As always the MCM London Expo is the biggest event in the anime and manga calendar, but this time there was even more for anime fans to enjoy.

As usual anime, manga and merchandise retailers had a very strong presence at the Expo, with the surviving big three anime distributors Manga Entertainment, MVM and Beez all in attendance.  As usual they were joined by manga distributors VIZ Media and Tokyopop, plus a myriad of independent retailers including figure specialists Neon Martian, model kit importers Gundam Nation and anime and manga sellers United Publications and Sheffield Space Centre.  Manga-inspired artists and clothing companies such as Genki Gear, Terratag, Khaos Komics and Team Giblets were also on hand with new designs to tempt you from your money.  As always there were many bargains to be had around the hall, with anime fans once again treated to Beez's cut-price deals on their entire catalogue and a further clearout of stock from Manga Entertainment which saw DVDs being sold for as little as 1 and some Blu-Rays down to a fiver.  Also setting up shop at the Manga Entertainment stall were Kaze, a European distributor who have teamed up with Manga for a number of recent licenses including Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, which featured prominently in their area.  Kaze brought a decent amount of merchandise and clothing with them for their titles, including some rare Death Note and Professor Layton figures, art books and t-shirts.

  Once again the re-established Anime Industry Panel threw up some decent licensing news, with the announcement that Manga had picked up the highly anticipated K-On!, a light-hearted comedy drama series about the trials and tribulations of a school band.  Also upcoming from Manga is the film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, and the 2nd series of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - a series Manga were not looking to pick up but had to in order to secure the rights to the film.  The 2nd series of Haruhi was not particularly well received on its Japanese release, but Manga have also picked up the excellent Melancholy of Haruhi-Chan

and Nyoron! Churuya-San series of anime shorts which they intend to bundle with it.  Their other big license was sci-fi anime Birdy The Mighty: Decode, and they also re-affirmed the previously announced licences of racing anime Redline, comedy series Hetalia Axis Powers and the second Naruto Shippuden film.  MVM announced the acquisition of the Gonzo-animated fantasy series Tower of Druaga and revealed that they had renewed the licences of a number of their older releases, including Trigun and Samurai ChamplooBeez announced two new titles, in the form of historical actioner House of Five Leaves and college-based comedy drama The Tatami Galaxy, but were unable to confirm if the second volume of Gundam Unicorn would be released on Blu-Ray due to the cost of certification.  It will still be available from the PlayStation Network and the Beez website.  One final bit of sad news from Beez is that their UK rep Andrew Partridge would be leaving the company and joining European distributor Kaze, where it seems he will be involved in online distribution and bringing their licenses to the UK.  Andrew has done a lot for Beez's image in the UK so it's a shame to see him leave, although it will be interesting to see what Kaze's strategy for the UK will be now they've hired an experienced UK rep.

 Elsewhere there was more than ever for the anime and manga community to enjoy, with the return of the Japan Ex area and numerous fan-run meets and photoshoots taking place outside as part of the Expo Fringe.   The Sweatdrop Studios Comics Village and Manga Alley returned once more, providing weary attendees a place to sit down and draw, and the Comic Village stage area hosted a number of panels and demonstrations across the weekend.  Voice Actors Michael Sinterniklaas, Roger Craig Smith and Stephanie Sheh were on hand for signing sessions and panels, whilst anime and manga pundit and author Helen McCarthy hosted a talk about her work and her research.  Elsewhere you could try your hand at Japanese crafts like Origami or play pre-release versions of forthcoming computer games, including the latest Dragon Ball and One Piece games for the Nintendo Wii.  There were the usual card game playing areas and the DDR:UK section brought a number of Japanese rhythm-action arcade games for everyone to play.  However, the big change for this year was the Totally Cosplay area, which sat to the right of the main Expo stage.

Although small, the area included its own stage and themed backdrops for photoshoots, as well as changing rooms and a costume repair desk with various craft tools and materials for fixing any costume problems.  Through the day there were various panels and workshops - some planned, some impromptu - and there were always plenty of cosplayers hanging around exchanging tips and showing off their costumes, which gave the area a really good community feel.  The Totally Cosplay Stage hosted a small masquerade and interviews with the Euro Cosplay judges and entrants, which provided an interesting glimpse into cosplaying in other countries.  Many of the

Euro Cosplay finalists hung around the Totally Cosplay area on the Saturday giving great opportunities to grab photos of their costumes or just to talk to them, which made this area one of the best places to hang around at the event.  We hope it's bigger next time.

However, from an anime fandom point of view the big jewel in the crown of the London Expo was the first ever Euro Cosplay Competition Final, which brought competitors together from 18 countries to compete for the grand prize of a trip to Japan.  The Euro Cosplay Final was a true game-changer for cosplay, providing the first competition of its scale outside of Japan.  it was excellently run with able compering from competition co-organiser Joe 'Granny Gertrude' Sutton, and a truly impressive sense of professionalism worthy of an international competition.  The judges hailed from three different continents and the standard of cosplay was truly breathtaking, with a massive contrast in style and presentation providing a truly entertaining spectacle for the crowd.  We'll go into more detail on the competition itself in a separate article, but suffice to say it was a true world-class event which will no doubt serve to galvanise the cosplay community across Europe.  If the quality of the next event is as high as this one it will be truly unmissable.

The MCM London Expo continues to grow bigger and better with each subsequent event, and with the inclusion of the prestigious Eagle Awards and the superb Euro Cosplay competition it has become one with true international appeal.  The Expo stands on a threshold of becoming a world renowned event, and in our mind it needs to push some of the events and guests more than the retail.  Our main issue with the event - as always - is the counterfeit merchandise retailers that always seem to set up shop alongside the legitimate ones.  Although it is often difficult to spot fake goods even when you know what you are looking for, these companies could have a negative effect on the event's reputation at a time when it has a perfect opportunity to develop its standing with big companies even further.  If it can tackle this problem then the MCM London Expo is only going to get bigger, and with the new Cosplay areas and promotion of fringe events it is appealing to the anime fanbase more than ever.  Long may it continue!