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Akiko shikata singing

Akiko Shikata singing at her LAYLANIA concert

Akiko Shikata (志方あきこ, Shikata Akiko) is a singer-songwriter and composer known for writing for games and anime. Her best known contributions so far are the songs she has composed, arranged, written and sung for the Universe of EXA_PICO, Shadow Hearts: From the New World, Umineko: When They Cry, Cross Ange, and the anime adaptations of Tales of Symphonia and Yona of Dawn.

The main characteristics of Shikata's music are its ethnic feel, its genre-defying style and its complex choral arrangements.[1] A single Shikata song may have approximately 200 separate vocal tracks recorded for it.[2]

Biography[]

Early Years[]

Shikata was born in Tokyo on January 7th, in an unknown year.[3] She had an interest in music since an early age, as she frequently used to sing with her mother and also make up on the fly small ditties whenever she wanted anything.[4]

The first songs she was interested in were ones she learnt from the NHK's Minna no Uta program, chiefly a Japanese version of the Chinese folk song The Grassland Love Song ((草原情歌, sougen jouka?) in Japanese, (在那遥远的地方, Zai Na Yaoyuan De Difang?) in Chinese). She also complemented this with learning to play classical piano music.

Establishing Vagrancy[]

In 2001, she established the doujin music circle Vagrancy, which still handles the release of many of her personal albums to this day. All the music was initially intended to be purely instrumental, but she decided to also add her voice to her creations due to feeling dissastisfied with them.

Later that year, she released her first EP, Midori no Mori de Nemuru Tori through her website. Although still a bit rough around the edges, this album set the foundations for what would be her main style: multiple choral tracks and instrumental lines, a folkish, yet hard-to-describe sound, and the usage of languages other than Japanese for the lyrics of the songs, the ones in Midori featuring lyrics in Italian taken from notorious Italian poets across a variety of eras, including the relatively recent Ada Negri.

During the next few years, she continued producing music: she produced and released the first of her music box albums Petit Fours, and the next year she released the limited-press albums Kurenai and horizon blue, all of which contained melodies that would be later on adapted into vocal songs or utilized in the first game she composed for: the Hacca*Works BL visual novel Hanakisou. All of the previous albums were instrumental, excepting for the first and second songs in Kurenai.

The aforementioned Hanakisou and its soundtracks were released on 2003, which also included her first incursion in voice acting by doing an image reading of the game's setting in a bonus track, and on the same year she produced and released her first full-length album Haikyo to Rakuen -Ruins and Heaven-, which was received with great acclaim by the indie music scene, managing to stay at the top of the indie download music site Muzie for two straight years.

In 2004, she held her first live concert, which was also done to promote the release of her upcoming first commercial album Navigatoria. Unlike her previous offerings, Navigatoria was more of an experimental album in which Shikata attempted new genres for her music, such as the darkwave metal song Hollow or the jazzy La Corolle, while still retaining some of her characteristic touch in songs like Makeda -Queen of Sheba- or the new arrangement for the Hanakisou main theme. Navigatoria was also her first release under the Hats Unlimited label, which also led her to work on other game soundtracks such as Shadow Hearts: From the New World, in which she collaborated with composer Yoshitaka Hirota.

First Works for EXA_PICO[]

However, on 2004, prior to the release of Navigatoria, the series' creator and director Akira Tsuchiya had been introduced to Shikata's music by one of his friends, and upon listening to her work, Tsuchiya was shocked at the quality of her music and started wondering if there was a way to ask her to work with them. He immediately started looking for information on her, and upon finding the Vagrancy website, he ordered one of her discs. One thing led to another and Tsuchiya ultimately found himself talking to Shikata, who agreed to collaborate with him on his nascent project: the Ar tonelico series.

As for Shikata herself, she was fascinated by the fantasy-esque outlook the world of Sol Ciel had and from the fact that lost technologies were present on it as well. The work on the project turned out to be of mutual benefit to both parts, as Shikata could showcase her talents as a musician and singer to a huger audience while Tsuchiya managed to find the inspiration to solidify the world setting for Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia from the images the songs in Haikyo to Rakuen transmitted to him.

Humorously, Tsuchiya was initially reluctant to ask Shikata to utilize the Hymmnos language in her songs, telling her it wasn't necessary to use it much if she found it difficult, but Shikata just replied to him a few days later by saying she was okay with making songs entirely in Hymmnos. It was thus that Shikata became instrumental in the construction of the world of Ar Ciel, the creation of the Hymmnos Language and its variants and proto-languages, and in defining the musical style for the series. Additionally, Shikata was given the role of singing the opening theme Singing Hill -Harmonics EOLIA-, as well as composing, arranging and singing the Songs for Misha Arsellec Lune, singing the insert theme Voices of Joined Lives whose motif permeates the whole soundtrack, and singing the ending theme EXEC_PHANTASMAGORIA/. alongside fellow singers Haruka Shimotsuki and Noriko Mitose.

This work and artistic relationship continued even after the game was completed and released, as Tsuchiya requested Shikata to sing an expanded rearrangement of the Ar tonelico opening theme, now rechristened Singing Hill -EXEC_HARVESTASYA/.- and whose lyrics told a legend handed down in Sol Ciel. Shikata was enthusiastic about it, and also included it as part of her second major album RAKA, released on 2006. This album also was major success: it was her first album to reach the top 40, managing to earn rank #34 in the Oricon charts.

The Metafalica Years[]

On 2007, she worked once again with Tsuchiya and his team for the creation and release of the second Ar tonelico game: Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica. This time around, she helped with the development of the new Hymmnos dialect called the New Testament of Pastalie, and was in charge of composing, arranging, writing and singing the Songs for Cloche Leythal Pastalia, Infel and Nenesha, as well as once again singing the game's opening theme Singing Hill - Harmonics FRELIA - and singing the ending theme EXEC_with.METHOD_METAFALICA/. alongside Haruka Shimotsuki.

On the same year 2007, she also became involved with the When They Cry series, and she made and sang the opening theme to the kinetic novel When They Cry: Umineko. An EP containing a rearrangement of it and some other songs from the novel was released on 2008, which was her first top 30 release. Around that time, she also supervised the creation and release of an Ar tonelico-based music box album titled Kara*Cola -Hymmnos Orgel Collection-, which would play several of the songs she sang in Ar tonelico and Ar tonelico II as if they were being played by the music box that powered the Tower of Ar tonelico: the Orgel of Origins. She also made an expanded arrangement of the short jingle Song Magic: Pepen from Ar tonelico II, which became the song titled Pepen's Song.

And to top off a busy year, she collaborated with several other musicians such as the famous Kenji Ito in the creation of an album that served as a tribute to the Greek Muses: Istoria ~Musa~, which also served as a bit of foreshadowing for her eventual Greek mythology album Istoria ~Kalliope~. She also participated in the creation of the Hanakisou orchestral concert and the recording of its corresponding album during this year.

On 2009, she released under Avex her third major album Harmonia, which contained a new rearrangement of the Umineko: When They Cry opening theme, the full-size version of the song Amnesia she made as her first theme song for a movie, the flick being titled Kowai Doyou Hyou no Sho. It contained as well an expanded rearrangement of the Ar tonelico II opening theme, this time renamed Singing Hill -salavec rhaplanca.-, which told another line from the Rhaplanca myths that were told in Ar tonelico II's setting of Metafalss. Harmonia exceeded the success of its predecessor and broke into the top 20 of the Oricon charts.

On the same year, she was called to sing Katayoku no Tori, the opening theme to the Umineko: When They Cry anime adaptation, which was later on released as her first single, it being as well the first release she had under the Frontier Works label. It was during this year that she also started participating in the The Epic of Zektbach series, her first song for it being Turii -Panta rheii- Turii and the People of the Stars.

A Planet-scale Send-off for Ar Ciel[]

Still, during that same year she was called once again by Tsuchiya to participate in the third and final game in the Ar tonelico trilogy: Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel, which saw release on 2010. In addition to composing, arranging, writing and singing for the character Saki, and to singing the opening theme Singing Hill -Harmonics TILIA- as it was customary now, she also sang for Ciela, and surprisingly, she also had another incursion in voice acting by voicing Ciela herself. She also sang the ending theme for the game's grand finale: Ec Tisia.

Unfortunately though, she was unable to participate in the creation and recording of the music and voice samples used for the RAH System due to unknown reasons, so she had to leave Saki's samples in the hands of Haruka Shimotsuki and newcomer-to-the-series Rekka Katakiri.

However, this didn't stop her from working further on the series: on 2010, she released in consecutive months the Nijiiro Crayon orgel arrangement album, which contained rearrangements of several of her songs from Ar tonelico III, and also the mythology compilation album Singing Hill -Ar=Ciel Ar=Dor-. The Singing Hill album in fact was her own idea, who Tsuchiya was all too happy to accept in order to keep expanding the series' setting.

Prior to them though, Shikata also released her second single, which also turned out to be the second song she had made for an anime: it was the ending theme to the second set of Tales of Symphonia OVAs, Inori no Kanata, which also included as its introductory track the song used to close off these OVAs: TETHE'ALLA -Opposing Children-, and Akakakushi, the opening theme for Hacca*Works' newest visual novel Akaya Akashiya Ayakashino. It was during that year that she held her third live concert Pantalea as well.

That December also saw release of the final episode for Umineko: When They Cry, so she also released an EP that had the same title as it: Byakumu no Mayu ~Ricordando il Passato~ on April 2011, which also doubled as a disc with a forest motif and that also featured two of the songs she sang in the Pantalea concert. Her next release was a small music box arrangement album titled Lirica, which contained arrangements for songs from multiple periods of her musical career, one of the being for The Forest of Shelanoir. She also participated in the anime Itsuka Tenma no Kurousagi as the singer, composer and arranger for one of its ending themes, Utsusemi, which saw release in her third single of the same title. This same single also contained Lost Children, which was the theme song she made for the movie Messiah. It was during this year that she held her fourth live concert Laylania, which featured a new arrangement for Sorriso, a sneak-peek to the titular song of her future EP Laylania and as of-yet unreleased song titled Chi vuol la zingarella, which prior to it had been performed only in her Navigatoria concert.

On that December, she released one of her most notorious independent albums under her personal Vagrancy seal: Istoria ~Kalliope~, which continuining on the precedent established by Istoria ~Musa~, was an album based on Greek mythology and which featured songs telling myths centered around the eldest of the Muses, Calliope, with the myths in question being the ones about the Pierides, a section of the Argonauts' voyage, the whole saga of Orpheus and Eurydice, and finally, the death of Achilles. Her participation on this edition of the Comic Market (Comiket 81) was also notable for being her last in-person appearance in a doujin event. She also sang the theme song Kokugen no Rondo for the PlayStation Portable game Chronostacia, which would have a full version released in her future album Turaida.

Return to EXA_PICO[]

Her first release for 2012 was a compilation of music box arrangements for the songs in Istoria ~Kalliope~, but later that year it was confirmed that she was involved with Gust's newest project: on April, Ciel nosurge: Ushinawareta Hoshi e Sasagu Uta was released, with her being one of the main composers and singers behind its soundtrack, as well as being the sound director for the whole project. In this case, she provided the singing voice for the heroine Ionasal.kkll.Preciel and served as the composer for the first of the two songs sung by Kanoyeel.kkll.Preciel, and on June she released another EP that explored the concept of a world that lay under eternal night and in which a music troupe had all sorts of adventures, Laylania, which also featured the full vocal version of Ra Ciel, the chapter ending theme for Ciel nosurge, which had only been heard in an instrumental version in the game proper at that point and whose vocal parts would be unveiled little by little as the chapters were released. It also included the final ending theme for the Tales of Symphonia anime adaptation Kaze wa Harukana Ashita wo Shiru, and the ending theme Toumei Nostalgia she made for the anime OVA Kono Danshi, Uchuujin to Tatakaemasu ~Bokura no Sekai no Mamorigata~.

It was also during this year that she allowed the founding of an official fan club for her called the Laylania Club, in which members would obtain a membership card, an autographed birthday card priority reservation on the then-upcoming 2013 Laylania Concert tickets, fan club events that consisted mostly of a tea party and exclusive USTREAM content, and access to other kinds of exclusive content, which included a special shop that sold member-exclusive versions of her upcoming Turaida album and the DVD for the 2013 Laylania Concert. This arrangement lasted for a year until the club was finally closed and dissolved.

On 2013, she together with Haruka Shimotsuki and Noriko Mitose made new songs to accompany the release of the Kurt Hymneth ~The Songs that Conversed with the Gods~ Ar tonelico Hymmnos Concert Complete Box set, as well as also working on the full-length arrangement of the songs from the chapters of Ciel nosurge that had been released up to June of that year. She also held a small concert in commemoration of the release of the Ciel nosurge Original Soundtrack -Sound and World Reception Record Sec.1- and Ciel nosurge Genometric Concert Vol. 1 -Pact Songs- albums, which was followed by a skit in which she acted the role of a woman from the Chimon and in which she shared the spotlight with a mascot character called U-kun in a defictionalized version of the MHK program [Genom Time] in which they took and answered questions from the event attendees, as well as explaining some of the game's concepts and in some humorous outtakes in which U-kun repeatedly tried and failed at getting a First Harmonics with Shikata. As for the concert proper, she sang a medley of the songs Flower of Dusk, ImitationRED and Dwelling of Illusions to which she gave lyrics during it.

Shikata then followed up with two instrumental albums in the coming months: Laylania Another Storys [moon*birds] and Haguruma-kan no Elde, the first of which was composed on its entirety by former Gust composer Ken Nakagawa. She also held another Laylania-themed concert that year, which was also the first one to be recorded and released as a DVD, making it the only concert of hers to have been preserved to date. On that October, she released her long-awaited fourth album Turaida, which contained the full version to the first ending theme for the final Tales of Symphonia OVA Hikarifuru Basho de ~Promesse~, the sequel to one of her RAKA songs, and Utena~utena, the main theme song for the second Messiah movie. The special edition also included the original short versions for many songs, as well as also including Ibitsu, the ending theme for the second-to-last Tales of Symphonia OVA.

She also confirmed her participation in the then-upcoming Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star, and while she didn't get to reprise her role in Ciel nosurge as sound director and main composer, she still reprised her role in singing the opening and True Ending themes, as well as reprising her role as the singing voice for both Ion and Horus. The game was released on January 2014 alongside its soundtrack and Genometric Concerts, bringing EXA_PICO's story to a conclusion for the time being once again. On that same year, she was tasked with her first labor as an anime composer by making the music for Cross Ange Rondo of Angel and Dragon.

Further Works[]

On 2015 she was tasked with singing the main theme for the period drama Hana Moyu, in which she teamed up once again with Kenji Kawai after they had worked together for the Ar nosurge final battle theme Ra Ciel Reincarnation. On April, she released the single Akatsuki, which contained the titular song she had made as the ending theme for the anime Yona of Dawn, as well as a full-size version of Ibitsu, which also turned out to be her final release under the Frontier Works seal. On September, she released the independent album Wokashi, which was the first in a series of Japanese folklore-themed albums, which also followed up by an instrumental album called Ato no Matsuri.

On 2016, Shikata decided to try her hand at something different and came up with a steampunk setting in which humans built singing automatons, for which she also developed a new script and constructed language. The album produced from this was christened caTra, after one of the automatons that appear in the setting's story, and it and its special accompanying disc rosTa were released on April. But aside of this, this year was kind of empty in amount of releases, the only other noteworthy being Haiiro no Sora, the theme song for the PlayStation Vita game Haikyuu no Psychedelica.

2017 saw an increase in her creative output, with her collaborating with TOMOSUKE in a song for the game REFLEC BEAT Yuukyu no Rifflesia+VOLZZA titled Catastrophic Dance / the wandering bard, the opening theme Kakureoni for the anime series Aooni, and participating in the music for CHUNITHM ALL JUSTICE and TOUKEN RANBU -ONLINE-. Still, this year was pretty modest as well, with the final release for it being the music box arrangement album Kazashigusa.

2018 started for her with the release of her second Japanese-themed album Ayashi, as well as its accompanying mini-album Yume no Ato. She then released an instrumental album based on Ayashi titled Yoimatsuri that August. She also participated in the choir for the LAST HOPE soundtrack. It was during this year that Shikata also started her Pixiv FANBOX account as a way to document the production and release of her sequel project to caTra, which while initially being a limited time affair, it was repurposed a couple of years later.

On 2019, she released the aforementioned sequel project: it was an album titled noAno, which was also sold in a special set that included a booklet that explained further about that world's story. Said release also included an extra music CD titled noAno ~Chiisana Shiawase~, and just two weeks later, she also released a music box arrangement album for Surge Concerto titled OtonoAkari ~Surge Concerto musicbox arrange tracks.~, so far the only one for the series. She also worked on Tsukiyo no Ongakukai, the opening theme for the Nippon-Ichi game The Liar Princess and the Blind Princess, which would be released in an EP for the game on 2021.

However, the end of the previous year's winter was particularly bad for her due to the fact she caught norovirus and influenza, and suffered from a bad fall that caused her to get her ankle sprained and right knee bruised. Her family members also had a hard time due to her father being hospitalized and undergoing surgery for reasons unknown, and her mother having to get hospitalized right after her father had gotten discharged. These events led to her being unable to hold an event that was slated for promoting noAno, which had to be postponed from September 2019 to February 2020.

Similarly, the situation with the Coronavirus Pandemic that started on 2020 left her unable to hold an event and concert she had planned for that year for promoting noAno+Historia, which while initially postponed from April 2020 to July 2020, it was ultimately cancelled between the Pandemic and the fact the rest of that year she was busy working in other projects. Similarly, she had no new output during it, as the only releases linked to her were a tribute album for beatmania IIDX and a music compilation album for Touken Ranbu -Online-.

However, one of these projects ended up giving fruit: as mentioned previously, she repurposed her Pixiv FANBOX account late in 2020 into an outlet for creative efforts beyond music, and now she uses it to write an original novel titled Haifuru Sekai she also composes music for, and whose plot direction and development are up to the readers' choices. Her patrons also have access to content like yon-koma mangas about her daily life, special books included in the editions of her albums released through her official shop, audio downloads, and monthly giveaways.

On 2021, she made a new song for EXA_PICO for the first time in a while, which was humorously previewed through a phone call in the livestream Tsuchiya and other staff members were holding to show the items accompanying the Agent Pack versions of the Surge Concerto DX remasters, the song in question being ih=fao-i iyon-du;, and she also made a piano arrangement for it and a new arrangement for Flower of Dusk for the special Gust Shop CD Memoria. She also worked on the release of her newest EP Tsukiyo no Ongakukai, which saw release on April, and also worked on the opening theme for the newest Nippon-Ichi game The Evil King and the Great Hero.

However, this year also had its share of difficulties due to her feeing unwell during the EP's production, making her go and undergo the coronavirus test, which returned negative. And as she started feeling better and willing to go back to work, one of her family members became a close contact and caused her whole family to be forced to undergo quarantine. The family member's test was negative as well and the quaratine ended with no further incidents, allowing her to concentrate on finalizing the EP. However, this caused her considerable anxiety and stress, and was so swamped in work with her new project that she couldn't honestly feel happiness about Tsukiyo no Ongakukai's release.

However, the fans' positive reception of the EP greatly lifted her morale, and she is expected to continue working both on her musical career and her personal projects as time goes on.

EXA_PICO Credits[]

Discography[]

  • Midori no Mori de Nemuru Tori (2001)
  • Haikyō to Rakuen (2002)
  • Petit Fours (2002)
  • horizon blue (2003)
  • Kurenawi (2003)
  • VIRIDIAN (2004)
  • Navigatoria (2005)
  • Navigatoria Extra CD ~Senkai wo Michibiku Hoshi~ (2005)
  • Wisteria (2005)
  • RAKA (2006)
  • Kalliope ~Piano Concert~ (2007)
  • Kalliope ~Piano Concert~ Piano Featuring Arrange Mini Album (2007)
  • HanaKiSou Symphonic Orchestra (2007)
  • Istoria~Musa~ (2007)
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni (2008)
  • Kara*Cola ~ Hymmnos Orgel Collection (2008)
  • Harmonia (2009)
  • Harmonia ~Akiko Shikata Concert 2009~ Extra CD(2009)
  • Katayoku no Tori (2009)
  • Fluff ~Orgel Arrange~ (2009)
  • Inori no Kanata (2010)
  • Inori no Kanata Orgel Album (2010)
  • Nijiiro Crayon ~Orgel Arrange~ (2010)
  • Utau Oka ~Ar=Ciel Ar=Dor~ (2010)
  • Pantalea ~Akiko Shikata Concert 2010~ Extra CD (2010)
  • Byakumu no Mayu ~Ricordando il passato~ (2011)
  • Lirica ~Orgel Arrange~ (2011)
  • Utsusemi (2011)
  • Istoria ~Kalliope~ (2011)
  • Istoria ~Kalliope~ Orgel Collection (2012)
  • LAYLANIA (2012)
  • Laylania Resident Bulletin (2012)
  • Laylania Another Story [moon*birds] (2012)
  • Hagurumakan no Elude (2013)
  • Turaida (2013)
  • Sorso (2014)
  • Akatsuki (2015)
  • Wokashi (2015)
  • Seiran (2015)
  • Ato no Matsuri (2015)
  • caTra (2016)
  • rosTa (2016)
  • Kazashigusa (2017)
  • Ayashi (2018)
  • Yoimatsuri (2018)
  • noAno (2019)
  • otonoAkari ~Surge Concerto musicbox arrange tracks.~ (2019)
  • Anemone (2019)
  • noAno+Historia (2020)
  • Interactive Drama CD "May My Feelings Reach You" (2021)
  • Memoria (2021)
  • Tsukiyo no Ongakukai (2021)

References[]

  1. Vagrancy - Official Website of Akiko Shikata's doujin circle
  2. Archived Copy of Akiko Shikata's biography from her official website.
  3. Vagrancy Newsletter dated late 2002.
  4. Interview in Commemoration of the Harmonia album's release.
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