Ar tonelico Hymmnos Concert Side Blue ~Hoshiyomi~ is one of two vocal albums that accompany the Ar tonelico ~The Girl Who Sings at the End of the World~ Original Soundtrack. Barring a few instrumental themes, the majority of this album features vocal compositions by the Gust Sound Team and Akiko Shikata. How does this album complement the original soundtrack for an engaging in-game experience? More importantly, is it any good on a stand-alone level?
Although the original soundtrack features many instrumental themes by the Gust Sound Team, there are still a few featured on this album. "Legend of Ar Tonelico ~ Mir's Birth," composed by Ken Nakagawa is a rather interesting piece. Featuring a portion of a recurring Ar tonelico theme, it has a very futuristic tone to it, combined with more organic elements, such as the piano. Throughout the theme, you'll hear vocal excerpts, both vocaloid and human. There is very little melody, so to speak. Although the theme serves as an opener, it's very hard to appreciate if you aren't a fan of music featuring vocaloid or human spoken word. The other Ken Nakagawa theme, "Dancing Girl," is the Ken Nakagawa that I know and love. Although it starts out ominous with some crashing percussion, it evolves into a playful theme with a variety of instruments. I love the woodwind accents and melodies, as well as the stringed melodies and the electric guitar that comes out of nowhere near the theme's completion. Overall, it's a wonderful theme with a great atmosphere and energy. Lastly, "Memories of the Breeze," composed by Takashige Inagaki and arranged by Ken Nakagawa, is a poignant theme that touches upon playfulness. The woodblock percussion and the music box melody combine quite nicely to create a suitably childish atmosphere.
The rest of the album features vocal compositions, some by the Gust Sound Team and others by Akiko Shikata. These themes are featured in-game as well, at a variety of times. "Singing Hills ~Harmonics EOLIA~," composed and arranged by Akira Tsuchiya, is a very well crafted theme. The strings, exotic percussion, and nature sounds subtly blend in the background while Akiko Shikata's powerful vocals, at times layered, help bring the melody to life. "York of Love," composed and arranged by Daisuke Achiwa, Gust Sound Team's resident rocker, is behind the composition of this theme. Although Akiko Shikata is featured on this album prominently, this theme is sung by Yuko Ishibashi. If you were expecting rock along the lines of his battle themes, I suggest heading in the other direction. This theme is an exquisitely crafted theme. The vocal layering adds an ethereal beauty to the entire atmosphere of the piece and it blends marvelously with the lead vocals. As for the instrumentation, there is some bass guitar, some harp, violin, with a very touching solo, and percussion. It's not intrusive at all and it serves as a calming accompaniment to the vocals. The other song sung by Yuko Ishibashi is "Song of the Breeze," composed and arranged by Takashige Inagaki. Unlike the theme composed by Daisuke Achiwa, this theme has a much more simplistic and rustic atmosphere to it. Mandolin and lute gracefully play the melody, while, at times, strings are used as an accompaniment. Yuko Ishibashi's vocals really match well with the theme; however, I find this to be the weakest of all the vocal themes, mainly due to the composition. It's still quite a pleasant listen, though.
The rest of the vocal themes are composed, arranged, and sung by Akiko Shikata and are mostly much different from those featured by the Gust Sound Team. "EXEC_CHRONICLE_KEY/." opens with a touching strings melody, it progresses into an almost angelic organ-led theme with some soft vocals, also by Shikata. As the theme progresses, it alternates between more bombastic vocals, yet with a delicate touch, and softer vocals. The instrumental accompaniment, although sparse, manages to create a very delicate atmosphere as well. The strings, when featured, are absolutely stunning and the percussion brings some nice contrast to the overall theme. Similar to this theme, "EXEC_HARMONIUS/." exhibits an atmosphere that is initially one of angelic calm, however, as it progresses, it harbors a much more sinister agenda. Even the vocals, once calm and peaceful, adopt a much more evil tone. It truly is an exquisite theme with Akiko Shikata's voice bringing so much power to the theme. As for the musical accompaniment, initially it is very minimal, but once the sinister tone is introduced, organ and some percussion are thrown into the mix. It's a fascinating theme that showcases Akiko Shikata's unique compositional style and one that is truly my favorite on the soundtrack.
Unlike the previously mentioned themes, "EXEC_PAJA/.#Misha extracting" is much more action-oriented in nature. The vocals are layered extremely well and really bring out a lot of atmosphere in this piece. At times, it's pressing and urgent, at others, a bit more calming. Akiko Shikata is a vocal craftswoman and it shows with themes like this. As for the instrumental accompaniment, this theme has a very industrial rock vibe, with some woodwind flourishes to help contrast a bit with an organic feel. The percussion is absolutely fantastic and the electric guitar adds so much to the overall atmosphere of the piece. Last, but certainly not least, is "Singing the Stars ~Hoshiyomi~." This theme, unlike Shikata's other compositions, is more in line with those of the Gust Sound Team, although with her own touches, of course. Adopting an Asian soundscape, it makes you feel as if you are instantly at peace. There are a variety of instruments used in this theme, such as the erhu, piano, irish harp, and ocarina and each brings with it a unique element to this composition. The ocarina solo is a particularly touching element to the theme. The vocals are a beautiful combination of a lead vocal and some layered vocal accompaniment, and some more of the choral like vocals exhibited in the early themes by Shikata. Although I fancy this one less than the other Shikata themes, it is still quite the exquisite theme.
Ar tonelico Hymmnos Concert Side Blue ~Hoshiyomi~ is definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea. By that, I mean, those who aren't a fan of Japanese female vocals should definitely stay clear of this one. That being said, for those who enjoy Japanese female vocals, I highly recommend checking it out. Although there are a couple instrumental themes, ranging from excellent to mediocre, the vocal themes are all quite pleasing. Akiko Shikata truly shines here, given her unique style of vocal compositions, but the Gust Sound Team is quite up to snuff as well, even if they follow are more traditional route when it comes to vocal themes in RPGs. Overall, this is a highly recommended album, so pick it up if it piques your interest.