Welcome to her world.
Akiko Shikata is a bit of a UFO in the Japanese musical landscape. At first she started as a music composer by creating an independent label called Vagrancy
, but quickly picked up to singing, developing a style that draws from Japanese traditional music, Celtic music, Middle-Eastern music, classical music, rock, religious chanting, and whatever the hell she feels like.
And even occasionally in regular Japanese Pop Music
. She also released several purely instrumental tracks and albums that she composed and, often, performs. But what makes her most well known is her contribution to a lot of video game, anime and Visual Novel
musics, most famously Ar tonelico
and Umineko no Naku Koro ni
− and most recently, Yona of the Dawn
. In 2014, she also composed her first soundtrack for an anime, Cross Ange
Another particularity is her voice; or more accurately, her voices
. Not only does she have a remarkable voice range, she can adapt her voice timbre to a variety of moods, and is also known for using multiple parallel voice tracks
, creating one-woman choruses or "dialogues" in the songs. Her lyrics − or those of people who write for her − often revolve around the beauty and power of nature, the celebration of life, and mystical tales.
Her currently released studio albums are:
- Navigatoria (2005) note
- Raka (2006)
- Harmonia (2009)
- Turaida (2013)
Plus numerous instrumental albums, mini-albums and special albums − way too many to list them all here. The very first was the EP Midori no mori de nemuru tori
in 2001, though her pre-Navigatoria
works are mostly instrumental.
Tropes found in Akiko Shikata's music:
- After the End: Replicare is about someone wandering in a destroyed world, condemned to relive eternally the fall of mankind in his mind and be tormented by the cries of despair of the dead. Italian chanting narrates the apocalypse between the verses. It's not a very happy song.
- Album Intro Track: There is usually one in the studio albums, featuring an Ethereal Choir. In Harmonia short sung poems serve as introduction and interludes.
- Con Lang: Occasionally, notably in songs for anime or video games. Most memorably in songs related to Ar tonelico, which are partially sung in Hymmnos. The first and last songs of Turaida are in a vaguely Italian-souding conlang.
- Concept Album:
- The mostly instrumental Istoria ~ Musa, as its title suggests, is themed after the nine classical muses, each giving their names to one of the 9 tracks. And each track adapts its tone to what the muse of its title represents − the most obvious being Thaleia (comedy) which has a wacky instrumentation and funny cartoon-ish noises in the background.
- Harmonia is built around the theme of the Four Element Ensemble: the wind part (track 1 to 4) focuses on the feelings of traveling and flying in the sky; the fire part (5 to 8) has tense songs with heavy electric instrumentations and dark lyrics; the water part (9 to 12) contrasts it with soothing songs and light instrumentations; the earth part (13 to 15) has a "tribal dance" feel to it. Each part is introduced by a short interlude titled "Chouwa ~ something", all four of which form the first verse of Chouwa ~ Harmonia, the penultimate track. Harmonia ~ Mihatenu Chi he brings all this together in a joyful conclusion.
- Contralto of Danger: She sometimes uses a variation of her deep voice in this fashion, for example in Salavec Rhaplanca or Ee wassa sos yehar.
- Dark Reprise: Umineko no naku koro ni ~ Rengoku starts very much like the original VN opening, but after the first chorus it gets more chaotic and epic, with the structure getting more complex and electric guitars kicking in, which adds an apocalyptic touch to it. Also, it's sung entirely in Italian this time around (the lyrics are by Wataru Hano though).
- Early Installment Weirdness: Shikata's voice in her early releases was noticeably more high-pitched, and her first instrumental albums were made with a music box. Her first album Navigatoria also had lighter, more ethereal and more rock-based instrumentations, as well as a few experimental songs (most notably Hollow) that don't quite sound like anything she has done since then. While the bases of her current style were already present (by Midori no Mori… and Haikyou to Rakuen notably), it's her second album Raka that solidified them.
- Ethereal Choir: Used as a peaceful pendant to the Ominous Latin Chanting, sometimes in the same song. She uses this a lot in RAKA, particularly.
- Everything Sounds Sexier in French: She takes a rather sensual and whispery voice in La Corolle (on Navigatoria). Unfortunately, her "French" is thoroughly unintelligible, but her French fans still appreciate the effort.
- Evil Laugh: She pulls off an epic one in Kin'iro no Chōsō (on the Umineko no Naku Koro ni album). It's scary.
- Flowery Elizabethan English: Many of her songs use a few archaic forms for stylistic effect, but some go a bit further.
- The lyrics of "Hollow" in Navigatoria notably use quotes from Sheakspeare. Yep, the only time she sings in English, it's old English.
- In "Hiraite Sanze" in Turaida (a song about flowers, apropriately enough), Wataru Hano wrote the lyrics in classical Japanese. Thus we get "erabite" instead of "erande", "manekite" instead of "maneite", "itowoshi" instead of "itooshii", the imperative form "-ryanse", etc.
- Gratuitous Italian: Or Greek, or German, or Latin, or French, or Turkish, or Tibetan… she isn't picky about the language she sings in; although she seems to have a particular fondness for Italian. However it's not like she's fluent in any of those languages and she still has a heavy Japanese accent, making the lyrics hard to understand even for native speakers…
- Long Title: Her more experimental songs (notably those related to Ar tonelico) often have weird, lengthy names, such as EXEC_over.METHOD_SUBLIMATION./ ~ ee wassa sos yehar.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Haresugita Sora no Shita de ("Under an overly clear sky"), in RAKA, is a song about a priestess and her people about to die from thirst because of a drought, and praying desperately for the rain to come. Not what you would expect when listening to the light-hearted beat and flute (though it does have a sadder note in the chorus and at the end).
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Her music could probably be considered "neoclassical darkwave" or "world fusion", but it's so idiosyncratic and incorporates so many different types of music that those are pretty loose classifications.
- Non-Appearing Title: Frequent, random examples including Haresugita Sora no Shita de, Uzumebi or Ricordando il Passato, among others.
- Ominous Foreign Language Chanting: She absolutely loves this trope, useful for raising the tension in epic songs.
- Recurring Riff:
- The first and third, as well as second and fourth interludes in Harmonia actually use the same melody with a different tempo and tone. The four interludes are fused to form the first verse of the penultimate track.
- There is also a recurring part of the melody between the various Utau Oka songs.
- Self-Backing Vocalist: A trademark of hers, taken to the extreme in Salavec Rhaplanca. However, she uses noticeably less multitracking in her latest album Turaida. It's still there but not quite as prominent as in Harmonia, and remains limited to simple choruses. She didn't use it that much in Navigatoria either.
- Sequel Song:
- Utau Oka ~ Salavec Rhaplanca in Harmonia retains a similar melody and atmophere from Utau Oka ~ EXEC HARVESTASYA in RAKA, but amps the epicness a couple notches. They are both composed by Akira Tsuchiya and both include a good part of Hymmnos lyrics.
- More directly, Inori no Hate no Hitofuri no is the sequel to Haresugita Sora no Shita de. The little sister of the priestess who prayed for rain in the first song goes to a far away country to meet a princess that can make rain fall. They have similar instrumentations and even occupy the same position in their respective albums (10th track of RAKA and Turaida), but the sequel is noticeably more joyful and hopeful in its lyrics.
- Signature Style: Mostly characterized by four things − mix of modern and traditional instruments (hand drums, Japanese flutes, bouzoukis, etc.), alternance between a soft, high voice and a deep, more dramatic voice (often giving the impression that there are two different "characters" in the song), a massive use of multi-tracking, and texts revolving around nature, life, or fantasy stories.
- Singing Voice Dissonance: Can be heard here. Yes, the person speaking and the person singing are the same.
- Shrinking Violet: She's purportedly one in real life. At least her live performances are very few and she's obviously not very comfortable on the stage.
- Woman in White: When the album covers don't feature her posing in a white dress, they often feature a white-dressed female character, with some sort of natural background.