Ambiguously Human

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In the trio lineup, the real human is to the far right.

It's no secret that all sorts of weird beings exist alongside humans. Stories in the Fantasy genre, for instance, give us fairy-tale figures like dragons, witches and wizards, elves and dwarves, and whatever other oddities a specific author may come up with to give his or her world some personal flavor. On the Science Fiction side of things, we meet aliens, robots, artificial intelligences, freaks of nature and all manner of homunculi. No matter how wildly they vary from one another, and from one series to the next, however, they all have one thing in common: they're physically distinct from humans, even if it's not by much.

Every now and again, though, while exploring the Fantasy Kitchen Sink, you'll run into a character of indeterminable race or species. Sure, they seem human, what with their upright stance, human-level intelligence, and ability to speak, and yet there's just something about them that gives them away as something distinctly other. Maybe it's that they live in a series where no human can do the things they do, maybe it's that a certain part of their body (or even most of it) is kept conspicuously concealed, or maybe it's that there just plain aren't any "other" humans around, raising suspicions. This person is Ambiguously Human. Fairly often, a series will go out of its way to avoid stating their out-and-out species, or they'll be called human or nonhuman in spite of their shared traits. If you can't figure out whether they spawned from the same end of the gene pool as you just by looking at them, though, they fit the bill.

Not to be confused with Rubber Forehead Aliens, a trope more closely related to Special Effects Failure than to this.

See also:

...so, did you Spot the Human yet? Here's a hint: he's not the one on the far left.

Give up? He's the one on the far right.

Examples of Ambiguously Human include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Take a look at Nagato, Ryoko and Kimidori in the Haruhi Suzumiya series. They look human, except for their strange hair color (purple, blue and green respectively). They aren't humans. They're interfaces created by the Integrated Data Sentient Entity, mainly because the boss happens to be formless data that can't interact with us, only observe.
    • Bear in mind that there are also normal humans (as far as we know) with odd hair colors in the series, so that's not a dead giveaway for identifying "interfaces" in disguise.
  • If you do a screengrab of Beppo in Gankutsuou and then clone her skin tone in MS Paint or a similar program, it suddenly becomes noticeable that her skin is mauve. Then you add in that manga!Beppo lacks nipples, in a canon that doesn't usually eliminate those...
    • Of course the said lack of nipples might also be intended as evidence of body-modification. It's strongly implied that Beppo is a pre-op transsexual.
  • Gecko Moria from One Piece. It's no secret that One Piece has a lot of Gonks and generally strange-looking people, but he seems too weird for even these. He is the tallest non-giant seen in the series, he has pure white skin, very sharp teeth, pointed ears and horns and generally looks like some monster clown devil, not really traits you connect with your average guy. Later knowledge of a race called "Snakenecks" came to light after his introduction, and given his very long neck and reptilian features it's a possibility. Still not confirmed, though.
  • Soul Eater; the only indication that Death the Kid is not a member of one of the 'verse's common races (Human/Weapon, witch) is his black-and-white striped hair. Unless you hurt or upset him enough that his Defence Mechanism Superpower/Super Mode kicks in.
  • In Kyo Kara Maoh!, there is literally no way to tell between demons and humans by looking at them. (Lampshaded in the anime when Yuri's mother is disappointed her husband and children don't have wings. Pretty much the only difference between them is their aging process, so in order to see if someone is human or not you just have to lock them up for a decade or two. Or ask them.
  • As they were originally planned to all be inhuman monsters, whether or not some of the members of Akatsuki in Naruto are human isn't initially clear. Kisame is a shark man, Kakuzu is a living rag-doll that steals people's hearts and can split demon-like creatures off from himself, and Zetsu is a Venus flytrap man with a Literal Split Personality. Later chapters and supplementary information show that Kakuzu is a human who heavily modified his body with forbidden ninjutsu, Kisame is just a weird looking human, and Zetsu's white half is an artificial creation of Madara's made from the first Hokage's cells while the origin of his black half is still unknown.
  • The Medicine Peddler from Mononoke has pointed elf-like ears, barely noticeable sharply-pointed canines and mononoke-exorcising powers—not to mention an alter-ego specifically designed for the purpose. Though his actual species is never revealed, it's rather obvious (to the viewers, anyway) that he isn't a normal human by any means.
  • Several in Mahou Sensei Negima, some more in-universe than others. Chao takes every oppurtunity to let the group know she's a "martian". Setsuna, a half-Tengu, can sprout wings, much to Asuna's delight. Past about two-thirds of the way into the Magic World arc, Mana has been revealed to be a half-demonfolk. The demonfolk girl Poyo has been introduced as the older sister of Zazie, which must account for something to do with the latter's anatomy.
    • Then, of course, there are all the residents of the magic world, who are completely human but for, say, pointy ears, or dragon horns.
    • Chachamaru went comically unnoticed by most of the rest of the class (apart from, of course, Chisame), and has become more so with the addition of Synthetic Skin. This has reached the point that, where once it was obvious due to mechanical limbs, it's only the antennae that really distinguishes her as an android anymore.
  • Arguably the Nations from Axis Powers Hetalia. They all appear human, but live for ridiculously long amounts of time (China is 4,000 years old and, by Word of God, immortal) and their physical age is tied to the military strength of the country they represent. Their "birth" consists of them randomly showing up in an area as a very small child, and most if not all of their family relations are Not Blood Siblings. Also, their physical wellbeing is directly affected by the status of their country (Spain is made ill by The Mafia in his country, Lichtenstein nearly starves to death when her country is in a depression, and Hungary is "freakishly strong" around the time when her country helped with the War of Austrian Succession)

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The Iron Queen in Sonic the Hedgehog was this at first. She looked like an Overlander, but was married to the Iron King, an ox. Word of God claimed she was a badger at the time. However, when Ian Flynn brought her back, he reversed this. The Queen is indeed human, and the titles are purely honorary.
  • There seems to be no real consensus as to whether the mutants in the various X-Men books are human or not. They refer to themselves as "Homo superior" which would make them not human, but it's unclear whether that's an accepted taxonomy or not. They can interbreed with humans, which should make us the same species, and they're often as different from each other as they are from a normal person, so if they're not human, it makes more sense to say each is a Single Specimen Species than that they all make up a single separate species (actually some do pass on their powers to their children, making, for example, Banshee and Siryn a species of two, though if they have the exact same powers, the children technically aren't actually mutants).
    • Additionally, there is also "Homo Supreme", a sort of super-mutant; the only known example is Mr. Immortal, who is theorized to have "evolved past death".
  • Sometimes comics will have comic relief characters with tenuous-at-best ties to continuity - like Ambush Bug, 'Mazing Man, or Forbush Man - who have cartoonish bodies (oversized heads or feet, unnaturally thin limbs, no nose, etc.) but everyone they interact with is a normally proportioned human. Basically, they're gonks. They're are assumed to be human because, well, what else would they be?
  • Cybersix looks and acts entirely human, witht he only real exception being that she (and all of von Reichter's creations were, well, created by him through cybernetic/genetic engineering.

Film[edit | hide]

  • The robotic Replicants from Blade Runner look entirely human except that they don't express empathy well. A psychological-reaction test is needed to identify one.
  • Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, who may or may not be a crossover Toon like the ones in the books.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy uses this trope very frequently, albeit (maybe) not intentionally. The author, Douglas Adams, occasionally describes his alien creatures' appearance in detail, but most of the time he neglects to describe them altogether other than to say that they're not from the Earth. In fact, only one species (the Bartledanians in Mostly Harmless) were ever described as looking exactly like humans, but since no one ever said how the other aliens aren't like humans, most of them were portrayed by ordinary actors in the film adaptation (pictured above).
    • Ford and Zaphod (the two aliens in the picture) do look human, though. Ford is able to pass for one for fifteen years without difficulty, and while Zaphod normally has two heads and three arms, when the extras are absent he can attend a human party with nobody raising an eyebrow.
  • In The Edge Chronicles there are various fantastic races (there are no Earth animals or plants whatsoever) but all of the protagonists are human-ish (they have pointy ears) and aren't given a race name. In around the tenth book, one of them is named as a 'fourthling' and described as pretty much what you get if you add up all of the other races and take an average.
  • Xanth gives us Humphrey, the magician of information. He is human, but centuries of dealing with high concentrations of magic seem to have given him a rather gnomelike appearance. Trent uses him as evidence as to why Xanth needs occasional fresh blood in the form of non-magical immigrants. Without periodic infusions of ordinary humans, the human race will either mutate into something else, or crossbreed itself out of existence.
  • In the Thursday Next series, fictional people and objects (from the Book World, where all literary characters live) are said to look different from "real" people and objects, but Thursday can't quite put her finger on the reason. When a villainous fictional character, Yorrick Kaine, escapes into reality, he's tricked into revealing his true nature because he can't discern who's talking without literature's "he said / she said" dialogue tags at the end of each spoken sentence.
  • Who Censored Roger Rabbit? has crossover Toons, Toons that look so much like humans, they can pass for one. In the series' 1947 setting, confirmed crossovers include The Three Stooges and Buster Keaton. No telling whether there are any left in today's Hollywood, but Johnny Knoxville and Rowan Atkinson may be hiding something from us.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, the people of Middle-earth are described as unsure how to classify wizards – they look like men, including with long white beards, but like elves they don't age even after centuries. In reality they're Maiar, angelic spirits that are just taking human form. Also Tom Bombadil, who looks human but obviously is something else. (Even Tolkien doesn't know what.)
  • Randall Flagg, antagonist of several Stephen King stories. His back story implies that he at least was human once, but his later incarnations are a bit less obvious about that fact.
  • On the Discworld, the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork is sometimes described as being comprised of "humans, dwarves, trolls, goblins, gargoyles, a vampire, a werewolf and Nobby Nobbs." He carries a certificate identifying him as human, but that only makes some people more suspicious.
  • Angela of Inheritance Cycle comes off as this. She seems like a young and very quirky human woman, but constantly claims that she's "older than she looks" and relates bits of back story implying a very complex and interesting life. She also seems to know certain spells that few or any other people can cast. Some fans have speculated that she is really an elf, though real-elf Oromis claims she's human.
  • Those Two Bad Guys of Neverwhere, Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar, are confirmed as nonhuman by Door, but we never find out what they are.
    • This goes for essentially everyone in London Below: they mostly look like (extremely idiosyncratic) humans, but have a variety of never-explained super-powers, seem to have been down there for generations, and occasionally traffic with overtly non-human beings.
  • The Stormlight Archive is made of this, the people of Roshar have some very strange genetics, with Multicolored Hair and strange eye colours abounding. To say nothing of various odd features of various ethnic groups. (foot long eyebrows, bluish skin, and a shadow that falls towards light rather then away from it.). They're all treated as humans in-story (except maybe the ones with the backwards shadows who got mostly exterminated at some point) but um......
    • Word of God from Sanderson is that the Fantasy Pantheon of his cosmology came from a world with humans, and so when they created their own worlds they used them as a template, but put their own spin on it. Also notable is the humans from Mistborn, who are capable of surviving in a post-apocalyptic ash-choked wasteland that would certainly kill earth humans, though they don't look any different.
      • well it's explicitly stated in the third Mistborn book that The Lord Ruler screwed around with the genetics of the people of the Final Empire so they could survive.
  • In the Dresden Files, lots of things like to take the appearance of humans. Some supernatural creatures actually have a humanesque form;
    • White Court Vampires' demon doesn't physically manifest, even though there are subtle physical changes when they draw on their demon
    • Changelings; half-humans-half-Fae, are human unless they Choose to be Fae.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Occurs frequently in Doctor Who, as non-Earth stories would feature human-like characters as often as not, but would rarely indicate whether they were spare-faring humans or Human Aliens. Even the more expensive new series isn't bereft of it, as the passengers in "Voyage of the Damned" seem to be entirely human but come from other planets in a time before humans develop interstellar travel.
    • The Fifth Doctor's companions Adric and Nyssa. Adric is a particularly interesting example: his people are supposedly from an Exo-Space planet called Terradon (hinted to be a Terran colony, due to its cultural parallels) who crashed on Alzarius in a starliner. Except they're not. They really evolved from Alzarian natives (spiders that incubate inside melons) via an intermediate race (Gill-Man lookalikes) who mimicked humans to fill their niche aboard the starliner.
    • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe attempts to justify this by explaining that Rassilon, the founder of the Time Lord race, intentionally tinkered with genetics on a universal scale to make other species more likely to evolve into a form that resembles his own species. So when the Doctor says that humans "look Time Lord", it's the literal truth. It also Retcons some of the human "aliens" in the show into descendants of human colonists.
    • The sixth series episode "Night Terrors" features a little boy named George who seems to be developing OCD. He's actually a powerful shapeshifting alien, but mimics humanity in order to be accepted by his human adoptive parents. His anxieties stem from fear that the masquerade won't be good enough.
  • In the original Icelandic stories and plays, Sportacus from LazyTown is explicitly called an elf. The releases in other countries make his race a bit more ambiguous, leaving his ears covered at all times.
  • Lazarus from the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Alternative Factor" and his alternate universe counterpart: were they human, or Human Alien? The episode itself seemed confused on this point.
  • Thadiun Okana, the man defined Informed Ability, from Star Trek: The Next Generation "The Outrageous Okana": Human or from a race of Human Aliens? Again, not otherwise specified.
  • Blake's 7: Is Cally a Human Alien telepath or from a race of humans who have artificially modified themselves to possess psionic gifts through cloning and genetic engineering? The series is confused on this issue. Dayna is also referred to as an "alien" at one point, but that may have been a legal as opposed to a biological definition: the implication being that she couldn't receive medical treatment on Earth because she wasn't an Earth citizen. In-universe, the common claim that all intelligent life originated on Earth is disputed, and several planets have "primitive" populations that may or may not have been descendants of colonists from Earth.
  • Mr. Young: Mrs. Byrne looks, behaves, and is treated like a human, but considering her age she's far too old to be any known species.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Princess Peach, in the Super Mario Bros. series. Her species is a matter of some debate among the series' fans. As far as anyone knows, she's a native of the Mushroom Kingdom, unlike Mario and Luigi, but if so, how is it that a human could have been naturally born in a world inhabited entirely by weird fantasy creatures? And if she is, somehow, just a very humanoid Toad (the mushroom people, not the amphibian), why does she look so darned human?
    • The kings in Super Mario Bros 3 all look human, so she's not that big an anomaly.
    • The series also gives us the Shy Guys, a sort of "tribe" of little guys so shy that they never expose a single square inch of their bodies to anyone. They wear long cloaks, shoes, belts, masks and gloves, and when they lose their masks the first thing they do is run away while covering their faces. It's unlikely, given the Mushroom Kingdom's populace, that they actually are human, but their basic shape indicates that they are.
      • In one of the Mario Power Tennis endings a Shy Guy's mask falls off. He's turned away from the screen, so you can't see what's underneath the mask yourself, but poor Luigi can see it perfectly. Luigi immediately falls over, looking like he saw a ghost, trembling in fear as the Shy Guy walks past him. This seems to imply that the Shy Guys are anything but human.
  • Mumbo the shaman and Gruntilda the witch in the Banjo-Kazooie series. Both of them have human forms, albeit with very strange skin color (bright pink and green, respectively), and Mumbo's face has been magically transformed into a skull-like mask, so there's no telling what he may have originally looked like. These two characters, says the manual, used to be magic partners, so they could be members of the same species. A Witch Species, perhaps?
  • The Legend of Zelda series is really big on unconventional fantasy races, but for every Goron (rock people), Zora (fish people) and Deku (plant people), there are several others that look almost entirely like normal humans. There are the Hylians, including Link and Zelda, who are only different from humans in that they have longer ears and can learn to perform magic. There are Gerudos, like Ganondorf, who look like dark-skinned humans, but are different in that only one male child is born to them every hundred years. There are the Sheikah, who look no different from "normal". And this doesn't even bring all the races that were "transformed into other forms" into account, like the Garo, Ikana, and Twili.
    • In the recent games the Hylian/human distinction has become irrelevant to the point that pointy ears are merely a visual shorthand for important characters. In Twilight Princess, pointy-eared people are referred to as humans too.
    • Hylians, Gerudo and Sheikah are humans. They're races in the Caucasian/Asian usage of the word, not the Human/Wookiee usage. The word human has two meanings in the series; the first refers to a race and the second refers to the species as a whole. It's been that way for Hylians/Humans since The Legend of Zelda a Link To T He Past.
  • In Touhou most of the non-human beings have some sort of physical feature that marks them as non-human, but not all of them. It's justified for the Witch Species, since some of them were human, but for characters like Yukari Yakumo? She's a Reality Warper and borderline Humanoid Abomination, but looks like a blond haired woman in a fancy dress.
    • Sakuya is classified as human, yet her time and spatial manipulation abilities are far beyond the capabilities of any other human (as well as being very similar to the abilities of a Lunarian character), and characters have noted her to be far more mature and worldly than her apparent age would indicate.
    • Sanae's position isn't particularly ambiguous (she's a human that's ascended to godhood while still alive), but whether the human or the god part of her is more important varies depending on her mood. The profiles list her as human, though.
    • On the opposite side of things, Hong Meiling is listed as a Youkai but not what type of youkai (and there are a lot), unlike nearly all of the others. Fan theories include her being a dragon in human form (as she's thematically associated with dragons) or a martial artist who became a youkai via chi manipulation.
    • Not even ZUN knows whether Futo is human, with her profile listing her species as "Human? (a taoist who self-identifies as a shikaisen)". More broadly, this applies to Miko (and Seiga?), also being a shikaisen, which is essentially human that faked their death in such a way that the Celestial Bureaucracy fell for it, gaining immortality (and other powers? It is unclear) in the process.
    • Related to the above are hermits. They're basically humans who get super-powers out of a strict training regimen. But there does seem to be some physiological changes, given that they act as Rare Candy to youkai...
      • It's also not clearly whether all hermits started out as human. The first hermit character introduced, Kasen Ibara, has many hints at being an oni instead.
  • Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik has always been a little... off. Even when the humans are all just as cartoony as he is, or when he is made more realistic-looking to fit the setting, he has caused many a raised eyebrow.
  • In the Shantae games, there's the heroine's enemy, Risky Boots. No explanation has ever been given for her violet skin and purple hair, but she seems little more than a Badass Normal pirate otherwise.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • The eponymous character of Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name. Despite the title, he is in fact theoretically a young man, but all of his True Companions are supernatural, vampires complain that he "smells dead", he goes to a medical school dropout when injured and there's a scar/wound on his chest of astounding, Normally I Would Be Dead Now proportions (which still has staples, which do not seem to impede his usual enthusiasm). He's also strangely light, even for his short stature, and one character calls him a "hollowed-out shell" of a man. Some fans wonder if this is literal.
    • He also claims to be 24, but looks about 14, which is commented on in-universe. While it's entirely possible that he's just scrawny, one can't rule out the idea that his aging may be supernaturally stunted.
    • Ples "Tik Tok" Tibenoch also counts, with the most popular fan theory being that he's some sort of clockwork cyborg. The mixture of blood and oil certainly seems suspicious.
  • Sister Catherine from Sister Claire seems human enough. But look closer. She's drawn differently than the other human characters. A lither body, angular eyes...on occasion you can actually spot some Cute Little Fangs. All of this, of course, is related to the comic's obsession with a certain species of animal...
  • Parodied in I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space wherein it is revealed that lesbians are this. A long and complex story is told off-screen to explain how come the protagonist doesn't have the lesbian antennae, nobody tries to explain when it turns out that lesbians exist in all other species also.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Teen Titans has Starfire and Raven, a humanoid innocent alien and a demon-human hybrid, respectively. Both girls have humanoid proportions, though Starfire has orange skin and maroon hair, and Raven has purple hair and gray skin . They may not pass for human in our world, but keep in mind that this is an Animesque series where an actual human has green skin, pointy ears, and fangs. (Of course, in the comics, that wasn't so before he acquired his shapeshifting powers. In fact, the green skin came first and fangs and pointy ears weren't so until much more recently.
    • Of course, then there's Cyborg, who is a cyborg. The only normal-human-looking main character is Robin.
    • It's made clear that there's nothing ambiguous about Starfire- even strangers she meets at a party know she's an alien, and her Bizarre Alien Biology is a frequent source of humor (and occasionally, plot points). Raven is more legitimately ambiguous, both in the sense that its unclear if anyone outside the Titans knows she's a nonhuman, and that it's never specified how different physically her demon heritage makes her from baseline humanity, beyond the obvious cosmetic aspects.
  • On CatDog, there's Mr. Sunshine, a green-skinned humanoid who speaks in a slow, languid voice. The ambiguity of his species is lampshaded in one episode when Rancid Rabbit starts arresting everyone for not having "licenses." (Dog doesn't have a "dog license," Lola doesn't have a "bird license, etc.) When he captures Sunshine, he says, "You're under arrest for not having a...not having a...not having a license!"
  • The Incredibles has the same problem as the X-Men, it's never made clear whether "Supers" are truly human, evolved humans, or something other than that. Much like Marvels mutants, it seems there's no true way to "become" a Super other than to be born that way.
  • Ms. Bitters, the "skool"-teacher on Invader Zim. She looks like an old woman, yet she can hover, move sinuously, pass through walls and is burned by the sun. One of the creators is on record as saying she's non-human, but her exact nature is never exactly qualified.
  • V.V. Argost in The Secret Saturdays is actually a Yeti.
  • The Coachman from Pinocchio. His Complete Monster status, evil Slasher Smile, and what he does to the boys he collects has more than a few people wondering if he's human. Adding to this is the fact that unlike all the other humans in the film, the Coachman actually only has four fingers!
    • People also wonder about his hooded, hairy, shadowy minions; are they humans, gorillas, or are they demons?
  • Finn of Adventure Time is explicitly human, to the point where "Finn the Human" is treated as his official full name/title. The show is filled with other humanoid creatures, however, with odd skin tones and generally weird traits that show them to be something else. (Heck, Finn's crush is made of bubblegum!) Finn believes himself to be the Last of His Kind, though whether or not this is true isn't certain, especially considering the Shrug of God towards Susan Strong's species.
    • Further hints have been made that Susan Strong is human, and one other character has been confirmed as ex-human: the Ice King.
  • There's some debate over whether Heloise on Jimmy Two-Shoes is human. She and Jimmy are the only two human-shaped citizens of Miseryville, but given that only Jimmy is hinted to be a Fish Out of Water, some fans wonder. With her occasionally slithering movements, one Epileptic Tree is that she's a naga (we never see her feet), though it has been shown she has two appendages under her dress.
  • The Manji from the animated Jumanji series were a whole tribe of Ambiguously Human Malevolent Masked Men. One character outright questions if they are people when she first sees them, Alan replies simply that they are 'Manji'. Basically, the giant masks that are treated as their faces are big enough that there could or could not be a humanoid head behind them. No one knows.
  • The dwarfs in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. It's uncertain whether they are the fey race or simply elderly, short humans.
    • There's also a theory that they're young men who got to looking old quickly from working in the mines-apparently it would happen for real at one time due to working conditions and the harsh toll they took.
  • The Pirates of Dark Water took place on "the alien world of Mer" which was populated by many nonhuman humanoid creatures, as well as a more common type of ambiguous human (or Human Aliens?) with distinct slanted eyes. What species the Pirate Lord Bloth belonged to was similarly ambiguous, considering his immense size, blue skin, and unusual facial features. Most of Bloth's pirate crew was similarly humanoid but probably not human, though ambiguous cases like Konk and Mantis did exist.
  • Buzz Lightyear of Star Command takes place in a galaxy full of all sorts of alien-looking races, most of which are identified by name if a significant enough character is a member. Buzz himself, however, is never specifically called "human", his home planet is never identified, and he never removes the purple "cloth" over the back of his head, even in civilian clothes - for all we know, it could actually be part of his head.
  • Quite a few villains from Codename: Kids Next Door. A lot of them have bizzare appearances but are never stated to be anything other than human.
  • The Gangreen Gang from The Powerpuff Girls. It's never specified if they're humanoid monsters or weird-looking teenage boys.