Anime Spotlight: Chobits

Introduction
Chobits is an anime series based on a manga series written by CLAMP. The manga was serialized in Japan between February 2001 and November 2002. The anime adaptation began airing on Japan on April 2, 2002; the final episode of the series aired on September 24, 2002.

Geneon Entertainment originally held the North American license for Chobits, but the company lost the license after it went out of business. FUNimation Entertainment during their panel at Anime Boston in 2010 that the company had acquired the license for the series. FUNimation released the entire series on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011; as of this writing, FUNimation still holds the North American distribution license for Chobits.

I first heard about Chobits when my sister was telling me about the series. When I became the Anime editor for BellaOnline, this was one of the titles I checked out through the King County Library System when I was first starting to write for the site. My husband and I were impressed enough by what we saw that we later purchased our own copy of the Chobits Complete Collection DVD box set before Geneon went out of business.

About Chobits
Chobits is set in an alternate present day, where a popular item for people to own is a Persocom. A Persocom is an android that looks like a realistic human and can be used as a personal computer; while the majority of Perocoms appear to be female, there are a few male Persocoms that are occasionally seen in the background.

The protagonist of Chobits is a young man named Hideki Motosuwa. He’s a student attending the Seki prep school in Tokyo, and has had a hard time passing the test that’s required in order to qualify for university. He dreams of having his own Persocom, but he’s a poor student who can’t afford one.

One evening, Hideki comes across a female Persocom that’s been abandoned with a pile of garbage. He decides to take the Persocom back to his apartment, since it doesn’t seem to belong to anybody. Unfortunately, when Hideki gets home, he realizes he has no idea how to use a Persocom. After some experimentation, he finally figures out how to turn the Persocom on.

When the Persocom is activated, all she can say is the word “Chi,” so this is what Hideki decides to name her. Hideki’s neighbor, Hiromu Shinbo, tries to help Hideki figure out how to make Chi work; what Shinbo discovers is there is no operating system loaded into Chi.

Shinbo asks his friend, Minoru Kokubunji, to take a look at Chi. Kokubunji determines that Chi is a custom-made model and is different from other Persocoms; in fact, Kokubunji wonders if she may be one of the legendary “Chobits.”

During the series, Hideki must teach Chi about the world. At the same time, Hideki has to try to focus on his own studies and on work. Hideki finds himself interested in three women that he meets in Tokyo, while Chi seems to develop feelings for Hideki. It turns out there’s more to Chi than most people realize, and the series follows what happens to Hideki, Chi, and to the people they know as more information about Chi’s past is revealed.

My Impressions of Chobits
During the early episodes of the Chobits anime series, I was given the impression that the show was simply a light and fluffy comedy. But as the series progressed, new elements were introduced which added new layers of complexity to the story. However, these new elements don’t feel forced, and they make sense for the universe that’s established in the series. One of the things I really liked that came out of the story’s evolution is how Hideki’s feelings toward Persocoms change, and how the story examines the affect Persocoms affect relationships with both humans and Persocoms. The series progresses from a light comedy to one that makes the viewer think about the relationships that appear in the series and the ramifications of these relationships.

Since seeing the anime, I have read all eight volumes that were released for the Chobits manga series. Overall, I was rather impressed by how faithfully the anime followed the manga. Admittedly, the ending between the two mediums is drastically different, but that’s really the most radical change between the two mediums. The anime also included some filler episodes with stories that were not in the manga; however, the amount of filler episodes really wasn’t large enough to distract from the overarching story.

Admittedly, there is some “fanservice” included in the series, especially in regards to Chi. Fortunately, the “fanservice” is just one of several elements that are used in the show, and it isn’t too terribly “in your face.”

Chobits and Controversy
Over the years, there has been criticism leveled against Chobits for being sexist. I believe a lot of this stems from the fact that Chi looks like a teenage girl or a grown woman, yet acts like and is treated like a young child.

Maybe as a woman I should be offended by the portrayal of Chi; however, I’m not. Let’s be honest for a minute: if the story was about Hideki trying to raise a young child of either gender and teach them about the world the way he teaches Chi, I don’t think you would see many people batting an eye at it.

If you’re familiar with my work at BellaOnline’s Anime site, you might be sitting there thinking, “But wait a minute! Didn’t you criticize The Pet Girl of Sakurasou for a similar kind of idea?” Yes, I did criticize that series as a story “basically perpetrating the idea that she’s [Mashiro] a female who can’t do anything for herself, and that she needs to rely on a man to do things for her.” However, I do see a distinct difference between The Pet Girl of Sakurasou and Chobits. In Chobits, Chi’s memory was completely wiped, so she basically has the mind of a child and is rather naïve; therefore, there’s a reason why she needs to have someone taking care of her in the manner that Hideki does. However, in the first episode of The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, there is no reason given for why Mashiro acts the way she does (being unable to choose her own underwear, needing help to tie her shoes, and needing someone to clean up after her), and needing to have Sorata do everything for her. Perhaps if an explanation had been given for Mashiro’s behavior, maybe I wouldn’t have had quite a problem with it. So while I do see some similarities between Chi and Mashiro, I can at least understand Chi’s situation and accept what is going on without being offended.

Another criticism I’ve heard in regards to sexism is the fact that the Persocoms who are focused on are female, and that the Persocoms are generally treated like possessions and as if they’re inferior to their owners. Like I said earlier, there are some male Persocoms shown in the background, even if none of the main Persocoms themselves are male. Since male Persocoms do seem to exist, even if they are in the minority, this kind of dilutes this sexist argument to some extent.

Conclusion
Chobits may not be a perfect series, but it does a good job of examining the relationship between humans and electronic devices shaped as people. While Angelic Layer, another manga series by CLAMP, tried to capture this dynamic, I think Chobits did a better job by going deeper into the relationships and their ramifications.

References
Funimation Adds Chobits, Eden of the East Films. Anime News Network. April 3, 2010.
Carpenter, Christina. “Chobits.” THEM Anime Reviews. 2002.

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