Men in Black International released recently and so the time has come for another Cartoon Catch Up. A bit of history on this one. Without going too deeply into the lore, this concept is based on the urban legend of strange individuals who would often arrive unannounced at the homes and workplaces of people who have seen U.F.Os.
This spawned a comic in the early nineties which would then develop into the first Men in Black film (1997), starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Three sequels would follow, in 2002, 2012 and 2019 respectively. However, before this, bridging the gap between the first two movies, was a 53-episode Men in Black: The Series. This series ran for four seasons from 1997 to 2001. This provided us with the episodic adventures of Agents J and K as they help protect the Earth from a whole host of extra-terrestrial evil doers.
From Adelaide Productions, the people that brought us, Godzilla: The Series, Extreme Ghostbusters and Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, we are given an alternate timeline to the movies, telling its own narrative. Rewatching the first couple of episodes and revisiting this series, there are a few pieces of note. Firstly, the animation is crisp and beautiful; the shady, gritty feel that runs through Adelaide’s productions is apparent and works gorgeously with the theme. It gives us a stark contrast in style to that of most 90s Saturday morning shows.
If you take anything from this series, it should be the sheer work and ambition that went into the opening theme song. This sequence, unlike many shows, was created from scratch. It was fully animated with the sole purpose of it being for the theme. It wasn’t just a compilation of clips from the episodes thrown together haphazardly. That has to be admired, because with the heavy budget cuts that series often go through, production crews frequently make sure to cut costs wherever possible. Watch this opening sequence. It blends the perfect balance of gritty shots with beautifully composed music to deliver a piece of pure animation nostalgia.
Moving on from this, however, we get on to the grand departure from the film that is the main cast. The characters look noticeably different from their film counterparts and so seem more of an homage than actually animated versions of Jones and Smith. This is interestingly noted in one episode, where the character differences are addressed through the revelation that every so often, Hollywood directors learn of the Men in Black and make a film about them, hinting at the live action Men in Black as one of these situations. The designs of the characters change going into its second season, but the quality of animation and alien designs would stay strong.
Onto the content itself. On a rewatch, I struggled to really get into this series. The change in cast leads to voices that fit, yes, but don’t quite have the believability of its live-action ally. The episode titles all start with “The” and end with “Syndrome” which may lead to difficulty navigating through the series. The lighthearted tone that made Men in Black 1 through 3 so entertaining continues, and it never tries to be anything more than it is; it focuses on amusing alien creations and contrasting them with the conflicts and the agents’ reactions to such.
The plots are never anything special, vaguely interesting at best. You’ll feel like you’ve had a neuralizer used on you after each episode, though; you won’t have anything memorable to take away after watching. Nothing really stands out. For the diehard fans of the Men in Black, or something to stick on for the family, it is worth watching. I wouldn’t go into it with too much expectation though. Even though it’s Men in Black by name, it is far from Men in Black in substance.
Except that opening sequence. That is beautiful.
Seriously. Watch the theme. Go. Now.