The ExCel Centre has been quite a busy venue this year, but with the athletes and sport fans of the 2012 London Olympics long gone it was time for the cosplayers and anime fans of the London Comic Con MCM Expo to take over the building once again!

It seems that every time I write one of these articles I say that the latest MCM Expo was bigger and better than ever, and sadly I'm going to have to stick with the cliché this time too.  Held as always in the aforementioned ExCel Centre in London's Docklands from the Friday to the Sunday of the last weekend of October, it seemed that not even the closure of the majority of the tube system on the Saturday could keep the crowds away as the event racked up record attendance figures of over 70,000 people.  This was over 6000 more than the previous record set by the previous MCM London Expo in May, and with the event increasing its floor space by nearly 50%, introducing day tickets for the Friday, absorbing the Memorabilia show and adding new stages and areas it really was bigger than ever.  The sheer size of the Expo hall was apparent as soon as you entered, the space had expanded sideways and unlike last October's London Expo there was no separation between the Memorabilia show area and the Expo itself.  Overall the layout remained largely the same as always, with the front third of the hall mostly containing retailers selling merchandise, games, books and clothing, the central third featuring game companies, publishers, TV and film studios and anime distributors, whilst the rear of the hall housed the main stage areas, artist alley and DDR:UK's gaming area.  As always there was a bit of crossover between areas, and many of the anime and game companies were selling various items on their stalls or had big promotional areas in prominent places around the hall.  One of the main enhancements from previous events came with the relocation of the Totally Cosplay area to the front right hand corner of the hall, giving it a much larger area to work with and also allowing DDR:UK space to expand which they made excellent use of.  One of the main issues with the Expo in the past is that the Cosplay area often got incredibly packed, especially after the 2010 launch of the

EuroCosplay competition, but this time there was plenty of room for the cosplayers and their friends to hang around, chat to each other and make last minute repairs at the well-stocked cosplay repair station.  The Totally Cosplay area was joined on the right-hand side of the hall by an expanded Japan:Ex zone, which filled the gap between the Cosplay area and the main stage area in the rear right-hand corner with a host of imported homewares, books and stationery.  The Japan:Ex zone included a number of food and drink stalls as well as a seating area, something the London Expo has been sorely lacking, and made for a good place to chill out and admire the cosplay!

It was also great to see the curtained-off main stage area joined by a similarly curtained second stage in the rear left hand corner of the hall.  Normally the main area is reserved for the major guest Q&As, film presentations and the main Cosplay competitions, with the anime industry panel and game panels relegated to an open stage next to the noisy gaming areas.  This time it was kept nicely separate, and this not only reduced the noise pollution from outside but made the various events held there seem less of an afterthought.  The Memorabilia zone was mostly concentrated on the left-hand side of the hall and consisted mainly of retailers selling sci-fi collectables and a few guest signings, the queues for which occasionally snaked back through the centre of the hall, whilst large promotional stands for games like Halo 4, Metal Gear Rising, Tomb Raider, Borderlands 2 and X-COM Enemy Unknown jostled for attention in the centre alongside a huge Nintendo Wii-U stand and a similarly imposing BBC Doctor Who stand dominated by a giant Tardis.  The BBC's attendance at the show for the very first time was the biggest sign of how much the Expo's profile has grown, and as well as their 'Doctor Who Experience' stand - where you could learn to walk like a Cyberman and see props from the series - they brought along Expo-exclusive merchandise, a couple of Cybermen and even the Doctor himself!  11th Doctor Matt Smith appeared on the Friday for a promotional Q&A session, which no doubt contributed to the decision to release day tickets for the Friday (previously the Friday was only open to attendees who bought a full weekend pass), but he was just the first of a host of guest stars at the event which ranged from film actors Bill Paxton (Aliens, Titanic) and Billy Boyd (Lord of the Rings) to stars from a host of TV series including Game of Thrones, Continuum, The Walking Dead and Haven and even former WWE wrestler Adam 'The Edge' Copeland and sci-fi author Peter F Hamilton.  The various guests did a combination of presentations, Q&A sessions and autograph signings across the weekend, but there was plenty of other things going on at the Expo too.

Whilst the MCM Expo has always primarily focused on retail, with huge numbers of specialist and collectable retailers on hand to part you with you cash, there is always plenty of stuff to check out, and this one was no exception.  Almost all of the game companies at the Expo had machines set up to allow you to play the latest games for free, often ahead of their official release, and amongst the playable games this time were Halo 4, Metal Gear Rising, Zone of the Enders HD, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Persona 4 Golden, Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 and Zombi-U.  As you can guess from the last one the upcoming Wii-U console was playable at the event, and the large Nintendo stand had several launch titles available to play on the new hardware.  There were also presentations on the various stages given by some of the game companies, and several film companies had rolling trailers of upcoming films on dedicated stands.  Elsewhere there were numerous rhythm action and retro games to play for free in the DDR:UK area, where several gaming tournaments also took place, a

Yu-Gi-Oh! card gaming area, cosplay workshops and even a zeppelin simulator ingeniously made from an old caravan in the steampunk society area!  As usual there was a packed schedule of cosplay meets, photoshoots and dance-offs held outside the ExCel Centre as part of the Expo Fringe, although the bad weather on the Saturday did force many of these into the concourse area inside the centre itself, which did cause a bit of overcrowding.  As has been the case for the last three years the showpiece event at the Expo was the EuroCosplay Championship Finals, which saw competitors from all over Europe converge to battle it out for the EuroCosplay title and a grand prize of a trip to Japan, the event lived up to its billing - have a look at page three for a more in-depth look.

Retailer-wise the usual suspects were all in attendance, with Neon Martian, United Publications, Gundam Nation and Kamika-Z leading the way when it came to figures, model kits and anime merchandise, whilst Otaku UK, MVM, Sheffield Space Centre and The Japan Centre brought imported books and magazines amongst a host of other items.  Genki Gear, Terratag, Team Giblets and Kaos Komix were on hand with clothing, Manga Entertainment, MVM and Kazé had their DVDs for sale - often ahead of release or at special Expo prices - and VIZ Media and numerous other retailers had manga for sale.  However, there was a wider variety of retailers than ever before too, with first time appearances by the BBC Doctor Who shop (their motion-activated Sonic Screwdriver universal remote control was just awesome!) and highstreet second-hand media and electronics retailer CEX amongst the most notable.  The merging of the Memorabilia show introduced numerous independent retailers selling retro toys, sci-fi merchandise and collectibles, and several second-hand game sellers were dotted around too.  There were also a few new interesting anime merchandise retailers, plus the usual smattering of ones selling knock-off, unlicensed or pirated merchandise.  We say it every time, but we wish these were clamped down on more as they damage the legitimate retailers and can't look very good to any Japanese guests that attend.  Elsewhere the number of small press comics and artists in the artists alley appears to have grown even more, and there's a great mix of established and freelance artists selling their works there including Anne Stokes and Jess Bradley.  There are other artists dotted around the hall too, including CG artist Andrew Hickinbottom and the legendary 'tentacle master' himself Toshio Maeda