The Cosplay Masquerade has always been a kind of showpiece event for the MCM London Expo.  Frequently weighing in at over two hours long and featuring a huge number of cosplayers it is the biggest event of its kind in the UK calendar, but for a while we stopped attending it.

The problem the Masquerade at the Expo had was a very loose entry policy and a lack of focus, leading to huge timing overruns and numerous ill-judged or similar-themed skits which relied on a deep knowledge of a particular anime or game property to enjoy.  Simply put, the organisation wasn't good enough for the scale of the event, and there was little quality control or time restriction.

However, last year we attended the Euro Cosplay Finals, which took the place of the Expo Masquerade on the Saturday of the event and found it to be a revelation.  The organisation - from Joe 'Granny Gertrude' Sutton and James 'Ilpala' Funnell - was focused and slick, the quality of both the costumes and the performances was exceptional and the event was the true showpiece it deserved to be.  Joe and James have been involved in the running of the Expo Masquerade for some time, and had established many of the ideas they brought into the Euro Cosplay competition through that event - mostly after we stopped attending it.  The event was split into two categories - Parade and Expert - music and order was pre-arranged, skits and performances were vetted in advance and crucially everything ran to set time limits.  Judging was also overhauled, using similar criteria to the Euro Cosplay competition wherein experienced cosplayers judged entrants based not only on the costume itself but stage presentation and creation, with each cosplayer quizzed by the judges ahead of the performance to find out more about how the costume was made.  By all accounts the Masquerade has become the slick and professional event it should be, so this year we decided to check it out once again.

In all of the years we have been to the Expo the popularity of the Masquerade has never diminished, and the event is so oversubscribed that those wishing to attend have to pick up free tickets at the Cosplay Desk in advance.  Gone are the days when the Masquerade queue would snake around the Expo hall getting in everyone's way, now the queuing is done in an adjacent empty hall and everyone is marshalled to their seats by the Expo stewards once the stage area opens.  As with the Euro Cosplay Finals the Masquerade is compered by Joe Sutton and Stuart Claw. and the stage is set up with a catwalk-style walkway to enable the cosplayers to walk into the crowd and really show off their costume.  There's also a massive video screen to the right of the stage showing the event live so those at the back of the hall won't miss out on what's going on.

This year's Saturday Masquerade opened with the junior entries, before moving on to the Parade entries and finally the Expert entries.  The qualifiers for 2011's Euro Cosplay competition were hosted as part of the Masquerade, with several of the Expert category cosplayers also vying for the first of England's two qualifying spots.  As with the Euro Cosplay Finals last year the array of

costumes was pretty eclectic, with original creations rubbing shoulders with characters from anime, games, comics, music and films.  As always Final Fantasy was a popular inspiration, but with the recent Dissidia games reigniting interest in the older parts of the franchise there was a far more diverse range of costumes from the series than normal.  Notably Final Fantasy IV, VII, IX and X were represented, whilst other game cosplayers drew inspiration from Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Man Zero, Sengoku Basara and Metal Gear Solid amongst others.

The anime costumes showed a similar variety, and unusually there wasn't a single Naruto or Bleach character in sight.  Highlights included costumes from She, The Ultimate Weapon, Beyblade, Gungrave, Death Note and Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt (complete with underwear throwing!), but the quality was high throughout.  It was interesting to see some less mainstream but still well-known anime represented on stage, and in several cases it was the first time I have seen a costume from the series in question.  The film costumes were no less random, with the obvious (Tron Legacy, Iron Man) joined by the less likely (Pan's Labyrinth, The Little Mermaid) and the hugely unexpected (Teen Wolf, The Dark Crystal).  Scattered amongst these were occasional dance performances, including a Lady Gaga and a cross-dressing Katy Perry cosplayer, and a smattering of other characters ranging from Batman villain Bane to a Chaos Terminator from Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000.

 The standard was pretty high throughout the event, but what really brought it to live were the comments from the compere.  Having listened to the interviews between the cosplayers and judges they had plenty of background information on the cosplayers and costumes, and would often draw more applause from the crowd for first-timers or by commenting on how long costumes and props took to make.  This made the whole event a little more personal, and great stories on the day included the only junior entry taking part because of seeing her older sister on stage at previous events, and first time cosplayer Eileen who won the Parade prize for her Midna costume from Zelda Twilight Princess.  The prizes were hotly contested and there were numerous cosplayers who deserved to win, and several that on other days would have done.  Emma took the Expert category prize for her She, The Ultimate Weapon costume, whilst judges prizes went to Lee for his Iron Man costume (Best Newcomer) and Sasashie for her Final Fantasy IV costume (Most Detailed).  These winners were joined by CrystalNeko as her energetic solo dance routine as Kirari Tsukishima from Kirarin Revolution took the performance prize.  The Euro Cosplay qualifier should have been a tough choice but the final cosplayer blew the

entire field away in such a fashion that the judges didn't even have to break to make their decision.  Xaerael's Chamberlain Skeksil from The Dark Crystal was simply jaw dropping, with a level of detail that made it look like an actual costume from the film rather than a home made one.  The sheer ingenuity of the costume was stunning, with mechanisms to make the fingers, mouth and eyelids of the costume move and an internal camera and screen to enable him to see where he was going.  The whole thing was topped off by fellow cosplayer Kii-chan playing a terrified Gelfling, which made the whole thing even more impressive than it already was.

In the end it was impossible to argue with the prizes that were awarded, although you have to feel sorry for many of the other cosplayers who missed out.  There were so many quality costumes that on another day would be competition winners, but the field was so strong I have no idea how the judges managed to whittle it down!  The May 2011 MCM London Expo Cosplay Masquerade was a superb event which re-established what we saw as a bit of a jaded contest into something unmissable once again.  Organisation-wise it was near perfectly run, with the only minor hiccup a couple of missing music tracks.  As an example of how much better run the event is now we were extremely impressed that two cosplayers who suffered from one of the music errors were actually given a second chance to go on stage later in the Masquerade.  In most cosplay events this wouldn't have been possible, but here they were able to accommodate them seamlessly.  We were also impressed that the quality that was apparent at last October's Euro Cosplay Finals was continued into the Expo Masquerade, and the momentum of the event appears to have galvanised the cosplay community as well.  The second of England's Euro Cosplay representatives will be selected at the anime convention Ayacon in August, but on this evidence both Ayacon's cosplayers and masquerade may have to up their game...