Friday, March 13, 2009

Chobits (anime TV series, vol. 1)

(Well, this is many hours late, but I'm still posting it on the same day I'd normally have a post. Enjoy!)

Hideki, who has lived his whole life out in the country, dreams of attending a university. Unfortunately, he gets rejected, so he decides to attend a prep school in Tokyo. It seems like everyone in Tokyo has a persocom, a person-shaped computer. Hideki would like one, too, but he's so poor he can barely afford his tiny apartment. However, he's lucky enough to find an abandoned persocom piled on some trash - Hideki figures if her owners don't want her anymore, he can take her, guilt-free.

Hideki doesn't know anything about persocoms, and the one he found seems to be broken - she can only say "chi," so that's what he ends up naming her. Both his friend Shinbo and Minoru, a young genius, can't figure hardly anything out about her, not even which OS she's running. All Minoru can tell Hideki is that Chi appears to be custom-made and has the ability to learn (Hideki, as her owner, has to teach her).

Owning a persocom, even one as amazing as Chi, is expensive. Hideki eventually gets himself a job. In the last episode of the disc, Hideki agonizes over a particularly embarrassing errand he needs to run for Chi - getting her a pair of underwear (his landlady gave him some clothes Chi could use, but he feels too embarrassed to ask her for underwear). After two weeks of trying and failing to enter the lingerie store, Hideki sends Chi to get the underwear herself, with Sumomo (Shinbo's tiny persocom) to watch out for her and guide her. Although Chi eventually gets to the store, she misunderstands what Hideki wanted her to do, and Hideki ends up having to buy the underwear on his own anyway.

I'll start this off by saying that I've both read all the manga and seen all the anime. In my opinion, the manga is better - the anime goes a bit overboard on the fanservice and has more filler than the manga (like the trip to the lingerie store, which takes an entire episode). However, this first disc of the anime still gives me happy, fuzzy feelings. It's really a sweet series.

This is also the sort of series that's guaranteed to get some people up in arms. From the very first episode, viewers know Hideki is obsessed with porn - although all the "porn" images shown on-screen aren't any worse than a Victoria's Secret catalog. Then there's the way Chi must be switched on - there's something I'm sure will shock some viewers. The series has fanservice everywhere. Minoru, who's only about 12 years old, has four scantily-clad persocoms. Hideki is constantly either having nosebleeds or freaking out around Chi, who spends some of these first few episodes either naked or nearly naked (what little nudity is shown on screen is of the Barbie doll variety - no actual detail).

Still, if you can look past all of that, it's really a sweet series. This first disc is heavy on the comedy, but later parts of the series get much more serious - I'll write about that when I get to those discs, since otherwise I might mix things up with events that happen only in the manga. Hideki may be obsessed with breasts, pretty women, and porn, but he's also an all-around nice guy and a bit of a dork. He overreacts to everything, which just makes it more fun for the women around him to mess with his head - for instance, when Yumi, a high school student who's sort of the reason why he manages to find a job, catches Hideki staring at her chest, she teases him about it and tells him his embarrassed and stammering reaction is cute.

What I particularly like about Hideki is that, as much as he says Chi is "just a persocom," he can't seem to help but treat her like he would a person. If she were really "just a perscom" to him, he could treat her like his own personal sex toy if he wanted. Instead, he can't see her naked without blushing, he withstands lots of embarrassment to make sure she's completely and properly dressed, and he enjoys teaching her new things and making her happy. Although no one in this first disc tries to treat Chi badly, viewers do get to see that others treat persocoms differently than Hideki. Minoru, for instance, isn't the slightest bit upset when Chi accidentally overpowers four of his persocoms, perhaps damaging them (very different from his reaction to the possibility that his fifth persocom, Yuzuki, was damaged, but I'll get more into that in a later post). Finally, there's the very matter-of-fact way Shinbo spread Chi's legs looking for some kind of maker's mark, compared to the way Hideki freaked out about pressing Chi's "on" switch (located in her vagina, or at least between her legs). I actually thought it was kind of sweet that, just before pressing her "on" switch, Hideki hugged Chi close - I saw it almost as a comforting gesture, as well as yet another example of how, deep down, Hideki can't help but think of persocoms as people.

This is not a shojo series, although some may see it as such because of all the sparkly romance. I'm sure there's a word or phrase for it in Japanese, but, if there is, I don't know it - personally, I call stuff like Chobits "romance for guys." Almost all of the persocoms that get a significant amount of screen time are female - even if you look at persocoms in the background, it seems like 99% of them are female. It kind of makes me wish that there were a version of Chobits intended more for a female audience. Still, something about Chobits just goes down easier for me than a few other "romance for guys" anime/manga series I've seen.

Overall, I really enjoyed this first disc for its humor, cuteness, and sweetness, even if an entire episode about underwear shopping seemed a bit much. Chi and Sumomo are adorable - there are times I'd love to have a tiny persocom like Sumomo!

I watched this disc both in Japanese (with subtitles) and English. The English dub isn't bad, although Crispin Freeman, who I tend to adore as a VA, is occasionally slightly annoying as Hideki (usually, this seems to be worst during Hideki's freak-out periods). I really didn't like the English dub casting decision for Minoru. I prefer watching the disc in the original Japanese not just because I like all the VAs, but also because it's a fun way to learn a few simple Japanese phrases. I'm serious - several of the phrases Hideki teaches Chi are things that were taught in a class on Japanese culture I took a few years back. There could be a whole series of Japanese language DVDs - "learn Japanese with Chi!"

As far as extras go, the disc doesn't have much. There's a little art gallery, a clean opening, and some previews of other anime. Volume One also comes with a folded insert that features three pictures of Chi.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (live action movie) - This film takes place in a future where humans have figured out how to build mechas (robots) that look like humans. These mechas are used and thrown away (or worse) when they are no longer wanted or needed. David is an artificial child, the first mecha to have real feelings. Monica adopts him as a substitute for her son, who is in cryo-stasis, but David is no longer necessary when her son is able to come home. Alone, David goes on a journey to find out how to become a real boy. This movie is darker and more heavily philosophical than this disc of the Chobits anime, but it deals with some of the same issues as Chobits. What makes a person a person? Can artificial people really love, and how do they/should they fit into the human world?
  • Absolute Boyfriend (manga) by Yuu Watase - Riiko is an energetic and nice girl who doesn't have any luck with guys. One day, a strange-looking salesman gives her the URL of a website that sells "love figures" (androids designed to be the perfect lovers). Riiko doesn't really believe any of it is real, but she orders one and signs up for a free trial anyway. The love figure, called Night, does arrive, but Riiko forgets to return him before the end of the trial. If she keeps him, she'll owe the company more money than she could ever pay, but, even if he's only a robot, she's starting to like him too much to give him up. Those who'd like another story featuring attractive robots might want to try this. Like Chobits, this series has romance and deals a little with the implications of falling in love with something non-living and manmade.
  • Body Electric (book) by Susan Squires - This is a very unusual romance novel - the main "male" in the story is an artificial intelligence program, and the main female is, emotionally, pretty unhealthy (which is part of what makes this story fairly dark in tone, and certainly darker than the Chobits anime). Vic Barnhardt, a brilliant and troubled computer programmer, creates Jodie, an artificial intelligence program that she, at first, decides is female. She is shocked and outraged when Jodie finally breaks it to her that it considers itself to be male, but Vic eventually adjusts and her relationship with Jodie deepens even further. Eventually, in order to save Jodie from her boss, Vic must find him a body. This book starts off a bit slow, and Vic's emotional issues may bother some readers. Those who'd like another story dealing with the emotional relationships between humans and human-like computers/programs may want to try this.

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