Review: Chobits (2002)

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Many of us are attached to the array of organisers, communicators, computers and other kinds of functional task-masters that we use for various ends on a daily basis. All these items tend to have common exterior design traits: a cold and hard surface, a box-like shape, a monitor or display of some nature — one that does not look back at us. While we often attribute the word ‘personal’ to most of these assistants in our labour and leisure, impersonal might better describe the experiential qualities of their interface with us.

Two other distinctive features of these consumer technology goods are their increasing levels of portability and horizontal integration. Some palm pilots more powerfully enable their users (in the “how fast are you, how dense” sense offered by Rudy Rucker) than the mid-90s desktop computer I’m using to write this review, and AM/FM radios, digital cameras, Java games, polyphonic ring tones and so on already comprise the standard range of mobile phone capabilities.

Chobits both remarks on this absence of anthropomorphism in our interaction with consumer technology and reflects the current synergistic trends of these fashionable products. From what I have seen so far, it is also a charming intervention of ‘the boy’s fantasy reconstruction of the girl’ narrative so familiar to this genre (something the self-evident symbolism on the front cover of this disc unfortunately fails to promote).

Most of the Persocoms in this series are equivalent to Asimovian robot subjects. They are humanoid or evince human characteristics and yet they function only according to the programming of their creators. Chi is an exception, perhaps a Chobit: a exceptional type of Persocom rumoured to exist. She is a near-sentient extension of the robot, capable of equating happiness with a smile and able to learn things for herself by interacting with people and the environment. Chi might be able to provide her male teen ‘master’ with access to Internet shopping, online dating, computer games and most importantly porn, she might function as his address book, social calendar and cell phone, but prior to all this Chi can and does cause Hiedki to evaluate and discover himself in relation to his gender opposite. The story begins with Hideki assessing his future and desiring a better standard of popular lifestyle. After he finds Chi, an enormous shift occurs in his value system: all his thoughts and feelings gravitate towards Chi’s well-being. While this may show signs of patriarchal objectification of women, I’m hesitant to follow those indicators. My grounds to do so are quite weak, I admit, since they consist of just one rejoinder: Hideki is an idiot.

For me, Chobits offers a popularist dismantling of idiotic male heterosexual fantasies. The final episode on this disc is excellent in this respect since it pokes fun at Hideki’s ineptitude and demonstrates how Chi has a positive effect on his mature development. Hideki has to purchase some underwear for Chi but he can’t manage to overcome his anxiety in order to enter a specialist garment store. After an elaborate plan fails, his desperation mounts. Invigorated by Chi’s sense of marvel and lack of apprehension in the episode’s main plot scenario he finds the confidence to rather flamboyantly do the deed.

I’m intrigued as to how this series will continue. Hideki is successfully established here as a slightly misguided boy with decent coming-of-age prospects. I imagine that his ongoing commitment to Chi will maintain its pretext of Hideki as her ‘teacher’ while in fact showing us that Hideki has an awful lot to learn from Chi.

8 premature nosebleeds out of 10.
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