After failing to get into college, Motosuwa Hideki settles for a year of cram school to gain the necessary credentials. While living in the city, he also gains an interest in Persocoms, which are basically humanoid computers.
However, due to their steep price tags, Hideki had slim hopes of ever getting one of his own... until he encounters one that's supposedly being thrown out in the trash. Eagerly bringing her home, he activates her, only to find her completely devoid of anything besides a single-word vocabulary and some pretty basic emotions.
When I was a lad in the early stages of my twenties, I watched a movie named Cyborg 2. Said movie were merely another entry in the long list of typical 80's martial arts/post acopalyptic movies I had a tendency of watching at the time inbetween various Schwarzenegger movies. The plot in Cyborg 2 was centered around the concept of female (and mislabelled) cyborgs, who were tasked with seducing rival company heads and then self-detonating. However, one of them had fallen in love with one of her human coworkers, and the main story is about the two of them escaping their corporate shadows.
I don't really remember the movie itself too well -- I'm assuming it's mostly made up of fight scenes and chase scenes, with some light dialogue to get the story moving -- but the ending? In it, our two main characters make it out to freedom, where we are treated to a montage of the two consummating their love, and then a time-skip montage where we see the human male lead grow old and die while the cyborg/android female remained young.
It was a jarring end that left me awake and thinking about it long after the movie had ended. Was this what they fought for? Was it worth it? How did they feel about this obvious hurdle?
The reason I mention this is because, for all its pandering through Chii's ridiculous cuteness, this theme isn't lost on Chobits. They don't specifically go into the topic of human beings growing old and away from their ever-young Persocom companions, but the whole point of the manga was and is this; starting a relationship with something so fundamentally different to human beings are going to bring a whole lot of problematic situations to the table, something which isn't completely lost on the anime.
Madhouse Studios does a wonderful job of bringing the manga's art to the screen, while adding a few touches of their own, like the obviously CG generated scrolling backgrounds during many of Hideki's panicky reactions. Naturally, some sacrifices had to be made -- for instance; CLAMP's delight in dressing up Chii in the frilliest of costumes has been neutered somewhat. Which is understandable, but leaves Chii's wardrobe -- as Mike Toole so efficiently put it -- "almost uniformly unflattering and ugly". It isn't almost so, but you're going to have to put up with a lot of this, at least during the first half.
On a more pleasing note, Chobits has a very rich aural atmosphere; from the many clicks, hums and whirrs coming from the persocoms, which are bound to sound very familiar to people who own or work with computers to the dub itself. One reviewer whose name I can't remember offhand, mentioned that Hideki's voice actor, Crispin Freeman, sounds older than the character he plays. While I don't necessarily agree with this, he gives Hideki a very distinct voice that makes him an easily identifiable actor whose roles you are bound to recognize in other shows. I do so love Michelle Ruff's role as Chii, though, mostly because she doesn't mirror Rie Tanaka's loud, monotone voice, which Japanese voiceovers have an irritating habit of imparting robotic characters in various anime. (Like KOS-MOS in Xenosaga, to name an example.)
Adding to that, we have a distinct soundtrack that fits the show like a tee, a low-key lounge jazz kind of music, including one of my favorite songs in the show -- an insert that makes its appearance in episode 17, which is one of the filler episodes of the show itself. Also, the intro theme is made by none other than Round Table, which would later go on to making two of the ending themes to my favorite anime; Aria.
Sadly, as manga conversions go, the anime doesn't entirely live up to said manga despite all the visual and aural candy. Christi mentioned in her review that she felt the anime was simply too much about Chii. She also mentioned another of the biggest problems with Chobits as an anime being simply this; filler episodes. I'm not sure it's because the anime caught up with the manga too soon, but much evidence points towards it, mostly because after the first disc with the introductory episodes, a lot of the following episodes has nothing to do with the manga at all, and the quality of said filler episodes range from fair to irrelevant to downright asinine. The "best" of the fillers could probably be found in the "spring cleaning" episode, which not only contains the aforementioned song I mentioned, but also lends the show a relatively atmospheric scene. My least favorite filler episode used to be the pantsu episode (ep. 4), but due to Chii's voice being far more pleasant in the English dub, it's actually quite tolerable now. My current least favorite (ep. 12) is the "online gaming" episode, where the show spends a full episode regaling the audience with its basic knowledge of online gaming. As someone who is into videogames myself, I find the episode unreasonably boring, and it serves absolutely no purpose other than to remind us how special Chii is. And by "remind us", I mean "hammer that crap in".
The filler episodes also showcases one of the other problems the show has; its need to blatantly point out character traits. Reading the manga, we get that Hideki is a somewhat academically stunted character who isn't used to dealing with girls, while the anime has entire EPISODES dedicated to this concept. Even barring the episode where Hideki loses his wallet and thus can't buy something as basic as food, the show goes to great lengths to point out how poor he is and how bad a study he can be. And all this is, as mentioned, relegated to filler episodes. Which mean if you know which episodes you want to skip, it actually improves the show by a relatively decent margin, at least in Hideki's case.
Which brings me to my next complaint; Chii. In the manga, you can actually easily see Chii's personality and complexity grow. She goes from being a barely functionable robot to an expressive and inquisitive character in her own right. The anime version, however, is a lot more muted -- almost lethargic. She basically does everything she also does in the manga, but for all her cuteness, the spring in her step has lost much of its energy. I feel that this is the show's biggest disadvantage.
My last issue with the show would probably be how the story itself plays out. I actually watched the anime before reading the manga, but I still learned that the endings to the two versions play out fundamentally different. Personally, I thought the manga ending made more sense and is the better one overall, though the anime ending isn't necessarily bad either. Not that I'd want to spoil anything, but it's also how I felt the anime producers basically painted themselves into a corner with their earlier filler episodes partially dedicated to how and why Chii is special. While this is true to some extent, mostly due to one of her abilities that are portrayed the same in both versions; the reason for that ability lead to two distinctly different purposes, which made the two versions end on completely different notes.
There are also some nitpicks about the show that probably don't count for much unless you're a real stickler for authenticity. They're mostly small things, like the fact that Shinbou lives in the same apartment complex Hideki does for the first half or so of the show. There are also some oddities, like humanity being able to build humanoid robots, yet they haven't moved on from bandwidths like the 14.4k modems? And how can a Persocom weigh so much more just because they're deactivated/switched off? In the manga, Hideki had already started working, while the anime made a point of making sure we know how poor he is by showing him looking for work. Like I said; small things.
In the end, your enjoyment of this show is going to heavily depend on which parts of the manga you really liked, which of the fillers you'd want to skip and what you thought of the characters in it. Despite being neutered somewhat from its manga counterpart, Chobits the anime is an interesting piece of animation that's still worth watching, if not necessarily owning.
I'd rate the manga four, so the anime gets three. Add one star if you can deal with the differences mentioned above and know which episodes to skip. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: While not as outright raunchy as the manga (which is as bad as GTO, a real departure for CLAMP), there is still a lot of off-color humor and innuendo, and Chii tends to lose her clothes a lot. They also depict Hideki's pornography habit as being a "normal young man" thing, though his actions often lean toward outright addiction. There is some violence near the end, but it's nothing really overtly graphic. Older teens and up may enjoy it, but this was definitely a late-night series, and it's definitely not for young children.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Chobits © 2002 CLAMP / TBS / Chobits Production Committee
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