London MCM Expo Convention Reportby Andrew Osmond, Jun 1st 2011
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There are some obvious signs when it's Expo weekend in London. It's when you don't feel surprised to see a group of people dressed as Final Fantasy characters walking through Waterloo station on Saturday morning. It's when you can expect to share the carriage of your underground train with Professor Layton, a Na'Vi and a unicorn; although it's also when you can expect large (well, larger) parts of London public transport to be shut down for engineering works or the wrong kind of mice. This weekend was no exception, though at least the Light Railway between Canning Town and ExCel was operating. (Your correspondent came from Waterloo via Canning Town and had no problems on any of the three days, although it was clear from other commuting Expo-goers that not everyone was so lucky.)
Now in its tenth year, the MCM Expo isn't renowned for experimenting with formulas, and both it and the fans supplied what was expected. As usual, the front of the airport-hangar building and the main concourse was a bustle of characters of all shapes and species, from Sega hedgehogs to Pocky boxes, plus a charitable chap subverting an Expo tradition by carrying a sign advertising “Free Breast Massage.” (If any readers took him up, we'd love to know.)
As usual, half the fan was spotting the looks of confusion from the safely outnumbered “Not-We” or ordinary people as they found themselves walking beside Zombie Spider-Man or a Giger Alien. This time, Expo overlapped with Eular 2001, aka the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology, which was being held a few doors down at the ExCel, although the security guards at the barrier weren't even offering flyers. (Spoilsports!) Maybe it included a talk on “The Medical Consequences of Too Many Free Hugs.”
An aside on the subject of “Not-we”… According to a report in the Daily Star tabloid, talent scouts from the TV show Big Brother would be “mixing with the geeks (sic), to find “a new off-the-wall character” for the show. In fairness, let's not hold the Big Brother team responsible for an article by a red-top newspaper hack. But did anyone actually see the Big Brother scouts around? If so, please write in…
The Expo interior was the usual marketplace: fox tails and kpop albums, bullet belts and Death Notes, Haruhi uniforms and Gundam kits, Jedi bathrobes and contact lenses (“Get Bigger Cute Eyes! The Dolly Harajuku Look”). On Friday morning, the hall rang to lusty cries of “Yaoi! Yuri! Pretty pretty boys!” from the hall's naughtier corner, though they'd quietened down a bit by the weekend. Maybe the Breast Massage guy had paid a visit.
Meanwhile, the large posters hanging from the ceiling handily directed you towards the major stalls. Several of the anime labels were clustered together in a hub comprising the Manga Entertainment stall, the Kaze stall, Viz Media and the Anime on Demand display, all a hop and skip from MVM and Beez. Most of the other usual suspects were present and correct, from Forbidden Planet to Sweatdrop Studios, though it's a pity Optimum sat out the event, given its upcoming release of Ghibli's Arrietty.
The event followed the usual pattern; quiet on Friday, heaving on Saturday, in-between on Sunday. I found it impossible to judge whether the overall attendance was up or down, although an acquaintance at one stall said takings were down on the previous event. Of course, it's theoretically possible that some of the attendees didn't bother to go into the Expo hall at all, but just hung out in the concourse, photographing each other and dodging the marauding Apes (from Planet of the Apes) and huggers. Unfortunately the weather was variable, with clouds and tepid temperatures, though a “Fringe” stage on the green in front of the Expo helped the carnival atmosphere along.
The first semi-anime related event was on Saturday morning, when moe singer and dancer Beckii Cruel, known in real life as Rebecca Flint from the Isle of Man, made her convention debut on the Cosplay stage to answer questions and dance dances (four in total). Now in the middle of her GCSE exams, Flint came across as a level-headed, grounded lady (“I can't understand it either!” she said of her viral success), even when jumping around to the Danjo dance. She thought that living on a small island helped in dealing with the stress of her early fame, and that one of her proudest moments was finding her song CD in the Shibuya branch of HMV. One of the few things she was displeased with was last year's BBC doc about her (“Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14”), which she said was deeply misleading.
The Anime Industry panel followed at Saturday noon on the Comic/Anime stage, and is reported elsewhere. Later that afternoon, I took in the Euro Cosplay Qualifier contest in a packed and noisy MCM Theatre. (It was theoretically scheduled to start at 4.15, but the first contestants came on stage at 5.) Standouts included a heavily muscled Bane from Batman, the eyeless monster from Pan's Labyrinth and a visit from Lady Gaga. The best cosplay prize in the “Expert” section went to a Chise cosplayer from She, The Ultimate Weapon, complete with city-destroying weapons growing from her back.
But the deserving qualifier, who will return in the Eurocosplay Championship final in the October London Expo, was won by a retro-entry; a remarkably “real” looking, buzzard-like Skerksi from the 1982 Jim Henson fantasy, The Dark Crystal. The costume took eight months to make.
On a relatively quiet Sunday, I took in panels on X-Men and the Victorian Steampunk Society (the latter gave a name-check to Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy), and saw voice-actors Ben Diskin and Brian Beacock chatting about their profession. Diskin recently voiced the title alien tearaway in Stitch!, the Mad House anime version of Disney's Lilo and Stitch!, and was persuaded to sing a few lines of Whitney Houston in Stitch!-speak. He also delivered a speech in character as Sai from Naruto. “People assume that I'm British, but that's just because I pronounce things correctly. Other people assume that I'm a GPS navigation system, and I say to them, turn right and go jump off a cliff…”
My last experiences of the festival included a glimpse of Sesame Street's Cookie Monster in the Sunday Masquerade, leading the audience in a chorus of “C is for Cookie.” On the way out, I also caught pop violinist Masa Futagami energetically belting out songs from the outdoor fringe stage. And so the nineteenth Expo was over… though the programme promises a double-sized twentieth edition in October. The plan is to stage the Memorabilia Collector's Fair (which is held regularly at Birmingham) at the ExCel centre on the same dates as Expo number twenty. Will it go together like fish and chips, or like yaoi and a Westboro Baptist? Find out this winter, on October 28th to 30th...
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