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toonzone goes to MCM Expo May 2011: The Cat Came Back

Back in October last year, I made my first convention
pilgrimage to MCM Expo London. Fun was had and I concluded my thoughts by
saying I was keen to go again. Luckily for me, the event is held twice a year.

             

In general, things were setup much the same as when I
attended last year
. The separate ‘villages’ were in the same positions and even
stall placements within were near exact. This wasn’t a bad thing though, as it
allowed me to be more organised in looking around and finding stuff. Exactly
like last year, the first area I was confronted with was the seller tables. I
was able to purchase various goodies here:     

  • A
    basic set of model nippers from Gundam Nation (The same fine folks I
    purchased the markers from last time)
  • Volumes
    21-25 of Fullmetal Alchemist from Viz (5 volumes for £20, woo!)
  • A
    Doctor Who Character Building trading figurine from Forbidden Planet

My spoils seemed fairly humble compared to the groups of
people I saw lugging several bags worth of stuff, from shirts and phone straps
to hefty plastic models. Obviously the majority of stuff on offer here can’t easily
be found otherwise, so it’s a rare chance to snag items you’d never be able to
get here or at best wait a fortnight to a month via post.

Much like last time, there was a clear preference to the
Shonen Jump stable of characters. Bleach especially seemed popular and I passed
a mind boggling amount of cosplayers for it. Not to say that anime and manga
dominated things as I crossed paths with the likes of Deadpool among others.
The majority of cosplayers focussed on the designated area to the back of the
Expo but I stayed away since I was comparatively underdressed.  Another series I noticed a strong fanbase for
was Vampire Knight… I may have walked into the lion’s den on that one.

The Artist Alley was a real step up from last time. I said
last time it had been a case of quality over quantity and whilst the size had
at least doubled, standards hadn’t slipped in the least. Cosplay and fan works
are all well and good but seeing people with drive, talent and original ideas
is a real reason to get involved in these events and the larger community they
highlight. Hopefully I’ll have more to say on this shortly.

After having generally sampled things, it was time for my
true work to begin. For the rest of the day, I would be hopping from panel to
panel.

 Anime Industry Panel


 The first panel of the day for me was the anime one, chaired
by reps for ANN, Kaze/Viz, Manga Entertainment and MVM. 

Things started with a discussion of what the various
companies have been involved with in the last 12 months. The key item was Anime
on Demand. This project, in partnership with ANN, aims to bring various shows
to UK
fans via online simulcast. Users pay for a season pass, though a selection of
episodes are offered as a trial taster. The question was raised as to why fans
should support this as opposed to a service like Crunchyroll which is already
established. The argument presented is that Anime on Demand is much more
involved with shaping and funding the industry, both here and in Japan. The
original creators will be making money from the service, it shows them there is
clear demand here and it allows the licensors to see what shows are worth
releasing on home media and what release strategy to use as such.

 

The other major talking point was the earthquakes and
tsunami which had devastated Japan
earlier this year. Obviously this has had an effect on the industry there which
in turn is felt by overseas licensors. In an ironic twist, we were informed
that the disaster had actually helped overseas fans by destroying two key
factories which were used to produce tape-based masters of the shows for
licensors. This format caused a delay in the transition of both putting shows
on DVD and streaming them online. With the factories now gone, their
replacements are set to use more up to date recording methods. 

Talk of the disaster led into the various charity work the
companies were involved with to help out. Manga has arranged for seleted
Picture House Cinemas to be showing Akira from 2nd-17th July,
with proceeds going to the Japan Society’s Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund.
Andrew Partridge of Kaze also suggested anyone intending to donate in future
donate directly to Japan Society, over concerns other charities taking
donations were not directly using them to aid Japan. 

Discussion was had in regards to single volumes versus
complete sets. The clear answer was that it comes down to the licensor making
back the licensing cost. A complete set may be convenient for fans but makes
back less then spacing the series across a few volumes. If the series is
particularly long, a complete set outright may be sold at a loss to the
licensor. Another stated reason was that due to many UK/European releases being
made as counterparts to the US
ones to save on partial costs, if a US
company has opted for singles then the UK ones must follow suit. 

In regards to Blu-ray, the response was that it was still too
new a format to make enough money on the anime niche. The licensors are keen to
move forward into using it but at the moment the costs of producing the discs
compared to unit sales are sadly not high enough.

When asked for top selling titles, we were informed that the
highest seller of the last 12 months had been the Professor Layton animated
movie. Other top sellers included Bleach and Naruto, the latter of which had
come in at #200 on the Top 200 UK DVDs the previous week. Samurai Champloo was
revealed as a series that sold very well in comparison against the US, with the
license for it having just been renewed for a further seven years. Summer Warswas also said to have sold particularly well. 

 In terms of licenses, the major one was Kaze announcing they
would be releasing Tiger & Bunny. Other titles announced for the year across
the licensors included:

  • Freedom (available as a single Blu-ray and a double DVD)
  • High
    School of the Dead
    (a two DVD/Blu-ray set. The OVA was not currently
    licensed)
  • Kuragahime
  • K-On
  • King
    of Thorn
  • Dance
    of the Vampire Bund
  • Sekirei
  • Phantom:
    Requiem of the Phantom
  • Black
    Butler
  • Ikki
    Tousen Dragon Destiny
    (likely to be retitled Battle Vixens, in keeping
    with the UK
    name for the first series)
  • Blade
    of the Immortal 3 disc complete set
  • Strike
    Witches

These titles are currently set to be released from Autumn
onwards. Panty & Stocking with
Garterbelt
was announced to have not been picked up, but will be considered
next time discussions are held with Kadokawa. Additionally, the Shonen Jump
series (such as Naruto and One Piece) may be picked up for the On
Demand site. 



Introduction to Steampunk 
 
 I’ve been a fan of steampunk design for years now and it’s
easily one of my favourite styles to draw in. The exact specifics of why I
enjoy it so much are something of a mystery, so attending this panel was a good
move. The concept behind it was encouraging interest in the various aspects of
steampunk. Not hard and fast rules but encouraging folks to have fun with it
and add new elements. Topics covered included clothing and cooking, with
everything in between. There was much debate about just why the concept
attracts interest, with the leading theory being it appeals to notions of ‘the
good old days’ and the desire to believe that the best isn’t behind us but in
front of us. 

Sadly, I had to leave a few minutes early to alter my course
in the time vortex from the past to the future…

 



Futurama Panel


 Seemingly the highlight of the day for many and occurred in
a much larger theatre screening room.  All seats were taken and many more opted to
stand where ever space was available. 

After a brief delay, Maurice LaMarche, Billy West, Phil LaMaar
and Lauren Tom took to the stage to banter and answer questions, having
already spent most of the day doing signings. The foursome seemed to be suffering from jet lag (admittedly so in West’s
case) but were on top form as they rotated between straight answers and
treating us to character voices. There were some interesting anecdotes,
including an audible demonstration of how character voices evolved pre-show and
even after a few episodes. The panel was concluded by LaMarche having the
entire audience sing Happy Birthday to one of the Pinky and the Brain writers
over his phone. Our security in the mouse’s new world order was assured. The
cast also offered praise to the fans for helping to bring the show back after
having been cancelled.

  

The Thrill Electric Panel


 This occurred right after the Futurama panel and sadly the
difference in attendance was quite noticeable. The vast majority of people
piled out of the theatre, leaving a comparative handful of us staying for this. 

The Thrill Electric is a motion comic being produced by
Channel 4, set in an alternate Victorian Manchester in which an internet
analogue has been produced and the audience is shown the cultural effect this
has on the cast. The main staff of the production were on hand to provide a
preview and answer questions. I think the fact that this is a brand new work
still in production in addition to the general lack of interest in motion
comics is unfortunately the reason the event didn’t attract more attention. The
staff themselves were clearly passionate, explaining the various research they’d
done into the historical era and how the project was designed with hopes of
taking advantage of the opportunities web comics offer, doing stuff that isn’t
possible in printed media. 

The preview trailer mainly consisted of elements which have
been completed thus far, comparing original pencil sketches to the finished
pages they would become. 

Based on everything shown thus far, I think this might
actually be pretty interesting. The fact that issues will be available for free
also doesn’t hurt. Here’s hoping the series catches on and if it returns for
successive Expos that it’ll get more attention from the public.

   

Koei Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 Q&A


 This was the last event I attended and to be honest it was a
wee bit underwhelming. Billed as half an hour, it ran closer to 15 minutes. A
Koei rep talked the audience through a play through of the game whilst taking
questions. Maybe it just shows what an obsessive I am but I already knew most
of the answers provided, though there was an interesting question or two about
fine tuning the combat system and if it was just a game pitched to keep Gundam fans quiet. Additionally, assurances that European fans will be getting the
various DLC for the game including new units and pilots. Either way the game
looked great and it’s nice to see Koei actively promoting it in the UK.
Plus it’s reassuring to see with my own eyes that I’m not the only fan on these
shores. Now, the only insane one….

  

With five panels under my belt, I opted to take one final
look around and then head home. I made a few final purchases, including some of
the infamous snack that is Pocky, and started on the various train hops home. 

 
 

I think in general, my opinion on things remains much the
same as last time. Away from the computer we all have our circles of friends we
hang out with and generally share interests with. But for a sense of scale it’s
worth attending a convention like this because it just puts things in
perspective. It’s kind of like that old saying about a death and a statistic.
Sure you can be told that something is popular or that the latest release sold
X number of units. But it’s not until you see a mass fraction of those people
with your own eyes that it truly sinks in. It’s the kind of fun you can’t get
by simply going to a forum or a local hangout and it’s something that I
encourage. Get out there and meet fellow fans, even get to meet the folks who
make the stuff you enjoy. Gatherings like these are held because fans have such
passion and want to share it. So go for it.

 

Grant White wishes to
thank David Axbey of the MCM Group for his time and assistance.

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