Canterella by You Higuri, published by Go! Comi, rated OT (+16) with 10 volumes published and translated in the US. This is ongoing series in Japan. The series is categorized by the author as “historical romance” and it does have a complicated love triangle within the story but it’s charm for me lies in the historical setting and drama of a turbulent period of time during the early part of the Italian Renaissance. Writer & artist, You Higuri, has done her research and this series thus far has been a pleasure to read.
The story is set in Italy and centers around Cesare Borgia, the illegitimate son of a powerful cardinal, Rodrigo Borgia,who later becomes Pope Alexander VI. At Cesare’s birth, his soul was cursed. His father, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia sold his son’s soul to the Devil for the power of the papacy. Cesare has two younger siblings: his half-brother, Juan who despises Cesare and is the Pope’s favorite son. Then there is his half-sister, Lucrezia, who adores him and loves him more than life itself. After his birth, he is sent to live with the cardinal’s mistress, Vannozza dei Cattanei.
The title, Cantarella, means “sweet poison” or something like that. It describes the blood that flows within Cesare’s body and it’s supposed to represent his demonic powers. Everyday he has to struggle to retain his humanity. His birth mother, Vanozza, is the only other person who matters to him. As Cesare comes of age he goes to seminary school in Perugia. Soon after, his father makes him a Cardinal. Cesare shares his father’s ambitions, except he wants to unite Italy under one ruler. As the story progresses we see how he schemes and manipulates others to devise his own destiny.
There are plenty of interesting threads within this story. First, there’s Cesare’s father who despises him. Often, he cannot even look at his son without being reminded of his sin. Second, there’s the love of his half-sister,Lucrezia, whose father is also the Cardinal. Lucrezia has feelings for her brother that go a bit beyond sisterly affection. Often Cesare has to pretend to be involved with someone else to make her see that he is off limits and uninterested. Her father instructs her to marry but she balks. Only Cesare is able to convince her to marry Italian nobleman, Giovanni Sforza, who is abusive to her. Lastly,the romance triangle seems to be somewhat complicated between Lucrezia, Cesare and Michelotto. I haven’t read enough of the series to see how this element in the story unfolds but it should be good.
Always at Cesare’s side is masked assassin, Michelotto aka “Chiaro.” His father was the original “Michelotto” assasin but he is impirsoned and considered mad. The two men meet and become friends after a thwarted attempt to assassinate his father. Michelotto was sent to kill Cesare. Michelotto knows Cesare’s secret about his accursed birth and eventual fate. Cesare beckons him to take his life because he fears that the darkness within him will take over, making him a monster but Michelotto refuses. He decides to watch over Cesare and to be his protector.
The author gives plenty of background info on the characters since most of them are based on real people and real events, except with the demonic stuff. Ms. Higuri’s work is outstanding and the dialogue in the panels are easy to read as well as the action scenes. This series is full of interesting events such as the invasion of Naples by Charles VIII, assassin attempts and scheming cardinals looking to topple one another for power. There’s a sorcerer who follows Cesare and speaks of a upcoming “revolution” and other horrors to come.
Cantarella is a wonderful story so far. I’ve read the first four volumes and so far I’ve been enjoying the twists and turns of the plot. The story is humorous at time to alleviate the darkness. It’s also an emotional story as well. This is an ongoing series with 10 volumes already out in the US. This 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.