If you are an anime and manga fan the MCM London Expo remains a must-attend event.  As usual you've got all of the major anime and manga distributors and merchandise retailers in attendance, plus a slew of anime-inspired designers and artists.  There's the UK's biggest cosplay masquerades, a huge number of fan meets and photoshoots, exclusive anime previews and voice actor signings too, but this time there was a bit more than usual.

As always the Expo is the biggest and most diverse anime and manga merchandise marketplace, with all of the best known retailers on hand to part you with your money.  Whether anime figures from Neon Martian, model kits from Gundam Nation or imported anime and manga from United Publications to name but a few, if you wanted it you could buy it here.  This time the Japan Centre was on hand with imported Japanese snacks, drinks and magazines as well, and returning anime-inspired clothing companies Genki Gear, Terratag and Team Giblets kept the sartorial angle covered.  The main anime retailers all had stalls offering cut-price DVD and Blu-Ray deals and the chance to buy some titles - such as Gundam Unicorn, Code Geass R2 and The Sky Crawlers - ahead of their official UK release, and manga publishers VIZ Media and Tokyopop returned despite facing stiff competition from manga-selling retailers around the hall.  However, for us there was also a sad note in the form of the last event appearance of ADV Films.  The UK office of the former leading anime distributor shut its doors over two years ago but the company had continued to exist as a label to distribute its back-catalogue titles.  Sadly though this couldn't last, and their stall offered cut-price deals on their remaining stock and special auctions for their standees and company banners.  ADV were one of the pioneers of DVD anime in the UK, leading the way in this country's second anime boom, and their closure really does feel like the end of an era.  They will be missed.

 However, as one chapter ends another begins, and Manga Entertainment, Beez and MVM all took strides into the unknown with a host of new announcements at the Expo's Anime Industry Panel.  MVM confirmed some release dates for their previously announced titles, with Pet Shop of Horrors slated for August, Moribito for September and Blade of the Immortal for October.  Their big announcement was that - with the exception of Moribito & Blade of the Immortal, which are bound by contractual obligation - they will be moving away from single disc, multi-volume releasing to the box set release model Manga and Beez have been using.  Manga confirmed

the acquisition of the critically acclaimed Baccano! and Eden of the East, as well as confirming the licence of the Professor Layton and The Eternal Diva film.  However, their big announcement was that they had picked up the popular anime Vampire Knight and its sequel Vampire Knight Guilty, a romantic actioner which marked a bit of a departure from their usual anime comfort zone of male-orientated 'shonen' action titles.  Vampire Knight will be released in four single disc releases priced at under 10 each with the first volume due in October, and Manga also hope to bring Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society to Blu-Ray before the end of the year.  They also confirmed in response to an audience question that they had put in a bid for the anime series Canaan, and that they have tried to license One Piece and Dragon Ball Z on several occasions, but to no avail.  However, the most interesting announcements can from Beez, who confirmed four licenses in the form of Gundam 00 Series 2, the Zeta Gundam movies, the sci-fi action series Outlaw Star in an Anime Legends Box Set and finally the brand new anime Durarara!.  It's the last license that piqued the most interest as Beez are going to release it with only English subtitles and no English dub in order to speed up the UK release.  It's a risky move, as subtitle-only releases don't traditionally sell that well and some retailers won't stock them unless they have an English dub track, but Beez hope that for certain titles that the initial interest will overcome this.  They also outlined plans to acquire a dub when one becomes available and re-issue the series, giving those who bought the subtitle only version the chance to swap the discs with the new ones for a nominal fee.  They also confirmed that the long-awaited online Beez Store should be going live soon, and that some titles may be available solely through it with special bonuses - including crediting on the DVD - given to early-orderers.

The anime announcements were quite impressive this time, but the Expo had a lot more to offer fans.  Voice actors Tara Platt, Yuri Lowenthal and Kyle Herbert were on hand for signings and also had a question and answer session on both days.  There were also a couple of cosplay workshops on the Anime & Comics Village stage, hosted by Tab from Khaos Kostumes, Keith from Team Giblets and cosplayer Xaereal.  Meanwhile Koei earned serious anime kudos points by bringing fully playable versions of Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage to the Expo. The game is a 3rd person brawler in the style of Dynasty Warriors based on the post-apocalyptic martial arts manga epic Fist of the North Star, and featured more exploding heads than you can shake a stick at!  Koei are bringing the game to the UK for the Sony PlayStation 3 and X-Box 360 later this year, and on this evidence we'll be quite near the front of the queue when its released - especially if it comes with the Fist of the North Star alarm clock they had on display at their stand!  Elsewhere the Expo played host to two national tournaments, the first being the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game UK Championships and the second the UK heats of the Euro Cosplay Championships.  The Yu-Gi-Oh! championships took place in a large dedicated area under the watchful eye of Konami reps who ensured the correct rules were being followed - even down to table layout - whilst numerous screens played episodes of the recent Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's anime series.  The Euro Cosplay Championship qualifiers were combined with the usual cosplay masquerade on the Saturday, with the judging taking place earlier in the day.  As usual the masquerade massively overran, ending over an hour after the Expo officially closed, but with international competition as an incentive the quality of the entries was pretty high.  The winner of the competition, and therefore the UK's representative for the Euro Cosplay Finals in October, was SephNoir with her Ectvarr costume from the console game 99 Nights.  She will now compete with the best of Europe for a trip to Japan courtesy of Virgin Atlantic.

The Japan EX area also made a welcome return after its launch last October, this time boasting a full stage for discussions and activities.  Convention regular Akemi Solloway was on hand for demonstrations of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and Calligraphy, and there were also Taiko drumming and Martial Arts demonstrations on the Japan EX stage.  Arrayed around the stage were several tables where you could try your hand at Shogi (the Japanese equivalent of Chess) and Go (a bit like Draughts), learn to speak and write a little Japanese and have a go at Origami.  The Japan EX area felt more enclosed and worked far better than it did last time, the activities

were closer together and it felt like a little Japanese oasis in the middle of the Expo hall... even if it did have a wrestling ring behind it!

Once again the Expo was a highly enjoyable event and with over 41,000 people attending over the weekend it continues to go from strength to strength.  For the first time in a while it felt like anime and manga fans were being given more then just a large marketplace too, with the Anime and Comic Village stage hosting voice actor discussions, cosplay panels and the Anime Industry Panel.  The inclusion of the Yu-Gi-Oh! and Euro Cosplay championships gave the event an extra feeling of purpose that it has sometimes been missing and it was great to see the Japan EX area expanded and hosting a few different activities to last time.  As we have said before the MCM London Expo is an essential event as far as UK anime fandom is concerned as it is the only place which everyone can accommodate everyone in the fan community.  Thankfully the event itself caters more and more every time for the anime fans that form the majority of the attendees, and our only real bugbear - as always - is the pirated merchandise available there.  Whilst not easy to spot to the untrained eye in some cases, in others the piracy is quite blatant - a stall near the entrance sold home-made clocks featuring copyrighted images for example, something that didn't please Manga Entertainment when they found one design was of their logo.  It's things like this, and the unofficial anime posters and wallets, that the Expo should really try and clamp down on as it is not helping the legitimate retailers or the actual people who buy the fakes.  At the end of the day this is the only black mark against the event, and as long as you shop clever it's an issue that can generally be avoided.  If you do then you'll have a great time, although the packed Saturday can be a bit wearing due to the sheer amount of people.  The fact that this is still a problem despite a further increase in the size of the hall just goes to show how much more successful the event's becoming, and rightly so.