Ghibli Reflections ~ Part II: The 1990s

With the 1980s over, and Studio Ghibli having established itself as a force to be reckoned with in Japanese animation, the 1990s would find them reaching even greater heights, releasing seven films in ten years!

This is part two of a four part series.

Only Yesterday

Only Yesterday (1991)

The 1990s begin with Isao Takahata’s second Ghibli film. While Miyazaki has opted for tales of fantasy to this point, Takahata stays in the realm of human drama with this introspective film about a woman moving to the next stage of her life with a new career, but the changes bring back all kinds of memories from her childhood. This is the film that Disney refused to release when they held the license for it, which was for quite a few years. Fan theories ranged from the ‘no edits allowed’ policy of the license which forbade Disney from cutting a certain “sensitive” scene which they presumably didn’t want to include in a North American release to simply not knowing how to market an animated film where children were not the target audience. Kids would be bored out of their minds watching this film, because it wasn’t meant for them. Only Yesterday is a film for adults who can relate to the changes in life from one phase to the next. Thankfully, once GKIDS got the license for it, North American audiences were finally treated to this wonderfully told slice of life story.

Porco Rosso

Porco Rosso (1992)

In this high flying adventure, we are introduced to another of Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite topics: aviation. This is another fun film in a historical setting, and did I mention that the main character is literally part pig? There’s a reason for it, and it brings a little bit of fantasy into the story, but Porco Rosso is more of an adventure than anything else. It also has one of my favorite Ghibli characters in the form of Fio, a seventeen year old girl who just happens to be an ace engineer. It is with her expertise that Porco Rosso can fly the way he does. If you’re looking for another fun film in the Ghibli canon, it’s hard to beat Porco Rosso.

Ocean Waves

Ocean Waves (1993)

The first Ghibli film not directed by Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata is this made for television film. Don’t let the fact that it was made for TV deter you; the production values are every bit as high as Ghibli’s theatrical works. There is one area where this film differs from those that preceded it (and which would follow, for that matter): the scale of the story. When one thinks of Ghibli, grand fantasy epics come to mind. Ocean Waves is as far removed from this image as you can get; it’s a high school drama. Again, don’t that that deter you. This may be a much smaller scale film, but the Ghibli magic is still there, and their approach to filmmaking shines through in this film which helped to expand their repertoire beyond grand cinematic experiences. If you enjoy good character dramas, this is a hidden gem in the Ghibli catalog you can’t pass by.

Pom Poko

Pom Poko (1994)

Isao Takahata’s third film for Ghibli is a change in pace… for him. Pom Poko is an environmentalist allegory told through a story about tanuki. It sounds more like something Hayao Miyazaki would have done, and one could argue that Takahata beat Miyazaki to the punch when it comes to making a film with a major environmentalist statement, as it shares thematic similarities to the film Miyazaki would complete some three years later. But I digress, and there will be more to say about the other film shortly! Pom Poko is a film about the environment, but Takahata remainins true to form, focusing on the tanuki tribe first and foremost, and how they are affected by the situation around them. Most anime fans are quick to recognize the impact of Hayao Miyazaki’s environmentalist magnum opus, but Pom Poko makes a statement every bit as forceful and is also well worth a look!

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

The first theatrical Ghibli film not directed by Miyazaki or Takahata is one of my favorites from the studio. Whisper of the Heart is a slice of life story about a girl named Shizuku who likes to write, but loses her inspiration and tries to find it again. Shizuku’s story actually mirrors Kiki’s in Kiki’s Delivery Service in some ways, which is probably why she became another of my favorite Ghibli leads. Not a lot “happens” in Whisper of the Heart, but it is a story about a girl going through her daily life just trying to recapture the things that are important to her. It’s another of the rare Ghibli films that isn’t based in fantasy, but the presentation is still nothing short of excellent. If you enjoy slower paced stories and character drama, this is a Ghibli film you can’t miss.

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke needs no introduction. Most people with even a passing knowledge of Japanese animation are familiar with it in one way or another. An intense and dark environmentalist allegory, Princess Mononoke is an expertly crafted story with a clear message, and Miyazaki’s direction is confident and unforgiving. In some ways, Hayao Miyazaki has refined and doubled down on the themes he explored thirteen years earlier in Nausicaä. What strikes me the most each time I watch Princess Mononoke is just how much San commands the screen with an intense presence whenever she appears. A princess of the forest, raised by wolves, San is almost feral, with no apologies for her actions. It’s only after she meets Ashitaka that she begins to question her hatred of humans, wondering if perhaps there are some who are not evil. Also not to be overshadowed is the role of the film’s soundtrack. Joe Hisaishi is as integral to Studio Ghibli as Miyazaki or Takahata, and his score for Princess Mononoke gives the visuals even more gravity with its expressive and majestic themes. This film is surely the introduction to Ghibli for many people, and hopefully some will explore beyond it to discover just how diverse the studio’s work is.

My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)

The 1990s end as they began for Ghibli, with a film by Isao Takahata. With three films within these ten years, it would be his most prolific period as a director for the studio. Not content to follow the common path, this time he brings an anthology of sketch comedy with an experimental animation style. My Neighbors the Yamadas is a collection of vignettes about a typical middle-class Japanese family, and all of the ordeals they experience in their day to day life. Each story is marked by a poem describing its theme. One thing that doesn’t change for Takahata is his focus on the human element of the story. The film may be a collection of mostly comedic scenes from daily life, but running underneath is a sentimentality which pulls it all together, with family bonds being the most important element of the film. There is no other film like My Neighbors the Yamadas in the Ghibli catalog.

So ends another decade. The 1990s were a time of impressive growth for Ghibli, showing the scope of what they were capable of, along with setting a new high-water mark for anime as a whole. But they weren’t done yet; not even close! Next time, the turn of the century brings even more innovation and changes, and the 2000s get off to a grand start, with no signs of slowing down.

Ghibli Reflections ~ Part I: The 1980s

I recently had an inspiration for a new blog post, so it’s time to dust off the keyboard again and get writing! A couple of weeks ago, I watched one of my favorite Ghibli films again, and it got me thinking “If I was forced to decide, how would I rank all the Ghibli films from most favorite to least favorite?”. I then decided this was an impossible task, so I abandoned that idea. But I still liked the idea of writing about Ghibli films.

In another dimension, I reviewed a bunch of them, but I wanted to do something a little different this time. Ranking them was out, but there are still twenty-three films I want to talk about. This is going to take more than just one post! I finally came up with a plan to tackle this gargantuan task: I will go through each and every Ghibli film chronologically, with brief comments for each one. I figured the best way to break up something this lengthy was to do it by decade, with no concerns about ranking them. A journey through the years of Studio Ghibli with a little bit about each film and my thoughts on them. So gather ’round with your kodama and sootball companions, and over the next few weeks I’ll share my condensed thoughts on each and every Ghibli film. I hope you enjoy it.

This is part one of a four part series.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Strictly speaking, Nausicaä is not a Ghibli film. It was produced by Topcraft, an animation studio whose roots can be traced back to the cel-animated Rankin Bass Christmas specials of the 1970s, believe it or not! That bit of trivia aside, this is of course the film which laid the foundation for what would become Studio Ghibli soon afterwards. A dark environmentalist allegory by Hayao Miyazaki, it is certainly a foreshadowing of what was to come. Much of what would come to define Studio Ghibli (or Hayao Miyazaki, at least) can be found in Nausicaä: an independent young girl protagonist, environmental themes, and a world of fantasy. Not every Ghibli film would have all of these elements, but they would become common in many of the studio’s works. In all, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind sits comfortably next to its successors, having since been retroactively accepted into the Ghibli canon of work.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

The first formal Ghibli film gets the studio off to a great start with Hayao Miyazaki’s fast-paced fantasy adventure. I have only seen Castle in the Sky a few times so far, but the last time I watched it, I had forgotten just how much fun of a film it is. It’s also a film which several future Ghibli films would reference in later years. One of the suits worn by one of the characters would be found again on The Baron in Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns. There’s also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in one of the villages with a little girl in the street who bears a striking resemblance to human Ponyo. But back to Castle in the Sky itself, it’s a great adventure with a bit of an Indiana Jones or Lupin III vibe to it, the latter of which wouldn’t be surprising at all, since Miyazaki did do The Castle of Cagliostro in his pre-Ghibli career.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Enter Isao Takahata, co-founder of Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki. The studio had only gotten started, but right away, Takahata showed that he was going to forge a different path with his works. Grave of the Fireflies is a human drama of brutal realism telling the story of an orphaned brother and sister in the aftermath of the atomic bomb being dropped on Japan in World War II. It is by far the darkest film in Ghibli’s catalogue, yet there is also a glimpse of hope seen through the children’s eyes, despite their harrowing situation. Grave of the Fireflies is an excellent film, but is not the kind of film one watches for entertainment value. The emotional impact is so profound that some may never wish to watch it more than once. It is an anti-war film of the highest caliber.

My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Wherein Studio Ghibli creates an icon. Literally. Totoro, of course, is the lovable giant creature who graces the familiar blue Studio Ghibli title card which precedes each of their films. One of the studio’s most popular films, My Neighbor Totoro is Hayao Miyazaki’s tale of childhood wonder, guaranteed to put a smile on your face and improve any day. The importance of Joe Hisaishi’s music to Miyazaki’s films also rises another level with this film, and it contains one of my favorite pieces of his: “The Path of Wind”. Curiously, the promotional poster as seen above was created before the film was finished, as the girl in it does not appear in the film. She was the original character Miyazaki had in mind, until he split her into sisters Satsuki and Mei for the final draft. Another curiosity is that Totoro‘s theatrical debut in Japan was as part of a double feature with Grave of the Fireflies. There was no set sequence for the films, however, so some audiences got Totoro first, and others got it second. They should have made it a fixed sequence, since watching Totoro as a followup to the somber Grave of the Fireflies gives much needed relief, and a happy feeling when leaving the theater. To-toro Totoro!

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

I know I’m not ranking the Ghibli films in this series of posts, but I have to give a nod to Kiki’s Delivery Service, as it holds the distinction of being my favorite Ghibli film. It’s a close margin though, as Spirited Away held that title for quite a while until a number of years ago, when Kiki overtook it. I also think of Kiki’s Delivery Service as the perfect place to start for anyone new to Ghibli. The story is neither too dramatic nor too light, and Kiki is a character you can’t help but root for. She is charming as she learns to make her way in the world. Kiki is a prime example of a Ghibli lead, as a girl who relies primarily on herself as she goes on her journey, literally and figuratively. And of course, you can’t go wrong with Jiji, Kiki’s wisecracking cat.

And that brings the 1980s to a close. In just five short years, Studio Ghibli was born and quickly made a name for itself with the talents of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, along with all of their talented staff, and one giant Totoro. In the next post, it’s a trip through the 1990s, when one of the most noteworthy films ever to emerge from Japan would be created. Stay tuned…

Fur-ever Conflicted

Let’s get one thing out of the way before I even begin: I am not a furry. Anthro characters aren’t my “thing”. Or perhaps more accurately, the fandom that has sprung up around such characters. It’s not my scene. But I am an anime fan, so by default that makes my tastes questionable to the mainstream anyway, and I’m not here to pass judgement. I am a fan of many fictional characters. Most are human (or humanoid, at least), some are animals (who doesn’t like Ein from Cowboy Bebop?), and ne’er the twain shall meet.

Or so I thought.

Actually, before I get to the inspiration for this post, I need to go back probably fifteen years to a little show called InuYasha. You may have heard of it. One of my favorite characters in this show is a fox demon called Shippo. He was a mischievous little guy, always good for some comic relief, and sort of a mascot for the main group. And he had both human and fox features. So I suppose that was the first sign that I could get behind a hybrid character like that. Actually, I don’t remember if I was even aware of the whole “furry” thing back then to begin with. Ignorance is bliss, so they say. I liked Shippo and thought nothing else of it.

That brings me to now, and the reason for this post. I have been perfectly content to let anthropomorphic characters exist, and not have any particular feelings about them one way or the other. But leave it to Studio TRIGGER to have me questioning my whole position on them with the series BNA (Brand New Animal), which quickly became one of my favorite works of theirs. I’m sure plenty of folks gave the series a hard pass after seeing the promo art, dismissing it as some creepy furry show. (While another faction was surely immediately drawn to it for the same anthropomorphic characters.) I just wanted to see it because it was Studio TRIGGER, and from the same director as Little Witch Academia.

BNA is actually a well-constructed series with some good writing and characters, and it works on a couple of different levels, with a depth I wasn’t expecting, but was most welcome. There are socially relevant themes which are given weight and explored, though some potential is lost with the short series length of only twelve episodes. BNA is definitely not “some weird furry show”. The choice of anthropomorphic characters was a very deliberate one by TRIGGER to tell the story they wanted to tell.

Michiru Kagemori (BNA)

Long story short, the lead in BNA has become one of my favorite characters. Her name is Michiru Kagemori, and she’s a tanuki girl. Not only is she a well-written character, but she’s also cute. I rooted for her in BNA the same way I did Akko in Little Witch Academia. She had a mission and I wanted to see her succeed. And I like Michiru without any qualifiers. No “Oh she’s a good character… for an anthro” excuses. I just like her. Enough that I wish there was a figure of her that I could add to my shelf. (I’ve had my Shippo plushie for years and years now, after all.)

So there it is. One of my newest favorite characters is a girl who is also a tanuki. And I’m totally okay with it because she’s just that awesome.

The Tetris Effect

First, an apology in advance for the title of this post. It’s not about the actual “Tetris Effect”, where people find themselves subconsciously fitting things from daily life into order as one does with Tetriminos. Nor is it about the game Tetris Effect, though that game is what inspired me to write this post. Well, it is about the game a little bit, I suppose.

I’ve been playing video games for a long time. Longer than many of the PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One generation has even been on this planet. Tetris was the first video game I ever owned, when I got my Nintendo GameBoy, and I quickly took to it and enjoyed the challenge of fitting those blocks together, and I got pretty decent at it. I never became a Tetris “expert”, but I certainly wasn’t a rookie anymore, either. That simple game led to a lifelong video game hobby, which continues to this day.

Fast forward thirty years or so. Out of nowhere, the puzzle game bug bit me again, and I realized that I didn’t have any puzzle games for my PS4, which has been my system of choice lately. So, I recently discovered the game Tetris Effect and promptly added it to my collection. All of those Tetris memories came flooding back, and I took to the game again as if the many years since I’ve last played it with any regularity hadn’t passed at all. The game itself is a fantastic new iteration worthy of the Tetris name. The gameplay remains virtually the same as the original version, outside of a few new features. After all, it’s hard to improve upon perfection. Tetris Effect is a sensory immersion of music and color, synchronized to your actual gameplay. The word ‘synesthesia’ is often used in reviews of the game, and it’s easy to see why. The presentation is mesmerizing and hypnotic, and it seems odd for a puzzle game, but you actually go through emotional shifts while playing because of it. It sounds crazy, but that’s how the game is. Tetris with the feels. Who knew?

Not your 8-bit Tetris

And somehow, all of that preface is still not the point of my rambling here. As I mentioned, I am no Tetris rookie. As much as I love the game Tetris Effect, it has one strike against it: the difficulty is too high. Tetris Effect has what’s called a “Journey” mode, which is basically several multi-phase stages of increasing difficulty. No big deal, and something to be expected of a video game based on player skill. The problem is that the difficulty of the “Beginner” level of Journey mode is set too high. Now, I don’t expect to be able to just walk through a game even at its lowest difficulty setting, and I do want a challenge, but a few stages in the Beginner level are enough to make me and my moderate Tetris skill want to rage quit. This includes the final stage needed to clear the Journey mode of the game. Of course I expect a challenge, but the difficulty is unforgiving for a beginner. I’m sure the idea is to give a sense of accomplishment once the level is completed, but in my case it’s just a sense of wanting to get past it so I never have to deal with it again. I haven’t completed the final stage on Beginner level yet, but who knows… if I keep at it in other modes for a while to brush up my skills a bit more, maybe I’ll be able to. Thankfully, Tetris Effect also has “Classic” modes recreating the original Tetris gameplay experience, which lets me enjoy the game as I did back in the early 1990s.

Better still is the “Quick Play” option, offered as one of the “Relaxing” play modes. Here I can choose any of the stages I unlocked on the Journey, which for me is all but the final one (plus one of the secret ones I discovered how to unlock), set a constant falling speed as fast – or as slow – as I want, and decide how many lines I need to clear the stage. All without a game over. If the field fills up, it just clears and I keep going until I meet the line goal. Truly relaxing Tetris, and the perfect mode for me. It makes up for nearly all of the frustrations I have with Journey mode.

And that is what dawned on me as I was working my way through the Beginner level of Journey in Tetris Effect. My reason for playing video games has changed since the early 1990s when I took my GameBoy out of the box and plugged Tetris in for the first time. I now play video games as a form of escape. I don’t want extreme difficulty. I want something fun to play for a while, with enough challenge to make me think about what I’m playing. I want to play interactive stories with interesting characters and puzzles to solve, but I don’t want to have to worry about a “Game Over” waiting for me the instant I make a tiny mistake. I want to enjoy being in a different world for an hour or two when I sit down to play a video game. That may be one reason I’ve started gravitating towards puzzle platformers – the descendants of games like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, both of which I still have yet to complete! They tend not to be difficult in the traditional sense, instead relying on problem solving skills to progress through the game. It also helps that most of them are based around a certain style and theme, and are presented almost more as works of art than games.

There is a fair stack of third-person adventure video games waiting for me in my collection, and a couple of “Metroidvanias”, too. If normal difficulty proves to be too frustrating early on whenever I finally start them, I have a feeling I’ll be switching to the easiest difficulty setting and restarting them, if it’s an option. If I can change the difficulty setting mid-game without having to restart, even better. I want to enjoy the stories, rather than be risking a Game Over at every turn. The same would apply for games of other genres too, I expect. The exception being (J)RPGs, probably. Usually I can crack the code for those and figure out how to exploit their leveling systems to my advantage.

My enjoyment of video games hasn’t gone anywhere, but Tetris Effect somehow made me realize that what I want from them has changed. That’s something I definitely wasn’t expecting.

2020 Playlist Year in Review

2020 has been a year to forget. It even has drained much of my motivation for coming up with blog posts. Hopefully I can turn that around a bit in 2021. But the music still went on! Did a year like no other change my listening habits at all? Let’s find out…

It’s time once again to check out my yearly totals from A large part of my listening is shuffle play as I sit at my computer, but starting in 2016, offline albums are included. About the only things not included in these tallies are streaming internet radio and whatever I listen to in the car. Enough explanation; on to the numbers!

And because I can, I’m expanding to Top 20 this year. Why not?

Top 20 played artists, based on individual song play counts

  1. Genesis (311)
  2. Pet Shop Boys (311)
  3. Anthony Phillips (267)
  4. Porcupine Tree (256)
  5. Steven Wilson (214)
  6. Steve Hackett (153)
  7. Joe Hisaishi (141)
  8. Yes (135)
  9. Pink Floyd (115)
  10. Shinkichi Mitsumune (108)
  11. J.A. Seazer (107)
  12. Peter Gabriel (102)
  13. Yasunori Mitsuda (95)
  14. Nine Inch Nails (90)
  15. Nobuo Uematsu (88)
  16. Renaissance (87)
  17. BABYMETAL (85)
  18. “Weird Al” Yankovic (78)
  19. Takayuki Negishi (78)
  20. TORIENA (78)

Top 20 played-from albums*, based on individual song play counts

  1. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (67)
  2. Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (42)
  3. Anthony Phillips – Field Day (33)
  4. Kou Otani – Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Operation 1 Soundtrack (32)
  5. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things Original Soundtrack (32)
  6. Michiru Oshima – Little Witch Academia Original Sound Track Archive (32)
  7. Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (31)
  8. Hiromi Mizutani – Non Non Biyori Soundtrack (30)
  9. Joe Hisaishi – Princess Mononoke Soundtrack (28)
  10. Kensuke Ushio – Boogiepop and Others Soundtrack (28)
  11. Roger Waters – The Wall Live 2010-2013 (27)
  12. J.A. Seazer – Revolutionary Girl Utena OST 11: I, Revolution Pharsalia <transformation> (26)
  13. Yasunori Mitsuda – Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack (26)
  15. Porcupine Tree – In Absentia (25)
  16. Akira Takemoto – Serial Experiments Lain Bootleg Soundtrack (24)
  17. The Chipmunks with David Seville – Christmas With The Chipmunks (24)
  18. Michiru Yamane – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Soundtrack (24)
  19. Yasunori Mitsuda – Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht Soundtrack (24)
  20. Masashi Hamauzu – Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack (24)

*this is not the same as most-played albums! For this list, every time a song plays is a “vote” for the album it is from, whether in shuffle mode of my entire playlist or listening to the album all the way through, with each play of a song counting once. Or to put it another way, it’s easier for an album with fifteen short tracks to climb this chart than one with five long ones, for example.

There is no top songs list because there is too large of a sample size of individual songs for such a list to have any real meaning. My shuffle playlist is designed to avoid overplaying any particular song, so I have many songs with the same number of play counts over any particular time span. If you’re really interested in these numbers though, see my library.

Also, you can compare this list to 2018 or 2019. Summaries for years prior to that are on my now-closed tumblr, though I have them archived locally for posterity.

It’s (Back)log!

Despite the relative lack of activity on this blog recently, my anime hobby hasn’t gone anywhere. If anything, it’s found a bit of a resurgence these past few months, being stuck at home most of the time now thanks to the global pandemic. With cabin fever eventually came the desire to add a new stack of titles to my already robust backlog.

But how much is there sitting on my anime shelf waiting for me to watch? I finally decided to find out. So here is a list of everything sitting on my anime shelf that I haven’t watched yet. Some I’ve had for literally years, and others I recently ordered and am still waiting for them to arrive. This list does not include my streaming watchlists. Since I don’t “own” those shows, they’re not part of my actual collection. I’m old school and still prefer buying discs whenever possible.

My current anime backlog as of this posting:

  • Beyond the Boundary
  • Beyond the Boundary -I’LL BE HERE- Past
  • Beyond the Boundary -I’LL BE HERE- Future
  • Brave Witches
  • Captain Earth
  • A Certain Scientific Railgun S
  • The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
  • The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan
  • Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers
  • Evangelion 1.11: you are (not) alone.
  • Evangelion 2.22: you can (not) advance.
  • Evangelion 3.33: you can (not) redo.
  • The Familiar of Zero (Seasons 1-4 & OVA)
  • Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight!
  • The Garden of Words
  • Gundam Build Fighters: Battlogue
  • Gundam Build Fighters: GM’s Counterattack
  • Gundam Build Fighters Try: Island Wars
  • Hidamari Sketch x Special
  • Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb
  • IDOLM@STER Xenoglossia
  • In This Corner of the World
  • InuYasha The Movie 4: Fire on the Mystic Island
  • Kase-san and Morning Glories
  • Lucky Star (TV & OVA)
  • Made in Abyss
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya
  • Metropolis
  • Momo, The Girl God of Death
  • Nobunaga the Fool
  • Nyoron! Churuya-san
  • Paprika
  • Rental Magica
  • Revue Starlight
  • Sailor Moon Crystal
  • A Silent Voice
  • Space Patrol Luluco
  • Steamboy
  • Strike Witches The Movie
  • Strike Witches 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!
  • Tokyo Godfathers

…yeah, that’s a lot of anime. I don’t think I missed anything, except maybe a spinoff or two that might be included as an extra, but I tried to count all those, too. I think I’ll have plenty of new things to watch for the next few years.

By the way, if you feel compelled to chime in on any of these titles waiting for me, I welcome your thoughts, but please… absolutely no spoilers!