#1 The farmer and the robot
Chobits takes places in Tokyo, where an 18-year-old student from the countryside has just arrived with the hopes of joining a cram school after he failed to get into college. As he revels in all the amazing sights of the big city, one difference compared to his old home that leaves the most impact are the Persocoms that wander around.
Persocoms are personalized, human-shaped robots that act as a personal computer. They handle phone calls, email, can store reminders, process documents, and run various applications. They can even man counters or perform other human work. As cool as they are, Hideki soon discovers that these are immensely expensive and makes the rational decision that paying rent is probably more important. That changes when he finds a discarded Persocom in the trash and, with some effort, carries it home and finds a way to reactivate it.
Thinking he just found himself an amazing (and cute) helper robot, it instead turns out that Chi appears to be broken in some way and can’t actually do anything. In fact, Hideki now has to work twice as hard to support both of them, on top of having to use his time outside the classroom to teach her about various subjects.
#2 Chi is adorable
Chi is easily the main selling point of the show because she is gosh darn adorable. Her design is fantastic; making her look elegant and beautiful, but also innocent and childlike.
Chi quickly conquers the viewers’ hearts early on, as she only knows how to say her own name and learns a lot by mimicking the actions of the people she sees, causing much hilarity. Michelle Ruff reveals herself to be the perfect actress for the role, giving Chi a sweet and friendly voice, even when her dialogue is just limited to saying “Chi” for much of the early show.
#3 Looking back on the tech
Chobits was first written in the year 2000, some years before the advent of even the earliest smartphones and when the internet was only in its infancy. To now look back on the show in 2018, after years of working in the IT industry, seeing its interpretation of technology is both funny and interesting.
Clamp was right in their estimate that people would eventually start using highly advanced machines capable of many different tasks; machines that contain learning algorithms, which the user can speak and interact with, and which use those interactions to become increasingly personalized for that user. Sure, for us those machines ended up being the pocket-sized smartphone as opposed to human-sized robots, but who knows what the future might bring.
On the flipside, a lot of the details are more than a bit wonky and suggest that Clamp’s vision for the future wasn’t exactly researched much. I can’t even be mad at it because it’s hilarious; one episode sees Hideki playing an MMORPG by wiring Chi to a DVD player and eventually concluding that they beat the game. There are many examples like this, including the bizarre fascination with wires. Anytime a scene needs to look busy, they just shove a bunch of wires in there and, as far as I can tell, plugging any one of them in anything will always do exactly what the user wants.
#4 The Chobits mystery
While Chi is definitely a cute protagonist, the show does a good job of building up a mystery around her. You see… Chi shouldn’t work at all. It’s discovered early on that she appears to have no OS installed and when they try to analyze her systems, any Persocom that is hooked up to do the reading is instantly fried. She also has no model number and doesn’t fit the design of any manufacturer.
Hideki and his friends soon begin to wonder if Chi might be a Chobit, a Persocom from internet legends that speak of unmatched specs and a potential for perfect, human-like behavior. In fact, the Chobits might even be entirely sentient! While this intrigues the cast, it also inspires fear of what might happen to Chi and why she was discarded. Hideki even becomes increasingly protective of her when he learns that there are definitely forces out there that seek to “acquire” Chi.
This mystery is the real driving force of the story and has many an interesting twist as we learn more about her and begin to slowly uncover where and how she was created.
#5 Everybody gets a romance!
Once Hideki has made himself at home in Tokyo, he soon finds a number of good friends. His neighbor is a friendly guy that likes to help (and sometimes tease) Hideki, there is a cute girl at the bar he works at, his landlord is a kind lady that looks out for him, and there is the wealthy Persocom expert Kokubunji who helps him unravel Chi’s mysteries. All good friends and enjoyable characters, but what makes them especially interesting is that they all reflect a specific experience with Persocoms.
Chobits is very much a commentary on what a society with human-shaped robots would be like and it explores that, mostly, from a romantic angle. Each character has a story, such as Kokubunji who is surrounded by scantily-clad Persocoms, but who only holds a personal attachment to the Persocom Yuzuki, who acts as a head maid in his estate. Or Hideki’s co-worker Yumi, who has a tiny, non-personalized Persocom and appears to have some resentment towards them.
Getting to see all these different viewpoints and stories related to Persocoms is entertaining and interesting, but that they integrated these as just a part of characters that are already endearing by themselves was a good decision. These stories are also all tied up nicely by the end of the show, so everybody has a nice resolution to their romantic troubles.