Cobra Kai (2018-) reviewed: the karatistas

A few weeks ago, I finished viewing Cobra Kai. The series, which continues The Karate Kid saga, was the number one show on Netflix at the time. Cobra Kai premiered in 2018 on YouTube. The series sees the return of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his nemesis Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). The two archrivals teach a new generation of ‘karatistas’ while balancing the demands of family. The show blends elements of the 80s with the present, interspersing old shots with modern technology. Netflix acquired the rights to Cobra in June this year and the third series is slated to arrive in early 2021. In breaking news, the programme has been renewed for a fourth season.

The main combatants in this one are from rival factions: Cobra Kai and Miyagi-do Karate. Here is the line-up of the key players:

Cobra Kai

Johnny Lawrence. A down and out alkie, Johnny works as a repairman but is fired from his perch after a situation with a client. Apathetic, he lives alone in his apartment and has long ignored his ex-wife and teenage son. His Ecuadorian neighbour, Miguel, is his saving grace. Soon, he trains the latter but warns him not to flaunt his skills. He wants to educate Miguel in the right way, unlike his former mentor. Throughout the series, he battles to contain his demons, both the bottle and Kreese, his instructor. He encourages Miguel to address him as ‘sensei’. After Miguel’s karate moves went viral, the Cobra Kai dojo becomes a hit. Johnny can usually be seen shouting ‘Quiet’, when he’s not picking on the weaklings. While he still has the goods in the dojo, Johnny isn’t tech savvy in the slightest. He returns a laptop, until the shop assistant tells him to try the power button. When Daniel shows him social media posts, he is dumbfounded: ‘What’s a Facebook?’ He even asks Miguel: ‘What’s Wi-Fi?’ Ultimately, he urges his followers to show their opponents mercy. I didn’t realise that the role of Johnny Karate in Parks and Rec was based on Lawrence.  

Miguel Diaz. Lawrence’s first student, he is a quick leaner who initially sought out Lawrence for karate kicks after the latter defended him against school bullies. Miggy is awkward and shy in the beginning but, under the tutelage of Lawrence, soon becomes confident and cool. His elevation into a lethal weapon marks the turning point in West Valley High. The inept nerds unseat the popular kids from their throne. He begins a relationship with Sam, Daniel’s daughter. However, this would be short-lived as he connects on a wayward punch in his attempt to defend his girl. Though he tries hard to salvage the liaison, his efforts prove futile. When Tory, the new girl, enters the dragon, she gains his attention. Anyhow, he treats Johnny like the father he’s never had, and their bond exceeds that of student/teacher. He is close to his mother and his abuela. His work ethic and quench for learning put him at the top of his karate class. Thirty-four years after his sensei lost to LaRusso, Diaz becomes the All-Valley Tournament champion.

Hawk

Hawk. Just like Diaz, Eli/Hawk is a leper at the beginning. His circle of friends is negligible and his social life, non-existent. He decides to sign up to Cobra Kai after seeing Miggy make light work of the bullies. Lawrence taunts the kid, calling him ‘lip’ and picking on him for being soft. One day, Eli shows up with a mohawk ‘do and quite a bit of swagger. He thus transforms into a formidable warrior. At the All-Valley tourney, Eli comes one point away from setting up a meeting with Miggy in the finale. However, he is disqualified a low blow against Robby Keane (Johnny’s son). This early exit is reminiscent of the semis in the ‘84 edition, when LaRusso’s opponent was dismissed in a similar fashion. Hawk is no doubt the second-best shogun at Cobra Kai. While uber confident, Hawk graduates into the people he despises. He becomes a bully himself.

Tory Nichols. She arrives in season 2 and is an energiser bunny from the beginning. Even on her first day, she knows her kicks. Unlike Sam, she does not have a privileged upbringing. She bonds with Aisha and is quickly infatuated with Miggy. She also has the habit of swiping stuff, which enrages Sam. Due to their shared connections with Diaz, Sam and Tory start a rivalry, which gets out of hand at the end of season 2. Tory is determined and motivated. She listens to her teachers, but she can be temperamental

Aisha Robinson. Though her family has galleons, Aisha was a nobody in school. She was shamed for being herself. Sam was one of the few people who genuinely cared about her. Then she discovered Cobra Kai and was one of the dojo’s early tutees. Interestingly, Aisha was the dojo’s first female trainee. While Lawrence was initially against women in the gym, Aisha proved him wrong. She was then organising events and meeting new people. From being avoided, she was now recruiting people to join Cobra Kai. More importantly, she was standing up to the sadists. She hangs out with Tory.

John Kreese. Karate Kid fans will remember Kreese for being the mad sensei who broke Johnny’s second-place trophy. He is sometimes referred here as ‘sensei emeritus.’ A merciless tactician, Kreese demanded his students thus: ‘Strike first. Strike hard. No mercy.’ While Lawrence adapted this mantra, he did so in a much tamer manner than his sempai. Kreese returns unwelcomed, but secretly desires to take over the dojo and instil his brand of karate to these new converts. He lies about his travails and his past victories in armed conflicts around the globe. He talks about brumation, about snakes rising from the desert and reclaiming their stake. Johnny takes offence to what he sees as Kreese’s medieval ways. Yet Johnny’s ‘show mercy’ suggestion might cost him the caucus, leaving the gateway open for Kreese.

  

Miyagi-Do

Daniel LaRusso. The protagonist of the first three Karate Kid films, Daniel-san is the foil to Cobra Kai’s plans to take over the world. With their dirty tactics, Daniel views them as the enemy. Now a successful franchiser of auto dealerships, the re-emergence of Cobra Kai puts Daniel on notice. While Daniel is a dedicated family man in the outset, he fast trades his car ads for his kata. He then spends more time with his mentees than with his wife. Though a self-made millionaire, he still reels from the loss of Mr Miyagi, his mentor. However, the sempai’s influence in his teaching method is alive, from doing chores to cutting bonsais. He makes it his mission to eradicate Cobra Kai as he is against everything that they stand for. LaRusso imparts the consequence of balance to his students, and that karate is not for showing off but more for self-defence. He makes it clear that they should strike only if warranted. For much of the series, he has trouble outshining Cobra Kai and has few converts.

Samantha LaRusso. Daniel’s only daughter was trained to fight from a tender age. She is part of the popular group, with friends that are heartless, hyperreal, and narcissistic. She can usually be seen radiant and with a smile. She starts being involved with Diaz, but the inadvertent blow costs him his chances. Daniel winning her a big octopus was one of their high moments. Unlike her dad, Sam grew up well-off, living a sheltered life of country clubs and fancy cars. After Miggy, she becomes linked with Robby. For most of the two seasons, she and Robby are the only ones at Miyagi-Do. Though she balks at first, she becomes committed to her father’s training regime. She spends a lot of time on her devices but, unlike her brother Anthony, she gives the bonsais a go.

Robby Keene. At the start, Robby’s a delinquent, intent on punishing his absentee father. His mother, who raised him, is likewise often MIA (missing in action). He initially approaches LaRusso to spite Johnny. However, as opportunity keeps knocking, he grows to love his job. After training with Daniel, he leaves his old life behind and embraces his new identity. Furthermore, he goes to live with the LaRusso’s, who are unaware that he is Johnny’s boy. When Daniel finally finds out, he is gutted. However, he forgives the teener, seeing the kid’s natural fighting skills. Daniel admits that he could see the similarities between them: being raised by a single parent in a bad part of town. Keane competes at the All-Valley, where he loses to an inspired Miguel in the championship bout. After a while, he softens his stance against his dad, having realised that his father valued him after all.   

There are plenty of reasons to tune in to this awesome series: the fight scenes, the laughs, the youth movement, even the rekindling of old magic. Being around half an hour in length, it’s also just the right length to enthral you. To complete the look, as mentioned, a number of vital cogs have reprised their roles. If luck has it, there’s talk of even more cast members returning for one last dance. As mentioned, Netflix has dangled 2021 as the next chapter in the Cobra Kai legend. Should you have witnessed the first two series, the follow-up couldn’t come soon enough.

Rating: 5/5

The All-Valley final: Miguel v Robby
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