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
. 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 is known for using multiple parallel voice tracks
, creating one-woman choruses that reinforce the immersion. 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)
- 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 Midori no mori de nemuru tori
Tropes found in Akiko Shikata's music:
- 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 in songs for anime or video games. Most memorably in the Utau Oka songs (related to Ar tonelico), partially sung in Hymnos.
- Concept Album: Harmonia is built around the theme of the Four Element Ensemble: the wind part (track 1 to 4) focuses on the feelings of travelling 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) seems to focus more on hand percussions. 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.
- 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 album Petits fours sounded like something out of 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, it's her second album Raka that solidified them.
- The End of the World as We Know It: 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. It's not a very happy song.
- Ethereal Choir: Used as a peaceful pendant to the Ominous Latin Chanting, sometimes in the same song.
- 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: The lyrics of "Hollow" in Navigatoria notably use quotes from Sheakspeare. Yep, the only time she sings in English, it's old English.
- Gratuitous Italian: Or Greek, or German, or Latin, or French, or Turkish… she isn't picky about the language she sings in; although she seems to have a particular fondness for Italian (she uses only Japanese and Italian in Turaida). 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…
- 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.
- 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 nearly as prominent as in Harmonia.
- Sequel Song: There are several Utau Oka songs, starting with EXEC HARVESTASYA (in Raka), followed by Harmonics FRELIA (in Ar tonelico II's OST) and Salavec rhaplanca (in Harmonia), which is pretty much a long Dark Reprise of the second one. They are all composed by Akira Tsuchiya and include a good part of Hymmnos 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-pitched 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.
- 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.