Note: The samples on Disc 8’s tracklist lead to their video counterpart on our YouTube channel.
Rrha ki ra tie yor ini en nha
Wee ki ra parge yor ar ciel
Was yea ra chs mea yor en fwal
Ma ki ga ks maya yor syec
And with those four lines, sung in Ar tonelico’s fictional “hymmnos” language, a world was born. Worlds were born. Many more songs were born. And listeners here on planet earth, by the thousands, were enchanted by the call. We would later learn that this song, first heard in a trailer for a joint GUST/Banpresto project called Ar tonelico, would serve as the opening theme song “Singing Hill -Harmonics EOLIA-,” and that hymmnos could actually be translated back to Japanese, and therefore back to English. For example, those opening words? With credits to vgmdb user aquagon, their meaning is as follows:
Strip off everything
Because I’ll accept everything about you
Don’t be afraid, and entrust yourself to me
(Even more elaborate translations can be found by using supplemental materials published by Gust, often provided by franchise creator and lead composer Akira Tsuchiya.)
I’ll never forget the moment I first heard these beautiful melodies and harmonies interwoven in ways I’d never imagined possible. As far as I’m concerned, a new genre was born on this day. I’ve yet to recover from what the “hymmnos” sound has done to my mind. It borders on a spiritual experience at times … which might make sense, considering hymmnos’ loose ties with Latin, suggesting a sort of Catholic chant, but mixed with ideas from other world religions as well.
Perhaps that is why, even though it took my five years to obtain it, I am so very excited to have a copy of the Kurt hymneth box set. This set contains the Red/Blue paired hymmnos concert sets from Ar tonelico 1-3, as well as some very interesting extras. Rather than go into significant detail on each disc, because so much of this box set is available elsewhere, I am going to provide links to separate reviews we’ve published previously. Only disc eight is noteworthy in its uniqueness, and even then, not by much. Afterwards, I will briefly explore the extensive packaging to this box set, as well as some strange anomalies related to the set’s publication.
Without further ado:
Disc One: Singing the Stars ~Hoshiyomi~ Ar tonelico Hymmnos concert Side Blue (HUCD-10013)
Disc Two: Chanting the Moon ~Tsukikanade~ Ar tonelico Hymmnos concert Side Red (KDSD-10014)
The hymmnos concerts for the first Ar tonelico remain my favorites. Specifically, two songs on Side Red are absolutely breathtaking: “EXEC_PAJA/.#Orica extracting” and “EXEC_SUSPEND/.” Both songs are epic in size and scale, each running over five minutes. Both songs were composed and arranged by the amazing Takashige Inagaki, who sadly passed away in 2009. Both songs feature wildly complex time signatures at times, such as SUSPEND’s 18-beat pattern of 3+5+5+5 in the verses. And, if you know the usage/context of these songs in-game, you’ll have even more reason to celebrate.
Disc Three: Waterway ~Mio~ Ar tonelico II hymmnos concert Side Blue (HUCD-10032)
Flame ~Homura~ Ar tonelico II hymmnos concert Side Red (KDSD-10029)
Ar tonelico II took the soundscape of the original game into a more tonally diverse world, for better or worse. The “Harmonica FRELIA” opening uses the familiar upbeat 6/8 tempo, castanets and all, but the verses switch to 11/8 (6+5) and the harmonic vocal layers are more experimental. Things get especially weird during the “METHOD_SUBLIMATION” trilogy. And then there’s “EXEC_HAIBANATION” (Hibernation) which runs over 14 minutes in length. Perhaps the most interesting moment in the Ar tonelico II hymmnos concerts, though, happens on Side Red with “EXEC_HARMONIUS_FYUSION/.” This is another great from arranger Takashige Inagaki, especially because he is re-working Akiko Shikata’s original “EXEC_HARMONIUS” from the first Ar tonelico. The additional content here is truly interesting, and definitely fun for the budding hymmnos scholar to study!
Disc Five: SAKIYA=RUMEI Ar tonelico III hymmnos concert Side Blue (GUSTCD-10001)
Disc Six: SUZUNO=MIYA Ar tonelico III hymmnos concert Side Red (GUSTCD-10002)
And then Ar tonelico III happened. And what, exactly, happened to the music? There’s a simple answer here: the changing of hands. Again, sadly, Takashige Inagaki passed away in 2009, and the AT3 hymmnos music was written and published in 2010. We see a larger list of composers, arrangers, and vocalists in Ar tonelico III. And, unfortunately, the one I had the most hope in (Yoshitaka Hirota, of the famed Shadow Hearts franchise) decided to go a whole new direction with hymmnos vocals, and I’m not sure the end result was really palatable. If there is anyone that was new to the team that knew what they were doing, it was Square veteran Kenji Ito (SaGa, Seiken Densetsu). His instrumental work was top-notch.
If you really want proof for yourself as to what happened with the quality of the franchise’s hymmnos songs, a quick listen to “Ec Tisia” (translation: “All Is Forgiven”) tells the whole story. The first half of the song is original; in the last half, shortened versions of each of the “Singing Hill” opening themes from the trilogy are inserted. They are the original recordings, nothing new. And when I listen to that whole, amazing medley of music, I cannot help but be drawn to that beautiful moment at the very beginning of the first song. Seriously, I’m listening to Ec Tisia, and it’s awesome, and then it makes this hard transition right to “Rrha ki ra tie yor … ini en nha!! (BASS.DRUM.)” — and it’s all over. That’s why I’m here. Yes, the sound of the Ar tonelico trilogy evolved, and sure, there are great songs. But for me, the first game represents something especially valuable.
Disc Seven: Ar tonelico hymmnos concert Side Protection (COBC-4500)
Did you know that the first Ar tonelico had an OVA anime release? If you didn’t, you should also know that said OVA had its own set of three original hymmnos pieces. They were originally released as an enclosure (pack-in) item with the Limited Edition DVD release of said OVA. A year after the Kurt hymneth box set release, a digital reprint was also released for these songs, minus the karaoke bonus tracks. For more details, check the review.
Disc Eight: hymmnos concert Surround Theater DVD
I don’t have a review to link to for this release, because it is fully unique to this box set. It was never printed separately, anywhere. In some ways, it’s the extra-special treat. Because, while there really isn’t any unique content here, the audio mix can only be found here. That’s right, folks: 5.1 surround sound for a total of 13 hymmnos songs from Ar tonelico I and II put on a single DVD, complete with scrolling lyrics to watch while you listen. There is also a 14th track on this DVD: a multi-promotional video that features a lot of footage for Ar tonelico III, as well as a commercial for the Kurt hymneth box set itself. If you have a surround sound system in-place anywhere in your own home, this DVD brings new life to some of the best the franchise has to offer. Of course, as far as I’m concerned, that includes both of the “Singing Hill” openings, both Misya and Orica (Aurica) Extracting, and SUSPEND. Strangely enough, the DVD also includes one track from the Ar tonelico OVA, “EXEC_HYMME_LIFE_W:R:S/.” This, too, is wonderful to have in 5.1 surround sound!
Disc Nine: Ciel nosurge Soundtrack Preview
Ciel nosurge is a strange game, one that is almost surely never going to be localized. It allowed the Ar tonelico franchise to branch off significantly, taking place in the same “universe” (world, mythos, etc) but in a different time and place. Ciel nosurge was a mix of RPG and life-sim, complete with online interactivity and limited time events. Its servers have long since shut down in Japan, though they released a patch to enjoy the game offline now. This game was the springboard, however, for the lovely RPG Ar nosurge, which did get localized for the English-speaking crowd. Anyway, Ciel nosurge and its soundtracks were just on the edge of being released when Kurt hymneth was published, so Gust decided to tease fans by throwing this disc on there. The disc is a composite of songs found on both Ciel nosurge Genometric Concert Vol.1 ~Song of the Solemn Promise~ (FFCT-0026) and Ciel nosurge OST ~Reception Records of Sound and the World Sec.1~ (FFCT-0027).
USB Badge: Kurt hymneth Apocrypha ~Lost Songs~
The story behind this maddeningly complicated, locked-up USB Badge device and its glorious digital reprint are all detailed in the linked review. Also detailed in that review, because it’s all very interesting, is how this music came into being in the first place. The short version? Fans voted, characters were chosen, lyrics were written, singers stepped up to the plate, and new hymmnos was created based on fan input. Pretty cool, right? The good news is that the music is great too. The extra-good news, for you hymmnos scholars, is that these “Apocryphal” songs are now part of the Ar tonelico story canon. There’s a separate booklet in this box set that offers details all the timeline, in-game Reyvateil singers, etc, for each of the three songs. These songs are all quite long, varying between five and six minutes. You’re in for a treat when you take a listen.
Okay, so that’s the musical content. Time, now, to talk about all the packaging, the controversy, and the nonsense!
Kurt hymneth looks like a giant tome. However, the “pages” aren’t pages at all … it’s printed on some kind of laminate atop thin cardboard or plastic. From a distance, though, it looks like a book twice the size of an old German printing-press Bible. It’s enormous. When you flip open the front cover, you are treated to a handful of cards and advertisement flyers for the Ar tonelico series and Ciel nosurge. Then, you find three books. The first is the thin, ten-page booklet detailing the nature of “Apocrypha ~Lost Songs~.” The first is a thick, glossy, paperback book about 100 pages in length. This book contains all of the lyrics for discs 1 through 7 of this box set, as well as the associated credits for each and every song. Finally, a third book … hardcover, beautiful, over 100 pages in length, written in traditional Japanese (top-to-bottom vertical columns, right-to-left). This is a story / script book that tells the overarching tale of the entire Ar tonelico trilogy, at times inserting the lyrics of hymmnos pieces in it. If I knew Japanese, I’d probably spend hours poring over the pages.
After all of the books, we get to the main event: a digipak that unfolds to four partitions, with each partition holding two discs (except for the final partition, which opens in a strange way and has discs placed everywhere possible so they could fit the last three discs in that area). This box-within-a-box is entitled “The Recorded Saga.” So, yeah, all nine discs are found in here. Strangely, though, there are parts of this packaging that read “Krut hymneth” instead of Kurt hymneth. That same “Krut hymneth” alternate spelling can still be found in some of Gust’s promotional material online. More on that later.
Finally, at the very bottom, we find the USB “PLAYBUTT0N” Badge that contains the 192kbps mp3 version of Apocrypha. Also included is a cord with a 1/8 inch audio jack on one side and a USB plug on the other side. This can only be used to charge the battery to the USB Badge. Once fully charged, you must use your own headphones or earbuds with a 1/8 inch jack to listen to the music. It’s a strange way to deliver music; I like the DIY feel for this bonus, but locking the device so that the music could not easily be detected on a PC was truly frustrating.
So, that’s the box. Oh, wait, one more thing! There’s the “Obi.” A traditional Obi for a CD covers the left side of a jewel case, approximately one inch on the front and back, and running along the spine (there are variants: sometimes the front part is only the width of the left partition, which is about a half-inch; other times, the back side of the obi runs the entire length of the back cover). In the case of Kurt hymneth, the “obi” is a giant black-and-white sheet of paper that wraps around the side and back of the book/box. And on it, printed at the bottom, “GUSTCD-11002.” At least, that’s what was on mine.
However, everywhere in Gust’s online promotional material for Kurt hymneth, the only listed catalog number is GUSTCD-11001. I’ve asked among at least five other owners of this box set, and they’ve either lost their obi, or their obi also reads GUSTCD-11002. The catalog number for the set itself is found nowhere else in the extensive packaging, only on this (easily lost) piece of thin, glossy paper. I have not seen packaging scans from English or Japanese websites that can confirm GUSTCD-11001. However, as vgmdb user Phonograph noted to me, both GUSTCD-11001 and GUSTCD-11002 have unique JAN numbers (it’s like ISBNs specific to Japan). So, either GUSTCD-11001 was in preparation for printing, then Gust realized they needed to make last-minute changes, canceled 11001, and then only printed 11002, or a very small initial run of GUSTCD-11001 was released (perhaps to press only as a sample item?), then GUSTCD-11002 was released for the masses.
In any case, none of that can explain the next oddity. On the inner ring of each disc, facing reverse (i.e., when you look at the silver “data” side of the disc), one can clearly make out GUSTCD-10011 on the first disc, 10012 on the second, 10013 on the third, all the way across the nine discs. And then, on the USB Badge, GUSTCD-10020 is printed on it (even though it’s not even a CD…). Note the change in positioning of the zeroes in the catalog numbers of the individual items within the larger release. I don’t know about you, but I find it strange to assign catalog numbers within the box set that do not correspond to the larger box. Why not release the box with the listed catalog number GUSTCD-10011~20?
And then there’s the matter of “Kurt” vs “Krut.” Months prior to release, Gust was publishing different text and logo-art for this box, and they went back and forth between “ur” and “ru” so many times, I couldn’t keep count. I figured that, by the time they printed it, they’d have had it figured out. Sadly, one vestige of “Krut” remains on one of the inner panels of the “Recorded Saga” digipak. I get that this is a large set of music, but quality control, y’all!! Where is it?
Finally, let’s talk about album titles, song titles, and punctuation. Akira Tsuchiya has confirmed in at least one interview that when “Hoshiyomi” was first released, “EXEC_CHRONICLE_KEY/.” was a misprint. It was supposed to read “EXEC_CHRONICLE=KEY/.” — an analogous pairing to RE=NATION and RIG=VEDA on “Tsukikanade.” However, when they published this reprint, they did not bother to fix CHRONICLE KEY to include the equal sign on either disc one or the disc eight DVD. You’ll see in our own tracklist, we offer up both versions (equals sign on disc one, based on the author’s correction), if only to add to the confusion. We don’t know how to fix their problem. It is Gust’s to fix. And, if you are deeply interested in the lore and language of the “programming/coding” song titles, you’ll recognize why the equal sign matters.
Next, what’s up with the periods (or lack thereof) with Side.Red and Side.Blue? In some parts of the packaging, the period is there. In other places, it’s missing. In our tracklist, we left them out. But it would be just as valid to leave them all in. Also strange is that the #Misya and #Orica extracting songs have a period at the end of them in their 2006 prints, but the tracklist in the lyrics booklet of the box set gets rid of the periods. However, they appear again (though hard to see, kind of blurry) on the disc eight DVD. If you’re going to insist on having ridiculous, complex track titles, can we please get some consistency?
I know, these sound like minor things to whine about. But, again, if you care enough about the music and the lore behind the music, it all matters.
Having finally dug around and solved every problem I could, read every translation I could (seriously, many thanks to “aquagon” for the hard work!), and listened to this 7+ hour collection of music a dozen times, I feel so thoroughly steeped in all things Ar tonelico, there’s really only one thing left for me to do: immerse myself in Ciel nosurge and Ar nosurge. Can Akiko Shikata and others continue to make this strange and beautiful world thrive? Probably. After all, I have to agree with this lyric, also found in Singing Hill -HARMONICS EOLIA-:
Wee yea ra ene foul enrer
(I always think that Songs are mysterious)