This year's event was once again held in the Manchester Central exhibition centre, but thankfully in an expanded hall which saw less of the overcrowding that dogged 2011's Expo. That's not to say that it wasn't busy though, and with over 11,000 people attending this time a further expansion in 2013 seems likely. As with the MCM London Expo the hall was loosely divided into areas, with the majority of retailers at the front, game and film companies through the centre and stages and event space to the rear. For anime fans the Expo remains the best marketplace you could hope to find, with Manga Entertainment, United Publications and Otaku UK selling a host of DVDs, whilst United Publications, VIZ Media,
Sheffield Space Centre and, somewhat surprisingly, Tokyopop made sure there was plenty of manga on offer too. On the merchandise side there were the usual suspects of Neon Martian, Kamikaz-E and Gundam Nation, plus a few new faces, whilst Genki Gear and Khaos Komix had the t-shirts and accessories covered. Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg, and there were numerous other retailers in attendance selling everything from retro games to self-published comics. As always with these large trade events there were several less scrupulous retailers around selling unofficial and pirated anime merchandise, ranging from badly printed posters to knock-off One Piece figures and Totoro plushes. It's a real shame that more isn't done on an organisational level to combat these retailers, as they must damage the business of those who import official goods - an expensive business in the current tough economic climate.
However, a few bad apples don't spoil the barrel, and alongside the
official retailers the Expo had plenty more to attract the
huge crowds it enjoyed throughout the day. The centre of the
hall was dominated by stands for game publishers Namco Bandai,
Nintendo and THQ as well a film studio Universal,
and there were rolling trailers of upcoming films and games machines
set up to showcase and allow people to try out forthcoming games.
At the rear of the hall Letraset brought their usual Manga
Alley, allowing people to test their artistic skills with the
provided stationery, whilst DDR:UK brought a few
arcade machines and consoles for people to play on, although their
location - stuck in the front left corner near the wall - meant they
quickly got overcrowded. Elsewhere the Artists Alley allowed
numerous independent artists plied their wares as well as offer
commissions and signings, and the rear left corner was taken up by
the Robot Wars-style Robots UK arena, where homemade
metal behemoths were pitted against each other at regular intervals.
The hall also boasted a small array of guest signings, with
Alchemist voice actor Vic Mignogna joined by Life's Too Short
star Warwick Davis, Tom Hopper and Rupert Young (Sir Percival and
Sir Leon from BBC series Merlin) and the Clare Thomas,
Simon Ludders, Terry Haywood, Lis Steele, Cesare Taurasi and Lorenzo
Rodriguez from the CBBC series Young Dracula.
There were also signings from a handful of footballers, consisting
of the legendary goalkeeper Peter Shilton and former Manchester
City players Mike Summerbee, Tony Book and Colin Bell. The
rear right-hand corner of the hall was taken up by the MCM Stage
Zone, where the guests hosted panels for their respective shows
and games companies Namco Bandai and THQ showcased
Tales of Graces f and Darksiders II respectively.
Manga also hosted a panel on their forthcoming titles, which
included announcements of Aria The Scarlet Ammo, Guilty
Crown, Jormungand and Fractale, as well as
detailing the majority of their release plans for the next six
months (see our Release Schedule
for further info), whilst Vic Mignogna took questions in an
entertaining panel about his various roles and series. The day
was, as always, rounded off with a cosplay masquerade hosted by the
inimitable Expo staple Granny Gertrude, which featured plenty
of great costumes and was pretty entertaining even if it lacked the
spectacle of the London Expo's Euro Cosplay events.
Like the Midlands Expo in Telford, the Manchester Expo seemed to cater quite well for younger fans with free entry for under 11's with a paying adult plus a selection of kiddie-friendly guests offering free signings and Q&A panels, but there was plenty there for adults too. The sheer volume of merchandise, DVDs and manga available was certain to severely dent your wallet but the central Manchester location, affordable entry price (just £5 for adults, £3 for 11-15 year olds) and ability to just show up on the day with no requirement for pre-registration or limit on number of attendees made the Manchester MCM Expo an attractive prospect for fans in the north. We have long said that the MCM Expo is an
important event as far as anime fandom in the UK is concerned, with the huge 3-day London event providing pretty much the only place in the country where the entirety of UK fandom can come together in one place, a fact that has helped it grow to the size it is today. However, the Manchester Expo, despite only being a one day event, is rapidly approaching the same league in only its second year. In some ways there are things the Manchester Expo does better, boasting lower entry prices, a far more convenient location and best of all toilet facilities and food available within the hall itself. Although the London Expo has started to have more food available in the hall, with a coffee stand and retailers like the Japan Centre (who were also at the Manchester Expo) offering drinks and snacks, the Manchester Expo had a dedicated area behind the stage with a catering stall and space where people could sit down or rest. It was far more convenient than having to fight your way through the crowds to get outside like you do at the London event, and it was great to not have to worry about engineering works on the Tube and Docklands Light Railway too! The fact remains that London can be an expensive place to go for fans in the north of the country, especially when factoring the cost of hotels, tube fares and limited eating options in the Docklands area. By contrast Manchester is a much easier and affordable option for fans in the north, and with its central location there's a host of accommodation, pubs and eateries within a short distance. The success of this year's event should secure its return in 2013, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it expand further, or even become a two-day event in the future. The Manchester Expo is the closest in feel to the London Expo, and we feel it has a bright future.
Want to know more about the MCM Expo? Check out the following...
Animetion's Expo Survival Guide