Thursday, April 16, 2009

Chobits (manga, vol. 2) by CLAMP

The previous volume ended with Ms. Shimizu at Hideki's place, guzzling alcohol. At the beginning of this volume, Hideki wakes up to find himself in his underwear, with Ms. Shimizu still there, cheerfully teasing him ("Don't worry, Hideki. I didn't take advantage of you."). The two of them head on over to cram school - Ms. Shimizu seems to be doing fine, despite all the drinking, but Hideki notices that Shimbo looks both exhausted and angry. When Shimbo gets upset after finding out that Ms. Shimizu stayed over at Hideki's, Hideki almost manages to figure out what's going on, except that Yumi interrupts his train of thought. As usual, Yumi becomes sad when the subject of persoms comes up. She seems to become even sadder at the thought that Hideki might find a persocom like Chi to be cuter and more fun that a human being, so Hideki assumes Yumi has a crush on him. When Yumi invites him to join her for a picnic lunch, Hideki's assumptions appear to be confirmed.

While Hideki was out, Chi was at Ms. Hibiya's, trying on clothing. Ms. Hibiya mysteriously reveals that the (very frilly and revealing) clothing Chi is trying on was made for her. She talks about Chi as though she knew her from before Hideki found her. Also, she has the picture of the other Chi that Minoru received in the previous volume, and she talks about the "someone just for you" (in this case, someone just for Chi), just like Chi's picture book. When Hideki comes home, he's too excited about his upcoming date with Yumi to notice anything significant about the way Chi talks about her new clothes. He certainly doesn't notice Chi's reaction when he talks about his date with Yumi.

Before Hideki and Yumi meet up, Hideki finds the second volume of the "A City With No People" picture books, which contiues the whole "someone just for me" thing, ending with something that might be worrying Chi even now - "what if that person does not love you back?"

While on their date, Hideki and Yumi bump into Minoru and Yuzuki. When Minoru notes in approval that Hideki seems to still enjoy human companionship more than that of a persocom like Chi, Hideki takes the opportunity to ask about Minoru's unusual relationship with Yuzuki. It turns out that, after Minoru's only remaining family, his sister, died, Minoru created Yuzuki and made her as much like his sister as possible. Unfortunately, what he did not forsee (heck, he was, what, 10 when he built her?) was that the more Yuzuki became like his sister, the sadder he would become. Although her love feels real, no one knows better than Minoru that it's just part of her programming. All this gives Hideki something to think about when he goes home to Chi, who has spent Hideki's date meeting her other self (who could be called "gothic lolita Chi") within her mind, or whatever you call it when it's a persocom you're dealing with.

The next day, Chi notices Hideki bemoaning his lack of money and announces that she'd like to get a job. All she knows are the jobs listed in Hideki's porn magazines - not the kinds of things Hideki wants her doing. While Hideki is at work, Chi goes off on her own to find a job and ends up being approached by a guy from a peep show - it's not until after he gets home that Hideki finds out from Ms. Hibiya that Chi's gone off on her own. Hideki goes looking for her, sees Shimbo, and decides that Shimbo could help. However, Shimbo is having a very serious discussion with Ms. Shimizu. To Hideki's shock, it looks like the two of them have been having an affair. They're interrupted by a call from Minoru, who's spotted Chi in a live online peep show. Completely forgetting the whole Shimbo/Ms. Shimizu thing, Hideki springs into panicked action, borrowing Plum from Shimbo and running to Chi's location.

The peep show guy has been asking Chi to take off her clothes, which she doesn't have too many problems with. However, when he asks her to "play with herself," she doesn't know what he means at first. Then the "other Chi" prevents Chi from doing as he says, so the peep show guy decides to help her along. Something goes wrong, and suddenly persocoms everywhere are at a stand-still. They all go back to normal when Hideki finds Chi, who collapses in his arms.

Wow, CLAMP sure managed to cram a lot into one volume. Everybody but Hideki has secrets, it seems, and even Hideki has lots to think about, what with all the "persocoms vs. humans" stuff. A bit of humor and some blatant fanservice (Chi's dress - what is with Ms. Hibiya's fashion sense?!) keep the overall volume from being too weighty, but quite a few serious issues come up. Even if I hadn't already read this entire series, I'd be able to tell there's more heavy stuff to come.

At the moment, I can only think of one thing I'd like to write about for this volume, and it's a spoiler - so, you've been warned. If you'd rather not read any spoilers, I'd suggest you skip to the read-alikes (which, since I'm lazy, will look awfully familiar if you've read my other Chobits posts - it's hard thinking up new stuff, but I guess I should for volume 3).

Anyway, I'd like to write about Ms. Hibiya. Considering what is later revealed about Ms. Hibiya's relationship to Chi, I couldn't help but be amazed by some of the things she did (or didn't do) in this volume. First, the clothes. If that's what Ms. Hibiya dresses her "daughter" in, I wonder how she used to dress her dolls when she was little. Gah. And wow, all that studying (or maybe all that porn, since I'm not sure how much studying Hideki has managed to do) must have blown some of Hideki's brain cells, because it doesn't occur to him even once to wonder why Ms. Hibiya, whose clothes are perfectly ordinary, might have something like the clothes she gives Chi on hand.

Second, Ms. Hibiya's cheerful and completely non-worried reaction to Chi's announcement that she's going off to find a job. She knows Chi is somewhat lacking the in the common sense department, and yet she doesn't worry when Chi leaves or when she's been gone for a while. I suppose she might have assumed that Chi's inner gothic lolita Chi will keep her safe, but still - even though there's more to Chi than meets the eye, she's not invincible.

Well, overall things are definitely becoming more exciting in this volume. If someone at my library ever decides that we need manga, this might be one of the titles I'd suggest. The human-AI relationships theme is interesting, the artwork is lovely, and the series as a whole is short enough that it would be possible to buy the whole thing without too much trouble and expense. As an academic library, the "boobie" factor (to borrow Otaku Librarian's amusing and apt way of putting it) wouldn't be as big of a worry for us - however, other libraries might sweat a bit over Hideki's interest in porn, scantily clad Chi (and the various women in Hideki's dreams), Chi's non-Barbie boobies (nipples!), and what must be done to switch Chi on or off.

I promise, I'll try to make this the only post to use the word "boobies." Now, on to the read-alikes and watch-alikes.

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 pretty dark and heavily philosophical, 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 man-made.
  • 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.
  • Oh My Goddess! (manga) by Kosuke Fujishima - Keiichi Morisato, a student at a technical university, accidentally calls a Goddess Help Line while attempting to call a restaurant for some take-out. A beautiful goddess named Belldandy shows up and tells him he can have one wish. He wishes for her to be his girlfriend forever, and things get more complicated from there. There are other goddesses who come calling throughout the series, magic goes awry, and magic is used to help people be happier. Those who'd like another "romance for guys" in which the main female love interest wants nothing more than to make the guy happy, sometimes with disastrous results, might like this.

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