Anime fans once again made up the majority of the attendees at the MCM London Expo, and even the combined draw of Star Trek and Merlin guests failed to usurp the anime community's grip on the event.
Whilst the Expo is not a dedicated anime event, it does
remain a no-brainer for anime fans. Tonnes of anime and manga
merchandise is available from a huge variety of retailers which this
amongst many others. Popular anime inspired designers
were on hand again, offering clothing and artwork featuring their
designs. We especially liked Genki Gear's unique packs
of Christmas cards featuring radioactive snowmen and deadly
Christmas cake! There's import DVDs for sale at United
Publications and Otaku, whilst UK distributors ADV
Films, Beez, Manga, MVM, Optimum and
Revelation offered their own titles at a big discount and
often before their official release. VIZ Media,
Tokyopop, Sheffield Space Centre and United
Publications have the manga side of things covered too.
Activity-wise there was a bit more of a focus on Japan this time than there has been for a while, with the Japan Ex activities mentioned on the previous page proving popular with anime fans. As well as this the second stage tucked away in the far corner of the hall hosted several demonstrations and interactive workshops based around things like Para Para dancing and (on Sunday) Taiko drumming. Cultural activities aside the amount of dedicated anime and manga activities remained relatively low, with the second stage hosting a handful of convention style panels on cosplay and steampunk fashion. In fact the biggest draw on this stage, from an anime
point of view at least, was left until the traditionally quieter Sunday when American voice actors Mike McFarland and Troy Baker took part in a Q&A session. The same actors also appeared on the Saturday on the main stage just before the immense Cosplay Masquerade, but it was the guests that appeared before them that were unmissable for anime fans.
Distributors Beez and Manga Entertainment had teamed up to
bring across some special guests to tie in with the release of Sword
of a Stranger - the director Masahiro Ando and Masahiko Minami, the
head of the film's production house Studio Bones. It is
incredibly rare for a UK event to host Japanese creative staff, and the
opportunity to talk to them directly in a Q&A session and hear their
experiences in anime was the highlight of the event. The
discussion was held via a translator and covered several notable works
from their careers, including Sword of the Stranger, CANAAN,
RahXephon and Fullmetal Alchemist. The pair also
took part in free signing sessions at the Beez and Manga
stalls, whilst English-speaking Bandai reps hovered nearby with
questionnaires about the forthcoming Bandai Channel streaming
service. It was great to see anime companies really pushing the
boat out at a UK event with the guests and presence they provided, US
and European events frequently draw Japanese guests and the fact that
there's a UK event that can host them is surely a good sign for fandom
here. Beez and Manga really impressed us with these
appearances, and they also kept anime fans happy with some impressive
sales on their stalls (cut price Ghost in the Shell Blu-Ray and
special offers on Code Geass for example) plus an awesome
competition that gave fans the chance to win a special Bleach
guitar signed by creator Tite Kubo! Elsewhere it was great to see
renowned anime and manga scholar Helen McCarthy attending to promote her
latest books on 'God of Manga' Osamu Tezuka and manga-inspired
cross-stitch! McCarthy was one of the most approachable and genial
people we have ever met at an anime event, happily chatting to fans at
length whilst signing copies of her books. We really hope she
returns in future.
The masquerade was once again the headline anime event on both days, closing the main stage to a packed crowd. However, it was a shame that once again there was no room on either stage for an anime industry panel, or presentations by any of the anime distributors. When we first started going to the Expo around five years ago there was an enclosed Anime Village stage which hosted panels and anime screenings throughout the day. This not only gave the anime distributors the chance to present their latest titles but also somewhere for weary fans to sit down, and it's a real shame that this remains a thing of the past. There are promising signs that
more stage time is being given to anime events again, but many of the anime activities at the Expo lie away from the stages. The Sweatdrop manga alley remains a popular area to take a load off and chill for example, and it was great to see numerous anime-inspired games featured in the gaming areas. The lack of any formal industry panel or presentation mean that license announcements were unusually few and far between, with Manga confirming the previously hinted acquisition of D.Gray-Man, Evangelion 1.11 and Soul Eater and MVM announcing Fate/Stay Night, Pet Shop of Horrors, Slayers Evolution-R and the second series of Mahoromatic. The most interesting announcements came in the form of Manga's licensing of Makoto Shinkai's 5cm Per Second and - somewhat randomly - retro children's anime Sherlock Hound.
It is the anime fans and anime companies that make the Expo, and there's numerous forum meets, cosplay parties, special photoshoots, club meetups and just general socialising that goes on in and around the Expo itself. Combine this with the kind of Japan-centric activities you'd find at a small convention and what is basically the UK's biggest anime and manga dealers room and you can see why the anime community flocks to the Expo in droves. The chance to see merchandise up close before buying, and the sheer amount on offer is unrivalled in the UK, but the event still has the major issue of bootleg merchandise being rife on certain stalls. In fact it remains the Expo's biggest drawback, and it is something they really need to address, especially if more Japanese guests attend in future. It's disappointing to thing that some fans are unwittingly buying low quality pirated goods, and that unscrupulous companies are making colossal profits on them at the expense of the legitimate majority. Hopefully this is something that will change over time as it remains the only black mark against what is undeniably the biggest event in the UK anime calendar. The guests and the resurrection of the Japan Ex activities this time round give us real hope for more official anime focus in future, and with it the event's continued growth. As far as anime fandom is concerned in the UK the Expo is an essential event, it is the only one where everyone can go - young and old, hardcore and casual, new and experienced. There's something for everyone and the lack of pre-registration or limited places means that it is the only event in the UK that is capable of hosting the entire fan community. For this alone it is an essential event for the growth of UK fandom - long may it continue.