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Chobits-Omnibus-Vol.-2Continuing my review of the Chobits series from last week, struggling student and tech-incompetent Hideki has had his life turned upside down by the discovery of a “persocom,” a.k.a. a humanoid computer. At the halfway point of this series, the protagonist has a lot more on his hands to deal with than he bargained for. While he celebrates his incredible luck at finding one just lying around, with the help of boy genius Minoru, Hideki is beginning to realize that this persocom who he calls Chi may not be just any computer; could she be a legendary Chobits, a special persocom unlike all the rest? With this possibility comes danger as avid tech whizzes try to get Chi for themselves and two mysterious persocoms seem to be watching Chi’s movements. Chi also begins to display strange abilities that threaten to disrupt this society reliant on persocoms.

If that weren’t enough trouble for Hideki, he has to puzzle out the morality of persocoms that have caused both happiness and heartbreak for his friends. When persocoms seem so real and alive, it’s easy to forget that they are only programmed to act human. But does that matter? Some don’t thing so. They’re real enough for people to fall in love with. Yet this makes others feel as if real people are replaceable with persocoms. If people can fall in love with persocoms, how can real people compete with them for a person’s heart? Persocoms are perfect while humans are flawed. On the other hand, Hideki’s friend Minoru created a persocom specifically to replace the beloved older sister he lost to illness, but finds it can’t replace her no matter how much he tries to recreate his sister’s personality in this persocom. But can a persocom be replaced or are they just as unique as humans?

With questions like that hanging in the air, Chobits continues to be an odd mix of deep ethical questions with no easy answer and fanservice. The second half has gotten somewhat better in terms of representing women as sex objects with minimal personality, but not too much. While Chi may not be wandering into peep shows or trying to copy Hideki’s porn magazines, she still retains a child-like level of intelligence and displays nothings but goodness and pureness. The chapter title pages are still abundant with sexy pictures of Chi and, somehow, that “on” switch I mentioned in my last post has become a plot point.

Her personality has not improved much either in that she still seems to lack one. In part one of this review, I said that persocoms reminded me of Stepford Wives, and while I still feel that to an extent, I almost find Chi worse because she’s so child-like. Not only does she lack emotions like anger that might be considered “unpleasant,” thus making her “perfect” yet inhuman, but it disturbs me that someone so child-like is the focus of a love story. Someone even says she “like a new-born kitten” because Chi knows so little about everything. Intelligence is obviously not on the list of things loveable about Chi. That leaves her cuteness, personality-wise and physically, her pureness, her devotion, and…yep, that’s about it. In that way, she’s like Disney’s earliest princesses, although sadly, I have to say even Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty have a little more intelligence than Chi. I also felt the other female characters in the series weren’t nearly impressive enough to balance out the blandness of Chi.chobits-289749

As for the depth of the story that I liked, it was as if the ethical questions CLAMP posed were too complicated for even the creators themselves to answer. That, or they wanted to simplify things. As a result, questions about whether it’s ethical to fall in love with something that isn’t living and acts on programs rather than real emotion are returned with answers like, “Well, love doesn’t come in one shape.” That’s a sweet and honest message and such messages about love appear throughout that I appreciated, but it remains that the moral dilemmas raised about persocoms aren’t really answered in a satisfactory fashion, at least for me. In addition, while the two mysterious persocoms added some intrigue at first, I felt they ended up feeling rather side-lined and somewhat forced.

In the end, Chobits was a bit disappointing for me both from a feminist perspective and simply as a story lover. There are certainly some interesting ideas raised in this series, which I enjoyed, but unfortunately, it seemed many of those questions never received good answers. If you’re okay with a simpler, more straightforward ending to this kind of story, you may find that doesn’t matter. But as someone who likes realistic and interesting characters that are more than cuteness, pleasantness, and panties, the element of persocoms and Chi leave this story wanting.

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images-62For many of us, our daily lives are brimming with technology that would have filled the pages of science fiction novels a century ago. I step outside to do a couple of errands and find myself surrounded by people with their faces stuck to the screens of their smart phones, texting fifteen friends from across the country at once, checking up on the latest news, getting directions, or maybe even jotting something down for their next blog post. As for me, I’ll let you in on a little secret; I’m technologically slow and hardly touch those sleek smart phones. However, even I rarely go a day without booting up ye olde laptop. With our world so intricately connected to technology that seems to advance overnight, it’s easy to wonder what the future holds in regards to technology. What would you think, though, if computers suddenly were made to look and act human?

In Chobits, a manga created by the famous all female team of manga artists called CLAMP, the streets are full not of people walking with smart phones in hand but instead stroll together with computers barely distinguishable from humans. They smile, talk, and interact like normal people yet can do everything a high-powered computer can do. Everyone has one–except the protagonist of the series, 19-year-old Hideki, who can only dream of these so-called “persocoms” as he works and studies to get into college. That is, until one day when he just happens across one that’s been wiped of all its memory and thrown in the trash. While Hideki celebrates his amazing fortune, he begins to realize that his persocom, Chi, may not be an ordinary persocom. So, why would someone throw away something this incredible? And how is Hideki going to keep in mind that Chi is only a machine when she seems so human?

Four volumes in on my rereading of Chobits,  I find myself confronted with a mix of shallow fan service and deep discussion, a feminist’s nightmare and smorgasbord of cuteness. I have yet to pick up an uncomplicated work by CLAMP, but this has my head spinning a bit so, let me break down what I like and what I don’t thus far: chobits-1964669

To begin with, the premise of Chobits is somewhat troublesome for me. CLAMP is not the first to tackle human-like computers, but this story in particular is giving me flashbacks to Stepford Wives, a sci-fi/horror movie from the 70’s in which real women are slowly replaced by robots who are “perfect;” they’re obedient, beautiful, loyal, and don’t have those pesky things called real emotion and the ability to think for themselves. While there are male persocoms in Chobits, so far I have only seen glimpses of them and most of the depictions focus on female persocoms like Chi. At the beginning of the series, Hideki even describes how persocoms are “beautiful, obedient…perfection” and “softer, prettier” than real women, mirroring the disturbing concept of Stepford Wives. Yet unlike Stepford Wives, this isn’t explored as an embodying of extremely old-fashioned gender norms and, to top it off, the female persocoms are often portrayed in a sexual way: dressed in sexy outfits like kinky maid costumes, “on” switches conveniently placed in what would be a woman’s private parts, etc. Chi’s ignorant, baby-like manner is exploited constantly in the first few volumes in which she copies what she sees in Hideki’s porn magazines and more. Oh, did I mention Chi is supposed to resemble a 15 or 16-year-old girl? In short, there’s a lot of cringe-worthy content half way through the series.

There has been some discussion about the moral dilemma of persocoms. Hideki begins to wonder why people made computers that seemed so human and how they should be treated. Do they feel emotions and thoughts like people or does it only seem that way because they were programmed to be human-like? How should they be treated? Some people actually fall in love with their persocoms and even marry them, leaving other people to feel as if they’re being replaced by perfect beings they could never truly compete with. It’s moments in which more psychological aspects are explored when Chobits manages to stand above the usual manga filled with fan service. It makes you stop and think. Even Chi, although far from being a three-dimensional character since she’s little more than a cute, innocent female character touched with a hint of sadness, has moments of depth as she wonders if anyone will love her for real, as more than a fancy machine.

Unfortunately, so far the deeper aspects of Chobits aren’t dominate enough to outweigh my complaints at this point in the series. It’s too bad since the artwork is gorgeous! Anyway, I’m sure my problems with Chobits won’t bother some people nearly as much as me, but if the hair on the back of your neck is standing on end just reading about the, shall we say, questionable points of this story, you may want to stick around to read my review on the last half of Chobits and find out if it gets any better from a feminist stand point.

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In the anime community, it’s debated whether Gundam Seed, a spin-off from the original Gundam franchise, is a brilliant drama or a brilliant rip off. I liked it and wanted to see more of it so, I was eager to get my hands on the sequel, Gundam Seed Destiny. Unfortunately, even among avid fans of the series the sequel hasn’t received high marks. I started renting it and at just about the halfway point in the series, I’ve quickly found out why this series is one most fans would like to sweep under the rug.

I could rant about how the new main character, Shinn, earns the hatred of the audience by insulting and verbally abusing favorites from the old cast. Or I could talk about how it seems like someone hit the reset button on characters from the original cast, deleting past character development. I could, but I want to focus on the female characters. Point blank, the new female characters are pretty pathetic. Like most of the new cast in general, these women feel thin on real substance and heavy on stereotypical or just plain boring traits. I have a number of complaints to tackle here so, let me break it down.

A Love Pentagon?

Meer, Lunamaria, and Meyrin
Bandai Entertainment

First and foremost, the ridiculous fan girls and what I like to call the “love pentagon.” Out of the handful of new female characters, three of them seem fixated on one guy, Arthrun, for nothing but superficial reasons. As a result, the girls act like fools and a stereotypical rivalry forms among them. Want to see lots of scenes of cartoon girls glaring  and getting huffy at each other because of a guy? Look no further! Gundam Seed Destiny is an all-you-can-stomach buffet of it. If story writers insist on forcing one of these awkward and overused scenarios of love triangles and rivalry between girls over a guy, I wish they would at least put a little more effort into it. I don’t get great feelings of romance from any of the girls but rather shallowness and a sense of spontaneous, “Cute guy…I saw him first!”

On top of all that, it’s very clear that the guy they’re all flocking around is in a serious relationship with a girl from the original cast (bringing the people involved in this mess up to five) and isn’t interested in any of the other girls in that way. He doesn’t want their attention. So, what does that make the girls look like? A trio of pink-haired vultures

Wait. I’m Supposed To Actually Fight? I Thought I Was Here To Look Pretty.

There is one slight improvement regarding the female characters over the original series, but you can guess there’s a catch. Gundam Seed and its sequel’s action revolves around war and the military; the main male characters are soldiers on the front line, but for the most part the main female characters stay out of battle. In Gundam Seed Destiny, however, a couple of female soldiers join the guys on the battlefield. Sounds good, right? Too bad the show has managed to botch it up so far.

The two in question are Lunamaria and Stella, both of whom make me what to throw a pillow over my head whenever they’re on screen. In addition to being one of the three pink-haired vultures I talked about, Lunamaria has so far played a very lackluster role on the battlefield by either becoming a liability by not being able take care of herself or playing no significant role. She’s the weakest member of an otherwise male team. Stella, the only female soldier on the enemy side, also is the weakest link of her team as she is mentally unstable and prone to panic attacks. This is like a lot of action manga/anime I’ve seen; they throw in a couple of female combatants amongst a crowd of male ones, but seem adverse to depicting competent female combatants who are at least half as good as the weakest guy. But don’t worry, Lunamaria and Stella look great in their military-issued uniforms with miniskirts!

Male Uniform vs. Female Uniform
Bandai Entertainment

A Love Interest From The Stone Age

Stella
Bandai Entertainment

Stella, Stella, Stella. As soon as she opened her mouth and spoke in the third-person, I knew we had a problem. We’re not talking about third person speech patterns that make her sound like she’s trying to be royal or even cute, we’re talking use-as-few-words-as-possible, caveman-like speech pattern. Sadly for us, she happens to be the love interest of sort-of main character Shinn so she pops up a fair amount. Almost halfway through the series and Stella has yet to utter anything moderately interesting or intelligent. While I felt that a number of the girls from the original series had things to say that added greatly to the plot, the most Stella adds are things like, “No! Stella doesn’t want to die!” or “You’ll protect Stella?” Did I miss something? Is the main love interest really a five-year-old?

That leaves Stella with three traits — she’s cute, emotionally messed up, and vulnerable. Say hello to a modern damsel in distress. Unlike traditional damsels, she can fight, but she’s exceedingly weak and needy emotionally and I feel like this is used to give the guy, Shinn, an opportunity to play hero. In fact, the first time the two love birds have a conversation (I’m using that word loosely with Stella) occurs because Shinn had to rescue her…after she was dancing on the edge of a cliff. That’s the mark of intelligence. Granted, the male lead gets to know his love interest after rescuing her in Gundam Seed as well, but she is intelligent and made a major impact on him through her words that gave him something serious to think about. Stella, on the other hand, gives her potential love interest a scratch on the face during a panic attack, a few vague sentences, and fan service. Oh yeah, and someone who wants Shinn to protect her.

As you can tell, this series just isn’t cutting it for me. Compared to the few other series I’ve seen in the Gundam franchise, Gundam Seed had some of the best female characters. In contrast, its sequel has some of the more boring and annoying ones. I still have a little more than half of the series to go, but I have to say I don’t have much hope. This one looks like it’s going to crash and burn.

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!!Some spoilers for Gundam Seed and Gundam 00 1 & 2!!

In the anime world, who doesn’t know the popular franchise “Gundam?” This saga has spanned over numerous series and is still going, but today I’ll be looking at Lacus Clyne and Marina Ismail from two of the more recent series, Gundam Seed and Gundam 00*. There will obviously be similarities in two series from the same franchise, but I was particularly struck by the close circumstances these female leads share yet how different of an impression the two characters made on me. Lacus and Marina both hold political positions, both advocate for peace through understanding and talk in times of war, and both spread this message of peace through song. They also both end up having some influence on the lead male character. So, let’s compare these two!

In Gundam Seed, viewers are introduced to Lacus Clyne, a girl who screams stereotypical female anime lead; she’s pink-haired, sweet and smiley, and seems like a bit of an airhead. I was concerned at first, but Lacus turned out to be a lot more than the cotton candy substance I thought she would be.

Lacus lives in a world divided between two people–one of normal humans and one of humans who have been genetically modified to perform better. There are hard feelings and prejudice between both groups and this has led to war. She is a modified human fighting for peace and understanding between the two groups. Between her fame as a singer and her father’s position as a powerful politician vying for peace, Lacus is an icon and has many followers, using her singing career to spread a message of peace. Some people–especially politicians–see Lacus as naive and impractical. But it becomes clear that she is one of the strongest women to appear in the series, leading people toward peace with a sharp mind and clear position. When the politicians decide on more violent options, Lacus has the strength to stand her ground and take action for peace, even after the government deems her a traitor. She holds power with the people and ends up leading a faction devoted to nurturing the relationship between the two groups rather than kill each other.

In Gundam 00, Marina Ismail is a newly crowned monarch in an economically poor country torn apart by war in an unstable world. She is a pacifist and wishes to keep her beloved country out of war now that it is finally at peace. However, Marina is politically inexperienced; she grew up in a normal household and, by a twist of fate, was tracked down by Parliament and asked to govern because of her lineage. Perhaps because of this and her rather meek personality, she actually does come off as somewhat naive rather than simply idealistic. I also just don’t feel that Marina got the same amount of respect as Lacus, by politicians or citizens; people may have liked her, but I’m not sure I’d use the word “respect.” Later, Marina does inspire people with her song of peace, but it felt like she held less power than Lacus and therefore, her influence was more limited in comparison. In addition, while Marina ends up a target several times because of her position or associations, besides singing, I never felt she made any independent move  or important choice like a strong leader might. It doesn’t have to be leading an army of rebels, but just some bigger attempt to rally a movement for peace.

When I compare these two, neither one is bad, but Lacus makes a stronger impression. While both women are kind and struggling for peace, Lacus comes off as a strong-willed woman who will make it happen. Marina wishes for peace profusely, but looks meek and never felt like someone who one could rely upon to get things moving. Her song of peace has influence, but her efforts pale in comparison to Lacus’. Thus, despite first impressions, I have to give Lacus the prize for taking action and becoming a true leader.

*(Keep in mind that this comparison is based solely on the content in Gundam Seed and Gundam 00 Seasons 1 & 2. This does not include content from Gundam Seed Destiny or the Gundam 00 movie.)

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