Chobits Volume 1
In the future shown in Chobits, 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.
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.