by You Higuri; adapted by Audry Taylor
published by Go! Comi; $10.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Cesare Borgia is one of Cardinal Rodrigo’s many illegitimate children. The night he was born, his birthplace was consumed by fire and his mother died. Cesare was raised by another of Rodrigo’s mistresses, Vanozza Catanei. When Rodrigo’s affair is discovered, Vanozza is forced to wed, and Cesare is sent to live with distant relatives. His new guardians are cruel, and Cesare learns swordsmanship so he can defend himself. His father wants Cesare to become a priest so he can build his own dynasty within the Catholic Church. However, Cesare has chosen to seek his own destiny.
Boy oh boy, Cantarella has a little something for everyone: there’s historical drama set in early Renaissance Italy, corrupt Cardinals acting as puppetmasters inside the Vatican, political intrigue, a touch of the occult, and beautiful young men with dark pasts and tortured souls. All told within the framework of a coming-of-age story. All these elements are well blended and make Cantarella historical fiction at its best.
Cantarella is a great read and a fine example of joesi manga. Higuri has created a rich and complex world reflective of the realities of Renaissance Italy. It’s a morally ambiguous universe where even the good people are adulators and assassins. Needless to say, there are no true heroes in this book, just men and women trying to be as honorable as their circumstances will allow them. It’s easy to sympathize with the lead characters and their struggles in a world where the leaders of the Catholic Church are despots hiding in priestly robes.
Higuri’s artwork is beautiful. She has a wonderful eye for detail and fine subtle line work perfectly suited for drawing Renaissance clothing and furnishings. In the afterword, Higuri talks about visiting Rome and doing lots of research to make the manga accurate to the story’s time and place. Her hard work paid off, as she does an excellent job of making the costumes and places believable. Higuri is also very adept at drawing pretty boys. The lead characters are young men with shoulder-length hair and delicate features. The character designs are similar to the way men look in yaoi.
There are a couple of nice features included in this book. The book begins with a greeting by Higuri to the American readers. There is also an afterword by her discussing the inspiration for the manga and some of the preparation she did. Cesare Borgia was an actual Italian nobleman and illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI. There’s a two-page discussion of the controversy surrounding Borgia and his legacy. There’s also the promise of more extras from Higuri in future volumes.
I highly recommend this series for readers wanting manga aimed at older readers. A sample of volume 1 is available at Go! Comi’s website. A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher for this review.