Even COVID-19 can’t stop me from going to conventions.
After Scotland Loves Anime in October, I had the absolute honour of attending MCM Birmingham at the NEC as “industry”. This was my first convention in two years, and I was genuinely excited to go. Going to conventions is one of my favourite things to do as a fan of anime; you meet so many awesome people, learn things about beloved hobbies, and get to join in on so many cool things such as interviews, panels, and workshops.
I have only really gone to conventions before as part of the Anime Society at my old university, so to go to a convention without the stresses of time restraints and ensuring everyone is safe and well… made a nice change. I was able to browse the convention in my own time, for the first time in six years. Already having anxieties about the COVID-19 situation, I didn’t want any other anxieties this time!
There were some changes that I wasn’t used to, even early on in the day, such as the wake-up call. Usually, we would set off from my university at approximately 6:00 AM, about 40 of us on a coach. This time, I was travelling with my boyfriend and had set off a lot later. I also wasn’t in cosplay – this makes it only the second time I’ve gone to an MCM convention, not in cosplay. Arriving into the convention hall was fairly typical, with of course the addition of having to show your COVID-19 passport to enter the venue, and a longer than usual walk to the actual hall where MCM was being held, although we did stop off at the first available loos to fix a wardrobe malfunction (something I didn’t expect to have to do, not being in cosplay!) and also at the Starbucks opposite the hall to grab a well-needed caffeine boost.
I didn’t know what to expect from the convention itself. I wasn’t there for the special guests. As much as I adore Hayden Christensen, there was no way I was paying so much for a photo opportunity and/or autograph! I was there to just have a good time, hopefully picking up some great merchandise. That being said, I was concerned that COVID would have affected how many stalls there were going to be at MCM. A good friend who had visited MCM London a month prior had said that it had been disappointing and that there wasn’t much there. Would this trip to Birmingham be a complete waste?
After a brief pause to recognise the Remembrance Sunday minute of silence (which, by the way, I want to applaud everyone at the convention for doing so – never have I been in a room so big and busy but also one that fell still and silent so quickly), it was time to explore. It was great to see so many stalls. Artist Alley was full of talented people, and as always made me wish I could buy something at everyone’s stall, particularly after the period of hardships we’ve just been through. The Treehouse was consistently busy, and rightly so – it looked fun, what with the Quidditch set up ready to play! – as did Side Quest, the gaming corner of MCM.
The plan for the day was to do a lap of the convention, see what’s what, and then go and grab what we wanted on a second lap, before checking out the panels we wanted to see, etc. However… the convention was bigger than we anticipated. There were so many stalls, browsing through them took forever! We only got halfway around the hall when we decided to stop for some lunch. We hadn’t packed any lunch ourselves (a rookie mistake!), so we decided to go to The Edge – an in-hall restaurant. It was the first time either of us had ordered food from the NEC itself, so we didn’t know what to expect apart from perhaps a small hike in price. The entire thing about our lunch reminded me of lunches during high school. Lunches where you sat in a big dining hall, with lots of chatter, and a pretty depressed-looking burger on your plate. Was it worth the ‘small’ hike in price? No. Reminder to self: bring a packed lunch to cons.
After lunch, we resumed our browsing of the rest of the convention, concluding that it would have been beneficial to come for the entire weekend rather than just Sunday. At this point, it was clear to us that there were perhaps too many people at the convention. The convention had become even busier in the afternoon than it had been in the morning, which is great if you look at the fact that means stallholders would get more custom, but on the other hand… pandemic woes.
The end of the day was drawing near, and with some nice art and some cool figures in our bags, we decided to check out the Pop Asia stage. Being a fan of K-Pop for ten years this year (!), it was so nice to have the music I’ve loved for so long quite centre stage at such a popular event. And it wasn’t just the typically heard sounds of BTS when K-Pop is mentioned in the UK. Groups such as ENHYPHEN, aespa, and NCT were also heard and danced along to. The talent shown by the singers and dancers was applaudable – no way could I get up and dance or sing in front of so many people, not to mention singing for a crowd so big in a language I’m not native in!
Then that was it! That was the end of the convention. We spent the rest of our time at the NEC chilling in the corridor of the convention centre, merely people-watching and admiring cosplays that we hadn’t seen before, whilst we waited for our train back home. Speaking of admirable cosplays, a special shout out has to go to whoever was cosplaying as Senna from League of Legends! That was such an awesome cosplay! (Also, I’ve never seen so many Kakegurui cosplays before?!)
Overall, MCM Birmingham was quite nice! It was definitely a day full of shopping rather than going to panels, but it was definitely a nice day out, and it made a change from other MCM conventions. Despite my concerns about COVID, particularly considering the size of crowds in the afternoon, it was lovely to finally go back to a convention after so long, and I feel so lucky to have been able to go in the first place. (I did get pinged by NHS Track and Trace a few days after the convention, but thankfully tested negative!)
I’ll cover what I got from MCM Birmingham at another time, for I’m currently writing this whilst visiting my parents for Christmas and I don’t have much of the things I bought with me. Keep an eye out for a follow-up post soon!
Have you been to any conventions recently? What have your experiences been like? Let me know in the comments below!