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Chobits Volume 2: Empty City
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2003

Format: Anime
By:   Pioneer Entertainment
Genre:   Sci-Fi/Romantic Comedy
Released:   May 2003
Review Date:   July 25, 2003
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)
"Chi is worried about Hideki's head." -- Chi shows a touching, if odd, concern for her owner.


While the relentless march of utterly adorable cuteness continues in this second volume of CLAMP's "Chobits", things take a turn for the darkly perverted this time around. Well, maybe not all THAT dark and perverted, but the episodes on this DVD do have a more disturbing, deeper undercurrent to them that adds a nice savory tang to all the syrupy sweetness in this series. As a special bonus, the slight change in tone is accompanied by lots of 'The Plot Thickens' moments, portending big things for the characters in 'Chobits' and the almost-our-world-but-not-quite they inhabit.

Most of these dark plot revelations come as Chi learns more about how to deal with life and personal relationships, and Hideki learns more about Chi herself. This means that even at their darkest and most adult, these episodes of 'Chobits' are still pretty darn cute. Confronted with a Chi that needs to spend more time outside the apartment in order to recharge her batteries (and overwhelmed by bills), Hideki makes the reluctant decision to let Chi get a job all on her own. Unfortunately, while Chi has learned enough to be able to speak in complete sentences and grasp concepts like 'a good job', she's still a naÔf, and all-too-easily taken advantage of. This results in Chi's first job being as a stripper for an internet peepshow (though naturally without Hideki's knowledge; he's a bit of a perv, but he's not THAT bad). But Chi has some odd reactions to being ordered to touch herself by the peepshow's emcee. The sort of 'odd reactions' that end with her blowing the walls out of the peepshow building, then traveling across the city by leaping from lamp-post to lamp-postÖ as every single other persocom in the city freezes in place, and slowly focuses on Chi (and only Chi) as she passes by. Then Hideki rescues Chj, and everything goes back to normal, as Hideki gets Chi a supercute job as a supercute salesgirl in a supercute little pastry shop, with a supercute frilly uniform.

However, the questions raised by all these mysterious plot developments stick with you even after the saccharine denouement, and it will leave you eagerly anticipating future volumes to see where all this is heading. Why does Chi seem 'possessed' as she escapes from the peepshow? What's with the other, 'dark' Chi? What is that influence she has on ALL the other persocoms in the city? What is with the strange, rather deep and complex children's picture book that Chi has suddenly developed a fondness for? And why does Hideki's cute coworker Yumi react so oddly whenever Hideki expresses his emotional attachment to Chi?

You might think that the sudden shifts in tone between surprisingly dark and overtly sexual and the normal adorably cute comedic antics of Chi and Hideki's attempts to adapt to each other's lives would clash horribly and detract from the show as a whole. Heaven knows that it wouldn't be the first time an anime series was ruined by wildly varying tones grinding against each other like gears in a blown transmission (see my review of 'NieA Under Seven', for instance). But the more mature elements are done in a way totally in keeping with the cute, harmless feel of 'Chobits' as a whole. The scenes of the persocoms gazing upon Chi in that odd zombie like way are more mysterious and intriguing than creepy, for example, and the whole scene of Chi in the peepshow is presented in a way that defuses a lot of the disturbing sexual implications (Chi has so little understanding of what's going on that she's more interested in playing with the elastic on her panties than in feeling scared and humiliated). Everything fits together so smoothly that the sudden shifts in tone hook you in to the ever-deepening story, rather than driving you away.

And it's a good thing that the episodes on this DVD are so good, because there ain't much in the way of extras to go along with them. At least there are four full episodes here. Plus, the dubbing is pretty darn good (despite what I said about it in my review of the first DVD). Crispin Freeman and Wendee Lee are old hands at this sort of stuff, Tony Oliver (Rick Hunter from 'Robotech' and Lupin from 'Lupin III TV') nicely underplays Hideki's best friend Shinbo, and whoever Pioneer got to dub Chi herself nails the role PERFECTLY, being almost indistinguishable from the Japanese actress. And, of course, the animation is just fantastic, almost completely masking its few limitations and looking appropriately soft-edged and pastel considering the cute subject matter.

This second volume of 'Chobits' is starting to live up to the promise of the first volume. There's still a lot more plot to explore and diabetics to drive into insulin shock, but we're now starting to see some of the harder edges underneath the cutesy antics. If you like cute and sweet, but are also looking for some substance to go along with all the marshmallow fluff, then you really ought to pick up 'Chobits'.

You'll never look at your PC the same way again.
Anime Editor Kevin Pezzano isn't in love with his computer like Hideki is, but he does sometimes dress his Jaz drive in garter belt and high heels for special occasions.

 
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