Mariko Between Worlds by Matthew Erman & Liana Kangas

with colors by Rebecca Nalty and lettering by Micah Myers.

First off, this is not a rom-com. As a fan of modern romances, I think it’s important that media with that label actually have the Happily Ever After (or For Now) ending, and this graphic novel certainly doesn’t. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t say anything about an ending that even hints at being a spoiler, but calling this a rom-com (as the official descriptions do!) feels like false advertising.

While Mariko Between Worlds may not be a rom-com, it is definitely a coming-of-age story. Our title protagonist has put her life on hold while she dates her boyfriend Rem. Rem has recently gotten what seems like a cushy job on the Moon Of Plenty. Unfortunately, the government has rejected her application to join him, effectively ending their six-year relationship.

Rem, a perpetual optimist, thinks that this means they have one last perfect day to spend together before he has to move away. The more responsible Mariko urges him to get his affairs in order before they embark on a hedonistic exploration of the Mall of Portals on the Plane of Games, where they live. But this last hurrah raises the question in Mariko’s mind of exactly why she’s held on to Rem for so long, even as an opportunity for her to earn the coveted visa appears, if she’ll only do an illicit favor for a shadowy figure.

This sci-fi tale of a relationship in crisis examines lots of modern issues using often clever but sometimes crashingly obvious metaphor. There is a healthy dose of humor to leaven the soul-searching, with the best joke coming early on when Rem hilariously mangles a human saying. That said, I didn’t quite understand why their relationship and, to a very large extent, Mariko’s years-ago decision to put her life on hold depended so much on a visa she didn’t even know she needed until shortly before the story started. The whole situation feels like it’s supposed to have a real-world equivalent but doesn’t quite hang together, logic-wise.

The art is good but has a weird reliance on multiplicity that doesn’t really suit the story in the beginning chapters — it works great towards the end, however! I definitely felt more confusion figuring out the first few pages than the rest of the book, but can see why it was used as a foreshadowy motif.

Overall, this is a worthy attempt at realistically depicting the breakdown of a relationship in a hallucinatory sci-fi setting. It’s emotionally accurate despite inconsistencies in the framing narrative. The sci-fi elements are also original and intriguing, tho if you’d transplanted this story to a more mundane setting, it would have worked just as well (except for maybe the hilarious joke I mentioned above, tho I guess it would still work if Mariko was American and Rem was not.)

Mariko Between Worlds by Matthew Erman & Liana Kangas was published October 10 2023 by Mad Cave Studios and is available from all good booksellers, including

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