A lot has happened since the last MCM London Expo in October last year.  The country has slipped further into recession, with businesses collapsing and unemployment rates rising throughout the country and the world.  In Japan the anime industry has suffered badly, with shrinking output and a scaling back of many studios a direct consequence of the country's shrinking economy.

The Expo has always been primarily a shopping experience, with more retailers than you can shake a stick at offering plenty to part you with your hard earned cash.  Even the companies attending to promote games, comics and films don't pass up the opportunity to sell you things, and with so much on offer budgeting is pretty much impossible.  With all of the financial turmoil going on at the moment you may expect things to be a bit more low key this time round, but if anything the MCM London Expo was bigger than ever!

  As always the Expo was held on a Saturday and Sunday in the ExCel Centre in London's docklands, and once again the Docklands Light Railway - the main transport link to the event - was disrupted by maintenance work.  The ExCel Centre itself is also still undergoing building work to increase its size, but neither of these inconveniences deterred a record number of people from attending.  The planning and organisation of the event gets better every year, and despite the number of attendees - reportedly 22,000 on the first day alone -  things ran smoother than ever.  The event was held in two massive exhibition halls but as with last time a third hall was used just

for queuing!  This time the queuing hall was used throughout the day and ensured no repeat of previous events' queuing problems, which has on occasion seen lines stretching out of the building.  It was also good to see that a special shuttle bus service was running both days to compensate for the closure of the railway lines.

But enough of the logistics, what of the event itself?  Well, as always the cavernous Expo hall was packed with a huge variety of stalls and stands, with their owners ranging from self-employed artists selling their own comic books to major computer game companies like Koei, Capcom and Atari.  The UK's five main anime companies - ADV Films, Beez, Manga Entertainment, MVM and Revelation Films - were all in attendance, as were two of the main manga companies - Tokyopop and VIZ Media.  There were console and arcade games to play at the DDR:UK area, and you could also have a go at unreleased games like Batman Arkham Asylum and Monster Hunter Freedom Unite at their respective distributors' stands.  There was also the chance to enter the colourful world of Dofus and Wakfu, anime-inspired online RPGs from France at a special playing area.  Autograph hunters could grab signatures from leading comics author Warren Ellis, TV stars Craig Charles, Gareth David Lloyd, Lindsay Wagner and the four main actors from BBC's Merlin, not to mention Hollywood stars Linda Hamilton and the legendary Tony Curtis.  If you needed a break from all this activity you could always stop by Sweatdrop's manga alley and have a doodle with the paper and pens supplied, or even take advantage of the free massages on offer near the Expo Theatre!

As well as all of the retailers and publicity stands the Expo offered two stage areas for larger events such as guest Q&A sessions, industry panels and the ubiquitous cosplay masquerade.  There were two stages once again this year, the larger of the two - referred to as the Expo Theatre - had seating for hundreds of people and featured the main Expo events.  Saturday saw Linda Hamilton and Lindsay Wagner take the stage for Q&A sessions, as well as a panel hosted by the director and producer of the forthcoming film Moon.  The director of the creepy fantasy Franklyn, which hits DVD & Blu-Ray later this year, was also on hand to talk about the film. 

The Merlin panel drew screaming fangirls from as far afield as Texas!

The stage was packed out with screaming fangirls for a Q&A session with the cast and writers of the hit TV series Merlin, but as always it was the cosplay masquerade at the end of each day that drew the biggest crowds.  The masquerade lasted for a bum-numbing two hours plus, and saw hordes of anime and computer game cosplayers take to the stage for a chance to win an impressive prize pack packed with items donated by the main anime companies.  The event was so popular that anyone wanting to attend had to pick up free tickets from the cosplay desk during the day, and as always demand outstripped supply. 

The second stage, which was tucked away behind the Tokyopop stall was a little more low-key, and featured more anime and manga events.  The stage only hosted a couple of things per day, but amongst them were panels and workshops on creating and publishing your own comics, and a Q&A session with voice actor Mike MacRae.  There were other events being held in and around the Expo as well, including a successful attempt to break its own World Record for the largest gathering of computer game cosplayers.  It all added up to an impressive array of things to do and see, and the number of freebies on offer for signing up to company mailing lists was phenomenal.  However, with the anime industry seeing a downturn for the first time in a while and fans having to be a bit more frugal, was there enough on offer to keep the anime fans occupied?