Travel is a phenomenal way of learning about unfamiliar things. Articles and videos can be informative, but there's something much more eye-opening about experiencing something in person. You learn more about where you're at, where you come from, and yourself. But that takes on a whole other meaning in the case of Marko, the wayward traveler at the center of Menota's latest manga, Correspondence from the End of the Universe.
Marko, a young man in St. Petersburg, Russia, was struck by lightning as a teenager, and afterwards had a vision of an alien. Ever since suffering that trauma, he's been fearful but curious, especially about aliens and UFOs. Now that he's graduated college, Marko has decided to take a trip around the world to make sense of things. And he's not planning to do it alone—his partner is coming with him, and Marko's looking to make the trip even more special, thanks to the ring he's planning to give them before they depart.
But the thoughts of Marko gaining a fiancé are quickly dashed, as while he's solidifying his plans with his partner, he disintegrates mid-call. Coming to an arctic wasteland, Marko discovers that the lightning strike wasn't pure chance. He's been drafted into a remote branch of the Bureau of End Management on the planet Mosly, where they work to grow new planets and stars. It's an honor to be selected for the job—especially for Marko, since he's from a "closed" planet, one that hasn't gotten involved in serious spacefaring—but it's a 10-year term.
Being wildly curious, he's eager to learn about the science behind star creation—fireworks play a surprisingly key role—and the aliens he encounters. He thinks he's safe finding fellow humans in his Bureau cohorts Nanagi and Fiitzii, until Nanagi reveals his jagged teeth and Fiitzii extends her caterpillar-like arms to help Marko off of the ground. But while he's happy to assist the Bureau and its director, who visited him a decade prior, Marko is focused on finding a way home before his 10-year run is up. So while he's helpful, there's also a slight degree of subterfuge as he tries to find an escape. His plans are sped up when he discovers Rayzoltalpa, a young girl who can sneak onto Mosly via a mirror on her own planet.
Menota has created a deeply interesting character in Marko. While he's always looking for a way out, he never lets it compromise the Bureau's mission, so he's always likeable, which is important for a relatively lighthearted book like this. And he's surrounded by pleasant characters who don't get fleshed out much besides their unique traits, but have plenty of room to grow over the course of the series. Marko's main companion during the first volume, at least before Rayzoltalpa arrives, is Mauu, a fussy little alien that is kind, loyal, and happy to inform Marko about his race. Mauu sets the mood for the series as a gentle slice-of-life adventure through the stars.
Menota's talents best shine in the world-building of this book. The planets are nothing like the typical sci-fi fare—Mosly looks like a cluster of coral, and another planet they encounter more resembles a space station with an attached cluster of asteroids. The aliens all have unique designs, from Mauu's mix of Pac-Man ghost and McDonald's Fry Guy to the director's lanky build and face that looks like it was drawn by a 2nd grader. Menota has put a lot of work into making this a lived-in world, as shown by the extensive notes at the end of the book about various planets and races, as well as the habitat on Mosly where the Bureau is stationed. The art is lively and fun, captured perfectly by a group of rollicking kids on a field trip that Marko sees on a mission—while many of them don't look remotely humanoid or even have discernible faces, the children are clearly running and having a blast. When you have something that looks like a sea creature waving its tentacles and stalks, and yet you can tell it's experiencing joy, the artist is succeeding at their job.
Correspondence from the End of the Universe is a fun, thoughtful trip through space, touching on the mysteries of the unknown but never in a truly scary way. You easily feel empathy for Marko's plight, as he's given what he's always wanted, but at a great cost. Menota's inventive art propels the experience, leaving you wanting to see what strange creatures populate the next stop on the itinerary. Should the opportunity arise, you should happily sign up for this exploratory mission.
Russian recent college graduate Marko is looking forward to traveling the world with his lover. However, he is abducted by a mysterious being to the end of the universe, ruining his plans. That mysterious being assigns Marko a ten-year mission. All Marko can do is give his all to the mission and befriend his alien coworkers. This is the peculiar story depicting life in a place far removed from Earth.Add to CartLearn More