Tuesday, 22 June 2010

[352] MCM Expo Report

Cross-posted from Den of Geek...

I am standing in a crowd of people. Like in an overcrowded train, my hands are firmly rooted in my pockets, and my eyes stare forward. Unlike a typical commute, however, this is due to the makeup of the crowd, consisting mostly of exposed, and underage, flesh, enveloped in the tenuous clothing of cosplay.

"Typical Expo," a voice moans to my rear, ostensibly passing judgement on the chaotic event organisation, since we are all wedged into space, queuing for registration for a world record attempt for the largest Nintendo DS party, but the chap, conveniently dressed as Professor Oak from Pokemon, couldn't have been more on-the-nose. For Expo offers a platform where the atypical is commonplace.

Later, I sit among gleeful DS-heads, scribbling kanji in networked Pictochat and trading farming tips on Harvest Moon, as a pimply white boy struts on stage, singing in Japanese to a pomp rock backing. A video screen plays pseudo-anime featuring his manga-fied alter ego Ben-chan. "Are there any fans of a certain blue hedgehog?" he asks, before launching into twee J-Pop sourced from Sega All-Stars Racing. The crowd goes half-wild.

Professor Oak reappears, plucked out of the audience and unmasked as Tonyo, a prolific 'Expo blogger' (who, by time of writing has uploaded 89 videos to YouTube as part of his coverage). He answers fiendish Pokemon trivia questions in order to win prizes for fellow fans. "Which Pokemon steals other Pokemon for its trainer?" "What was different about Misty's gang when they met up in 'Princess And The Togepi'?" He answers correctly. Guinness representatives cart their special issue clipboards around the stage area, and count each of the 586 gamers, before declaring it a genuine world record. Success.

On the other side of the Excel Centre's airport hangar-sized hall (which, from above, looks like an apocalypse-ready stockpile of plushies, manga, anime DVDs and endless crates of Pocky), the signing tables are rammed. Guests at the event include Battlestar Galactica and Caprica creator Ronald D. Moore, Fringe stars John Noble and Jasika Nicole, and Oliver! actors Mark Lester and Ron Moody.

In his Transformers ice hockey jersey, Kyle Hebert looks odd alongside these famous faces, but he turns up to an interview overwhelmed. The queue for his signing is one of the weekend's longest. And who is this man, generous in demeanour and broad in smile? Why, a voice actor, whose credits include English dubs for top tier anime such as Naruto, Bleach and Dragonball Z.

"When I first got here," he says, "I was relatively anonymous, walking around... and then a few people go, ‘Kyle, excuse me!' and take a picture. And then me, and Yuri [Lowenthal] and Tara [Platt] all do a panel together, and then suddenly... we got all these eyes on us on stage! And we're, like ‘...they know who we are now!'"

This amorphous 'they' is the teeming mass that makes up Expo's 41,000-strong attendance figures. A collection of awe-inspiring fans that seem equally naive and adept, bedecked in homemade costumes and carrying signs offering "FREE HUGS!!", making outsiders feel like they're on the wrong side of 16.

Over in the Comics Village, the Expo's most densely packed area for talent and diversity, punters jostle for sketches and stickers, while on stage, artists battle writers in back-to-back rounds of Pictionary and Taboo. Writers win. Topics and properties of note include: Avatar, Elephantmen, furries, and, of course, cosplay, which is a constant source of conversation. "It's like a strip club with the lights on," says artist Ben Templesmith, referring to a skin-coloured G-string worn by a passing female fan. "She had balls, basically - well, not physically."

A group of Team Fortress 2 characters face down a handful of GDI troops. Daleks, Gundams and Companion Cubes wander the floor, as Aliens and Predators strut between photo opportunities. Steampunk stalls sit next to a lifesize TARDIS, and Japanese drumming booms out, mingling with noise from both a Rock Band competition and a ring hosting live wrestling matches. Outside, a procession of youngsters in militaristic dress march down corridors, in reference to the anime Hetalia: Axis Powers, of course. It's sensory overload. It's far too much for any sane person to take in. It's a typical Expo.

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