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In the three years since its inception the MCM Midlands Expo has undergone more changes than most UK anime events.  After a successful one-day event in February 2007 the MCM Midlands Expo began to run twice yearly and expanded to two days, but now it's back where it started as an annual one day event.  It's easy to read into this as a sign of waning popularity, and there is an element of truth in that thought.

The MCM Midlands Expo is held in the Telford International Centre, and like the London Expo it offers a choice of early 'fast track' entry at 9.30am or standard entry at 11am.  Tickets are a lot cheaper than London though, with fast track costing 8 and general entry at 5 or free for children under 10 years old.  The event is pretty much a mini version of the London Expo in most ways, the hall is smaller but it still contains a stage area plus a game presentation area, DDR:UK area and numerous retailers.  The stage took up the front right corner of the hall, with the information desk, Artist Alley and Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card area in the front centre and a couple of retailers and a Robot Wars-style zone on the left.  The middle of the hall was largely taken up by the game zone, cosplay changing rooms and larger retailers, including MVM and Tokyopop, whilst the rear featured the DDR:UK gaming area and a replica of the Delorian from Back to the Future II - complete with Doc Brown cosplayer!  Retailers were spread liberally throughout the hall, with the likes of Neon Martian, Genki Gear, Sheffield Space Centre, United Publications and Gundam Nation offering the usual impressive array of anime, manga and merchandise to attendees.  The Expo also featured a small snack shop at the back left hand corner and the empty hall next door to the Expo was turned into a food hall where you could get a hot meal or just sit down and chill for a bit without having to leave the event.
 

This was the first time we had been to the Midlands Expo since 2007 and it had changed a lot, in some ways the changes were positive and in others not.  The addition of the food hall was welcome as the Telford International Centre lacks the kinds of shops and eateries the ExCel Centre boasts, and we also liked the more open plan feel of the event.  Having the stage area open to the hall was great as it allowed far more attendees to check out the talks and the inevitable cosplay masquerade without the hassle of picking up tickets earlier in the day.  There was also plenty of space between stalls, which is something the London Expo doesn't always deliver, and the general

layout was pretty good.  Keeping the noisy Robot Wars zone away from the food hall was very welcome, as was separating the stage and DDR:UK areas.  We also liked the more family feel of the event, as well as under 10's getting in free there was free face painting for children and the handful of guests were all aimed at a younger audience.  Harry Potter actors Warwick Davies and Matthew Lewis were joined by Sarah Jane Adventures star Tommy Knight, all three did autograph signing sessions (with Knight offering a free autograph, and Lewis offering them free to under-10's), and took part in Q&A sessions on the stage.  In fact the only real error the Expo made on the family front was by letting a stall selling pornographic doujinshi and art books attend.  Although it was popular with older attendees the explicit covers meant that many parents were seen ushering their children away, something that probably didn't help Genki Gear (who were set up next to them) sell their range of children's t-shirts.

Stall content issues aren't new for the Expo, and along with the porn stall the perennial problem of pirated and unlicensed anime & manga merchandise reared its head again.  Sales of these poor quality knock-offs has always been one of the biggest black marks against the London Expo, and it's disappointing to see it at the Midlands event too.  However, even the pirate goods wasn't the big problem here, the main issue was how much the event had reduced in size and content since we first attended.  Back in 2007 the MCM Midlands Expo was very much the London Expo in a different place, it was promoted strongly, had the support of all of the distributors and made an affordable alternative to the London event.  This time though it felt like it was in decline, out of all the anime and manga distributors only MVM and Tokyopop turned up, with Manga Entertainment's absence particularly notable considering they were listed as one of the event's sponsors.  You got the sneaking suspicion that the increased amount of space in the hall may have been less to do with great planning and more to do with a lack of stalls to fill it.  Although many of the normal retailers were there Expo regulars like Terratag, Gundam Mad, Sweatdrop, Team Giblets and most surprisingly Otaku UK were missing, and this reduced the choice of goods on offer.  There were other worrying signs too, in particular the stripped down Expo Guide which didn't even list what was happening on the main stage, and the lack of the freebies which normally mitigate the price of the ticket.  As it stood it was difficult to see that it was worth paying the fast track price of 8 for entry, which is probably why most people turned up later in the day.
 

But as with other trade shows the MCM Midlands Expo is what what you make of it.  Attendees we spoke to preferred the Midlands Expo to its London sibling due to its more social and local atmosphere, and it was clear why when you spoke to people.  The majority of attendees were from the Midlands, so for many it was more like a fan meet that a big anime event.  This led to a far less hectic and more relaxed atmosphere in and around the hall, with groups of fans hanging around chatting and a huge number of cosplayers showing off their latest outfits.  The cosplay masquerade was well attended and plenty of people took part in the art competition, and

with it being the first major event of 2010 calendar there were a lot of friends meeting for the first time since before Christmas.  Despite the reduced choice of retailers there was plenty of purchasing going on, but it was a shame that the event had less to offer than before.  Unlike the London Expo there was a lot less reason for fans to travel in from other parts of the country.  There were no massive games being promoted (the usual Koei games, beat-em-up Blazblue and the excellent looking 3D Dot Game Heroes was pretty much it), and the main film promotion was for a family comedy starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson as The Tooth Fairy (seriously, didn't Hollywood learn its lesson with Kindergarten Cop and Suburban Commando?). 

At the end of the day the MCM Midlands Expo was nothing really special, and for fans outside of the Midlands it is probably not worth the travel costs unless you are meeting up with a lot of friends, or have something specific you want to buy.  It's a shame that the event never built on its initial promise and we do wonder about its future, it was quite notable this time that the hall never really filled up until about midday and fans started to drift away before the event ended.  What's disappointing is that the event has a lot of scope, it's a good month before the first anime convention of the year and its Midlands location makes it easy to get to from pretty much everywhere in the country.  The Midlands Expo would probably benefit from some of the Japanese cultural activities the London Expo introduced in October, there's enough space to accommodate the likes of language lessons and origami workshops and they could add a dimension to the event that is currently missing.  As it stands the event is much like a large fan meet with a few anime stalls and a cosplay masquerade thrown in, which puts it closer in feel to an event like the recent AnimeLeague Club London than the MCM London Expo.  It has a good atmosphere, but it needs some content to back it up.


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