Chobits Book 1

In the future shown here, persocoms are girl-shaped computer companions. A geek’s fantasy, they look just like real girls, except for their metallic ear casings, and they’ll follow their owner’s every command. Hideki is a typical sad-sack student struggling to pay his bills, so a persocom is far beyond his means. When he finds one in the trash, it seems like his wish has come true.

As the premise suggests, there’s a lot of teasing to this series. Hideki goes through some guilt once he gets the computer, named Chi, home. He’s got to find her power switch, which involves feeling her all over. Turning her on involves putting his hand in her crotch. To convince himself to do it, he has to tell himself firmly “she’s just a machine”. Except, visually, she’s not, or there’d be no story.

Chobits Book 1 cover
Chobits Book 1
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Once turned on, Chi behaves very much like a young girl — cuddling up to her protector, looking at him pleadingly with huge eyes when he ponders throwing her away again, and hugging him thankfully when he reassures her that won’t happen. Mentally, she is a child, ready for his training. As with a child, Chi’s cuteness protects her from Hideki’s anger when she embarrasses him.

She can learn, making her an artificial intelligence, not just a computer. Hideki has to be careful with what he allows her to use as input, especially once it becomes clear she’s more than just a discarded appliance. She does an awful lot without any software installed, including disabling less powerful machines. She’s a responsibility, not just a fantasy.

The concept is a brilliant choice to appeal to the young adult male comic fan. Throughout the book, Hideki has to remind himself (and by extension, the reader) that she’s really a computer, not a real girl. It’s reminiscent of the magical sitcoms of the 1960s, shows like I Dream of Jeannie where an everyday guy finds a magical helper who also happens to be gorgeous, or various manga with a similar plot. Hideki even alludes to these sources in wishing for her to fall in love with him.

This story pokes fun at the attitude that would create a girl-shaped machine in the first place. A computer genius claims his flock of persocoms are only computers, yet he’s dressed all of them in variations of skimpy maid outfits. Why bother if he really believes that? He knows what effect is being created.

The book is playful about its objectification, bringing what’s usually subtext to the surface and making fun of those who succumb to it. It also explores the nature of identity and the longing for love.

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14 Comments

  1. Johanna, What I liked about the series was how it got more mature and nuanced as the story progressed. Chi goes from being merely a computer to a real person, abet one made of wires and silicon. In the end, the series deals with the nature of real love, personhood and self understanding. Once I finished the series I couldn’t wait to read it again at a slower pace to appreciate more the character development and the various implied philosophical debates. This is the series that really got me to look at Clamp’s other works.

  2. Chobits is kind of the grand finale of Clamp’s “What is Love?” period. Cardcaptor Sakura, Suki, Wish, The One I Love and Chobits are all about this theme. CCS does an amazing job of exploring the question from a child’s point of view, Chobits I think does an excellent job of looking at that question from an adult point for view — only with salacious and sci-fi trappings. I especially like the stories of the pastry chef and the waitress girl (can’t remember their names– been too long!).

  3. This officially makes me the only person creeped out by Chobits.

    I didn’t really see enough slyness in it to buy that Clamp was making fun of objectification. (Or, assuming they were, and not just cranking the handle on the money machine, they failed at taking the piss.) Not when I bought the art book and it was picture after picture of Chi on her knees with her rear raised.
    I wanted to do a Steve Martin in Roxanne, screaming, with the book in my hands, selling it back to the dealer I’d bought it from to get rid of it. (I sold it myself, instead, in less than ten minutes.)

    The fact that Hideki can never physically consummate his relationship with Chi, lest he wipe out Chi’s memory, says a great deal to me about why this book had the following it did with male and female fans.

    Some of my distate is from being sick to death of childlike, gorgeous, immensely powerful “other” girlfriend stories. A girl with the body of a woman and the innocence and trust of a child has a rather creepy subtext to me.

    And I love Clamp’s work. But not this.

    Just my “AhhH! Ahhh! AHHHH!” two cents.

  4. Lea, I don’t think you’re the only person who found the book problematic. (I have more reviews of future volumes coming later in which I touch on a bit more of that topic.) It walks a very fine line with a lot of room for individual reaction and interpretation, which is one reason I kept reading the series. I couldn’t get a handle on author’s intent, and the various interpretations (of which “creepy” was one) kept warring in my head. And you’re right, there are a lot of similar books that aren’t as interesting or balanced. (Batgirl, in the American arena, springs to mind — as you say, immensely powerful, but pre-verbal, unable to speak.)

    The only other CLAMP book I’ve liked was Suki — the others all bore me (emphasizing pretty pictures over story) or disturb me (such as The One I Love).

  5. Lea and Johanna, Let me get your personal reactions on this question. Clamp is an all female creative team. Why do you think they would put out a book where there is a fair amount of fan service? They could have told the same story without lewdness. Do you think they are pandering to their audience? I ask this because a couple of the Clamp title have made me wonder why women would put out such material. (Of course, I never saw the creepy side of Chobits, so I’m not the most perceptive person in the room.)

  6. Why do some women write Witchblade or draw impossible Image-style chicks? Those are the jobs they get, or the jobs they want, or the only jobs they think will sell.

    It’s not the fan service that bothers me at times about Chobits, by the way — it’s the story premises and attitudes. The fan service, while there, is much less than in other titles some women also enjoy.

  7. I always wanted to buy a Chobits book, or the whole series. But I can’t seem to find any. I’ve been reading alot of the reviews and I think I’m getting to know a bit about it. Sometimes I Google search Chobits and I find alot of pretty pictures of Chii. I’m a big fan of Chobits. I’ve also read a few other books by Clamp(Cardcapture Sakura, Tsubasa, xxxholic)
    Go Chobits! Go Clamp!

  8. [...] Absolute Boyfriend is similar in premise to a gender-reversed Chobits, but the tone is different. There are few explorations of the nature of identity or what it means to love here; instead, it’s heavier on the comedy. That’s especially true of the last half of the book, where the boyfriend starts going to school with Riiko, and she has to keep his nature a secret from the other students, including the suspicious Soshi. [...]

  9. i like you.Finally someone who likes Chobits other than me!I have all the books& ive seen all the DVDs.I dont like the ending though.No marrage,no kissing,no hugging,nothing!That stinks.CHI IS PERRRRRTYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Hidiki is MINE!But I like this website though!!!I just hope you like Inuyasha & Ghost In The Shell too!!!!!!!!!!!God Bless you!!!

  10. [...] When I reviewed Book 1, I concluded that this series both plays to and pokes fun at geek fantasies of a girl that will obey one’s every command. Book 3 continues in the same vein, only more so. [...]

  11. Motoko Kusanagi

    To Summer: …Ummm… Having never read it before, how can you be a big fan of Chobits?

  12. [...] CLAMP series — Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, Clover — have already been announced as coming in new omnibus editions from Dark Horse. Del [...]

  13. [...] Reading this old Tokyopop edition also made me nostalgic for their early line of releases. The ads in the back are for classic shojo — Peach Girl, Kodocha: Sana’s Stage, Mars — and the early seinen that was so popular: Chobits and Love Hina. [...]

  14. […] never totally succumbed to the first xxxHOLiC series, but CLAMP (Legal Drug, Chobits) has its fans, and Ed always recommended the […]

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