Chobits Vol. 1

As far as I can figure, Chobits is a show for young men who want their girlfriends to watch an anime program with them even though it's got sex on the brain (or maybe because it has sex on the brain). The show's entire soundtrack from start to finish is sweet and bouncy with a feminine sensibility, and all the characters are insanely cute. It has many of the touches my wife appreciates in anime, and she's not a big fan. At the same time, though, it's clearly ecchi. For a show with virtually no nudity, it is filled with innuendo and storylines that make most harem anime look tame. Although it's based on a manga by CLAMP, a group of female writers, it's way outside their standard fare. The episodes I saw were light and easy to watch, but the glaring plotholes combined with the ever-present lecherousness hurt it.

Hideki is a farmboy from the outskirts of Hokkaido. He is, in many ways, a Japanese hick. When he fails to get into college, he decides to go to Tokyo and attend a prep school in hopes that he might get in after some dedicated hard work. As he arrives in the big city, he notices the latest craze everywhere: persocoms. Some are dolls the size of a pencil eraser; still others resemble grown women. Persocoms have taken the place of PCs and Macs, apparently because everyone has realized that beautiful girls are cooler than boxy workstations. Cook, calendar, and computer in one, each has its own particular design, though all of them can connect to the Internet. (Hideki's all excited about that one, since he's never seen online porn before. It's a plot point, I kid you not.) However, Hideki can barely pay the rent, let alone consider buying a persocom that starts at around $6,000.

But if you can't buy one, you can get one out of the trash, right? On his way home one night, Hideki finds an absolutely beautiful persocom out in somebody's garbage. Legally, he can take it, so he does, not noticing that her programming disc is left on the street. It turns out, however, that this persocom is different.  Its activation switch is hidden (yep, I can bet you can guess where). It can move and speak the simple nonsense phrase "chi," even though it has no operating system. In fact, its system is so powerful that other persocoms fry their circuits just trying to tell what software is in this thing. Hideki decides to keep it anyway, naming her after her favorite word. Now Hideki has to get a job, go to class, and figure out what to do with Chi, who may be a legendary Chobits -- a home-made machine that doesn't need an OS that can move (and perhaps think) on its own. Of course, the existence of Chobits are an urban legend, but when you pick up your persocom out of the trash, who knows?

Chobits is virtually the definition of a girls' anime. Bright and bubbly, it's a far cry from typical shonen fare, which makes its content all the more unusual. However, it's got precedent, especially in the form of Buttobi CPU, a strongly ecchi show that it resembles on the surface. Certainly Video Girl Ai is of the same "unexpected magical lovers" genre as well, and that show continues to be a favorite of mine, so there's potential. Whether or not Chobits actually fits in that genre is questionable.  The intro makes us to believe that Chi and Hideki are meant for each other, but there's no real sense of that from the opening episodes. All that said, Chobits is well-made, and whenever the music kicked in, it planted a smile on my face...but I can't say it will do the same for you. I'm not sure that the genre confusion might be too much for some viewers. Do most guys appreciate girliness in their ecchi comedies? Maybe, maybe not.

There are points at which I think Chobits might really work.  For example, the third episode sets out with Hideki trying to find a job, searching the city only to get splashed by a waitress who feels terrible and (by accident) gets him hired. It's a good outing, and when Hideki isn't a ball of lust but a real person, he's interesting. There are minor character moments interspersed here and there, which are good. And, admittedly, Chobits can be darn funny at times; there are a few great belly laughs to be had.

But then comes something like the fourth episode, which epitomizes the show's problems.  While in episodes one and two we deal with (unseen) persocom nudity and inappropriately dressed persocoms that give Hideki a nosebleed, the fourth episode is about Chi purchasing panties since Hideki is too embarrassed to go into a lingerie shop and buy them. That's the whole of it in a nutshell. While it too has its cute moments, the idea that everytime Chi sees panties anywhere she's going to get distracted isn't terribly funny.

It also points out a real issue in this first disc: Chi has no personality. Of course, that's part of the storyline, but everything points to some relationship eventually developing between Chi and Hideki. And this means what, exactly?  The other women in the show -- the apartment manager, the waitress, the schoolmarm -- are surprisingly engaging characters, any one of which might make a good match for Hideki. Thankfully, the appearance of these capable, intelligent, working women saves the show from being a haremfest. But if he winds up with the brainless Chi rather than one of our smart, real women, I'll still be disappointed.

But the kicker is that the plot, while engaging enough during a viewing, is full of problems. Would anybody really expect that an extremely valuable persocom would be left in the garbage? Doesn't the fact that Chi's OS can destroy other persocoms make anyone nervous? Wouldn't it make more sense to turn off Chi until somebody could speak to what she actually is? And since persocoms are supposed to be of great use to their owners, why is Hideki so interested in one that he has to personally train that has no apparent use whatsoever? Much of this we have to write off to Hideki's naivety, but if so, he's about the most naive guy on the planet.  Come to think of it, though, that's not far from the truth.

While I've been going back and forth on what to rate Chobits Vol. 1, I'm going to give it my lowest recommendation, and that's because it is fun to watch. Despite the problems, despite the subject matter, the show's got spirit. I'd give it one more disc to see which direction it takes. While I wouldn't recommend it to the sensitive or a young teenager, its spark suggests that it might get less crass and more thoughtful as it goes. But my frustrations with the show are real, and I'd bail if it gets worse.

Chobits Vol. 1 -- pervasive sexual themes (but no nudity or actual sex) -- B-