Exploring Chobits: Love, AI, Comedy

It’s not often I come across an anime which makes me feel anything more than entertained, amused, happy. Chobits does all those things, and more. It forces me to examine ideals, things that I had already  predetermined. It’s an anime of two parts: a happy-go-lucky ride of lighthearted comedy, and a tumultuous expose on how love cannot be simply defined, how there is no formula for it, no matter what a person might be led to believe. Chobits wrenches at my soul, makes it jump in excitement, and often, quiver with anticipation of what could be – what is always just around the corner, but too, seemingly always out of reach.

 

Chi Will Always be Chi

The persocom Chi is the star of the show. She’s a Chobit, one of the most ‘advanced’ persocoms ever made. Unlike others, Chi can think for herself, and more importantly, she can feel without programming needing emulating it, her emotions are inherent. In a sense of the word, she has a heart – and within it a soul and independence of thought that is separate to her data. Something Ms Hibiya proves in the end by wiping Chi/Elda/Freya. Without data, what use is a computer? Chi shows that by having no data, and yet there still being a ‘person’ left, she is more than just a persocom. She has overcome her program, her ‘purpose.’ And, in doing so, she has found her own purpose, the mark of true individualism.


Chi laying in the trash ‘waiting’ to be found by Hideki


However, Chi is not devoid of influence – after all, her learning is malleable – she’s a blank slate. This is why Hideki is such an important role model, a teacher. He’s a good man, as referred to many times in the show. He’s admiral, a keeper of respectable morals, well… as much as any main character of an ecchi show can be. And certainly, it isn’t hard to think of Chi as a child – her mannerisms, her innocence, and whilst this might prove somewhat problematic for the romantic areas of her and Hideki’s relationship – she isn’t a child.

Physically, Chi is a machine, a robot, a computer.

Age is irrelevant, because she has none, only the day she was made and booted. Of course, she was made to be a child, to satisfy Ms Hibiya as a mother when she was unable to bear children herself. Yet, Chi has changed since then, she has been merged with Freya, she has been wiped of data. When Hideki finds her on the street she is but an empty hard drive, waiting to re-discover her true emotions. Not to mention, Ms Hibiya’s husband created Elda and Freya in his image, in Ms Hibiya’s. Even if he intended to create a child, the reality of his creation was anything but, after all, children do not feel the depths of romantic and intimate love, it’s something that develops over time.

He built computers capable of feeling, of love, not children to be loved. A mistake he came to bear when being the target of Freya’s own love. He created something which he could not comprehend, something which he could not live up to. It’s reminiscent of the many tales of creation, Frankenstein, Prometheus. We’re not gods, no matter how much creation is at our hands. We’re fallible, and the outcomes of our creations are rarely what was in the minds eye.


Chi during one of her Elda ‘moments…’


So, whilst Chi will always be Chi, parts of her do change, just as parts of humans change. This value is integral to Chobits, so too is noticing that change, and accepting it for the better. Because of Chi, Hideki often has to push himself, both socially and emotionally. Whilst comedy generally masks the serious tones of this, Hideki does become a more socially active person. He is from the country, not used to the hustle and bustle of city life. Suddenly he has people around him, people who want to help, people who offer their hand in friendship, people to confide in when he has nobody else to talk to. Naturally, Hideki finds comfort and reassurance in this.

Chi enables Hideki to be a better version of himself.

From his time with Chi, Hideki learns that he is valued as a person. That his monetary situation is not the end of the world – things come before it, after all; namely happiness, and being around the people that do make him happy, and importantly, the people he makes happy. For the first time in his life, Hideki is not emotionally secluded.

 

Someone Just For Chi

Love is at the  heart of Chobits. What does it mean? Do any of us know? Do we know anything of it but the emotions and experiences that best fall under its definition?

Is that love?

Hideki falls in love with Chi. Chi falls in love with Hideki. He is the “someone just for me” that Chi has been searching for. But, like everything else, it is not programmed into her – the feelings are real, just as tangible and as natural as Hideki’s – or at least, that’s how they’re presented. Regardless, would it not be impossible to program love, would it not be impossible to emulate it? Given that it’s so inherent, so personalised, any attempt would be dishonest at its core. It would never pass for something even close. With this in mind, if Hideki feel’s Chi’s love within him, what else can it be but love?



One of the most substantial areas of discourse in Chobits is the idea of love between a human and a persocom. This is primarily presented through Ueda’s narrative and backstory. He fell in love with a persocom, eventually marrying it, and devoting his life to the love he felt. But his love was a one-way-street, the emotions he inferred from her were nothing more than programming – he was led down a path by his own conscience that would ultimately never have a happy ending. Chi is different, she is a Chobit. Ueda’s persocom was off-the-shelf. However, it’s hard not to feel for Ueda, because what he felt in the moment, was real.

Who is it for anyone else to decide what individual love is?


Hideki buying Chi ‘The Empty Town’ book that guides her love.


The series of picture books Chi reads are vital when considering what and how Chi feels. They act as guiding lights for Chi’s emotions, helping her to understand what beats within her, and what it means to feel in that way. It’s revealed to us that Ms Hibiya is creating these, with the explicit intention of Chi reading them. (They can be read here. (all credit goes to the respective creators)). I don’t believe these books are inherently responsible for the way Chi feels – it’s not possible to instruct a person to feel love, and if we consider Chi equal to a person, this remains true. However, they help Chi to no end. She finds comfort in knowing other people feel what she does, and especially that those feelings might be reciprocated by Hideki, the one ‘just for her’.

 

AI and the Future

I have a pretty sizable personal interest in artificial intelligence, I suppose derived from all the science fiction I have constantly read and watched growing up. It’s widely accepted that there will be a point – likely in our lifetime – in which AI reaches the intelligence of humans. Of course, what purpose that intelligence has, the breadth of it, or whether it is emotional, we don’t know. But it will change the world. The singularity:

The singularity is a hypothetical future event that is related to the advent of true artificial intelligence. The singularity describes where technology changes so much that it becomes more intelligent than humans, and it will be largely due to the development of an AI that is able to exponentially better itself or create better versions of itself.Technopedia

Chi is without a doubt AI on the scale of the intelligence humans posses. For to feel that kind of love, is it not a requirement? Her creator, Hibiya’s husband has broken one of the most complex technological feats of our time. In a sense, it could be argued that such an achievement is wasted on something so primal as love. But, then again, maybe to understand humanity, love and all emotions are a prerequisite.



What kind of future awaits us? If advanced AI is just a matter of time, what form will it take. Elon Musk’s company, Neuralink, intends to merge humans with AI. In the hope of becoming one with it, rather than being left behind in its wake of self-betterment, or simply being discarded as irrelevant. Whilst Chobits doesn’t go into these depths, it gives us an indication of what could be. It’s no stretch of the imagination to believe that if emotionally intelligent AI were developed, many would fall in love with it. Society would have to change because of this. As Chobits illustrates, many people would not believe such love could be possible, and I’m sure many of them would rebel and protest against it. It would also clash traditional religious values. Change happens all of the time, but would people ever accept something so… drastically progressive. Would we even be permitted to choose for ourselves?

 

Questions are Important

Like the best of all media, Chobits is the kind of anime that forces me to ask  questions, and for that I love it. Not only this, but how it presents itself as never black or white, giving us the opportunity to decide on what is right or wrong for ourselves. Would we end up like Ueda, lovingly regretting his choices? Or more like Hideki, growing into a better person because of them. Chobits is warm, it’s loving, it’s often hilarious. Where it shines most is in the individual identities of its cast, and how they are able to present a cautionary tale of love in its most basic form. For watching Hideki and Chi’s relationship grow is ultimately its most rewarding part.

 

Thanks for reading! (Follow me on Twitter!)

– Chris