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Unlike most stories by CLAMP, Chobits is a seinen series, specifically of the "magical girlfriend" variety, using robotics and computers as a subplot, though it is commonly mistaken for shoujo because of its strong romantic themes and flowery art style.
The story centres on the life of Hideki Motosuwa, a repeat student attempting to qualify for university by studying at Seki Prep-School in Tokyo. Besides a girlfriend, he dreams of having a persocom (パーソコン, pāsokon), an android used as a personal computer and assistant of sorts; which are quite expensive.
On his way home from work one evening, he stumbles across a persocom in the form of a beautiful girl with long hair lying against a pile of trash, and carries her home.
Upon starting her up, she instantly regards Hideki with adoration. The only word the persocom seems capable of saying is "chi"; thus he names her Chi.
Hideki assumes that there must be something wrong with her, and so the following morning his neighbour, Hiromu Shinbo tries to analyze her with his mobile persocom, Sumomo. After Chi somehow short-circuts Sumomo, Shinbo introduces Hideki to Minoru Kokubunji, a twelve-year-old genius who specializes in the field of custom made persocoms.
Minoru's persocoms (dressed as scantily-clad maids), as well as Yuzuki,(a more personally, and fairly exceptional custom persocom) unable to analyze Chi as well; thus they conclude that she may be one of the "Chobits", a legendary series of persocoms rumoured to have free will and emotions. Although this could be a possibility, Minoru is confident that it is only a rumour. Yuzuki also adds that Chi does not resemble any persocom model in any available database, furthering the notion that she is custom made.
A major part of the plot involves Hideki attempting to teach Chi words, concepts, and appropriate behaviour in between his crammed schedule of school and work. At the same time, Chi seems to be developing feelings for Hideki, which she is not supposed to possess. Hideki also struggles with his feelings towards her. The need to figure out more about Chi and her mysterious functions, as well as her past becomes a stressing pull for the characters in the series.
Hideki discovers that his feelings intensify for Chi whether she is a persocom or not; despite the horrible experiences involving persocoms that his friends and other characters have had.
Chi becomes aware of her purpose through a picture book series called "A City with No People" that she finds in a bookstore. The books speak about many different things involving human and persocom relationships: persocoms and their convenience towards people as friends and lovers, how there are things that they cannot do and questioning whether a relationship between a persocom and a human is really one sided. It also speaks about the Chobits series; that they are different from other persocoms, and what they are incapable of doing compared other persocoms.
These picture books awaken Chi's "other self", her sibling Freya. Freya had been transferred and hidden away within Chi after her system shut down, due to heart-break. Freya is aware of their past and helps Chi realize what she must do when she decides who her "person just for me" is.
Together, Chi and Hideki explore the relationship between humans and persocom, as well as their friends' and their own.
Chobits - Word Origin
In the series, the derivation of the name "Chobits" is given as coming from their father, Ichiro Mihara, who used the word "chobi" to describe anything he thought was "small and hopelessly adorable".
Two "chobi" become "chobits". The word "chobits" is an anagram of "Chitose Hibiya", as well as the password given to Chi, Freya, and Sumomo.
Chobits - Spelling
The spelling of the title uses a mixture of hiragana (ちょびっ, Chobi) and katakana (ツ, tsu). The mixture of the two alphabet were chosen because a persocom's password requires a mixture of hiragana, katakana, and/or Latin alphanumeric characters, for increased security.
Similarly, the password Chobittsu (チょびっつ, Chobittsu) for Sumomo, set by Hideki (in episode 19 of the anime series) mixes katakana (チ, Ch[i]) and hiragana (ょびっつ, [y]obittsu). In Tokyopop's English translation of the manga, the password is simply, "Chobits" (with a capital "C").
The word persocom (パソコン, pasocon) is a Japanese contraction of personal computer (パーソナルコンピュータ, pāsonaru conpyūta). In Japan, it is used to refer to personal computers in the same way as the initials PC are in English. In Chobits, it is used with no distinction between a computer and the androids.
In the final chapter of the manga, Chitose explains that "persocoms were not named "robots" because Ichiro did not include Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics when building them.".
Despite the comedic and ecchi moments, Chobits itself deals with several dualities concerning subject matter it shows. The most explored issue throughout the series is human-persocom relationships. Although the series stresses the ideas of persocoms being loved, the lesson that the series attempts to pass along (being loved for who you are) can be represented in many different ways.
"Atashi" (a first person pronoun in Japanese), a character by Chitose in her children's picture book, "A City with No People", is used in the series to hint at the definition of "reciprocated love". The book is also used to highlight issues with human-persocom relationships; drawing upon the fact that persocoms can be programmed to imitate "desirable human behaviour", causing humans to potentially opt out of human-human relationships; resulting in obvious problems, such as the inability to further produce offspring.
The series deals with issues and ideals of virginity, and sexual intercourse. Chi is effectively incapable of receiving intercourse, as attempting to do so would "reset" her; so she must therefore only entrust her body to someone who cares for her well-being, as opposed to a purely sexual relationship.
The series also hints that the placement of Chi's on/off switch is added after Freya's death, since her father gave her "special abilities." Along with his goal to ensure "all persocoms' happiness", the placement of Chi's on/off switch ensures that her personality will thrive only in a relationship in which she is loved, without the pressure of sex.
The idea of "love" as a concept is addressed in several instalments of "A City with No People"; dealing with issues particularly relating to searching, and subsequently waiting for someone who is what would be referred to as a "soul mate." This is in parallel to the story of Freya, who fell in love with her father and creator, Ichiro Mihara. Freya ultimately wished for death, due to heartache. This event and theme is used as a means of "aiding" Chi in her quest for "a person just for me" (also referred to as "my one and only" in other translations.)
Both Chi and her sister, Freya are portrayed as the two rabbit-like characters in "A City with No People"; Watashi being linked to Chi, and the companion,Anata, linked to Freya.
Tokyopop's translation was imported to Australia and New Zealand by Madman Entertainment. It was published in Hong Kong in Traditional Chinese by Jonesky, in Signapore in Simplified Chinese by Chuang Yi, in South Korea by Daiwon C.I., in France by Pika Édition, in Spain by Norma Editorial, in Mexico by Grupo Editorial Vid, in Italy by Star Comics (which serialized it in Express), in Germany by Egmont Manga & Anime (which serialized it in Manga Power), in Poland by Japonica Polonica Fantastica, in Brazil by JBC, and in Sweden by Carlsen Verlag.
An artbook by the name of "Your Eyes Only" was published by Kodansha and licensed in North America by Tokyopop. The artbook features illustrations by CLAMP for the Chobits manga.
8 volumes of film-comics were also made after the Chobits anime adaptation. Following the anime and using screen-shots to illustrate the story.
In addition, A City with No People, the fictional picture book written in the series by Chitose Hibiya, was released in Japan as a picture book; as well as an audio-book with text read by Rie Tanaka, the Japanese voice actress for Chi.
Reviewers consistently praised the production quality of the anime series, citing good sound and animation quality and detailed backgrounds. The adaptation was criticized for shifting the focus from Hideki to Chi, in particular for having episodes devoted to Chi "doing cute things" and providing fan-service. Critics generally agreed, however, that the second half of the series was stronger than the first, as the story explored the moral and philosophical explorations of the relationships between humans and artificial intelligence, and whether the latter have free will.