Mangaka: You Higuri
Review Status: Incomplete (3 volumes/12 volumes)
Licensed: Yes, this is licensed by Go!Comi
Art: Gorgeously detailed, especially considering Renaissance-era dress wasn’t exactly Plain Jane. While the art is, stylistically, finely detailed shoujo, it’s still a treat to look at.
Summary: From birth, Cesare Borgia is surrounded by shadows. Damned by his own father, hated by his closest brother, separated from the sister who loves him, and driven by the demons of Hell itself, his quest for power threatens to set the world of Renaissance Italy ablaze – unless one innocent person can drive away the poisonous shadows ravaging him! Enter the world of the Borgias. A world of unspeakable conspiracies and forbidden desires. A family whose murderous intrigues would make them infamous throughout history. A history written in blood…and a poison called Cantarella. (Back cover of 1st volume)
Review: Cantarella is by far one of the better historical manga I’ve read. While it takes some liberties with the people involved in the story, it stays true to the time period and well-recorded events. Cesare Borgias is an infamous character from Renaissance history: murderer, incestuous lover, and an all-around shady person. His ruthlessness was even taken note of in Machiavelli’s famous work, The Prince.
But truthfully, few facts are known about his life, and Cantarella romanticizes it. Borgia was often said to have sold his soul to the devil, and in this story that is quite close to what happens. He is an ever-tragic character, forced by desperate circumstances to give himself over to the demons that haunted him. What follows after is his search for power and revenge over those who forced him into them. The first three volumes cover the start of his downfall and how he begins to wedge himself into the politics of Italy, from his father’s election and son’s blackmail, to the potential invasion of Italy by France.
His family members are his pawns, from his beloved sister Lucrezia to his father who made the dark deal. He manipulates them skillfully to turn things out to his advantage. Though there are the roots of very twisted relationships here, such as his friend/savior’s desire for Cesare’s sister, while the sister longs for her brother. I’ve very little clue about where that is going to go, but other characters are catching on and aren’t pleased about it.
Liking the characters is a little different than the norm — Cesare might be the main character, but half the time he’s difficult to relate to. While his situation is often sympathetic, it’s clear he’s dealing with something completely evil within him. His actions are at times completely repulsive. Lucrezia, while semi-important, has a far more shallow role. She serves as a tool for flashbacks to Cesare’s past, dredging up sympathy for him and providing a possible romantic interest. But she herself, though a character with little depth, is nice and provides an interesting counterpoint to the viewpoint of Chiaro, a thief whose soul and motives are pure enough to bring Cesare back from the demons that possess him…though perhaps only temporarily. Chiaro is the moral counterpoint to Cesare, and Cesare knows it and takes a number of opportunities to remind him of it. There is a whiff of BL about that relationship, but I’ve yet to see any real evidence it’s anything than period-appropriate interactions mixed with shoujo bishie-art.
Cantarella is most definitely a dark story. There doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel; What I seem to be reading is a story about how a man goes from a bad situation to worse. But this might surprise me, and I hope it does. And for a story that’s only twelve volumes long, I’m shocked at how well-paced and told this manga is. There are no real loose threads, even at this point. And it takes advantage of a person that’s very much a mystery, which makes it all the more intriguing.
Recommended: If you like history or dark character studies, this is for you. There are some interesting politics involved, but it’s not as finely crafted as in some other manga I’ve read. Oh, yeah… and for some disturbing and sexual themes, I’d go with 16+ for an age rating.
Overall rating: 10/10. This is dark, enthralling, and fabulous.
Mangaka: Miyuki Miyabe (story), Yoichiro Ono (art)
Review Status: Incomplete (3 Volumes/20 Volumes)
Licensed: No. This manga was formerly licensed by Tokyopop.
Art: Hard to put my finger on this description. If pressed, I’d say it was a moe-fied seinen art. The clothes and backgrounds have a more mature, real look to them. The character designs themselves have hints of it here and there, but often look a little out of place for the rest of the art. I think it hit the right meshing somewhere in volume 2, where everything starts looking like it’s from the same artist.
Summary: Life couldn’t be more average for Junior High School student Wataru, whose only real skill is playing video games. But that all changes in the blink of an eye when a mysterious transfer student comes to his school and drags him into a land of magic and monsters. Now, Wataru must face challenges he could not imagine in even his wildest dreams! (back cover of 1st volume)
Review: Brave Story is the tried-and-true story of a boy falling into a fantasy world. It’s not particularly special in that regard, but where it does shine is how it’s darker than most that go a similar route. The monsters that lead Wataru into knowing about the other land don’t take any prisoners; People die, brutally and often, and it’s no small feat to defeat any of them. It shows its seinen roots from the beginning, because a good deal of the violence here and later on feels like it’s been cut or even funny-fied for a less mature audience.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Honestly, the first three volumes were often so brutal I was relieved when it switched to something a lot more laid-back. There are no friends in the world of Vision, there are only enemies. Even people you might temporarily ally with are not to be trusted in the end. Wataru only has the girl he likes and a strange lizard companion to see that he stays sane and alive at the end of the day.
The world isn’t in the often stupid “danger” that plagues series like this. No one merely wants to rule, or to get revenge…the world itself is dying, and sacrifice seems to be the only way to save it. And sacrifice is what the main baddie group wants to do! They go after those who come from the real world with a vengeance, desiring nothing more than to kill them off and save the world. It’s a brutal subversion of the usual tropes, which makes me eager to read more about how this is going to end.
But all that awesome subversion does come with a price — Wataru’s love interest seems to be a typical, shallow character, and there is a talking animal companion who adores him. That makes two out of four main characters vapid and boring. Thankfully, Wataru and his BFF-forevurz Ashikawa make up for it in leaps and bounds. Ashikawa is not only haunted by a tragic past, he’s doing everything he can to change it, and not buying into the ‘friendship powaaah!’ shounen crap. He’s doing things his own way and breaking all the rules. Wataru himself isn’t quite as interesting, but he’s getting there. His own life has taken a turn for the worse and MAN. He’s not ready to give up on everyone, but he’s questioning his idealism and beliefs about things. And this happens in the first three volumes. Not a typical shounen, indeed.
So where does that leave us after the first three volumes? Well, it’s really and truly the beginning of the adventure! Wataru has had his first adventure and is setting out to do what he can to save Vision…and his own life. What is unknown is if this will retain the same level of awesome that impressed me here.
Recommended: 17+. Brave Story has some pretty brutal fight scenes in it, including a man being cut in half and a small child dying. There is very little fanservice — only a show of the female lead in various cosplay outfits.
Overall Rating: 8/10. Lackluster characters bring it down a bit, but overall it’s a fun fantasy story that manages to subvert some of the worst cliches.