Cover of Cantarella volume 1 as published by Akita Shoten
|Genre||Historical, supernatural, shōnen-ai|
|Written by||You Higuri|
|Published by||Akita Shoten|
|English publisher||Go! Comi|
|Magazine||Princess Gold Magazine|
|Original run||March 2001 – 2010|
Cantarella (カンタレラ?) is a manga series by You Higuri, serialized in the Japanese monthly comic magazine Princess Gold Magazine and published in tankoubon format by Akita Shoten. The first volume was published March 2001 and there have been 12 volumes published in Japan as of July 2010. The series went on a four-year two-month hiatus in Princess Gold Magazine (resuming in the September 2009 issue) while Higuri's other series Crown finished its serialization in the same magazine. Cantarella has also been translated into French by Asuka (first volume May 2005), German by Carlsen Comics, English by Go! Comi (first volume October 2005), Russian by Palma Press (Палма Пресс) (first volume July 2010) and Italian by Free Books.
Cantarella is the story of Cesare Borgia, an Italian aristocrat during the Renaissance. In the manga, Cesare's father Rodrigo Borgia, a Cardinal, sells his infant son's soul to the Devil as part of a deal that will one day make him Pope (Rodrigo will become Pope with the name of Alexander VI). Cesare is consequently shunned by his father, who is unable to see him as anything but an agent of darkness and reminder of his sin. Increasingly alienated, Cesare eventually comes to rely on the dark powers within himself. He becomes obsessed with the idea of conquest, and is aided in his political machinations by the assassin Don Michelotto.
Illegitimate son of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, his soul was sold to the Devil by his father. Ever since his birth, he has been surrounded by evil spirits, who protect him from those who would harm him physically. The birth of Cesare was ominous: his pregnant mother, Nachine, had been struck by lightning and forced to deliver the baby earlier. After she gave birth to Cesare, she said that she felt like the lightning was meant for her and she heard a voice announcing that "the pact has been sealed". When the nun carries the baby away, she sees a monstrous shadow and confronts Rodrigo about the baby. The Cardinal denies everything and leaves. Terrified of what had happened to her child, the mother decides to strangle him, but that moment she is pushed behind by the evil spirits that surrounded her son and a candle falls down, starting a fire from which only Cesare survived. The baby is then given into the care of Vannozza dei Cattanei, the Cardinal's new mistress, who has the power to banish the evil spirits.
The next time Cesare is seen is as a young child. By that time, he has a half-brother called Juan and a younger half-sister called Lucrezia, both Vannozza's children by the Cardinal. He doesn't get along well with Juan but seems to find a good friend in Lucrezia. His father cannot stand him, and often even refuses to look at his son, because he is a constant reminder of his sin. Cesare suffers a great deal of pain because his father won't accept him but manages to cope with all that thanks to Vannozza. But when the affair between the Cardinal and Vannozza is made public, Roderigo forces her to marry another man and leave. Cesare is left without his only support and becomes more and more depressed. Both he and his siblings are sent to live with Adriana de Mila, the (step)mother-in-law of the Cardinal's new mistress (Giulia Farnese), who makes both Cesare and Lucrezia unhappy. Next, Cesare tries to find a friend in Marrone, Giulia's other lover, but it proves out that he was trying to kill both his father and, finally, him. Losing all hope, Cesare tries to kill himself, but mysteriously survives and the demons take over him; he gains a dark, demonic side. An assassin, Chiaro, who tried to kill him more than once, becomes his companion, feeling that it is his responsibility to watch over the cursed boy, because he did not kill him when he was commanded.
A far cry from the once emotional, innocent child, Cesare grows to be a very intelligent, confident, manipulative, and tactful young adult. He has a dark but irresistible charisma and uses it to achieve his own goals. Additionally, Cesare has a playful and cheerful side, which he shows only to Chiaro and Lucrezia. However, after Chiaro abandons Cesare, it is apparent that Cesare's dark side becomes more and more prominent. He begins to show less and less emotion and has a stone-cold, serious demeanor. He knows how people think and uses his looks and his mind to seduce them. He is well-aware of his extraordinarily beautiful appearance and he attracts the attention of women and men alike. Cesare is also a very disciplined man; even though he sleeps with her, Sancia's seductive appeal does not allow her to manipulate him like she has so many men. However, as he grows older, he proves to be cold-hearted: he sends Chiaro to kill those who stand in his way, and he convinces Lucrezia to marry an old man, using his influence on her.
In order to succeed, Cesare knows he must be ruthless, but he cannot completely hide his humanity. For instance, when he witnesses Vannozza's death, he is emotionally distraught, even though he remains unmoved on the surface. His demon forms, however, begin to take her appearance, which further shows how much her death has despaired him. He is neither fully demon, nor fully human, but struggles against the horrible forces that dwell within his body.
Cesare Borgia is a real historic figure, and the major events of the manga are based on real historic events (albeit with supernatural embellishment). Some of the other the real people playing major or minor roles in Cantarella are:
- Pope Alexander VI: Cesare's father, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia.
- Vannozza dei Cattanei: the Cardinal's mistress, mother of Juan, Jorfe and Lucrezia; historically, Cesare's biological mother.
- Juan Borgia: Cesare's half-brother, chosen to inherit the Duchy of Gandia by their father.
- Lucrezia Borgia: Cesare's younger half-sister.
- Giulia Farnese: Giulia la Bella ("the Beautiful"), the Cardinal's mistress after Vannozza.
- Giovanni Sforza: Italian nobleman, marries Lucrezia. Shown in the manga as being somewhat abusive. Lucrezia has no desire to consummate the relationship, especially after learning he is working against Cesare.
- Cem Sultan of Turkey, in self-exile after losing the battle for succession with his brother Bayezid.
- Niccolò Machiavelli: Historically a political theorist and an admirer of Cesare Borgia, in the manga he is a sorcerer with the ability to change into a moth.
- Sancia of Aragon: she was the bethrothed wife of Gioffre Borgia. In the manga, she is seen disliking Gioffre because he is very much a child, and instead sets her sights on Cesare, after heckling Lucrezia. Historically, she sleeps with both Giovanni and Cesare.
Don Michelotto (Chiaro) is based on the literary figure Miguel, who is mentioned as Cesare Borgia's right-hand man in several plays. There are also references naming him as Pope Alexander VI's executioner. Alternately, "Michelotto" (Miguel de Corella) is mentioned in Brandolin's description of the death of Lucrezia's second husband as Alfonso's murderer.
The name of the manga derives from a poison supposedly used by the Borgias to eliminate their enemies. Vannozza, the traditional story goes, taught her evil, scheming daughter Lucrezia how to concoct a subtle, undetectable poison whose formula could be adjusted to bring about death at any time the poisoner wished. Lucrezia improved on la cantarella and the Borgias are said to have used it freely, eliminating their enemies without leaving any evidence of their wrongdoing. This traditional belief is however completely unsupported by the historical record; although Roderigo is thought to have used plain and simple arsenic to eliminate his enemies, Cesare and his brothers simply strangled their enemies and dumped them in the Tiber. As for Lucrezia and Vannozza, there is no factual basis whatsoever for their being master poisoners; in fact, neither of them is known to have committed a crime of any kind. The old rumours may very well have been crude misogynistic slurs derived from the supposition that poison is a woman's weapon and directed against the two members of the family who would or could not fight back. No poison whose formula can be adjusted in the way the rumours claim has ever been discovered or invented.
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