#1 A Mechanical Girlfriend story about software
Unintelligent, unattractive, and unathletic, that is Hitoshi Kobe is a nutshell. He is a failure in nearly every regard and the laughingstock of his entire school, who of course has a crush on the most beautiful girl around. Life is a depressing slog for him and every day another struggle, but one thing he always looks forward to is returning to his home computer.
For all his flaws, Kobe is a remarkable programmer on account of growing up surrounded by computers. And his field of expertise is AI. Over the years he has developed and improved on his concepts, with his latest build, Thirty, being almost entirely sentient and self-learning. She is a sweet and caring girl, who Kobe confides in whenever life gets too hard on him. Then, one night, lightning strikes his house and zaps his beloved computer while Thirty is running. Kobe rushes home and finds that his AI girlfriend has left the computer and is now a real person. Also, she’s naked.
A.I. Love You is a unique take on the mechanical girlfriend subgenre. While many focus on having girls be robots or living computers, Thirty, later renamed to Saati, is all software. She is program made physical and has access to all manner of functions that she can call upon. She can enter computers, travel the web, and communicate with all kinds of machines. However, she also has her limitations that present risks to her continued existence, like having to back up and load her memory, or the potential for a hacker to overwrite parts of her data.
#2 Ken Akamatsu
A.I. Love You is a manga by Ken Akamatsu; a big name in the romcom world thanks to his more famous works Love Hina and My Santa. A.I. Love You exhibits all the usual hallmarks of his style and will thus be very appealing to fans of his other works, as well as romcom fans in general.
Ken’s art is as splendid as ever, with the character designs in particular being very nice and detailed. The man knows how to draw beautiful women, but besides being cute, the characters also benefit from likable personalities that develop actively as the manga progresses. The comedy comes very naturally and, like in Love Hina, just watching these characters live together was fun enough to keep me hooked for dozens of chapters. Fanservice is of course part of this as well, but is kept very mild and lighthearted, focusing more on pervy humor than actual nudity.
It’s no exaggeration to say that this is my favorite manga by the man thus far.
To this day I am still at a complete loss as to whether Su from Love Hina is deliberate racism or a well-intended, progressive character handled very poorly. This trauma was reawakened when A.I. Love You introduced Forty, an AI that at first seemed like a daring attempt at writing a genderfluid character.
Fortunately, Forty is handled very well throughout the manga and actually ends up becoming one of the most enjoyable characters. He/She is born from a mistake in Kobe’s AI program, resulting in a character who possesses two genders with a distinct personality each. Forty-kun is a boy with a serious demeanor who obsesses over rules and cleanliness, but still has a childish, innocent side to him. Forty-chan, by comparison, is a bouncy extrovert who is always up to some mischief.
Both sides of Forty are fun in their own way and lead to some of the most entertaining mini-stories throughout the manga, like a chapter where Forty-kun falls in love with his teacher, or another where Forty-chan ends up in someone’s dating sim and begins bullying the player.
#4 Emotional Highs
Many of the chapters throughout the manga’s 9 volumes are standalone, episodic adventures that only occasionally call back to previous chapters. They are fun and comedic for sure, but A.I. Love You really shines the brightest in those rare few chapters that dare to get more emotional, and which lead to meaningful character development.
The most devastating of these are chapters 39 and 40, which form a mini-story where Saati’s memory backup accidentally gets mixed in with a webpage containing somebody’s blog. She ends up hallucinating fragments of the life of an elderly woman who sought to share her story online, and sets out on a quest to find that person and fulfill a dream of theirs. It’s a fantastic storyline and not the only one of its kind. Other great chapters include the aforementioned love story for Forty and an exciting chapter where a hacker attempts to steal Saati for himself.
The final two volumes double down on this appeal and feature several such storylines, including a multi-chapter finale with surprisingly high stakes. It was so good that I blasted through the last 2.5 volumes in a single sitting and was left wishing there was even more.
#5 Hilariously poor understanding of IT
As an IT professional with a fondness for vintage hardware, I find it hilarious to look back on older sci-fi series and see how their authors interpreted the possibilities and future of computers. Ken Akamatsu is not a total disaster in this regard, but he takes some Chobits levels of creative liberties when it comes to tech.
The manga references some real-world terminology like Assembly and C languages, or actual computer models, but beyond that the technology in this manga is borderline magic. It’s hilarious seeing how Ken envisions a virus at work or how he illustrates the internet as a literal space between all the computers and domains in the world.
It’s themed after technology rather than an earnest attempt at explaining it, which honestly works really well. Ken gets to run wild with impossible ideas that serve the story and we get to have some good laughs when things get too silly to take seriously.