Chobits Series Manga Review
What better way to kick off my manga reviews than with the first series I ever read and the first that I ever bought? That’s right, at the cusp of my teenagehood, I was introduced to Chobits, a series about basically a boy and his robot. I can still remember how I was introduced to it. It was after watching Cardcaptor Sakura being rebroadcast on tv that I wondered if there were other interesting anime out there that I was unaware of. Through the power of the internet, I figured out anime came from manga!
So, I went up to the resident Otaku in my class and asked her to recommend a manga to me. She chose Chobits. When I asked her why, she said that it was because the art was beautiful, the story was pretty interesting AND most importantly, the manga featured coloured pull-outs. All of this for a cheap price of 5 or 6 dollars compared to other mange which went up to 6 or 7. I bought the first book and was subsequently hooked. I bought the seven books in the series with trips to the manga shop with her and our other friends. I was waiting for number 8 – the last book in the series- to come out, and then disaster struck.
My mum found the seven books in a bag that I thought I had hidden well. “Manga is frivolous.” So, I lied to her and said they were my friend’s which I borrowed so they wouldn’t be tossed out. I kept pretending I forgot to bring them to school to return them to her, and eventually I bet she also suspected me and she stopped questioning. But it was a pretty clear signal that I shouldn’t be wasting time or money on these things. I eventually borrowed the last book from my friend, and read it. I couldn’t risk buying the eighth book and arousing suspicions. I never bought the eighth book. And so ended my first brush with manga.
In much the same way, Chobits opens with Chii being found in the trash. Chii is a persocom, something of a robot who looks human and can do all the things a computer does. The one thing special about Chii is that she has been programmed to love. As we find out through the series, it wasn’t because Chii was deemed useless, but because there were other circumstances tearing her away from her original creators despite their deep love for her. The exploration of whether a robot can be sentient and eventually develop feelings for humans and whether it’s creepy or whether a human can reciprocate those feelings is central to the manga.
All these exploration of emotions are done in the backdrop, as Chii learn to integrate into human life under the tutelage of Hideki, the main protagonist student who can’t afford a real persocom and felt super lucky at picking Chii up. Chii eventually makes a lot of friends, gets a job and then falls in love with Hideki just like he has for her.
What CLAMP, the manga creators, excel at, is artwork and side characters, in my opinion. Their artwork is intricate with a Shoujo asthetic, and yet for this comic you can see the action shots and comedic facial expressions bleeding through to cater to the Seinen demographic. For me, this was the first story I had read which had such a science fiction theme, where robots could think and love just like humans. This manga (and another one which I’ll review soon) ignited a love for science fiction in me which caused me to devour other science fiction books, including Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Isaac Asimov’s Robot series. Up until then, I have been mostly reading fantasy and historical fiction. It’s inspired my writing and caused me to think deeper about emotions and the kind of future we might live in, in the future. Sure, to hardcore science fiction buffs, you might read this and think “What a load of crap. What’s all this airy human and robots falling in love stuff? There’s no science at all. There’s no logic.” But to me that was one of the manga’s strengths as well. I’m sure that if the manga had gone into hardcore explanations of neurotransmitters my brain wouldn’t have been able to handle it.
Instead, we have a compelling story with an over-arcing plot, with side characters that support the narrative question: Can robots love?
The only weak side of the story is… the fucking ending. That ending that starts in chapter 87 and makes me want to bash my head on a wall.
Spoiler Central. Hideki doesn’t have sex with Chii, choosing instead for her to retain her memories, since the on-off switch is conveniently hidden in her vagina. Yuuuup…. Forever after no sex. It’s a combination of CLAMP’s Shoujo asthetic and appealing to the Seinen demographic, by having a forever virgin android girl. And, yeah, I kind of understand that, but really? I feel like the story… ended up saying sex is bad when really from all the other countless Shoujo manga, we can see that sex and love can go hand in hand. It left me with a really unsatisfied feeling even at the young age I was when I first read it, even though I couldn’t really explain why until now. Everything else about the story, from the premise, to the plot, to the art, to the detailed side characters was perfect. ALL PERFECT. And then the ending… felt like a rug was pulled out from under me.
I went to discuss it with my friends and they agreed that the ending was a let down too. I think if I had to rewrite the ending, I would make the either-or choice something even weightier, maybe having to choose between Chii’s memories of their time together and having her undergo periodic reboots and memory wipe, versus a normal girl who would always hold his memories. I think that would address the question of whether they love each other much better.