Friday, March 26, 2010

Chobits Omnibus Volume 1

By CLAMP. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Young Magazine. Released in North America by Dark Horse.

This was CLAMP's first attempt at a comic for young men. They'd done shoujo for years, of course, and had made their first attempt at shonen, Angelic Layer, two years before this. So this was another attempt to stretch themselves. And I'll say this for CLAMP, they know their market. This volume goes right to the heart of young otaku guys everywhere with its tale of a loser guy and the robot he falls for.

It's actually surprising how little seinen romance gets licensed over here, considering. Most of the time when you see in North America what has become termed 'harem manga' - a wide variety of females fighting over one nebbish reader-stand-in - it's the younger shonen variety, which tends to stick to things like school locker confessions and falling over and seeing panties, and has little in the way of actual consequence. We've occasionally seen a seinen harem manga - Ai Yori Aoshi, though this title subverted the genre by having the outcome never be in doubt, and Sundome, which is darker but otherwise more typical - but North American publishers have decided that the market for authors like Taku Kitazaki is slim. They're likely correct.

Chobits hits everything you'd want in a magazine with 'Young' in its title. The lead is a nice guy, everyone says so, yet still a virgin and JUST LIKE US. He finds a pliant, submissive, vaguely lolita-looking 'Persocom' in the trash - this being an alternate future where computers evolved to look and act as much like humans as possible - and takes her home. She's cute, and loves to learn. Oh, he has a sexy teacher! And a sexy landlady! And a sexy co-worker with huge breasts! In any other title, by Chapter 8 he would have come home to find Yumi (the co-worker) lying naked in his futon looking at him with big doe-eyes.

But this is CLAMP, so we aren't going that way. Instead, we get a long examination of internet addiction, what it means to be human, and how 'real something can be. The gist of the plot is that people are replacing intimate human contact with love for their human-like computers. This disturbs Hideki, who finds himself falling for Chi, even though he knows that she's 'just a machine'. Of course, Chi is *different*... (I'll get into Hideki and Chi's relationship, and the way it resolves, when I get around to ranting about - um, sorry, reviewing - Volume 2).

The other big problem with this title is that it takes the rule 'show, don't tell' and beats it to death with a bat. This was a 740-page tome, and almost every one of those pages was a character telling another character bits of the plot. Yumi and Takako's feelings of inadequacy when they compare themselves to the 'perfect' Persocoms are rolled out for us in long dialogues - usually between Hideki and someone else. And this is compounded by the 'storybook' sequences, which are meant to mirror Hideki and Chi's relationship. The author seems to be able to release a book to bookstores every single day, sometimes literally 5 minutes after the conversation Hideki and Chi have to inspire the next volume. There's magic realism, and then there's just hand-waving.

Despite all this, CLAMP's ideas are worth reading, and they manage to make the characters enjoyable and not annoying - even Hideki, and trust me, making a dorky harem lead not be annoying is a feat - and of course 4 volumes in one gives you good bang for your buck. For those who have the old Tokyopop releases, I'd stick with them. The translator seems to be the same. I don't have the old volumes in front of me, but I'd guess they likely simply took the old translations and did 'touch-up' work. The art is clearer, though (they were working from CLAMP's originals) and all the color pages look lovely. Though, note to Dark Horse - black text on dark blue background = mostly unreadable.

Like Angelic Layer, their first shonen, I'd regard this as an interesting but flawed work. However, they learn fast, and their second seinen manga, xxxHOLIC, is a far different animal. Still, Chobits is a good look at the type of stories you get in Young Magazine/Jump/Sunday, and manages to subvert it without being mean-spirited.

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