*Cantarella Book 1 — Recommended

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.

Cantarella Book 1 cover
Cantarella Book 1
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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.

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11 Comments

  1. Just checked out the manga preview on the site. It looks gorgeous, and the story seems interesting. I’ll have to make a note to pick this one up.

  2. Woowho! I have the first four volumes sitting in my “to read” stack. This series ought to be a good one. ^_^

  3. Great insight, I was thinking about reading this book, thanks.

  4. [...] of vol. 10 of Nana at Comics-and-More. Ed Sizemore reviews vols. 1 and 2 of Pumpkin Scissors and vol. 1 of Cantarella at Comics Worth Reading. At Soliloquy in Blue, Michelle reads Brave Story, vols. 3, 4, and 5 of [...]

  5. Thanks for your review. To quibble, though, Cantarella was serialized in Princess Comics, so it’s shoujo rather than josei.

  6. I just read volume 1. It’s a good series–the art is magnificent, and while the dialog is a little hokey, the plot is basically the best soap opera in the history of ever. Love. It.

  7. I like this manga. The story is excellent.
    I probably wouldn’t have bought it on my own, but I won a copy of volume one at Anime Expo 2006 for wearing some dog tags.
    But I have bought all the available volumes since then…

  8. [...] series was recommended by a site I always read, Comics Worth Reading that has a nice and insightful review of the first book. My grade for the first four volumes is a B+. This series is worth a look. [...]

  9. I liked this one. I only ever read volumes 1 and 2 (read, not bought), but the art certainly is superb. I read it on a day when I was feeling sleepy, so the plot mostly went over my head (whoops), but I still managed to follow along. I’d buy this if I could, but I haven’t seen it in my usual stores, and besides, it’s the sort of thing I worry about my family seeing. <– That’s because it looks interesting on the cover, but seems to scream “your daughter’s a yaoi fan” on the inside. (And yet I managed to get Legal Drug?)

  10. [...] Comi launched in 2005 with four titles: Cantarella, Her Majesty’s Dog, Tenshi Ja Nai!!, and Crossroad. (All of which are still available from [...]

  11. [...] a touch of the occult and beautiful young men with dark pasts and tortured souls” (cit. comicsworthreading.com) that made me [...]

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