“ALRIGHT! I’M GONNA GO TO TOKYO!!!!”
– Hideaki [While Riding on a Cow…]
In our first foray into the world of CLAMP anime, I’m going to be taking a look at one of the most classic romance/sci-fi anime created. “Chobits” is a story that has something to please even those of the pickiest anime palette. What is it that makes “Chobits” considered a must-see for anime fans? Is it the intriguing futuristic storyline? The adorable characters? The bright and sharp animation? The gentle soundtrack? Or could it be the acting of the cast, headed up by some of the biggest names in the industry on both sides of the Pacific? Let’s get into it and find out.
Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content – “Chobits” original rating is for those who are 16 years of age and older, and in retrospect, I would say that is about right. After all…just look at where Chi’s power switch is. While “Chobits” is not as perverted as its manga counterpart, it still has a few jokes and moments of a sexual nature that some more sensitive souls might take offense to. In one episode, our main female character, Chi, gets abducted and made to work in an internet peep show which requires her to, among other things, strip down and touch herself. Violence is relatively non-existent as is nudity–everything is either covered or camera angles prevent this show from going to the gutter.
Series Availability – “Chobits” was originally available in the US as a seven volume DVD set from Pioneer. There was also a Box Set collection released by Geneon, but it’s extremely rare. Recently, Funimation Entertainment, in a familiar pattern, picked up the license and re-released the show in a “Complete Series” box set in both DVD and Blu-Ray flavors. Store availability of this new collection is pretty good–you can find it in your local Best Buy and FYE with relative ease. Wal-Mart also has the series at the time of this printing and it’s available for streaming through their new pay-per-view service. If the wallet is a little tight, “Chobits” is also available in both sub and dub flavors on Funimation Entertainment’s YouTube channel.
Story Premise – “Chobits” is a twenty-seven episode series based off a manga created by CLAMP, an all-female group that produces manga. The story takes place during a time in the not-so-distant future when humanoid-based robots called “persocoms” [Short for Personal Computers] are becoming more and more common and advanced with features to boggle the mind. Just about everyone owns one, except our main character, Hideaki Motosuwa. Hideaki is a country boy with dreams of being a freshman in college; dreams which are dashed as he is summarily denied entry into the school of his choice. Having decided to go to prep school in Tokyo, he soon finds himself living on his own in a small apartment trying to make ends meet. On his way home after a food run, he encounters what he first assumes is a dead body but what turns out to be a persocom left out on the trash heap wrapped in bandages which just barely cover her body. Amazed at his stroke of luck, Hideaki takes her home and turns her on. Upon power-up, it’s clear that this persocom, doesn’t have much going on upstairs, but somehow, she knows enough to smile and glomp [Like many fan girls I know…]. Further intrigued, Hideaki decides to keep her, giving her the name “Chi” [as that’s the only word she knows at first]. Upon analysis by resident middle school persocom guru
Koushiro “Izzy” Izumi Minoru Kokubunji, it is determined that Chi possesses both highly sophisticated firewalls for protection and learning software which allows Chi to learn much like a human being. Hideaki then decides to take it upon himself to teach Chi about the world around her while he in turn learns about her, all the while managing his part time job at a local pub and his studies to get into college. As the series goes on, questions soon arise about Chi’s origins with the only clue being the legend of the “Chobits” persocoms, who, internet rumor has it, possesses the ability to exercise free will and show emotion. One thing that I liked about “Chobits” is the fact that it can be enjoyed on different levels; it can be enjoyed on a science fiction level, a romance level, or even a slice-of-life level; you get a lot for your money with “Chobits”. The story has a very decent flow to it, and there aren’t any real moments that slow it down or drag it on; each episode has a purpose that lends itself to the whole overall plot. The little side stories, where the plot deviates from Chi and Hideaki and focuses on the relationships of other characters, are enjoyable and tugs at the heartstrings. The ending would be perfect, were it not for two characters that were thrown into the fray at the last minute only to depart just as quickly. The ending would’ve done WAY better if they were either introduced at one point earlier in the series or omitted entirely. Other than that, “Chobits” is an enjoyable story that anyone can enjoy. [24/25]
Favorite Scene/Episode – I have to admit, one of my favorite scenes comes from Episode 12 “Chi Plays”. In this episode, Hideaki is given a video game console/DVD player [Think PS2…] by his boss. After having difficulty with the initial setup, he gives Minoru a call for tech support…to exasperating results. I can relate to this scene so much having spent most of my life guiding customers and family members who, bless them, are not technically inclined, over the phone troubleshooting issues.
Characters – The characters of “Chobits” are a very special group. Each character has a unique personality and backstory that makes the story worth watching. Even the persocoms, which are, for the most part, mechanical objects, possess a personality and a character all their own. Our male lead, Hideaki, is pretty much an animated version of yours truly plus or minus a few traits. He’s awkward and a little naïve about the world he finds himself in, different from the farmlands of Hokkaido. He’s dense at times, but overall his heart is in the right place and he cares deeply about those around him, including but not limited to his persocom Chi. Chi is downright adorable and a perfect match with Hideaki. As she has no memory of her past or the current world she lives in, she’s also a little socially awkward and naïve, behaving more like a toddler than a computer, but over time, she grows and matures like Hideaki. Overall, I don’t have a real problem with any of the characters…except Yumi, the daughter of the owner of the bar where Hideaki works. I swear it was like Koishi Herikawa from “Please Teacher” all over again. Okay, let me get this straight: you fall in love with a man who is CLEARLY older than you, and then, when he marries his persocom, you develop a grudge and start fawning over another guy who is younger than the first guy, but still older than you are! What the heck is that about?! Ugh…my head is starting to ache again like it did with Koishi in “Please Teacher”…just take the points, Samurai… [23/25]
Animation – The animation styling of “Chobits” is a joy to behold. For an anime that was created in the early 2000’s [alongside other shows like “Naruto”, “Kanon” and “Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning”], “Chobits” really stands apart with regards to its animation. Everything, from the backgrounds to the character designs looks extremely crisp and sharp, even on a standard-definition TV. One thing that I always found strange is the fact that Hideaki, even in the manga, kinda looks different from all the other human characters around the eyes; while all the other characters have wider pupils, his are noticeably smaller. It’s true to the manga, and it’s not a problem at all, don’t get me wrong, but it is something that I noticed when re-watching the series. One other interesting note is the fact that sometimes the background changes and it resembles a manga frame with thicker outlines and words drifting behind the characters. It’s an amusing little touch that I enjoyed. [12.5/12.5]
Music – “Chobits” doesn’t offer much in terms of musical prowess. Don’t get me wrong, the music is good, but it’s not that memorable. The opening theme song, “Let Me Be With You” by Round Table featuring Nino is bubbly and catchy, going well with the awesome animation. The end themes, “Raison d’être” (Reason to Be) by Rie Tanaka [On episodes 1-13], “Ningyo-Hime” (Mermaid Princess) by Rie Tanaka [Used in Episodes 14-25], and “Katakoto no Koi” (Awkward Love) by Rie Tanaka and Tomokazu Sugita used in the series finale all match perfectly and fit in the respective episodes that they’re used in. The incidental music is good without being overpowering, and its funny how sometimes the music takes on a techno-like feel to it one minute, and then take on a woodwind and strings feeling the next. It does the job and does it well. [12.5/12.5]
Performances and Production – “Chobits” was created in Japan by Studio Madhouse with director Morio Asaka at the helm. Asaka-san has directed many different series like fellow CLAMP series “Cardcaptor Sakura”, “Rozen Maiden”, and “Claymore”. In the US, the series was dubbed by “Bang! Zoom! Entertainment” with Eric Sherman at the helm. The sign of a good voice actor, for me anyway, is when you can listen to his or her entire performance without imagining anyone ELSE in the role. I can honestly say that I cannot imagine ANYONE else in the roles of Hideaki, Chi, Shimbo, Sumomo, Chitose Hibiya, and Minoru than Crispin Freeman, Michelle Ruff, Tony Oliver, Sandy Fox, Ellen Wilkinson and Mona Marshall respectively. Crispin Freeman, as the loveable loser Hideaki, matches line for line, word for word, emotion for emotion, with the original Japanese actor, Tomokazu Sugita; getting the point across while adding his own subtle nuances. Michelle Ruff as the cutie computer Chi is also very well done. Considering that all she says in the first two episodes is “Chi”, Michelle makes Chi’s innocence shine through each word. Even when Chi develops a larger vocabulary, Michelle manages to keep Chi’s voice innocent, sweet, yet slightly dumb. Tony Oliver as Shimbo, Hideaki’s street-wise friend, is perfectly matched, as is Sandy Fox to the hyperactive yet helpful persocom Sumomo. Ellen Wilkinson is a little on the light side with regards to Hibiya, sounding a little too willowy at first, but I got used to it and enjoyed her performance. Once again, Mona Marshall is called upon to play a young teenage boy; namely Minoru. Seriously, while I’m not too big a fan on typecasting, this is one voice actress who should stick with her niche. The only thing is, she sounds a bit too much like Izzy from “Digimon Adventure” in the beginning. As the series goes on, the voice changes, and Minoru’s voice deepens a touch, but for a handful of episodes in the beginning, I honestly couldn’t tell her from the Digi-Destined with the Pineapple computer. Other voices, such as Wendee Lee as prep school instructor Takako Shimizu, Julie Maddalena as Minoru’s main Persocom Yuzuki, and Kari Wahlgren as the fiercely logical and blunt mobile persocom Kotoko round out the English cast perfectly. [25/25]
Story and Premise: 24/25
Final Grade: 97/100 = 97% – (A)
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra)
- The opening animation sequence was originally designed to have Chi and Hideaki in the nude with no genitals showing. At the last minute, the animators changed their minds and created the animation sequence currently seen.
- The song used in the end credits for the last episode, “Katakoto no Koi” (Awkward Love), was performed by Rie Tanaka and Tomokazu Sugita, the Japanese voice actors for Chi and Hideaki respectively.
- In the original US DVD release of “Chobits”, the series was originally listed as being 24 episodes, when in reality, the series is 27. The three missing episodes are “Recap” episodes, listed as 9.5, 18.5, and 24.5, where several of the secondary characters reflect on their relationships with Hideaki and/or Chi. In the US DVD release, these episodes were bundled on Volume 7.
- The original “Chobits” manga is heavily tied into another CLAMP manga-turned-anime creation; “Angelic Layer”. In this manga series, it is implied that the technology used to create persocoms was initially used to create the fighting dolls used in the series. Also, it is implied in the manga that Minoru’s late sister is actually Kaede from the “Angelic Layer” series. Finally, though there are many other tie-ins, Chitose Hibiya, the manager of the building where Hideaki lives, was married to Ichiro “Icchan” Mihara, the creator of the Angelic Layer toys and president of the company. In the anime series, however, there appears to be no tie-ins between “Chobits” and “Angelic Layer”. It should be noted though in the last few moments of episode 24.5 [though, it’s technically Episode 27…], a man looking a LOT like “Icchan” is seen in a photograph with Chitose.
- Also, in Episode 24.5, we see a calendar that shows the date; March 16, 2004. Based on Manager Hibiya’s dialogue that two years has passed since the events of the last episode, it can be determined that the series took place in 2002, which coincides with the year when the anime was created.
- In Episode 4, “Chi Goes on Errands”, Chi says the word “Underpants” [or “panzu” in the Japanese] 84 times in total. [And yes, I sat down with pen and paper in hand and counted each and every one of them. Don’t look at me like that; I did it all for you!]
- A small mini-episode entitled “Chibits” was created as an extra for the DVD. This episode, only about 6 minutes or so in length, focuses on the two mobile persocoms, Sumomo and Kotoko, as they fly across the city to return a missing article of clothing of great importance to Chi, who has gone off to follow Hideaki to return his wallet.
So where does that leave us? Well, “Chobits” is one of those shows that everyone has heard of, and for good reason. With its story that remains relevant regardless of how the seasons change, characters that are entertaining and heartfelt in their execution, bright and vibrant animation, satisfying soundtrack, and an acting cast of legendary proportions, “Chobits” should be at the top of every new anime fans “To Watch” list…
And so, with that review, we’ve entered the world of CLAMP! Coming up next, we have a submission from OtakuAndrain, as, admittedly, he’s more experienced with CLAMP shows than I am. This is why I hired him folks; that and the fact he can make a decent cup of tea. So stick around as he takes you further into the world of the female manga artists and a trip through the anime time machine with his review of…
Magic Knight Rayearth