Cobra Kai: The Final Chapters in the Daniel LaRusso Chronicles

A Review of the hit Netflix series

This pandemic has brought us many things. Increased screen time being one, as a result of my avid Netflix streaming, much to the chagrin of my parents.

I’ve exhausted an obscene amount of shows, movies, documentaries, and nature films on the service. From rewatching Sherlock for the 557452th time to My Octopus Teacher, I thought I covered all the bases of Netflix… that was until I saw ‘Cobra Kai’ pop up in a banner.

Cobra Kai — such a distant name, yet so fresh in the minds of most people. Oh, that one evil dojo in the Karate Kid trilogy? The one with that one stereotypical hot guy who happens to be the epitome of pure evil? That guy? Oh yeah, Johnny Lawrence. His sensei is much worse — Kreese. The whole grouping consists of the kind of guys who want you to think not to mess with them. In reality, though, they are pretty pathetic, as we come to find out with newbie Daniel LaRusso’s epic win at the All Valley Karate Championship in 1984. The whole message behind that first movie is that love rules hate… giving mercy is more honorable than being brutish. Beautiful message, though the next two movies slightly divulge from the original plot sequences.

Karate Kid Part II follows Daniel in Mr Miyagi’s homeland of Okinawa as he gets into his fair share of brawls and romance… typical teen 80s movie things. Seems the plot of the first movie really does not pertain to this movie other than the same items we see him have from Mr Miyagi like the Banana Boat car. Though we still got the same instance of being peaceful in fighting being more successful than brutish. I actually view this movie to be the best in the series; to my eight-year-old self Kumiko and Daniel were such a cute couple. In my humble opinion, they had some serious chemistry. Plus, Kumiko showed Daniel her passion of dancing and got to truly be herself. Daniel SAVED her by fighting to death with Chozen. My heart swoons still.

The last in the trilogy, Karate Kid Part III, is probably the worst. The movie is essentially one with an extremely predictable plot, a bad-boy trope, and a pathetic finish to what seemed to be the last of LaRusso. Ugh.

From watching the last of the trilogy, I thought the book was closed on our beloved karate superstar Daniel LaRusso.

Yet in 2018, we were gifted with the 30-years-into-the-future epilogue of sorts: ‘ Cobra Kai’.

Though I am a little late to this show, I can say the more I watched, the more I liked. Right from the opening scenes, we meet our hated bad-boy: Johnny. Though this time, he isn’t in some fancy Encino mansion from his mommy and daddy like I thought. He lives right where his nemesis started his journey in Southern California: Reseda. Sloppy and disorganized, Johnny seems to be in pain from his loss back in ’84.

His rival, on the other hand, is living his dream. A wealthy car dealership company owner and salesman, Daniel Larusso has it all. He lives in a beautiful mansion and is married with kids. A family-man that works his dream job. Not too bad, Danny!

Johnny rehashes the past constantly, finding himself meeting LaRusso early on in the series. Over time, the two find themselves where they once where: in a war.

A lot of things happen, and eventually Johnny is inspired to open his own karate dojo and name it, you guessed it, Cobra Kai.

Oh yeah! And Johnny has a neighbor named Miguel Diaz. Miguel becomes Johnny’s first and arguably best student in the dojo.

Now, I’ve got to admit Johnny does not do himself many favors in his interactions with most of the characters. Seems his brain did not mature in those 30 years as he still views popularity to be a big goal of his and he instructs his students not to be wimps or nerds. He also comes across as misogynistic and racist in certain aspects… yikes! He also still seems to want babes? What is a babe?

Over time, Cobra Kai becomes a haven for the downtrodden of the high school nearby. Miguel Diaz, Aisha Robinson, Eli ‘Hawk’ Moskowitz, and many others turn to Cobra Kai for confidence. Though they don’t gain healthy confidence: they become real bullies like Johnny in the ’80s.The emboldened words on the dojo: STRIKE FIRST, STRIKE HARD, NO MERCY seem to have a direct impact on these underdogs, making them conquer their bullies but also turn on anyone who disagrees with them. They unhealthily view the world as a mere karate match where they must finish their opponent til its clear they are the default winner.

What’s worse is that over time Cobra Kai tries to steer away from such harsh rhetoric after the infamous Kreese, who is now apparently alive, comes back to his old dojo and asks Lawrence to allow him to co-run the dojo. Lawrence, who is weary of Kreese, decides to give him the benefit of the doubt, finding comfort in a possibility of Kreese being different. What seems like a changed man turns out to be a massive lie as Kreese is the same conniving, hideous shell of a man. Doubly sexist and just the kind of old man that gives you the creeps — horrifying.

Anyway, with every lesson Kreese inputs his terrifyingly sickening lessons in the teachings, influencing the kids to view him as the only sensei in Cobra Kai. Such angers Johnny, rightfully so, who tries to tell the children that showing mercy is important to gaining honor. Unfortunately, certain children still don’t get it, and they become more interested in Kreese’s teachings. Kreese tries to weasel his way in so much that he ends up taking the dojo from Lawrence… as expected of his character. So much for second chances, Lawrence.

Meanwhile, the Daniel-Johnny rivalry heats up when more things happen, and Daniel gets the bright idea to open up his own dojo, Miyagi-Do karate. I have to say, I’m rooting for anything having to do with Mr Miyagi. That man was literally such a good one. From watching him and his eternal wisdom, I made an exception for him in my annoyance with most males… young Keanu Reeves is the other exception but yeah, that’s for an entirely different reason… ahem.

Anyway, the success of Cobra Kai and the observed dangers that Daniel witnesses through his daughter’s friends lead Daniel to create his own dojo, Miyagi-Do. From this, Daniel goes on a journey of hoping to teach his daughter Samantha and others more about peaceful karate.

As expected, the Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do brawl and stuff. I won’t tell you any more, you filthy animals.

Regardless, here’s my stance: ‘Cobra Kai’ is the perfect piece of closure for Daniel and his fans. Majority of the original cast show up, and they tell their stories of what happened after Daniel came in contact with them. We see a reunion in real time of Daniel and the character, watching him turn the page on his relationship with them.

One thing interesting about the set-up of the old and new characters is the similarity each one has to a character in the old saga: Miguel Diaz represents Daniel LaRusso, though the Daniel LaRusso that is not the peace-loving one we know of. They both hail from Reseda, rely on karate to help them adjust to a new school and bullies, and end up falling in love with their rival’s love interest. Though, there is complexity to Miguel that Daniel seemed to lack. See, we learn early on about Miguel, the horrible experience his mother had with a man who was ‘dangerous’, and his ‘nerd’ self. There’s a clear shift in character and experience that occurs as a result of karate. In Daniel’s case, he ends up coming in as relatively nice and leaving the same. He does not become hard-faced until the last movie, but even that was extremely short-lived. There’s a sense of deus ex machina in the 80’s versions of Karate Kid: the concept of weakness or pain is resolved rather quickly, with the plot points coming in rather quickly, making makes the story arc hard to follow.

Here, we see an improvement in the way the story is told: with Miguel, everything is up-front — we see his backstory like it is, not given hints about it later on that Daniel benefits from in this version, filling in loop holes and time-skips.

Samantha LaRusso reminds me a lot of Ali simply because they act in a similar manner. Both are wealthy, yet they act down-to-earth about their family’s status. They don’t seem to care about anyone else’s socioeconomic status nor do they associate greatly with the general popular people. They both are strong-willed and independent, shown through Sam’s eagerness to defend Demitri and Ali’s quick slap to Johnny’s face when he over-stepped his boundaries by kissing her in the country club. Yet, again, we don’t know much of Ali other than these simple points. We don’t know how she felt in her own perspective, only how she felt in relation to Daniel. Their fling, for what it was made out to be, was short-lived. Such directly contradicts one of the main plot points of the movie: their romance. Seems rather absurd that she would just fall out of love with someone she was so ready to support. Samantha’s thoughts, emotions, and actions are clear because we also get to see issues that strictly relate to her and not just in relation to Miguel or Robbie. She has more depth, and she is portrayed as an overall more complex character. She sympathized with Moon and Yasmin, but she hated what they did to Aisha and other people. Ali only seemed to hate Johnny and related folk. We never see conflicting, real emotion come from her other than reverence for Daniel. Such, we see Ali’s side of the breakup explained. We even get a chance to finally hear her side of their relationship, not just from Daniel’s view.

Despite the show’s importance to Karate Kid films and its reception, I disliked the stereotypical description of a high school setting. It makes perfect sense, since this show was written from the perspective of an outdated high school experience. Things are written based on perception of the reality. With the futuristic setting, I wish the writers evolved the ways in which a high school setting is depicted. There isn’t just stereotypical nerds who get picked on, the brutish and vain, the popular girl who turns nice, or any other trope. ‘Nerds’ aren’t outcasts. All popular people aren’t bullies. All popular girls aren’t vain and materalistic. These absolute statements affect children and the way they wish to be perceived. With the negative perception ‘nerds’ receive, children might shy away from academic passions. They might feel ‘weak’ or ‘little’ compared to everyone else. We got an inkling of a stereotype breaker with Demitri, who is the one character who does not change himself in terms of his likes and dislikes. He gains confidence, but he does not stop liking quirky things like Doctor Who. This is possibily because he sticks with Miyagi-Do and does not try to pursue Cobra Kai beyond his intial impressions.

Eventually, the sentiment that most of the people who joined Cobra Kai leave is comforting. Eli drops his bully facade after seeing the harm it brings; Miguel, who already recognized the danger Kreese poses, is already out the door, along with many others. In the end, a surprising twist for Johnny and Daniel occur in terms of karate dojos. I’m left slightly annoyed that I don’t get to see what happens until a year later but relived that the season does not end in total shambles and no progression past bullies and bullied.

Final Verdict? 4.5 stars/5; a necessary masterpiece, but sometimes not totally accurate in its interpretation of a younger generation.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Niya Rana

Niya Rana

current high school senior and opinionated TV viewer