A review by wolfiegrrrl
Always Human, by Ari North

emotional lighthearted medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


You can tell this is a WebToon printed in a book format. It's a slice of sci-fi life where queer people can live out a fantasy we can currently only dream of. The ability to essentially shapeshift on a whim without surgery?! Sign me up! But the implication that people can use body mods to race-fake goes disconcertingly unaddressed outside of one line where Sunati says she wants to keep her facial structure and promised her mom she wouldn't change her skin color.

This first volume is a collection of short episodes about Sunati and Austen getting to know each other and learning that first impressions can be misleading, and it introduces us to a colorful supporting cast of diverse characters. They're all interesting and fun in their own ways, but they come across as a little flat at this early stage of the series.

Austen, however, is the main focus of the story. It's wild to see a character we would consider able-bodied get labeled disabled because her immune system is too strong for her to use technological enhancements to download information directly into her brain or change her physical appearance whenever it suits her. She gets sick, has to study, and would need to use hair dye and makeup and colored contacts like the rest of us. Much like how people in our world treat people with disabilities, Austen is either turned into inspiration porn by the modded characters in the story or they think of her as someone who can do no wrong because "she can't help it" and "life is so hard for her."

To directly counter this, Ari North attempts to show us that Austen is a flawed character by having her repeatedly take out her emotions on the people around her by yelling and sometimes physically assaulting them. In a romance story, this is more than a little concerning. Flawed characters are great and flawed characters in flawed relationships are even better as long as there is an effort to show conscious character growth as the story continues, but the way it stands now Austen's abusive behavior is excused by everyone close to her as something "normal" that she always does. This is most likely an attempt to hammer home the point that even the people who have known her for longer than a month (including her own family) still refuse to acknowledge her flaws because of her perceived disability, but it's unsettling that she can go so far as to attack her sibling while they're sleeping and everyone brushes it off as just a quirky thing she did to get her way. It's hard to find her character charming, but I do sincerely hope she gets the chance to properly reflect and make an effort to put her best foot forward as the series develops.

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