Stitch, of Lilo & Stitch fame, is apparently quite popular in Japan. Disney is popular in general over there, but it seems like Stitch struck a chord. He has a lot of Japan exclusive merchandise and his popularity has extended well past the movie from which he originated. In the US, Stitch and his pal Lilo did get an animated series as well as multiple direct-to-video films so it’s not as if he isn’t popular domestically as well. He’s just so popular in Japan that he’s received multiple anime series that ran from 2008-2011. Following that, a series of specials aired with the newest released as recently as 2015. Since then, Stitch has actually switched markets in Asia and gone to China, where a new series launched in 2017.
The first of these anime was the Madhouse produced Stitch!. It premiered on October 8, 2008 so happy ten year anniversary to Stitch!. Unlike the American cartoon series, Stitch! is not a continuation of the story started in the film but a reinterpretation. Stitch (Ben Diskin) fell to Earth and is accompanied by Dr. Jumba (Jess Winfield) and Pleakley (Ted Biaselli). He ended up on the island of Izayoi which is near Okinawa where he encounters The Spiritual Stone. He befriends a young girl named Yuna (Eden Riegel), the Lilo of our story, and is promised by The Spiritual Stone to be made the strongest in the universe if he can complete 43 good deeds. Stitch is quite mischievous though, so completing these deeds will not be easy because a bad deed takes away from his total. Pleakley crafts him a counter to keep track of his deeds, and together with Yuna, they set out to complete the task.
Standing in Stitch’s way are other experiments of Dr. Jumba gone rogue. The main villain is Dr. Jacques von Hamsterviel (Kirk Thornton), who looks like a cross between a hamster and a rabbit. He attended college with Jumba and seems to just want more power and he sees a way to attain that via Stitch’s good deed counter, or something. He’s also not a new villain as he premiered in the direct-to-video sequel to the original movie, Stitch. Gantu (Keith Silverstein) from the film works for him after he was dishonorably discharged from the Galactic Federation for bad karaoke and he’s rather incompetent. He has an obsession with an Earth soap opera called The Young and the Stupid, in particular with its lead actress. Also joining them is Reuben (Dave Wittenberg), Experiment 625, who basically just makes comments and sandwiches. He loves sandwiches and he also previously debuted in Stitch.
Stitch! was first run in Japan, but was also dubbed in English for other regions, though surprisingly the US was not really one of them. Only five episodes aired in the US on Toon Disney before the show was abruptly pulled. It’s possible Disney just felt it was too different from the franchise that is featured here and didn’t want to confuse audiences. Or someone just didn’t like it. The main English cast also was not utilized for the show, but that’s not surprising. As you can imagine, the show has not been released in the US as a result.
The episode opens with Yuna getting ready for Christmas. Stitch has no idea what Christmas is, but Pleakley is happy to inform him since he is an Earth expert and all. He confuses basically all of Earth’s holidays as one and even thinks part of Christmas is the consumption of red-nosed reindeer, which gets Stich quite excited. Venison and presents! His excitement messes up Yuna’s tree decorating, but he refashions it into a facsimile of himself. It’s an improvement. Pleakley did at least get the Santa stuff mostly right, giving Stitch something to look forward to that night. Yuna also gifts her alien friends stockings of their own so that Santa can leave them a present tonight.
In space, Hamsterviel is plotting to utilize Christmas to get rid of Stitch. He is planning on masquerading as Santa Claus to gain the trust of the Earth children and Stitch, and launch a plan from there. Reuben and Gantu are expected to help, with Gantu to just seeing this scheme as a means to stop his favorite actress on The Young and the Stupid from getting married. On Earth, Yuna receives a letter from Santa instructing her to meet him in the forest for her Christmas present. She and Stitch are so excited they don’t notice the obvious Hamsterviel stamp on the envelope.
Turns out, more than just Yuna received a letter from Santa as the island’s children are shown heading for the designated spot. Along the way they talk amongst themselves trying to figure out why Santa would change things up. A particularly bratty girl named Penny (Meghan Strange) is the most vocal. When they arrive at the area, Hamsterviel is there floating in an egg-like device dressed as Santa. Gantu is dressed as a reindeer and is playing music while Reuben is just there making sandwiches. Santa Hamsterviel offers the children a cookie, and when they eat it they grow whiskers and buck teeth. It becomes clear they’re under Hamsterviel’s control, but he does still give them presents – sandwiches and plush versions of he and Gantu.
Not present at the gift ceremony is Yuna, who with Stitch is running late. They’re hopeful that all of the presents aren’t gone. They’re intercepted by Kijimunaa, a little yokai who’s basically a mouth and a pair of nostrils with a mop of hair on top. He witnessed what happened with the kids and warns Yuna and Stitch that it isn’t Santa who’s giving out gifts. They confront Hamsterviel and see the transformed children who threaten to bite them and tickle them with their whiskers. Seeing there isn’t much they can do, Yuna and Stitch retreat to seek the help of Jumba. He’s irate to find out Hamsterviel stole his idea for mind-control cookies so he’s happy to help foil his scheme. He quickly builds a little, golden, cat idol that spits out cookies. These cookies should reverse the mind control Hamsterviel inflicted upon the children.
Armed with the statue, Stitch and Yuna return to the forest where apparently Hamsterviel was content to just hang out and have the kids massage his feet. Stitch jumps around and fires cookies out of the idol at the children who consume them and return to normal. With the spell on them broken, Hamsterviel and company are forced to retreat. As the kids walk back to town, they’re all a bit dismayed they fell for such a scheme. It leads them back to the topic of Santa Claus, and Penny is that kid who wants to spoil everyone’s fun and insists that Santa is their fathers. Stitch is shocked to hear such a thing, but Yuna insists Santa is not their dads. Penny’s response is to point out that of course Santa isn’t Yuna’s dad because her dad is never home (unlike Lilo, Yuna’s dad is alive, he’s just always working so while this is a vicious burn it isn’t as vicious as it would be if she and Lilo shared the same origin) which upsets Yuna and causes her to stop dead in her tracks. She then sadly remarks, mostly to herself, that’s how she knows Santa isn’t her dad because he is never around.
At home, Yuna is a bit more upbeat than she was following her encounter with Penny. She writes a letter to Santa, but won’t tell Stitch what’s in it, that she places beside her pillow as she goes to bed. Stitch seems a bit thoughtful, but he too lays down to sleep but is soon awoken by a sound on the roof. He heads outside to find the big man himself, Santa Claus (Dave Wittenberg), on the roof. He thanks Stitch for what he did in stopping Hamsterviel earlier and also asks for his help. Stitch is very eager to help Santa, and the jolly old elf outfits him with his own Santa suit (Stitchy Claus!) and a tiny, one-deer, sleigh. Stitch surprisingly doesn’t seem tempted to eat his lone reindeer and Santa hands him a sack of toys to deliver throughout the island.
Stitch sets forth and the action unfolds as a montage. He visits most of the kids we saw earlier and places a gift in their stocking, which most seem to hang from their bed (a Hawaiian tradition?). He even gives that jerk Penny a gift, and saves Yuna for last. In the morning, the kids are gathered at Yuna’s house to show off their presents. Yuna got exactly what she wanted, while Penny got a book on how to be nice. Even Hamsterviel is shown as having received a gift – a giant hamster wheel because he’s out of shape. Gantu received a costume from his favorite soap opera, which brings him to tears, while Reuben has decorated their tree with nothing but sandwiches. On Earth, Kijimunaa asks Stitch what Santa got him, which causes Stitch to realise he didn’t receive a gift! He heads back to his room and finds a letter from Santa thanking him for all he’s done. Stitch then checks his good deed counter and watches it increase by five deeds. This excites him quite a bit as he looks to the heavens and the episode ends.
“Stitch and Santa” was a pretty charming way for me to get acquainted with this series. Prior to this, I knew it existed but had never sought it out. It looks like a fairly typical anime, while the character designs of the characters we know from the films largely look the same. The voice cast is fine and Hawaii is still a lavish setting. I enjoyed the design of Hamsterviel who is so cute he isn’t threatening and it was interesting to see the new interpretation of Gantu. A lot happens in the 20 minutes the episode lasts to build up to the climax of Stitch helping Santa. There’s something really charming and cute about that whole sequence making it a really nice pay-off following the rather breezy scheme plot.
Since the lore of the show is so different from the film it makes it a bit difficult to just drop-in. Stitch being friendly with Jumba and Pleakley isn’t too odd since that’s basically how the movie ended, though the presence of Yuna is confusing. I at first thought she was just an anime version of Lilo, but obviously I was mistaken. I had no idea about the deed counter though, so Stitch’s ultimate present was a bit of a head-scratcher until I read-up on the series. I’m a little disappointed this didn’t get a US broadcast and release as it seems like it has potential. Because it wasn’t released, it would seem Disney doesn’t care about protecting its asset so this was exceptionally easy to find streaming online. If you like Stitch and want to see a different take on him, go ahead and check it out. There’s enough Christmas feels here to make it a worthwhile holiday viewing experience.