Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Japan FTW! Chobits!

Anime and manga are uniquely tied together.  This is something that, in Japan, is evident by the quick succession with which anime gets turned into manga, and vice verse.  Across the water in America, Hollywood rushes (these days) to cash in on comic book heroes by turning those Intellectual Properties into money-making blockbusters, usually to the delight of casual fans, while hardcore fans are left wondering why someone who didn't understand or fully respect the source material was given the chance to tarnish that IP's reputation.  Saturday-morning cartoon iterations of popular comic books often miss the boat as well, despite occasionally making enough of their own spin on the characters (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being a good example) that they turn out to be a quality product of their own.  Still, we in the US often get the short end of the stick where it pertains to seeing our favorite multi-color print characters on either the small or large screens.

But as I said, in Japan, it seems they have a much more succinct vision of how these things are supposed to work.  Manga isn't just "comic books" over in Japan: it's a giant industry.  There are plenty of manga written and designed for the pre-teen and teen set, to be sure, but the range of manga is across the spectrum, from the cutesy Hello Kitty to very graphic depictions of violence and adult themes, along with a whole range of hentai (pornographic manga).  The anime world is very much the same, as there is a lot of crossover between the two, so the entire spectrum of tastes are catered to.  For every dead-serious anime like Gundam Wing, there is something like The Slayers that doesn't take itself entirely seriously and has plenty of fan service to please specific genre aficionados.

The real trick is getting a film, OVA, or series to translate well (and accurately) to the page, and the same is true for translating manga to celluloid.  Often with American media, a comic book will not often translate well to either cartoon, straight-to-video/DVD adaptation, or live-action movie because the original creator either isn't involved, has no say over the direction his/her IP takes in other media, or is just plain ignored when making suggestions or trying to help direct how their characters are brought to life.  There are exceptions (the Harry Potter series of films seem to please most fans of the novels, despite some changes), but the end result is often mixed.  Sometimes that is the case with Japanese media as well, though there are times when it is purposeful from the creator/author because they either desire a divergent story line, or sometimes they implement their own revisionist history.

So for fans of either an anime made into manga and the reverse, it's always a treat when those involved can translate one medium into another successfully and be relatively true to the story and characters.  Chobits is a great example of this, from what I've observed thus far.  I must readily admit I haven't yet read the manga series, though my wife owns the 2-volume graphic novel set. But we've been watching the Chobits anime series via the Netflix instant service (LOVE IT!), and my wife is telling me it's pretty faithful to the manga, right down to the dialogue being word-for-word in many instances.

For the uninitiated, Chobits is a story about Hideki Motosuwa, an 18-year old boy who is trying to get into college but has been rejected from the university he applied to.  As such, he moves to Tokyo to attend a prep school that will get him ready for the entrance exam he'll need to pass (and score high enough on) so he can reapply to a college.  As a farm boy Hideki is naive and awkward in the big city, so quirkiness like talking to himself (which provides the narration for the anime) and his social anxiety around females in general make him stand out like a bit of a sore thumb.  Add to that his complete lack of knowledge about technology, and he has some learning and adapting to do.  Specifically, he only knows of (but has never owned or used) "Persocoms", personal computers that are designed to look like people (usually beautiful young women).  He wants one, but they are very expensive and he can't afford one.  Fast forward a day or two in Tokyo and he stumbles across one laying in the trash not far from his apartment building.  He picks up the Persocom and takes it back to his apartment, not realizing he dropped a vital information disk when leaving the scene.

The Persocom, who you come to know as "Chi" (because that's all she says at first) is an adorable long-haired blonde "girl" who immediately develops an attachment to her new owner, and thus the story develops with Hideki learning whatever he can about Persocoms, and with Chi learning as much as she can.  Through the first couple episodes, Hideki discovers Chi is a famed "Chobits" Persocom, a series of custom-made units that have greater capabilities than standard Persocoms and have some ability to develop their own identity, like a sentient being.

"Hideki, welcome home!"

Hideki sees Chi as much as a person as he would any actual young lady, so this presents some rather hilarious and awkward scenarios as he learns how to interact with her, and as he tries to get clothing for her - indeed, the sequence where he tries for days on end to go into the store to purchase a pair of underwear for Chi so she can appear more modest is quite the knee-slapper.  Hideki's inexperience with the opposite sex is further illustrated by his interactions with Yumi, his boss' daughter (who appears to like Hideki and isn't the least bit shy with him) and Chitose, the pretty young apartment manager for his building.  So in many ways, despite coming from a farm background, it's easy for geeky and/or nerdy kids to identify with Hideki because he just doesn't have that social "gene" that gives him a more innate ability to interact with people.  His apartment neighbor, by contrast, is more typically nerdy, having his own mobile Persocom named Sumomo (endlessly cute!), though being much more comfortable in his own skin and able to talk to the opposite sex without second-guessing himself all the time.

The initial impression one might get of the series is that Hideki is a hopelessly hormonal (read: horny) teenage boy who has an obsession with the opposite sex (and a strong desire to check out Internet porn he's heard so much about), the story is much more tasteful and endearing than that description would lead one to believe.  As the story develops, you find out that Hideki's perception of Chi as a person plays strongly into their developing relationship as he teaches her and she learns more about herself and her role in his life and her own path.  So while the proto-typical sex-obsessed teenager character is there, Hideki is much more a gentleman than the series may initially suggest, and this more gallant characterization makes him a likable guy, both in spite of and due to his social awkwardness and generic teenage proclivities.  Hideki really is a nice guy, and this fact goes a long way to making him an endearing character.

While I haven't worked my way through the whole series yet, my impression thus far is that this is a well written, well animated, and well produced series.  The bouncy, happy theme song is insanely catchy and easily gets stuck in your head, and the little ditty that plays at the beginning of each episode as it's starting also rings in your ears long after the episode is over.  The positive themes of relationship and love are ever present, and the characters are almost instantly likable, which helped pull me in within just a few minutes of the first episode.  Overall, I find this to be an enjoyable series, and once I'm finished watching the series, I do plan on going back and reading through the manga because I do want to see the few differences and am interested in seeing the origination of this story line.

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