Welcome back to the blog! I hope you all had a fantastic holiday break with a lot of food and/or fun times, and didn’t get into any ridiculous holiday arguments with any racist relatives. (If you did, I hope you won.) I wanted to kick off the new year with a great webcomic called Always Human, which you might have seen floating around on Tumblr. It’s a fantastic, romantic story that everyone should read, and, if you’re a manga fan, it should give you some warm fuzzy feelings.
The very first thing which grabbed my attention about this series was the art. Always Human’s art is very similar to that of the shoujo manga series that I read in high school—it has the same cute facial expressions, misty backgrounds, and extreme use of white space that all my favorite manga had, and aesthetically, that automatically stirred up a huge wave of nostalgia. And, like those shoujo series, Always Human is also a love story. However, this isn’t a heteronormative, clichéd story about the quiet new transfer student and the popular high school jock—Always Human is about Sunati and Austen, two girls in the far future who meet at a train station and start dating.
In the future, almost everyone is able to use “mods”—modifications that can change basically any part of a human’s biology. Sunati, who’s very into fashion, uses mods to change her hair and eyes, and even uses memory and focus mods to help her study. One day, though, she sees a girl, Austen, who always looks the same and never uses any mods. It makes Sunati think that Austen must be really brave, and every day at the train station, she tries to make herself say something to Austen. Eventually, when she sees Austen sneezing, she offers Austen a hay fever mod, only to have Austen run off angrily. A few days later, Sunati finds out that Austen has a rare autoimmune condition that means that she can’t use any mods at all.
Luckily for our story, though, Austen still agrees to go out with her.
Although the focus of the story is on the two girls and their relationship, author Ari has created a hugely fascinating world through these mods. People can literally change any part of their biology, although most people like to stay more or less the same—Sunati’s quick mod changing is pretty unique. This means that among other things, people can change their gender and the color of their skin, and that brings up some very interesting implications for the cultural and social norms of this future. For example, the author has said that Sunati is of Indian and Indonesian descent, but no matter her sartorial choices, Sunati always has dark skin, which implies that our fashionable protagonist doesn’t see any need to change her skin color to fit into societal beauty norms. Perhaps it’s been so many years that racism has been engineered out the door. Similarly, while Austen is confirmed cis, the author has said that she isn’t too concerned with which gender Sunati was designated with at birth, because gender can easily be changed in the future. Always Human is a fairly new series, so it hasn’t touched too much on these issues yet, but they’re so interesting that I’m definitely hoping they become more relevant in future installments.
The other cool thing about Always Human is that it actually comes with its own soundtrack! It’s featured on Webtoons, and as you read each new strip, an autoplay track of music composed by the author plays while you’re reading. I usually dislike autoplay, particularly if, as always, I can’t manage to make myself turn off the Hamilton soundtrack, but I found that Always Human‘s soundtrack really added a lot to my reading experience. Remember when I said the art was very shoujo manga? This is shoujo anime music. I could see the sakura petals floating in the wind, and I loved every second of it.
You can read Always Human here on Webtoons! (Please read it on Webtoons, as the author is supported and paid by the number of views she gets.) And if you’re really interested, you can also follow it here on Tumblr for Q&As with the author, as well as some awesome fanart.