Finding Ohana in Stitch! the Animated Series

2 Jul

Lilo & StitchBy Ed Sum

Whatever happened to Lilo and Stitch? The series that began in 2002 enjoyed a good five-year run in North America. After three more movies and a television series, Disney put an end to their adventures with Leroy and Stitch. This 2008 direct to video release tied up all the loose ends and set the blue fuzzy terror free. Thanks to Lilo, he learned how to be civilized.

During this run, Experiment 626 (Stitch) still had his moments of being wonderfully nasty. He was more of a selling point of the series than the subplot of building ohana, a Hawaiian term meaning family. In this series, Lilo further defines it as, “Nobody gets left behind.” In this series, she sought to find a place where each quirky experiment, a cousin of Stitch, can safely belong. A few gems in the TV series existed which reinforced this point. But the one that says it all is with “Remmy,” where Lilo tries to cope on the anniversary of when her parents died. Nani, her older sister, tries her best to raise her, but that’s difficult to do when neither have an appropriate coping mechanism in place for them to grieve. Instead, what they do is to build their familial relationships to include everyone, so that no matter where the person (or alien) is from, they have brothers and sisters to rely on when hope is needed.

In the final movie, everyone has to unite to save the Earth. Even Mertle, Lilo’s main rival, decided to set aside differences so they can thwart the impending threat from space. By this film’s end, Lilo learns its time to move on.

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Stitch, Peakly and Jumba go back to the Galactic Federation and life goes on. Lilo grows up. After an undefined number of years away from Earth, this blue alien reverted back to his old ways of being a planetary nuisance and Jumba has to chase Experiment 626 down. The two have a run in with a black hole and they find themselves conveniently back on Earth. They crash-land on an island in Southern Japan, somewhere off Okinawa, and their merry adventures begins anew. Stitch! the animated series (2008) continues the fun with an all new human cast.

Here, Stitch meets a 10-year-old girl, Yuna. While this alien quickly recounts his time in Hawaii to her, namely what ohana means to him, she picks up on this ideal and integrates it into her own societal moiré. Quite often, the series goes overboard in trying to remind viewers that to preserve family is important, and maybe the definition is eschewed in favour for a more generic definition. The Japanese family system is focussed on defining roles within the household and in on maintaining perpetuity.

urlMadhouse Studios (Trigun, Card Captor Sakura) does a great job of not only maintaining this particular heritage but also in exploring the folklore of the southern region of Japan. Even the Polynesian style is preserved. Kijimuna, a tiny guardian spirit (a yōkai) looks like a little hula dancer because of the grass skirt he wears. In a culture that’s rich with a variety of spirits, Stitch has to learn how to treat all sorts of life with respect. That’s difficult to do when he is mischievous at heart. However, this revision of Experiment 626 shows that he’s no more as dangerous as a rambunctious cat high on catnip. A significant portion of that original violent spark is gone.

Despite the changes to what creators Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois may have originally envisioned, the importance of what family means is still preserved. That’s just one other reason why Lilo & Stitch should not be forgotten. Hopefully Disney North America will see fit to bring Stitch! the series to this country than to export it to others. When this blue fuzzy terror is still beloved in Asia, that says something of this character’s longevity. This Japanese series is definitely a continuation of Stitch`s adventures because previous experiments make appearances throughout its three year run. Some people may well wonder what’s taking so long.

With season one trying to find its feet in what kind of direction it should go, the second half of season two gets better with the return of a few characters like Bonnie and Clyde trying to turn over a new leaf (“Stitchman meets Bonnie & Clyde”), Stitch battling himself in an alternate universe (“Wormhole”) or meeting himself turned Terminator (“Experiment 0”).

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Apparently a few English dubbed episodes were aired in the States before the series was pulled from the networks. According to the Wikipedia, no explanation was given. Videos of the broadcast version can be found on Youtube and the dub is quite decent. The new voice performers do a decent job of recreating familiar voices. The only exception is Gantu, the whale-like officer who has difficulty pleasing his employer, the evil Dr. Hämsterviel. But If Disney fears viewers do not understand the Asian way of life, the company should try playing it to test audiences again or taking a few episodes out since they’re distinctly Japanese in flavouring.

When considering Stitch! the series has more variety in its storytelling, it puts the Lilo & Stitch animated TV series to shame. The treatment was formulaic, with very little variety to offer to the viewers. Not every episode had to be about capturing an experiment on the loose. Even cartoon characters can change over time, and they can learn something about themselves over the course of a season. Here, Stitch gets to learn more about himself in what it means to be good than to be a cosmic terror on the loose. That’s one reason why the episode Wormhole stood out as the best during its second season. Now all Disney has to do is to release the third season to video with an english speaking track. Currently, this series is only available as a Japanese region 2 DVD release.

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