01 - Hoshi no Arika beat
02 - Hoshi no Arika serenade
03 - Hoshi no Arika
04 - Hoshi no Arika bossa nova
05 - Hoshi no Arika ballad
06 - Hoshi no Arika beat (karaoke)
07 - Hoshi no Arika serenade (karaoke)
08 - Hoshi no Arika (karaoke)
09 - Hoshi no Arika bossa nova (karaoke)
10 - Hoshi no Arika ballad (karaoke)
When Falcom started their "Zanmai" music series, released at Japan's twice-annual Comiket, they started with a humble offering: five versions of the same song.
"Hoshi no Arika" (which translates to "Where the Stars Are") is the ending vocal song from The Legend of Heroes VI: Sora no Kiseki. This was a pivotal release for Falcom; one that spawned a series all its own that eventually dropped the "Legend of Heroes" name in the same way that LoH once dropped the "Dragon Slayer" name. The series has shown a lot of longevity and a lot of diversity. Could the same be said of this one song from the game?
Apparently, yes. Yes it could. And in some office or cafe somewhere, it was decided to be made so by the folks at Falcom. Fortunately they didn't choose to just remix the original track; these are entirely new recordings, with new vocalists. It's wild.
Considering the brevity of this release, I don't feel any shame in doing a track-by-track review. Here we go!
"beat" is the radio-friendly version. Arranged by Noriyuki Kamikura, this version has a sweet... "beat!" The drums sound good, the background harmonic stuff is great, and the vocalist hand-selected for this version (Kanako Kotera) nails the style. There's also a crazy sax solo after the second refrain, and it works surprisingly well with the dance beat.
"serenade" (which one might think is synonymous with "ballad" — it's not!) is a classy piano/strings version, with a nice andante tempo and elegant vocal performance from Mizuki Mizutani. There's no syncopation to speak of here; it is refined and straightforward. What surprises me is that this arrangement was put together by percussionist Toshiharu Okajima, who is known for being either groovy/funky or math-rock-ish. I didn't expect this from him. This is the version that would work well as the ending vocal of an Ang Lee film.
Then, right in the middle, we get the original version. This was an interesting choice! You'd expect that if the original were to appear on this album at all, it'd be at the beginning or the end. But in this way, it reminds us of how the original compares to past arranges, and keeps it fresh enough in our mind to continue the comparison with the upcoming tracks. In my first listen through the album, I really appreciated this aspect. In repeated listens, I skipped listening to the original, as I'd heard it dozens of times when I first obsessed over the Sora no Kiseki OST nearly a decade ago.
Track 4 is the "bossa nova" version. The twist here? New lyrics! Instead of the original Japanese, we get the entire song in English. They're hard for a native English speaker to understand, as the vocalist (pseudonym: "Anemone (blue chee's)") definitely isn't a native speaker. But perhaps it's better that way, as they're not the most insightful or moving lyrics. Musically, this track is very enjoyable, especially if you like bossa nova. Which, as it just so happens, I do. Kamikura did the arrangement here, and he definitely succeeded.
Finally, there's my favorite version of all, the "ballad," which throws us a curveball in the form of a MALE VOCALIST! Kanako Kotera does some backup vocals, but the lead vocals are done by Icarus Watanabe. This version is totally stripped down: piano and a little bit of guitar, and then the raw, powerful voices. The added descant harmonies during certain melodic strains are especially enjoyable. The chorus sounds beautiful. Everything sounds beautiful. This is just... wow. It sells the album.
Or rather, it sells the single. Since this, like all Falcom albums, are available on iTunes, maybe it's worth just picking up your one favorite track? If you buy the whole album, though, you also get tracks 6 through 10 (the Karaoke versions), so you can attempt to sound as awesome as Icarus, or u-mi, or maybe you can sing in better English than Anemone.
Eight dollars is the current running price for the full album on iTunes, and it includes a nice digital booklet as well. It's a strange start for Falcom's new Zanmai series, but you might find your own diamond in the rough. For me, it was the "ballad" version. In any case, the later albums (to date, there are four of them) offer even more goodness and variety.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann