chobitsModern technology is amazing. When comically large, brick-like cell phones were released in 1984, who could have imagined that over the course of the next thirty years, they would become so convenient that they would change the way we communicate? Apple’s development of the Siri personal assistant has made interaction with an artificial intelligence a reality beyond the confines of science fiction; at this very moment, I could unlock my phone with my thumbprint and ask Siri to display all of the Starbucks locations within a twenty mile radius, complete with suggested driving routes and traffic conditions. Amazing!

The personal assistant technology found in CLAMP’s Chobits predates Siri by almost ten years. In the show, people have become enamored with anthropomorphic computers called Persocoms. Designed after men, women, and children, the Persocom’s human features upset the balance and dynamic between man and machine. Humans are encouraged to not develop emotional attachments to their androids, as they can lose sight of the endearing and peculiar imperfections that make real people so interesting. After all, what’s the point of pursuing human relationships when you’ve got a perfect machine that can fulfill your every desire? Although Chobits visits some funny and adorable places, the complex emotional relationship between humans and their Persocoms is its primary concern.

Hideki Motosuwa is a farm boy who wants to go to college, but he doesn’t have the grades to get in. Although he is ill-prepared for city life, he moves to Tokyo to attend a cram school where he begins spending time with his neighbor, Hiromu Shinbo. Hiromu owns a diminutive Persocom, which fascinates Hideki, who has never seen one before—nor could he ever hope to afford one. As luck would have it, Hideki comes across a female Persocom discarded in a trash heap, but when he activates her, the girl can do nothing but say the word “chi.” With help from Hiromu and child prodigy Minoru Kokubunji, Hideki discovers that the android’s operating system is missing, leaving her memory completely erased. As most Persocoms cannot function without it, the young men suspect that she could be a custom-made Chobit, a legendary Persocom that can function outside normal parameters. As Minoru searches for answers, Hideki must teach the android—now called Chi—everything she needs to know to become a member of modern society.

Chi’s software-based amnesia and Hideki’s role as a fish out of water give Chobits its comedic legs; the show prominently features Hideki’s attempts to juggle school, work, and teaching Chi, all of which lend themselves to situational comedy. At school, Hideki’s thoughts often wander towards Chi, which puts him at odds with his instructor. While at work, he spends his free time fantasizing and enjoying the company of his lovely coworker, Yumi Omuira. The rest of Hideki’s time is consumed teaching Chi how to interact with others and take care of herself, from bathing to learning how to read. As Chi grows into a fully-functioning Persocom, she finds herself caring for Hideki on a deeper level than any android should.

While the cute factor is a big draw for Chobits, the series eventually becomes more mature. After acquiring his Persocom, Hideki is warned by his new friends to not fall in love with Chi—but he is surrounded by those who have done just that. In a surprising turn of events, Hideki discovers that Hiromu has eloped with their prep school teacher, Takako Shimizu. Already a married woman, Takako confesses to Hideki that her husband has grown so obsessed with their Persocom that he has forgotten about her. After modeling his Persocom after his dead sister, Minoru is extremely overprotective of it. Still another character’s marriage to his Persocom has ended in tragedy. While these characters should serve as cautionary tales, it doesn’t stop Hideki from developing feelings for Chi. However, I found it difficult to be drawn into Hideki’s plight because I suspected from the beginning that something would allow Hideki and Chi to live happily ever after. Because of this, the plot lacks any real sense of urgency.

Despite its sugary sweetness, Chobits has a bit of an edge, especially when it comes to fanservice. For example, Chi’s off switch is located in her genital region and a great deal of attention is paid to Hideki’s obsession with porn. When Hiromu describes the capabilities of a Persocom, Hideki’s thoughts linger on its ability to view internet porn. Much to Hideki’s chagrin, Chi accidentally learns mannerisms and poses from his hidden porn stash, causing him a measure of personal embarrassment in mixed company. Outside these situations, there is little sexuality in Chobits but for one serious exception. In the show’s most distressing episode, Chi is tricked into performing at a peep show; spurred on by the host, Chi undresses herself for a number of unseen viewers and is asked to touch herself. Chi’s innocence and vulnerability make the scene hard enough to watch, but it is made worse when the host places the girl on his lap and proceeds to feel her up. While Chi is rescued by Hideki and the peep show host is punished, the damage has already been done. Try as I might, I couldn’t divorce this scene from the rest of the show. Although the remainder of the series is free of such imagery, viewers should be warned that Chobits features moments that really push its rating.

Beyond its apparent cuteness, Chobits spends twenty-six episodes exploring our relationship with technology and machines. Hideki’s goofiness and Chi’s sweet innocence are mere fluff, designed to help brighten the mood after sobering moments of emotional depth. Though humanity has a long way to go before we start falling in love with robots, Chobits paints a fairly accurate picture of the issues our society might face if technology advances enough to create lifelike androids.

Chobits: The Complete Series
FUNimation, 2011
directed by Morio Asaka
675 minutes, Number of Discs: 4, DVD
Company Age Rating: 14+
Related to: Chobits by CLAMP

  • Allen

    | He/Him Past Reviewer

    Allen Kesinger is a Reference Librarian at the Newport Beach Public Library in California. He maintains the graphic novel collections at the library, having established an Adult collection to compliment the YA materials. When not reading graphic novels, he fills his time with other nerdy pursuits including video games, Legos and steampunk.

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