Chobits (ちょびっツ) is a Japanese manga originally published by Clamp. It was in eight bound volumes but you can now buy it in one giant volume. It was later adapted into a 26 episode series anime in 2002. This manga (and its subsequent anime) is probably my favorite. I originally read it in high school but since have re-read it thanks to the awesomeness of having it on my tablet. Since I re-read (and re-watched) it, I realized the message of this story is even more prevalent now than it was when it first arrived on bookshelves.
Using the medium of manga (and later the series), it explores themes that people are often afraid to talk about. The growing bond between humans and their devices, the often-blurred lines of love, humanity, ownership, and a social commentary of where this world is heading.
Before I get to the five reasons, here is a brief summary of the story:
Chobits follows Hideki and his life after he finds an abandoned persocom in the trash. A persocom is a personal computer that comes in human forms (aka cute/pretty women and girls). They talk to you and look things up for you and walk around with you. You can also get a small “portable” persocom, also shaped like a human but only a couple inches tall (and yes adorably female most often.) Hideki names the abandoned persocom, Chii (the only word she is initially able to say), and the two quickly begin to bond.
So, 5 Reasons Why Chobits Might Be Our Future:
Our Dependence on Computers
Today, I woke up, got dressed, and checked my tablet for emails. Then I checked my phone. In the world we live in, it is almost impossible to not be on a computer at least once a day, though I suspect it is much more than that for most people. I spend about 75% of my day in front of a screen of some sort and it is hard to imagine living in a world where I wouldn’t. We, as a society spend WAY too much time depending on the computers in lives. I mean most people don’t know their best friend’s (or significant other’s) phone number by heart because they never have to remember it, its always right there in their pocket.
Chobits presents us a world where most people can’t function without their persocoms. They travel with them, they live with them, they work with them, they even love them. The main character, Hideki, even complains that he can’t do much of anything without a persocom, and before he finds Chii, is jealous of everyone who has one. It is like the way we treat iPhones, but to the extreme. Another character, Minoru, depends on his personally built persocom for companionship, to fill the void left when his sister died. She looks just like his sister, and he has programmed her to act as his sister would. Without her, it is strongly implied he would become depressed and reclusive (although one can argue he is already reclusive, but it would probably become an extreme case.)
The way we depend on our phones to keep us informed, our computers to be there to find answers for us, and our computers and televisions to keep us entertained, I think we are not far behind building machines that look like humans to further shield us from loneliness and pain.
It is easy now to look at the machines in our life, and not have a second thought about throwing away broken ones or getting them reset, or repaired. Because they are just machines. However, we do have a tendency to be wasteful. Getting rid of our perfectly good phone because the newer model came out. However, what if those machines had voices, personalities, and human appearance like in Chobits? Would you be able to throw away that pretty girl into the trash when he memory failed and she was damaged? Unfortunately, probably.
Chii is discarded into a pile of garbage like she is trash. It is also alluded to that people recycle persocoms like we do phones and devices. Despite the persocoms being almost real people, they are still treated like trash when by some owners. However, Hideki and very few others in the world, cant look at the human face and see only machines, they see people.
It should also be noted that when our electronics begin having personification, it will be harder to maintain our humanity toward the electronics and toward each other. Also themes of ownership come into play, especially with persocoms of Chii’s variety.
Distancing From Society
I don’t think you can go into any building, anywhere without seeing someone on their phone or iPad. Or get through a day without getting a text message or email. With an app for everything, you can almost go through the whole day without speaking to an actual human. Banking online, order your takeout online, you can even buy your groceries online. We spend more time glued to our devices than talking to each other.
In Chobits it goes so far as to have people who MARRY their persocoms. This might seem weird to us, but remember, these persocoms have personalities, they are attractive, they seem like real people. Ueda, in the series, married his persocom and when her memory became corrupt and she couldn’t “remember” anything, he still he loved her so he couldn’t bear to repair her because she would have become a different “person.” He felt real pain for her, and because of that he has trouble forming relationships with other people after she “dies”. Yumi, the character that loves Ueda has a real inferiority complex because of the emotional attachment men have to their persocom. She, as a real person, also has trouble forming relationships because men are often too preoccupied with their persocoms.
Considering a few years ago a young man non-legally married his video game girlfriend, we are not far off from a world where our devices are friends, lovers, and even spouses. It is a slippery slope for sure.
Computers doing our jobs
We are pretty close to this happening. We already have computers performing tons of basic jobs. But we still have to set them up to do that. In Chobits, Chii is able to go out on her own and get a job on her own. She wasn’t told to and she didn’t need programming for it. She just went out and got a job in bakery. Ueda had also bought a persocom to do the accounting and finances for his bakery, and it is alluded to that most businesses have a persocom doing basic human functions such as being secretary but people can even have their persocom be their trainer to work out every morning.
There is both an upside and downside for this process, but in our already fragile economy (at least in the US), it does more harm than good. We are overpopulated and under worked. If we add computers doing our jobs, that makes even less people working and earning money to live.
While I understand computers doing jobs for us is economical in some cases and extremely helpful, there is a fine line between where we are today and where we could be if it got out of hand.
In the series, Chii is revealed to be of the “Chobit” variety. A persocom that is sentient to the point of freethinking, reasoning, and most of all the ability to feel love, loss, friendship and all the emotions that make us human. She has free will and she is able to utilize so much so to even getting a job. The persocom falls in love with Hideki while he struggles with his own feelings for her fraught between loving her for her actual personality and his knowledge that she is a machine and ultimately the fact that he could never be intimate with her (due to the unfortunate placement of her memory/erase switch. Although there is debate regarding this part in the series and anime).
However, Chobits presents these struggles in a way that the audience can reason with both. Chi has memories, and feelings, and a pseudo-mind further blurring the lines between love and life. When a machine can think, can feel, can even love you, its hard not to begin looking at them as “people”.
This struggle is something that has been presented in several sic-fi story lines because we are heading dangerously fast to that world. Even cartoons such as “Futurama” explore the machine/human relationship.
It is not hard to assume that one day we will have computers similar to these, whether they are shaped like humans or not, we at least need to be prepared to rethink the way we define humanity.