Reviewed by Olive Dausinas
Most media usually depicts a far scientifically advanced future as some sort of horribly flawed. Whether it be due to overuse of future technology or the rapid growth of mega-corporations, the future is always grasping at its most depressing. Always Human by Ari North manages to avoid this by depicting an advanced future that is not plagued by the most horrific endings we can think of.
An unabashedly queer love story, Always Human revolves around a young woman named Sunati. She lives in a world where technology’s rapid advancement has allowed small nanobots to modify the human body in any way, shape, or form that a person would like. Whether it be massive changes to body shape, eye color, hair color, or even modifications to make retaining things learned in school much easier, it seems like a good future to live in. On her way to her internship at a virtual reality creation firm, Sunati encounters a girl named Austen. Over time of watching Austen from afar, who seemingly lives without mods, the two gain an intimate relationship as Sunati learns that Austen suffers from a disease that causes her body to reject external modifications without serious surgery and how the two grow to have a relationship that comes along with it.
The major themes of this story are inherently queer but delve deep into both physical illness and how this can directly affect the relationship between someone the reader can relate to, Austen, and someone who can live in a completely different sphere of reality, Sunati. Their relationship is extremely tumultuous but also fueled by their love for one another. Sunati often has issues with trying to figure out how to interact with Austen, primarily because the latter does not want to be pitied, the disease she suffers from making it a sore point even though she knows Sunati doesn’t mean to insult or pity her. And it’s something that is very much a reality for people with disabilities, which this is very much an allegory for. Austen wants to be seen for who she is and not just seen as the girl who can’t use mods, and Sunati, who wants to see Austen for who she is, often is still blinded by trying to fulfill the needs she thinks Austen has.
Ari North created a very optimistic look at the future, focusing specifically on queer characters. Two authors that might interest readers of Always Human are Mariko Tamaki and Emma Vieceli. Mariko Tamaki is well known for her works on various graphic novels and comic books with a wide variety of stories: from her original works such as Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me to her work on the comic mini-series Willow. Emma Vieceli is most well known for her work on several queer graphic novels including the ongoing series Life is Strange.
Always Human is well written. As said prior, the story focuses on a relatively clean future where the planet has not fallen apart. I have to give that credit since most future media tends to be dark and gritty, speaking on the horrible sections of humanity and how we are all destined to fall. For once, we see an optimistic side to the human race and how we can succeed and fail at the same time without needing to fall into either category. Sunati and Austen’s love story is always a back and forth of drama and hope that they can recover from it. Austen’s disability is handled with extreme care, making sure not to make her stereotypical. Rather, she is openly angry with the cards she has been dealt with and tries her hardest to operate in school without any of the accommodations offered to her by the school. As someone who did much of the same in school, ignoring the accommodations I could have gotten, I feel this was handled very well in terms of personal relationships and schooling for those with disabilities or illness.
If you’re looking for a story that is both queer and gives an optimistic outlook on humanity’s future, you can’t go wrong with Always Human. Its heartfelt and dramatic love story gives faith to anyone who wants to understand how to communicate with those who have illness or disorders that make life harder for them, and it does so in a manner that does not stereotype or make derogatory remarks about disabilities.
Always Human is, at the end of the day, the perfect graphic novel to read going into the new year. After such a harsh year where the worst of humanity seemed to show increasingly, Ari North’s fresh and bright look at the future is just what one needs as the year comes to a close.