortiz was a voice actor I had never gotten the chance to meet which lead's me into an antecedent from the convention. Saturday was also Hetalia day and so a group of the fandom was all together. Someone dare a well known member in the fandom to go up to the fandom and say in a very cheesy Russian accent "Will you become one with mother Russia?" (A joke from the anime) As it turns out the first person she saw was Lisa Ortiz (unknown to us at the time) Being a good sport Lisa responded also in a Russian accent "Of course I will!" Later that day upon finding out the lady was indeed Lisa Ortiz we all freaked out and she is now on my list of coolest VA's. In all honesty it is stories such as that that can only happen at a smaller more intimate convention.
As for panels I have several critiques. From my own experience and hearing the stories of other convention attendee's, many of the panel's this year were poorly put together and run. This is no fault of the convention, it is the fault of the fan's preparing their panels, but one thing that could have helped panel's run a bit smoother in my personal opinion is to have staff member's inside the room's as it is at many other conventions, instead of just watching the door outside. Other than that minor critique I thought the selection of panel's was diverse enough considering it's size and amount of submissions.
Hotel and Dining: Located in downtown Columbia, SC there are many local and chain eatery's right in the epicenter around the convention. The actual convention is held in the Marriott hotel and most people stay right there in the Marriott for convenience reasons. In the event the convention hotel fills before you are able to book there are 3 other hotels recommended by the convention staff and are within walking distance. The Sheraton is across the street from the Marriott, but does not offer the convention rate so is a bit more expensive. The hotel I stay at was the Clarion, which was about a 10 minute walk. I wish I had been able to stay at the convention hotel, but it filled up extremely fast. For the money (Clarion being the cheapest of the 3) it was not too bad and we only had to stay there to sleep.
As far as dining is concerned there are many local and chain restaurants right on the strip beside the convention. There is the hotel bar and a restaurant inside the hotel, the restaurants on the strip and around downtown Columbia are your best options. In the strip are places such as Subway, Pizza Inn, and a small local cafe, but it closes at 3pm. If you are willing to walk a bit further about 7 blocks away is Mellow Mushroom and a small local authentic ramen restaurant that sell's ramen of all kinds and curry. My group on the last day of the con made the adventure out there, and it was well worth it. You are served a massive amount of food for around 7 dollars.
Dealers Room and Artist Alley I have never been to a convention of that size where the dealer's room left much to be desired until now.Though it is only it's 4th year running the attendance was well over 1500 people (exact numbers are unavailable) The dealer's room had less than the college convention Nerdcon I attended, which only peaked 500 people last year. I was highly disappointed.
The artist however as always featured many beautiful pieces of artwork by many of the local artists! I am never disappointed in the quality and work the artists put into their crafts. My only complaint is the artists alley was not even in it's own room. It was a series of booth's located outside the panel rooms. This created high congestion during peak convention times and when panel's were letting out. Overall organization could have been so much better this year.
Overall: Upon deciding to attend Banzaicon I was a bit skeptical at first due to having bad expirences at smaller conventions in the past, but what Banzaicon lacked in size and resources it made up for it in heart, soul, and people. From my experience southern conventions are usually have some of the friendliest people I have ever met and Banzaicon was no exception. If you want to attend a convention where you can meet and recreate close personal relationships with people in the same fandoms as you and even get to experience the quests in a more intimate setting this convention is for you. This convention is great for anyone, but especially someone who it is their first convention.