My Favorite Things with Nicole Taft

They might not be raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but that doesn’t mean that we love them any less. Welcome back to My Favorite Things, the weekly column where we grab someone in speculative circles to gab about the greatest in geek. This week, we sit down with author, bookseller, and Speculative Chic contributor Nicole Taft! What does Nicole love? Spoiler alert: anime that may not be anime, time-traveling cartoons, collectibles — no, toys — no, collectibles, and finally getting to game. Read on for more!

I’ve been meaning to write about RWBY for some time now, but held back until I could binge-watch the fourth season. While not as epic as the third season (how could it, given what transpired?), RWBY in itself is a fun series that shows a lot of promise given how it began and what it’s quickly become. What started off as a bare-bones sort of project in which background people were mere black shadows has become one of Rooster Teeth’s gems, now supported with a full animation team and taking places like Japan by storm. I don’t doubt its late creator, Monty Oum, would be brimming with pride.

RWBY follows the lives of various students of Beacon Academy (primarily Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang) as they train to become hunters and huntresses that kill Grimm — creatures that live only to destroy. But bigger things are going on in the world of Remnant than anyone thought, and the shit seriously hit the fan during the third season when a favorite character was killed off. Even I was super upset, and I can only claim to be a casual fan of the show.

The third season introduced several new characters and the plot has thickened even more as viewers discovered there is much to be done and more to be learned. I’ve been having a good time with the series, and though there is dispute out there by some over whether it’s an anime or not, it certainly carries that same style and feel. I enjoy each character’s weapon design, outfit, and personality. Fights are often sweeping and epic, and I really liked the creature design for the Nuckelavee (extra points to whomever dug that mythological creature out of the back room). I look forward to where this story goes, and if you’re on the fence out checking it out, just keep in mind: episodes are short (the first season’s longest doesn’t even hit 13 minutes), and they’re all free to watch on YouTube.

When it comes to TV, people often say to me, “Nicole, you have to watch this show — you’d love it.” So said one of my co-workers with total conviction about Rick & Morty. When I got the chance to finally watch both seasons, I realized — he was right. And I mean really right. Because afterward I promptly went out and bought both on DVD so I could watch them again whenever I wanted.

Years back when I first saw the trailer I thought, “Is this supposed to be a weird ripoff of Doc and Marty from Back to the Future?” Turns out…sort of? At one point, yes, it was going to be something like that, only to end up taking a bizarre turn into what we have now, which is a drunk (most of the time?), belching, occasional alien-drug-using grandpa named Rick who likes to drag his poor grandson Morty on adventures that usually end up involving a lot of awful things. This is a cartoon that was made for adults, and folks like me who loved Ren & Stimpy and South Park can easily get behind it.

All the genius-science stuff that Rick pulls out of his ass (not literally — not yet anyway) is pretty fun, and it’s clear the writers like to play with the theory of parallel universes, infinite realities, miniature galaxies, portal jumping, and a whole slew of other things that can have some very surprising consequences. For example, in “Rick Potion #9,” you keep waiting for the problem to be solved. Except it isn’t. Instead, Rick & Morty sort of cheat and escape into a different reality entirely. Even better, the writers return to this element later. There’s a lot of stuff happening in multiple realities, and they’re actually keeping track of everything, and I wholeheartedly applaud them for all their efforts.

The show can also get surprisingly poignant at times, such as Rick’s loss of Unity, an alien entity that he was intimate with, as well as the finale of season 2. In fact, my favorite episode is, like so many others, “Meeseeks & Destroy” — but not because of Mr. Meeseeks. Rather, I love it for the single moment in which Rick re-opens a portal and kills a creature that attempted to assault Morty earlier. That single act sets it up very clearly for the audience: Rick may put Morty into some really crap situations, but ultimately no one messes with Morty.

It may not be the sort of cartoon for everyone, but the variety of people and creatures in the animation, the wacky science, and the smart writing make it great. I laughed a lot, and given how amazing the third season has been so far, I am very much looking forward to getting my hands on the DVDs.

I’m not a collector of Funko Pop figures, but somehow they’ve managed to find their way into my life all the same. It began with Vegeta, a gift from some friends, and then I cracked and bought Jareth of Labyrinth fame (to my dismay, the end-of-the-movie white outfit Jareth was a Hot Topic exclusive and no longer available).

Not long ago, Funko released a Lord of the Rings series of Pops, from invisible Frodo to dirt-streaked Gandalf. This time, however, they also released a larger Pop: the Balrog.

He’s cool. I mean, really cool. He’s sizable like Smaug, dark on the outside, orange-glowy on the inside. They even made sure to include his fiery whip, and his mouth is open in a kind of mid-roar look. At my workplace we only had 4 in. They were gone the next day, so we ordered a few more. Then a few more. I finally cranked the number up to 11 to make sure we would get a decent chunk of them without being too greedy — the warehouses were empty the next day.

Luckily ours came in, and I just kept staring at it. I don’t know why I wanted this particular Pop so badly, but I finally cracked and bought him. I don’t feel bad about it at all. No buyer’s remorse here! Maybe it’s because one of the first full-length books I was read when I was a kid was The Hobbit, and once we were finished, my dad told me a story about a creature named a Balrog and an old wizard who fought each other until they fell down a hole. I asked what happened to them, but he simply told me, “You’ll have to read the book.” Every handful of years I’d try to ambush him and ask, “Hey dad, so whatever happened to that wizard and the Balrog?” The answer was always the same, “Read the book.”

Eventually I did, and I finally learned the fate of the Balrog and that old wizard, whose name I discovered was Gandalf. I don’t know if you can still buy the Balrog Pop anywhere else, but I’m glad to have rescued mine from the depths where he’ll be a cherished reminder of fantasy and my childhood for years to come.


Nearing the end of my journey (Image by Nicole Taft)

I don’t have a Playstation.

But my sister does. Even better, after watching someone on YouTube play Journey and showing her, she bought it. Fast forward several years and finally I’ve been able to play the game I’ve loved from afar for so long.

Journey is, first a foremost, a beautiful game. I could wax poetic about the sand alone for hours. It’s just gorgeous. It changes throughout the game, but it’s always stunning. At times it’s a soft pink like beaches that don’t exist. It sparkles like gold dust in the setting sun. Underground it takes on a luminous green hue, or glimmers like billions of minuscule sapphires. I absolutely love it.

The game itself is very simple and very fun to play. There is no major antagonist. No weaponry. The only “bad” creatures you encounter are machines leftover from a war long ago. There are still slivers to the story that I don’t fully understand, but that’s okay. I’m willing to let those questions vanish into the symbol-filled ether of the mountain that your character is trying to reach. Because that’s really all this game is about — a journey. Just as the title declares.

Paired together with this, dare I say almost perfect game, is Austin Wintory’s soundtrack, which is a moving combination of mystical, hopeful, playful, and ultimately beautiful in every way. I’ve been listening to it for years before ever picking up the controller to actually play the game.

If you have a Playstation (3 or 4), you can pick up this game along with two others thatgamecompany made exclusively for the Playstation, Flower and Flow. It will only take a few hours to complete and is well worth the trip. If not, then do yourself a favor and get the soundtrack. Either way, you won’t regret it.

Nicole Taft writes fantasy, science fiction, and enjoys tossing in a bit of romance. She has a Bachelors in English and accidental minor in Japanese from Illinois State University, and a Master of Arts from Seton Hill University. When she’s not wreaking havoc on the page, she goes hiking and camping whenever possible, entertains her wild dachshund (who has a brain the size of walnut — without the shell), eats chocolate, and dreams of moving back to Colorado.

You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.


  • Kelly McCarty September 14, 2017 at 1:53 am

    I love Rick and Morty for many of the same reasons, which makes me say, “Dang,” because I want to use it in my own favorite things. The Balrog is awesome.

    • Shara White September 14, 2017 at 6:31 am

      There’s no claiming here! You can add Rick and Morty to your list!


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