Cosplay - basically fans dressing up as various anime, manga, game and film characters - is always one of the most fun aspects of anime and manga events.  It's not as geeky as it sounds, despite people putting a lot of effort into their costumes the aim is generally to have a laugh.  For those not dressing up it's easy to get swept up in it and each event seems to draw more and more cosplayers!

Not only is cosplay fun but it's also a great gauge of a particular series' popularity.  Want to know what everyone is into?  Have a look what everyone is dressed as!  In London the supernatural actioner and official 'next big thing' Bleach led the way, in Telford the old next big thing Naruto still reigned supreme.  Strangely though few people were dressed as Naruto himself, most picked side characters and a couple even picked characters that have only

 shown up in the most recent chapters of the untranslated Japanese manga and anime!  A couple of Choji's rubbed shoulders with Sasuke, Tayuya (who even played us a theme from Naruto on her flute!), Sai, Kakashi, Sakura, several Gaara's and a Temari...  However, Naruto may have been the most popular source of inspiration, but it was by no means the only one.

One of the best things about cosplay is character spotting.  Seeing how many you can recognise is great fun and besides the Naruto, Final Fantasy and smattering of Bleach cosplayers there were plenty of varied anime

inspiration to check out.  Neon Genesis Evangelion, Saiyuki, Fruits Basket, Death Note, Howl's Moving Castle, Kiki's Delivery Service, Samurai 7 and Chrono Crusade were amongst the most obvious, but there were others.  The costumes were impressive, and they had to be for the main event at the Expo - the Cosplay Masquerade.  The screening area was utterly packed for the masquerade, as various cosplayers came on to show off their costumes to a panel of judges.  As always there were a few that chose to act out short little scenes, something we have always found a little bit alienating.  The problem is that the are far too excluding to anyone who isn't completely up to date with every aspect of the subject, and we find it can put off new fans.  However, at the Expo most people seemed to get the jokes, and one of the groups that acted a scene (complete with dialogue track) actually won one of the prizes.

The masquerade was a big hit as always, and the lack of other events meant that pretty much everyone who was at the Expo tried to attend it for a bit of variety!  Many people couldn't get in, and after the masquerade finished most of them left the Expo.  It was strange that the Expo ran from 10 to 6, as the masquerade finished just before 4pm leaving little to do except wander round the stalls you had already wandered around for several hours.  It was kind of inevitable that things wound down, but it was a little disappointing.  We had expected announcements of some anime licenses, but none were forthcoming.  We had expected a panel discussion or two

with anime company reps, but again there weren't any.  Instead of a convention-style event the MCM Midlands Expo was more of a trade show, with plenty of retailers on hand to take your hard-earned cash.  This isn't that bad a thing though, as buying manga, anime and associated goods can be a pain on the high street.  Here you could buy a huge selection of stuff, talk to the people who release it and chat to like-minded fans.

At the end of the day the first MCM Midlands Expo was a good laugh but needs more events and presentations to break up the shopping.  This one did well enough for a second Midlands Expo to be confirmed for September, so we hope that next time round there's a little more to it.  However, if you wanted a good day that gave you plenty of opportunities to buy stuff and chat to people then the Expo was perfect.  We are looking at it in a critical way, but everyone who went came out with heavier bags, lighter wallets and a big grin, so on that evidence the MCM Midlands Expo was a success!  We'll definitely be at the next one, and if you like anime bargains we recommend that you are too.