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animefringe november 2003 / editorial
Chobits: A Menace to Society?

I really enjoyed CLAMP's Chobits series. I liked it so much, I got the fancy box and figure for the final volume along with some wall scrolls, soundtracks, and other paraphernalia. It makes me proud to see it performing so well across the nation, and knowing of CLAMP's humble beginnings as fan artists, nothing makes me happier than seeing them continue to go on strong.

In fact, Chobits may be my favorite work of the all-female team of writers and artists. I love Rayearth and X, but the simple love story presented in this particular series was as touching as the science fiction setting was thought-provoking.

If you've not yet experienced the story, it's set in the not too distant future, where the current blocky stationary design of personal computers (or "persocoms," as they're called) has evolved into something far more mobile and aesthetically pleasing. Taking the concept of a personal digital assistant to the next level, CLAMP presents to us a future where persocoms are practically indistinguishable from humans, physically, save for their unusual eyes and ears.

More and more sophisticated software has granted even the most basic models a modicum of artificial intelligence, though advanced persocoms can actually behave almost exactly the same as a human being.

Given this setup, it's not hard to think of the potential problems - whether technological or moral - that such a future might present. For example, just because persocoms can walk, talk, and act like a person, should they be treated like people, or should they be used like any other inert machine? Assuming that they are to be treated as any other human, then are they to be given love, as well? Are they capable of receiving love? If so, can they return it?

All of these potential questions in turn make us begin to wonder what exactly is love, for perhaps by understanding this universal and yet intangible concept, we can begin to better understand the situation presented in the story. Given a better understanding of the story, there's even a chance we may start to more completely understand ourselves, as well.

Such were my thoughts on the subject of Chobits, as a fan of Japanese culture, CLAMP, and as a bookstore employee. It was within my mall, however, that I came across a completely different perspective. A manager running the local Sam Goody's told me not too long ago that he got rid of all of his Chobits manga. His reasoning? He implied that the series was nothing more than child pornography.

I was shocked.

This view was especially reinforced by the placement of Chi's (the lead persocom character) "on" switch. Let's just say it was in the most private of private spots a girl can have.

Now, CLAMP is not afraid to be racy at times. They're not afraid to show Chi topless in various scenes, nor have they come across as sexually inhibited writers in other works they've produced. It's true that Chobits is one of the few series they've written that is geared towards an older audience. Admittedly, it doesn't help that Chi possesses the body of what seems to be a 16-year-old girl. Yet, the series is rather tame compared to other countless other manga series such as La Blue Girl or Adventure Kid. Heck, I always thought it was tame compared to GTO.

And then someone tells me that Chobits is essentially pornography. Incidentally, the person who told me this dressed as a priest last Halloween, so I wouldn't exactly label him a conservative. If anything, he wanted to get rid of the books so he wouldn't get in trouble, not because he, personally, was offended. Yet, his decision to get rid of the books suggests that he felt that they did contain morally questionable content, and I can't help but disagree wholeheartedly with that sentiment.

First of all, Chi isn't human. She's a computer shaped to look like one. If she were real (which, incidentally, she isn't - this is a comic book, after all), she'd never show any physical signs of aging - even if she stayed operational for hundreds of years. Her physical appearance is completely unrelated to her actual maturity level. Being a construct run by software, it wouldn't be inconceivable that her programming had her set to the maturity level of, say, a 24-year-old right off the bat.

In any case, suggesting that anything could be done to Chi that would morally compromise the offending party would require that she be subject to the same laws that bind us humans as a rational, organized race. If, however, she is considered to be nothing more than an electronic gadget, then claiming that she was too young for sex would also apply to any sex toys that weren't of legal age. What I'm saying is, it simply doesn't make sense.

Of course, that brings us to the second point - Chi never actually has sex with Hideki, nor do they do anything that could be considered sexual. Her "on" switch is a sacred thing, as her master, Hideki, eventually comes to realize. Some persocoms are indeed built merely for sexual pleasure, but Chi was designed with one goal in mind - to be happy. Her happiness is paramount to all other things, and she defies objectification whenever Hideki begins to think of her as "just a machine."

Personally, I feel that Chi is symbolic of the typical romantic mate, in general. All too often, people (men or women, really) see another person as just a tool, a means to an end. Some couples stay together because of a service one is providing the other - whether physical, emotional, or otherwise. Others exhibit an unbalanced love, with one partner caring for the other while his or her mate is merely using that love for personal gain. Hideki can't see Chi as merely an object, a tool. Instead, he sees her for what she is - an individual being capable and worthy of love.

It's true that as a freshly initialized persocom, Chi doesn't know the rules of society. Thus, her frequent causal nudity is a sign of her innocence, not merely CLAMP's collective raunchiness. Rather than the star of a pornographic comic book, Chi's character is more akin to Eve in the Garden of Eden; unaware of the artificial rules of shame and modesty our culture has embraced.

The reason I bring this topic up is not to point out how misguided or unenlightened a fellow mall employee is, but to make sure that everyone out there is aware of a potentially dangerous problem. Writing off a series such as Chobits because it may possibly offend some people is a huge mistake. Primarily, it's wrong because it forcefully imposes our values and beliefs upon a foreign culture. We are not Japanese, and while I don't believe in relative morality, I also don't think it's appropriate to judge the creative works of another nation using our local context alone.

One of the greatest benefits of the sudden influx of Japanese culture into our society is the chance it's giving us to see things from an alternate point of view for once. Censoring Chobits in any way or keeping it away from readers altogether is a terrible shame, especially for the reasoning cited above. After all, taking Chobits away because it is offensive implies that the only things the insulted parties noticed about the work are the allegedly distasteful portions. By focusing on the nudity, or the language, or the sexual implications of the story, one ignores the sensitive tale of love and caring the book presents - the essence of the work.

Many other series also contain some element that could potentially offend a particular party. Paradise Kiss features a young girl choosing a modeling career over school. Marmalade Boy involves a complex family relationship where two couples get divorced and then swap partners, forcing their children to share the same house with them. Battle Angel is sometimes horrifically gory and violent. Almost any manga nowadays prominently features gender-bending characters living alternative lifestyles. Yet, each one of these series does more justice to life than harm, for every one presents reality as it is - the good along with the bad. After all, not every neighborhood is Sesame Street, and suggesting as much to a child cannot be conducive to his or her welfare in the long run.

I'm glad that this topic was centered on Chobits, for the series has a high enough profile to have earned at least a bit of familiarity with our readers. Incidentally, if you feel that Chobits was offensive in any way, please email me and allow me to hear exactly what bothered you about the series. Part of the reason I was so shocked to hear what someone thought of the series was that I could never have seen the work that way until it was pointed out to me. If you feel that there are some fundamentally immoral aspects of the title, then I'd love to hear your argument on the subject. I've been a fan of robots since I first read an Asimov story, and I'm always eager to dive into philosophical subjects such as the true definition of what it means to be human.

In my personal opinion, Chobits is a story that can teach us all quite a bit about human nature, and the most remarkable fact about it is that CLAMP uses robots to show us something so incredibly organic. You can say that it's not the most original tale, or that it's not written well, or that you don't appreciate the artwork, but to reduce Chobits to nothing more than pornography? Now that's offensive.

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