Last October's MCM London Expo was possibly the best so far.  It was bigger than any of the previous Expos, had an established programme of fringe events and hosted the triumphant Euro Cosplay Championship Finals, all of which left this May's event with a lot to live up to.

Once again expansion was the name of the game, and with previous events (including last October's) getting increasingly crowded as more and more people attend it seems par for the course nowadays.  However, along with the expansion of the Expo hall itself and the usual use of empty halls for queuing, the event put more effort into the Expo Fringe.  The Expo Fringe is the umbrella name given to the numerous fan-run events and photoshoots that occur around the ExCel Centre during the Expo.  Despite fears that the Expo was trying to take control of these events with the launch of the Fringe last year, the truth is that the fans still run them and benefit from having them publicised through the Expo website.  This time round the Expo provided more support to the Fringe, with an outdoor screen and a small stage giving the whole thing a focal point and allowing some of the Expo guests to perform outside for fans.

Inside the hall the event was largely the same as always, just bigger.  As usual the hall was loosely split into three sections, with the front third containing the various retailers, the centre containing the game and media distributors and the rear third the comics village, artist's alley, stages and the Totally Cosplay area.  The front right hand corner of the hall contained a wrestling ring, which was separated from the nearby stalls by a partition wall, and gaming organisation DDR:UK nestled  selection of rhythm-action games and arcade machines for people to play in between the Totally Cosplay area and Comic Village stage.  Throughout the hall the usual suspects

were in attendance, with the anime and manga side of things well covered by distributors Manga Entertainment, MVM, Beez, Kaze, Tokyopop and VIZ Media.  Numerous computer games developers lined up alongside them, most notably Nintendo, Koei, Capcom, Activision and Rising Star Games, whilst card gaming was covered by Konami's sizeable Yu-Gi-Oh! area.  Major film companies including Universal and 20th Century Fox advertised their latest titles, whilst numerous freelance artists and comic creators sold their works in the Comics Village.

The increased size of the hall didn't really increase the number of media companies or increase the size of established areas such as the artist's alley.  Instead much of the new space was taken up by new retailers, with Expo regulars such as Genki Gear, Neon Martian, Gundam Nation, United Publications and Sheffield Space Centre facing increased competition from a host of new faces and some returning companies.  Some of the stalls were very welcome, with CyberCandy and the Japan Centre providing an opportunity to buy food and drink inside the Expo hall and a handful of decent sci-fi and anime retailers widening the choice of merchandise available.  Sadly though, much of the new space appeared to have been taken by less scrupulous retailers who filled their stalls with bootleg items.  The availability of bootleg and unlicensed goods has always been our only real issue with the Expo, and it was disappointing to see more of it at this one than at previous events.  We feel it is something the event needs to do more to combat, it's worrying that the number of these stalls seems to be increasing when you consider the illegitimacy of their business and we fear that these companies are taking money that would otherwise be spent on genuine products that support the Japanese anime industry.

Aside from this disappointment there was a lot to like about the May MCM London Expo.  Aside from buying stuff there were plenty of games available to play, several of which - such as Bleach: Soul Resurreccion, pictured right - were on show well ahead of their official UK release.  Nintendo gave the curious an opportunity to have a go on their 3DS console, and Konami actively encouraged people to have a go at the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game.  As always there was the Artists Alley and Comics Village, where you could get art commissions or check out the wide variety of independent art and comics available.  There was also the opportunity to pick up a pen and have a go

yourself, either on the tables set up near the Sweatdrop area or at artist Jess Bradley's stall, where you were encouraged to draw yourself as a zombie!  Elsewhere the Expo brought in some decent guests, with voice actors Ben Diskin, Brian Beacock and Billy West joined by internet dancer turned Japanese pop star Beckii Cruel.  There were also daily Cosplay Masquerades, including the first qualifier for this year's Euro Cosplay Championship, and various cosplay talks and panels in the Totally Cosplay area ranging from wig workshops to panel discussions with masquerade winners.  Meanwhile there were constant panels and performances on the various stages across the rear of the hall, with the comics village stage hosting the Anime Industry Panel, steampunk panels and several panels and Q&A sessions with voice actors and artists.  The main stage was reserved for the biggest events and guests, hosting interviews with Beckii Cruel and the cast of Futurama as well as sneak peeks at upcoming films and a couple of music performances.  Also, if you wanted, you could check out some wrestling on the ring set up in the front right hand corner of the hall.

To be honest the Expo was largely more of the same, with most of the stuff frequent attendees are familiar with still present and correct.  The addition of a stage and screen to the Fringe area was welcome, although both could have been better used - the stage had a lot of dead time and the screen pretty much just looped film trailers - and hopefully will be in future.  For us the Euro Cosplay Championship is swiftly becoming the main draw for the event, and is worth the price of entry alone, but elsewhere there's still enough new stuff brought by the distributors and games companies to keep things interesting.  However, whilst the Expo remains largely a shopping experience for many it still has the power to bring the anime community together, and as such it caters quite strongly for anime fans...