Do you suffer from anime withdrawal during the week? Are you wishing that the US would catch up in terms of showing great animation? Well, good news. You don't have to move to Japan to see great animation 4 days a week. Instead, you can see Gargoyles, Disney's first venture into animated drama for afternoon programming. "What?" you say. Disney isn't Japanese animation! Maybe not, but with this series they've created something with animation and storylines as fantastic as many of the series I've seen at CJAS. And although created in the US, the series is produced at Disney-affiliated studios in Japan and South Korea, which can lead to some very familiar-looking characters and scenes if you pay attention.
Gargoyles is about a clan of 10th century Scottish gargoyles who are stone by day and the protectors of Castle Wyvern and its human inhabitants at night. A betrayal during a Viking attack in 994 AD causes the deaths of all but 6 members of the clan who are then accidentally put under a magic spell that keeps them in their stone hibernation state "until the castle rises above the clouds." 1000 years later a wealthy businessman named David Xanatos breaks the spell by relocating Castle Wyvern atop his Manhattan corporate headquarters. He attempts to exploit the Gargoyles' abilities for his own purposes but is defeated by them with the help of Detective Elisa Maza, who accidentally learns of their existence and befriends them. Under her guidance, the Gargoyles have fled Castle Wyvern and are adjusting to the 20th century while continuing their role as protectors - only now they protect all of Manhattan.
Gargoyles isn't a flying TMNT for a number of reasons. One, it's aimed at a much older audience, and two, it takes its storyline from medieval history, Shakespearean literature, Arthurian legend, and problems in modern society. Last season, the series explored the danger of guns in "Deadly Force" by having one of the Gargoyles, Broadway, play with Elisa's gun and accidentally shoot and almost kill her. The graphic and realistic portrayal of the consequences of playing with guns won the series critical acclaim - but it also showed that it is not a series appropriate for young children, as there were scenes of Elisa lying in a pool of blood and later flatlining in the ICU. A main theme of the series is good vs. evil, but unlike in other Disney shows, good does not always triumph, and in some cases the good even dies.
Besides great writing and an all-star voice cast that includes Ed Asner, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, almost all the other members of ST:TNG, John Rhys-Davies, Bill Faggerbake, Keith David, and Jeff Bennett, the series has some of the best animation I've seen in an American TV series. The animators at WD-Japan have at times managed to squeeze in a few tributes to their heroes such as Miyazaki (the Fortress airship and robots are a dead rip-off of Laputa, and the flying scenes in "M.I.A." are reminiscent of Porco Rosso) and Takahashi ("Eye of the Beholder" - Ranma's father in panda form was at the costume party).
The series is currently up to episode #56, and the storyline has gotten so complicated that it would take several trees to explain it all. If you're curious, you can check out the fan web page at http://www.gargoyles-fans.org/ or tune in at 4:30 on channel 10, M-Th. Oh, and it helps if you know Latin, Shakespeare's Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and a lot about medieval history and legends of the world. But it's not required.