Yes, for the first time the MCM Group have chosen to drop the word 'Expo' from the name of their flagship event, a move that many have seen as an attempt to sell the event as the UK equivalent of the world-famous San Diego Comic Con. We suspect that there's a degree of truth in that, but with the event growing in size and stature every time it runs, trying to put it in the same bracket as San Diego is more a sign of ambition than hubris.
London Comic Con is the biggest event of its kind in the UK, and
with attendance numbers rising swiftly towards the 80,000 mark it's
edging ever closer to the numbers San Diego typically pulls
in. It's taking up more and more space in London's cavernous
ExCel Exhibition Centre with each event and continues to attract big
name companies both as sponsors and exhibitors. Interestingly
though, and despite the Comic Con name, the areas of the
event that have grown most rapidly have been gaming and anime.
This May's event was no exception, but it's worth looking at the
event as a whole before going into the specifics.
The first thing that was immediately apparent was that the event had grown once again. The hall seemed larger, with more stage areas and a slightly more professional feel provided by the adoption of booths by a number of retailers. In the past each retailer had tables with their own free-standing banners, but the booths had back and side walls which allowed far more space for displays and banners, as well as a clear separation of where each stall ends. This gave everything a more regimented feel, with some defined areas to break up the more traditional stalls. Overall the layout was largely the same as always, with the retailers concentrated towards the front of the hall, the
game and film distribution companies through the centre and the main stage areas, DDR:UK gaming section and artist alley at the rear. As in October the right hand side of the hall was designated as the Japan:Ex zone, incorporating the Totally Cosplay area and a congregation of Japanese food and goods retailers. The larger size of the hall didn't lead to many major changes, with many areas, retailers and stalls returning from October's event. The most notable differences were around the location of some stalls, the increased size of the main stage and the addition of a couple of new stage areas.
Unfortunately the BBC - who brought their excellent Doctor Who
Experience stand last time - were a notable absentee this time round, but there were
plenty of other companies and retailers on hand to part you from your
cash. The usual big name game distributors were there, including
Nintendo, Namco Bandai, Tecmo Koei, Konami,
Capcom and Activision, alongside film company Universal.
New anime distributor Anime Limited made their Comic Con
debut, although with none of their releases available yet they were
limited to selling a combination of Beez and Kazé stock.
Elsewhere Manga Entertainment brought their usual mix of new and
upcoming releases alongside DVD and Blu-Ray bargains, MVM had
several of their forthcoming releases on sale early whilst VIZ Media
brought the latest volumes of all of their biggest manga titles.
There was the usual massed ranks of merchandise, clothing and game
retailers, alongside a horde of freelance artists and designers.
Familiar faces like
Martian, United Publications,
were all present and correct, but unfortunately so were the groups of
bootleg retailers. It's such a shame that several companies
selling knock-off anime merchandise keep coming back, undercutting the
legitimate companies and damaging their business, not to mention taking
funds away from the anime companies themselves. They remain the
biggest black marks against the event and it's a shame that more isn't
done to restrict their attendance.
However, on the plus side the number of bootleggers seems pretty constant, and increases in the size of the event have actually brought more stage areas and things to do rather than just more and more retailers. This time the Japan:Ex zone was slightly bigger than before, including a few more stalls and a larger space to sit and relax in. The main stage area had also increased in size, and there were two more curtained off stages hosting a range of panels, contests and presentations. The DDR:UK area seemed larger and hosted an array of gaming contests alongside several arcade machines and consoles for casual play, whilst in general there was more space in the pathways between stalls which meant that there was less of the crowding that marred previous events. In fact the main crowding issue we experienced was due to the security rather foolishly closing off the exit next to the Totally Cosplay area, leading to a bottleneck as people were forced to try and go back whilst other tried to get to the exit. It was the one bit of bad planning in an event that otherwise seemed to go pretty
smoothly. The stage events were generally well marshalled and largely on time, and the Comic Con Fringe - a loose programme of fan meets, photoshoots, music acts and other fan-led events that takes place in the areas around the ExCel Centre - was far more cohesive than at previous events. The outdoor stage that has been absent at some MCM London events returned and had a decent array of music acts and dancers to keep people entertained, whilst the generally nice weather and huge numbers of cosplayers gave it a real festival atmosphere.
Despite the colourful shenanigans outside, it was inside the hall where most of the action happened over the weekend. As usual the event had its fair share of interesting guests to conduct panels and Q&A sessions in the main stage area, most notably Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright who discussed his latest film The World's End live on stage. Other guests over the weekend included stars from the popular fantasy series Teen Wolf, Merlin, Enchanted and Primeval, whilst representatives from several game companies previewed forthcoming console titles such as The Last of Us, Tales of Xillia and Deadpool. Numerous forthcoming games were also playable at the event, including the latest Dynasty Warriors and One Piece games and the latest Wii U titles. However, guest-wise it was anime fans who had the most to cheer, not only did Namco Bandai bring Hideo Baba - the producer of the popular anime-styled 'Tales of' RPG series - over from Japan, but Anime Ltd and MVM teamed up to bring the legendary anime director Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) to Comic Con too!