By Robert Vincent
Cobra Kai is an example of a revival made by people who give a damn. So much love went into creating this, and it shows. It not only acts as a perfect continuation to the Miyagi lore of the original series, but also as a product that is enjoyable when separated from what came before it.
The character arcs are intricately interwoven and are easily the best part of the series. Right at the start, everyone has some double relation to each other, although they do not know it yet. For example, Robby is Daniel’s student but Johnny’s son. Miguel is Johnny’s student but dating Daniel’s daughter.
Over the course of each season, characters oscillate between growing stronger, shrinking back down, and then clashing with each other in a brawl toward the end. The best example of this is at the end of season two. The tension grows between the characters until it explodes in a violent confrontation at school.
The resulting brawl is not only a thrill but also an expert culmination of the character development up to that point. It results in massive collateral damage that ends the season on a cliffhanger. Every character is at their lowest point afterward, with one on the verge of death and another on the run from the law. This is a fight that is not only exciting, but also matters.
Season three takes some time to build the characters back up, since they were at their lowest point at season two’s end. It escalates to another do- jo-versus-dojo brawl, but with less fallout this time. Afterward, to cap off the season, a smaller scale brawl takes place.
The final scene in season three is perfect. There’s a somber air to it, even though hardly any words are said. Throughout the entire series, it has been hinting at Daniel and Johnny finally reconciling and teaming up, and to see them finally do so is so satisfying. It’s a great cliffhanger with just enough closure. It leaves us wanting to see what happens next but doesn’t leave too many plot threads open.
The plot hinges on the characters. But the show isn’t only about characters reacting to circumstances; it is about flawed individuals who create their own problems and try to find ways to make matters right in the end. While none of the characters are very deep psychologically, they are all very well-developed and drive the plot through their actions.
At the start, Johnny plays the role of the tough-as- nails mentor. Normally, I have a bit of a distaste for such characters, as that type of tutelage never turns out well in real life. In this, however, it plays out as it actually would. Instead of making his students truly better people, his “No Mercy” philosophy accidentally corrupts them. He is shocked at this and tries to fix it, but it’s too late once Kreese enters the picture.
The show is relentlessly silly and revels in it. The main premise can be summed up as two men-children reopening their childhood karate dojos and letting it escalate to a gang war—and that makes for amazing entertainment. The show’s internal logic is deliberately cartoony, and it uses this to great effect.
Daniel’s wife, Amanda, is the one character who still has her head in reality. She constantly points out how silly the idea of their warring dojos is, and how they should have let go of their rivalry by now, but the rules that govern this show’s universe shut her down each time, and it’s hilarious, too.
The show even retroactively improves the original movies. Johnny’s actions in the original have much more context to them now. This is done in a way that does not replace what went on in the original, but adds onto it. In season three, we get to see those from Karate Kid II return, and they too have undergone development since the original films.
Karate Kid Part III has been improved overall by Cobra Kai. Both of the villains from III have been given context to their actions, and III’s messages, while a bit hokey at the time, now resound much stronger when repeated in Cobra Kai. III’s place in the lore has been overall strengthened, and Terry Silver is sure to make a great addition in season four.
There’s a kinetic energy to the soundtrack, like it’s from an action game. Whenever a fight breaks out, the music elevates the scene to a new level. A great part of season two’s climatic fight is a piece named Hallway Hellscape that plays during a continuous shot of the two dojos going at it. Without this music playing, the scene would not have been as effective as it was. All the parts of the show work together in perfect conjunction, including the soundtrack.
Cobra Kai is a show that’s honest. It knows that it’s cheesy, and it uses that to its full advantage. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not, and that places it above most of its competition.