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The recession continues to bite, and there's few signs of this changing any time soon.  It may be doom and gloom but in the world of anime and manga fandom things seem to be going better than ever.  There's more dedicated anime events for UK fans than ever before, and the MCM London Expo - the biggest event of the year for most fans - continues to attract record crowds.

As always the Expo was held on a Saturday and Sunday in the ExCel Centre in London's docklands, but at least this time the Docklands Light Railway - the main transport link to the event - was running normally.  Previous Expos have been plagued by transport issues but this time the only problems were on the London Underground and could be circumnavigated.  The ExCel Centre itself was still undergoing expansion works (it is being expanded by 50% to enable it to be used as an Olympic venue in 2012) which made walking to the hotels behind the venue more of a chore, but despite this it was still logistically better than some of the previous Expos.  The organisation continues to improve with empty halls used to good effect to cope with the colossal queues and better marshalling of the queues into the main Expo hall.  The hall itself seemed bigger than ever with some large open spaces towards the centre, but large stalls and narrow pathways near the entrance caused some big bottlenecks during busy periods.  This has been a problem in the past too, and it's a shame that there isn't a larger exclusion zone around the entrance to enable people to filter into the hall more effectively.  The bottlenecks within the hall remain the main organisational problem with the Expo, and the organisers have been trying to tackle it by increasing the size of the hall.  It is an annoyance to attendees, but that has not stopped them coming.
 

   Once inside the hall you can see why it remains the biggest event of its kind in the UK calendar.  All of the anime and manga distributors attend, offering their titles at bargain prices, and there are more anime merchandise retailers here than anywhere else in the UK.  Several of the world's leading computer game companies have promotional stalls where you can play the latest games ahead of their release and TV channels often use it to promote their sci-fi and fantasy series.  October's Expo was no exception.  MVM, Manga Entertainment, Beez, Optimum, ADV Films and Revelation were joined by VIZ Media and Tokyopop in ensuring no anime &

manga stone was left unturned, whilst elsewhere Sega, Koei, Namco Bandai, Capcom, EA and Konami were amongst the computer game companies in attendance.  Elsewhere there were talks and signing sessions by the female stars of BBC's hit series Merlin and movie legend Ronny Cox (Robocop, Total Recall), whilst Star Trek fans had the opportunity to meet Deep Space Nine stars Terry Farrell and Nicole de Boer.  The event also saw a welcome return to Japanese cultural events under the Japan EX banner, with origami workshops, demonstrations of Taiko drumming and Budo and lectures by Akemi Solloway on language, tea ceremony and traditions.  Japan EX was last held a couple of years ago and was intended as an event focusing solely on Japanese culture, in practice though it was basically a third London Expo with most of the cultural events sidelined by retailers.  It's good to see that the Expo is trying to resurrect it in a small way with more of a focus on what it was originally meant to be about.

Many of the Japan EX events were focused around the second stage, which was tucked away in the far left hand corner of the hall, and a small area near the hall exit.  The anime and manga distributors were grouped together at the back of the hall with Sweatdrop Studio's Manga Alley and the DDR:UK arcade game area between this second stage and the curtained-off main stage.  The game and film companies occupied the centre of the hall with the Artist Alley to the left side of it, whilst the front of the hall featured the majority of the retailers and the guest signing area.  The layout seemed slightly more regimented than at some previous events, which did make a bit easier to find particular areas.  It was also good to see free massages on offer again - just the thing to relieve the stress of queuing and shopping!
 

As always the Expo had quite a lot to offer, and as well as the shopping the opportunity to play forthcoming games like Tekken 6 and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom was a great distraction from the shopping.  The addition of the Japan EX activities brought the kind of convention activities that have been in decline at the Expo, and it was good to see a fuller programme of activities on the second stage.  The main stage was generally devoid of anime events, with actor discussions and TV presentations generally filling the programme.  However, the event is still largely about retail, and the vast majority of the stalls were selling something, even those that were there to

If you got tired of shopping you could always have  a go at a spot of Japanese

promote a game or film.  There is sometimes an element of opportunism about the Expo too, with some stalls organising their own special guest signings and the opportunity to have your photo taken with Doctor Who's Tardis or Back to the Future Delorian...at a price.

On paper the Expo would seem to be the kind of event that would suffer in a recession.  Attending can be expensive when you add transport, food and accommodation to the 10-13 daily ticket price, plus most of what you can do in the hall invariably leads to spending money.  It's very hard to get through the day without burning a big hole in your pocket.  However, the Expo is what you make of it and anime fans have embraced it in a big, big way.  So what is there for the anime fan?  Well, we'll focus on that next.


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