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Chobits

Entry updated 7 February 2022. Tagged: TV.

Japanese animated tv series (2002). Madhouse. Based on the Manga by CLAMP. Directed by Morio Asaka. Writers include Jukki Hanada, Genjiro Kaneko and Sumio Uetake. Voice cast includes Isshin Chiba, Kikuko Inoue, Tomokazu Sugita and Rie Tanaka. 26 25-minute episodes, plus two OVAs. Colour.

When country boy Hideki Motosuwa (Sugita) moves to Tokyo to attend Prep School, he sees his first persocoms – combined servants and Internet connections (their name derives from "personal Computer") – who usually take the form of cute female Androids. Finding a deactivated one dumped in the trash he takes her to his digs, activating her after locating the On-Off switch in her groin. He thinks about stories where "a girl barges into your life ... has special powers, can do anything and loves the guy she lives with ... [doing his] cooking, cleaning" ... though currently all she (Tanaka) can say is "Chii", which becomes her name. As she is essentially a tabula rasa, Hideki decides to educate her. She is kidnapped twice, once to be a Sex worker, the second time by someone recognizing her as an urban legend, a Chobits (he also remarks that "Chii" is a name you would give a pet): when he tries to press her On-Off switch – which she considers is only for "the one person who is the one for me" – she atypically fights back.

Hideki's landlady, Ms Hibiya (Inoue), was once a Scientist involved in the programming of persocoms: because she could not have children, her husband built Chii and Freya (whom Chii has a vision of) who are more advanced than normal persocoms, capable of love. Unfortunately Freya fell in love with the husband, eventually disappearing; the husband died and Ms Hibiya is now manipulating events so that Chii can find happiness. Which she does when Hideki returns her declaration of love ... whereupon she floats into the sky, linking to all persocoms. Two persocoms tracking Chii have orders to destroy her should this happen, as she is about to run a program their creator considers harmful to persocoms. However, one of the trackers, Zima (Chiba), muses that whether it is for good or ill might just be a matter of perspective: he allows Chii to run the program, which gives all persocoms true sentience (see AI).

The finale reveals that Chii had absorbed Freya's consciousness (which had surfaced earlier when Chii needed to defend herself) and has Chii belatedly experiencing doubt about whether love between a human and a persocom is possible – her personality disappears from the Chobits, leaving only Freya. Freya now asks to be terminated as both she and Chii have failed in love: Miss Hibiya obliges, but Hideki then gives an emotional speech to the now seemingly blank Chobits ... Chii resurfaces and all ends happily.

The Anime engages interestingly with questions regarding people's relationship with Technology; how they use it to avoid engagement with others (reflected in the book "A City With No People" that Chii reads). It is good, but flawed: the first half has many cringe elements before it starts to pursue its themes, and they never entirely disappear. Chii is mentally a child; Hideki – despite spending most of his time either bashful, flustered or embarrassed – an adult. There are male persocoms, but – aside from Zima near the end – they are "blink and you'll miss them" background characters (Zima also happens to be the only one to question their programming). As a result, persocoms are presented as an adolescent male wish-fulfillment figures: non-threatening, obedient and sexually available (there is Fan Service). Many, many anime have similar problematic elements; here it is particularly grating as this work clearly wishes to interrogate these matters (see Feminism) – and certainly, criticism of male fantasies can be inferred, but they are not overt: it is as if The Stepford Wives (1974) had decided to downplay criticism of the husbands' attitudes to protect male sensibilities.

The original manga was written by CLAMP, an important all-woman manga collective; though this was generally more serious in tone throughout – going into greater depth with its themes and focusing more on Hideki and less on Chii being cute – the basic story was the same. [SP]

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