Chobits Volume 1: Persocom review
IP Reviews Chobits
Hideki Motosuwa is one lucky farmboy. After failing his university entrance exams he moves to the city to study at a prep school. A technological newbie, Hideki dreams of having his own persocom - human shaped computers that, aside from the ears, look just like regular people - but realizes that such a luxury would be way more expensive than he can afford. However, one night he finds one simply thrown away and takes her home. That is the basis of Chobits, a story of Hideki and the persocom Chi, and their adjusting to one another.
While the series possesses some rather serious questions on the coexistence of humans and persocoms and the effects on society, Chobits generally prefers to take on a much lighter tone, and if the DVD packaging wasn't enough of a giveaway for that then the first episode introduction where we find Hideki speaking a monologue while we stare at a cow should easily confirm things for you.
Chi herself really helps to lift the mood. Starting the series with nothing but saying "Chi" but possessing a learning program that allows her to learn from others, her innocence and sometimes complete obliviousness sets the scene for many of the first disc's highlights. Strictly speaking, the rate at which she learns things at the beginning is a bit unbelievable even given the fantasy nature of the series, as it takes next to no time until she starts speaking coherently, but I guess a more realistic approach would have been troublesome to maintain interest in so I can overlook that. Suffice to say that Chi certainly makes herself an endearing character.
While Chi is the star, Hideki supports her immensely. Completely oblivious to the technology of persocoms, living with Chi has essentially become a learning process for him. The story has aspects of Hideki coming to terms with what all this technology really means and his struggles to cope makes for some compelling viewing. There isn't the same level of attachment with Hideki, but he is a very necessary part of the anime and the execution of his role is brilliant.
Supporting the pair is a whole slew of characters, ranging from both humans and persocoms. Shinbo acts as a good buddy who tries to help out Hideki, and their interactions - especially when Shinbo tries to find out what kind of persocom Chi is - produces some wonderful scenes. His persocom Sumomo brings in a lot of energy and shows some interesting traits. Watching her write out the cost of her memory with a pencil bigger than she is is cool. Minoru is a genius kid whose wealth of persocom resources leads Hideki to him in search of answers. Although he gives off an air of self importance at times it quickly becomes evident that he not only gladly interacts with others, albeit in a fairly withdrawn manner, but has his own problems dealing with technology, as shown by his interactions with one of his own persocoms, Yuzuki.
Meanwhile other characters get their introductions here but further development has to wait for them. Miss Hibiya is the manager of Hideki new apartment and starts on friendly terms with her new tenant. Like Shinbo she tends to dig Hideki out of trouble. His first meeting with Yumi is the result of her accidentally soaking his clothes, and she seems to have fun teasing him although she also clearly respects him (to the point of calling him senpai). Miss Shimizu is the prep school tutor, but aside from wanting the class to take role call we don't get much significant from her this early on.
In keeping with the light hearted tones the show does provide quite a few comical moments to bring humour in the equation, and we can thank Hideki for much of it. His habit of speaking to himself out loud results in some funny moments, like when pondering the possibilities of what he could do with a persocom he blurts out that he could visit internet porn sites while his new apartment manager is standing in front of him. While the moments themselves are great, it's the reactions that tend to seal it. It's not all winners though. Sometimes I do feel that Chobits tries too hard to be funny that they ruin whatever joke they're trying to pull off. These instances are far fewer than the humour that does work, but it's an issue at times nevertheless.
There is some fanservice in here too. It's not explicit as such but there are scenes one would find suggestive and there are obvious sexual references around, especially as Hideki is played off as a little perverted. However, the script direction and delivery usually ties it in well with what is happening. It does help to build upon the humour, although again this can also comes across as too forced at times. At the least, it's not completely in your face so it's a nice compliment.
The series doesn't completely forget the serious undertones of the subject matter. The series, especially in these early episodes, does prefer to put the focus on humour and light hearted events, but certain elements are around to remind you that there's more to this. Attempts to analyse Chi results in causing several other persocoms to crash, and Hideki himself begins to notice just how integrated into society persocoms have become. It never gets too heavy though, but it does provide food for thought.
Visually speaking the whole package comes off as beautiful. The DVD artwork itself is excellent, with the cover prominently taken up by a CLAMP colour illustration of Chi sitting atop a pylon looking cheerfully towards the 'camera'. The menu designs also feature some great artwork of Chi, as well as incorporating computer style animations, like the clicking of a power button, into it.
The animation follows the same bright colourful tones that the cover work would suggest. The art style focuses on a soft style filled with deep colour usage, which generally compliments the design choices throughout. There are a lot of cute girls everywhere in Chobits with some noteworthy outfit designs, from the usual everyday clothing to the more lavish costumes worn by some of the persocoms. There are plenty of nice visual elements throughout as well, like how outside scenes have plenty of background detail and the use of the ears as a distinction between humans and persocoms is nice too. Sometimes the show will also use more bold comic panel style visuals, which usually is done to emphasize the humour parts. This combined with the way Hideki's over the top reactions are animated is what makes Chobits work so well with its humour.
The music in the disc is certainly pleasant. Just like everything else this starts as it means to go on, with the opening song Let Me Be with You full of cheerful energy. The rest of the OST is typically of an understated nature that hums along in the background, allowing the animation to take centre stage as it supports it from the backlines.
Voice work is simply amazing. Michelle Ruff is spot on in delivering a performance befitting of Chi's nature, with her soft spoken dialogue really bringing Chi's innocent questioning persona to the surface. Meanwhile Crispin Freeman really makes his own performance of Hideki a strong one, which really makes the whole thing work. In fact, it's pretty much a strong delivery by the whole cast.
So then, Chobits is a really good anime. While the serious complications of technological integration into society is there, don't expect the series to approach the subject as seriously as something like Ghost in the Shell. It's light hearted drama with a sprinkling of humour that makes for some very easy viewing.
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