The MCM Expo has gone from strength to strength since its launch.  The last event - in London's ExCel Centre last October - pulled in several thousand attendees, making it by far the biggest event in the anime calendar.  The sheer number of people caused a logistical nightmare in London, but undeterred the Expo is branching out.

Abandoning its usual home in the London Docklands, the inaugural MCM Midlands Expo ignored the obvious venue of the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre for the quieter Telford International Centre.  Although the venue was smaller it was still easy to get to from Birmingham, and so, after dragging ourselves out of the house at the unearthly hour of 5.45am, we joined the groups of anime fans travelling from far and wide for the first major event of the 2007 calendar.

As mentioned in our previous features, the MCM Expo is not an exclusively anime and manga event.  However, that hasn't stopped UK anime and manga fans seizing it for their own!  The MCM Midlands Expo may have been a lower key event than its London sibling, but anime fans were still out in force.  The queues for early 'fast track' entry were shorter than we expected though.  In London the queues stretched almost the entire length of the ExCel Centre, here they were a couple of hundred strong if that.  On the plus side this meant that the inevitable opening delays were short, and it soon became clear that the Midlands Expo was not going to be too much like the London one.

The most obvious difference was that it was smaller.  As well as the venue and room being smaller, there were less guests (4 actors appeared for signings), less retailers, less companies and only a single screening area.  There were no panel discussions or presentations, which pretty much dashed any hopes of any license announcements, and only a handful of anime screenings.  The event was only a day long and was clearly intended to test the waters.  The focus was very much on retail and there were some notable absentees - for anime fans the absence of distributor Beez and toy retailer Mech-A were particularly disappointing.  However, there was still plenty there to make it worth the entrance price.

The other anime companies were all present and correct, ADV Films, Manga Entertainment and MVM seemed to be doing good business too.  ADV were attracting particular interest because of their cheap manga and DVD bundles, as well as their prize draw which gave you the opportunity to win an Neon Genesis Evangelion jacket!  Designer Terratag had joined the Manga stand and was selling plenty of Ghost in the Shell merchandise, whilst the likes of Tokyopop, Genki Gear and Sheffield Space Centre were attracting interest too.  However, it was toy retailer TokyoToys that was doing the best business, with their stall quickly becoming one of the main focal points of the event. 

Although it was quiet at first, the Expo quickly filled up by early afternoon as curious shoppers and casual fans swelled the ranks.  The fact that people could just buy tickets on the door has always been one advantage the Expo has over the dedicated anime conventions, and hundreds of people browsed the stalls and tried their hand in the gaming areas throughout the day.  Other than the buying side there was quite a lot else to check out too.  As well as the aforementioned guests, who included Warwick Davies and Chris Barrie, you could try your hand at several trading card games, watch a live robot wars battle, dance like a fool at the DDR:UK area or even try your

hand at new console games like Naruto Ultimate Ninja and Final Fantasy XII.  ADV, MVM and Manga screened several episodes of new anime and UK artist collective Sweatdrop ran an art competition in their 'manga alley', where tables and drawing equipment was laid on for anyone who fancied having a go!

The only real problem was that because of the Expo's relatively small size and the lack of presentations and discussions in the main screening area, you did see everything pretty quickly.  Although DDR:UK, Sweatdrop and TokyoToys kept drawing in the punters throughout, you did get the impression that people were just hanging around to see the Cosplay Masquerade.  Such thoughts were confirmed after the Masquerade, when most of the people left despite there being two hours until the Expo ended.  Also, despite the number of people, some retailers didn't seem to be doing as well as they do in London.  However, there was plenty to do for a few hours, and there was great fun to be had chatting to other fans and cosplay-spotting.  We got a decent pack of freebies on the way in which included an anime DVD and some trading cards and stickers, and did much anime purchasing inside.  Admittedly there was one stall that was selling anime goods of dubious origin and quality (and for vastly inflated prices), but for the most part the retailers were completely above board and the prices weren't bad.  It's great to get the opportunity to talk to reps from the likes of Tokyopop and ADV too.  As always though, one of the best things was the cosplayers...