Disney's 2002 feature Lilo & Stitch is among the company's most beloved animated films, one of its best parting shots from the last days of 2D animated Disney movies. Fans of the original movie are probably familiar with its extended universe, including the Disney Channel original series and the straight-to-video sequels released throughout the mid-2000s.
However, American fans of the franchise may not know that there was another spin-off series that launched in 2008: an anime called Stitch! This series aired primarily in Japan until 2011 with the last TV special airing back in 2015.
While the main story of the Stitch saga was about the alien's relationship with Lilo, she is not a part of the anime series. Instead, Stitch finds himself in Okinawa, Japan hanging out with a new friend named Yuna. Other fan-favorites like Jumba Jookiba, Wendy Pleakley and Angel are in the anime, but Lilo is distinctly absent. While those in Japan who didn't see the previous Stitch movies may have enjoyed the anime since it took place in their home country, those familiar with the previous entries will be puzzled seeing Stitch being ohana with someone else.
It would be easy to chalk up Stitch! as just an anime reboot or reimaging of a popular Disney character for a new audience, but in the third season, Lilo's absence is finally explained. It starts out with Stich unexpectedly seeing Lilo while walking with Yuna to school. The two reunite and spend the day together similar to the good times they had before. As Stitch's friends try to figure out what's going on, it's Pleakley who finally explains to Yuna and the audience what happened between Lilo and Stitch.
When Lilo grew up, she had to leave Stitch for college but promised that they would reunite on the beach of Kauai in four years. When the four years passed, Stitch waited on the beach, but Lilo never showed up, prompting him to take his space scooter and flee to Izayoi.
It then turns out that the girl who was hanging out with Stitch wasn't Lilo, but rather her daughter Ani, as the real Lilo is a grown adult. When Ani tells her mother that she found Stitch, Lilo shockingly tells her that she wouldn't want to see him if she could. Lilo explains to her daughter that so much time has passed since their last meeting that Stitch has probably moved on with a family of his own, and she would only make things awkward by suddenly reappearing.
If that was the last the audience saw of Lilo, then it would've been an incredibly depressing way to end her heartfelt relationship with Stitch. Thankfully, Stitch made his way to the airport to see her one last time. When Lilo finally does see Stich again, she quickly joyously embraces him as if she never said those comments from earlier. She explains that the reason she was late to the beach was that her sister Nani was having a baby, and by the time she arrived Stitch was already gone.
She took the tiki necklace that Stich had left behind before fleeing to Japan and gave it back to him. Before taking her flight back home, Lilo hugs Stitch and promises they'll meet again someday.
While the relationship between Lilo and Stitch in the original film was already one of Disney's most well-developed and emotional, the anime series took it in a heartbreaking and all-too-real direction. The closest Disney came to making something similar after this was in Toy Story 3 when Andy outgrew his toys and passed them on to Bonnie. Even though this fracture in Lilo and Stitch's relationship was created to set up a new normal in the anime series, it's still really sad for the fans of the beloved Disney classic.