It's hard to remember a time when the MCM London Expo hasn't been at the heart of the UK anime and manga event calendar.  It's not surprising either.  This May's Expo was the 17th event in its history, and anime has had an official presence there since at least 2005.  For many fans this is the only anime event they attend, and despite having its ups and downs over the years from an anime and manga standpoint the event itself continues to go from strength to strength.

The MCM London Expo was once again held in the ExCel Centre in London's docklands, and for the first time in a couple of years it wasn't marred by railway closures or building works.  The ExCel Centre has been undergoing expansion work to increase its capacity in time for the 2012 London Olympics, and with the majority of the work complete the back entrance was finally reopened.  This was a big boost to the event in terms of access, as finally the huge numbers of people staying at the hotels on the Eastern side of the venue could get in without having to walk all the way round it.  The new area increased the building's size by 50% and also increased the amount of facilities available to attendees, with new bathrooms, eateries and seating areas adding to what is already one of the country's largest and best equipped exhibition centres.  It was a shame the Expo was held in the older part of the building as it would have been interesting to see what the new exhibition halls would have been like.

 As with last October's event the Expo took up several large event halls, with additional halls reserved to handle the colossal queues.  This year also saw the launch of the Expo Fringe, an official title for the myriad fan meets, photoshoots and activities organised in and around the ExCel Centre by Expo attendees.  The Expo Fringe was the cause of some controversy in the run up to the Expo, with some fans seeing it as the organisers attempting to regulate or control their activities.  However, in practice it proved to be pretty successful, with the Expo giving website coverage to the fringe events and raise awareness of them to the general public.  The

events themselves went on largely as before, free of interference but covered by the official title of the Expo for health and safety purposes.   

Inside the hall itself there were a few changes to the layout, but the general gist remained the same - retailers at the front, exhibitors & artists in the middle and stages and event space to the rear.  The main stage area switched to the rear left hand corner this time with the centre rear taken up by the DDR:UK area, a wrestling ring, the Japan EX stage and a colossal Yu-Gi-Oh! gaming area to host the UK championships of the popular card game.  The Comic & Anime Village stage was in the rear right hand corner with the Sweatdrop Artists Alley and comic publishers in front of it.  The centre was taken up by game, film and anime publishers including Koei, Nintendo, Activision, Universal, 20th Century Fox and Manga Entertainment, plus a hi-spec PC gaming rig to promote the Electronic Sports League.  The front of the hall saw the usual array of anime and manga merchandise retailers plus designers and sci-fi goods stalls, and there also appeared to be a few more individuals and small businesses there to sell their own stuff this time too.

 The Expo has established itself as the biggest show of its kind in the UK, and as such now features its fair share of film and game previews.  This event was no exception, with Activision showing off a world exclusive playable version of their forthcoming Transformers game and Koei bringing across the Japanese smash hit Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage (aka. Hokuto Musou), whilst Nintendo showcased Super Mario Sunshine 2 and Monster Hunter Tri.  There were also promotional stands for the forthcoming A-Team film, the highly anticipated Games Workshop CG film Ultramarines and comic-book spin-off Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, as

well as cross promotion for the Professor Layton games and forthcoming anime film Professor Layton & The Eternal Diva.  Once again the stars of the BBC's hit series Merlin were on hand for a panel on the main stage and impromptu signing session, drawing an enthusiastic (and deafeningly loud) audience despite the absence of actor Bradley James, whilst elsewhere autograph hunters could could get the signatures of Sister Act actress Kathy Najimy, Harry Potter actor Warwick Davies and Oliver! actors Ron Moody and Mark Lester.

Alongside all this the Expo organised a record-breaking Nintendo DS gaming meet, with nearly 600 gamers playing simultaneously to smash the previous Guinness World Record.  They hosted wrestling matches and game tournaments, film previews and special panels with the cast and crew of films and TV series.  Thousands of like-minded people congregated on the ExCel Centre for the event, but what was there for anime and manga fans?  Read on...