OhHai

Breaking the Narrative Episode 87: Strike Hard, Strike First, Not Manly? A Review of YouTube’s Cobra Kai!

Before I begin I must apologize again for my absence. I’ve made nods to my poor relationship with my mother in the past. However she was still my mother, keyword there was. Alice Jean Sherer, the woman who bore me and had me circumcised, left this world at 7:21 PM CST on May 21, 2018. As such I spent the last week dealing with circumstances in relation to her funeral and settling issues with her side of the family in relation to either her or my own mistakes made due to her poor advice. Finally burying my darkness, grudges, and ill feelings with her at approximately 12:30 PM May 26th. As loyal readers I owe you full transparency on this event. Now lets get back to business!

Last time we covered the original Karate Kid Trilogy to prepare for this review because this series is looking at what could be a cross-section of one of two things, either the evolution of male bonding and mentorship in our society, or the desired evolution by a feminist society of male bonding and mentorship. Secondly, it gives us a chance to approach how differences in perspective can affect how we treat situations. I go about this because we never go into things like cartoon villains planning to be ‘evil.’ No one is like Batman’s Joker. If you approach most criminals, you find that they believe that even in breaking the laws of a land they are doing the ‘right thing,’ or at least that it is justified. There are always more circumstances, and you never have the full story on everyone at once. Now that the stage is set Let’s Hammer This In!

To start out, what are we looking at with this YouTube Red series? We are looking at 10 approximately 26 minute episodes of content that is structured around the usual high school drama for the newer characters, some development from the two returning mains, then finally how the two fifty-some-odd-year-old men have or haven’t integrated into contemporary society. Also since this time the former rival of Larusso, in the form of Lawrence, is the down-and-out-underdog, it’s his story we are primarily following. Hence the name of the show. This is what I mean by the idea of perspective. With this throughout the show, we see from his mindset that the entire time, Johnny Lawrence was really a misguided hero, as opposed to a genuine villain. The genuine villain of the entire series is John Kreese.

The reason I’m going from this angle? Imagine this: You have been dealing with not having a dad, but instead a rich stepdad your entire life. You have been a loser and misfit with nothing to give your life structure until you find this strip-mall karate dojo. Then, by getting into it, you have turned your life around, and you have confidence for the first time. You end up getting a girlfriend and then have a generally good time until your anger at something gets the better of you, and you have a fight with her. Next thing you know, you are planning to apologize to her and to get her to listen to you instead of being a bit of a bitch. You grab her boom box and ask her to listen. Then all of a sudden this dick you’ve never met before comes in from out of nowhere and starts giving you shit and being a white-knight type without knowing any context.

That’s right. Despite all the positive lessons provided by The Karate Kid, Daniel Larusso is the antagonist. So, to defend yourself from this asshole who decided to just start punching after you returned the boombox, you used your training to stop what seems to be an out-of-control negative influence. Afterwards, your girlfriend sides with the white knight, and you decide to move on and cool down. A few months pass. Then, as you are about to unwind a little in the bathroom, the same unstable prick douses you (and your very well made costume) with cold water. From there, it’s history. Not only does anger take over, but (again, out of nowhere,) this older man comes and takes you and and your friends on because he doesn’t know whats going on. Just from hearing all of this and thinking of it from Johnny’s perspective, you are more keen on siding with him than you are Daniel, aren’t you?

I won’t go any further back into the previous movies unless it’s relevant, but it more than anything gave a lot to think about and we are barely into the new events of this series. To begin, we see that Johnny has become a contractor who does odd jobs around Reseda and the surrounding areas of Los Angeles. He drinks heavily and is now considered a “deadbeat dad” who is estranged from his son for the same reasons that we have seen time and time again. Namely, he got a girl pregnant and she didn’t actually give him a chance to be a father. There are times in this series he tries to step into his kid’s life, in which he is blocked one way or another, and he does have some pictures of when the kid was younger and he attempted to be a part of his son’s life. But as has been seen by many of us who have had the courts vie against us, the son has been turned against his father by his slutty and greedy mother. I’m as surprised as you are that Google allowed this to be portrayed as a realistic development as opposed to trying to spin it towards the feminist lens.

In fact this is the most surprising aspect of the series. The show, whenever presenting the honestly anachronistic Johnny with the changes to society (since he is mentally stuck in the 80’s for the most part) shows him having trouble coming to terms with quite a few things, particularly when it comes to technology and social changes. It takes the student he gains in the form of Miguel Diaz to help bring him up to speed on a lot of it. He first meets the youth, who is portrayed by the newer actor Xolo Mariduena, when he is being chased by the crowd of popular jocks from his old school. He originally didn’t wish to get involved, but when they bumped into his Pontiac Firebird, his drunken temper came out. He had just lost his job. He had basically nothing left, and now these punks were pushing this one loser into his car. I would have kicked these bitches in the teeth too.

Miguel then immediately begs to be taught ‘Tae Kwon Do” by Lawrence. Johnny first corrects him, then tells him no. We then see him out in a park thinking about where his life all went wrong, when all of a sudden this car full of screaming drunk and high girls comes out of nowhere and slams right into his car’s rear axle. He has had it, and the car ended up towed to the last place he wanted to go, Daniel Larusso’s primary auto lot. At this point we should touch upon where Daniel has been all this time. Daniel ended up with a wife, had two children, and owns a series of high-end car lots all throughout the Los Angeles area. He owns a nice home up in Johnny’s old neighborhood, and his ‘gimmick’ is tied to his past as a two-time under-18 martial arts champion… so much so that he is on the council for the area tournaments. This is important later on.

Of course not wanting anything to do with Larusso, Johnny wants to get his vehicle out of there and put into another dealership to get worked on as soon as possible. Johnny hears Daniel coming and decides he’ll come back later, not wanting to have to deal with this at all. Its here that the former rival spots him and recognizes him. Then, after some playful ribbing by Daniel, Johnny explains himself and Daniel looks at exactly what Johnny is dealing with. Knowing that most other places would tell him to scrap it for the nothing its now worth, and having an appreciation for what that car means to Johnny, Larusso decides to show his character development, and that for him, the past is just water under the bridge (for now.) He offers to have it done free of charge as a way to give his mechanics something of a chance to work on something older. A training exercise, if you will.

Its from here that Johnny sees Larusso’s daughter Sam, then is furious and storms out when he realizes after accepting the charity that it was Larusso’s daughter in the back seat of the at-fault car in the wreck. This will lead to some antagonism later on, but at this point Johnny is best thinking of this as ‘ok well whether he knows the truth or not he is taking responsibility for his kid.’ and he decides to go about his business, tossing aside the Bonsai tree gifted by Daniel. He basically accepts that he will take the aid, considering, but this doesn’t make them friends. Johnny then finds Miguel and takes him on as his student, deciding to actually take one last loan from his repugnant stepfather and start up the Cobra Kai Dojo.

As we go on, Miguel ends up teaching Johnny as much about how the world has changed as Johnny teaches him about self-confidence and perseverance. Through this, Lawrence has the father/son relationship he always yearned for with his own child Robbie, who ends up becoming Larusso’s protege, albeit using his mother’s name instead of his father’s, and deceiving the master he grows to appreciate and value. It’s at this point where I find it key to address what the series seems to subtly be doing here with their characters. For example, the series clearly shows that though Daniel was the most successful, his life isn’t perfect. He doesn’t seem to have lost that arrogant and destructive temper he had when Miyagi was alive (we will tackle that soon.) His children don’t respect him or honor him because he hasn’t earned their respect honestly, and he let’s something that doesn’t even concern him overtake his life.

This is shown the moment he sees Johnny having restarted the Cobra Kai Dojo. While most of us who see any business that has been long gone start back up despite having wronged us, we just move on and don’t let it trouble us. Daniel lets it turn his life upside down, and brings back a decades-dead grudge to beat it back into submission, quite the contrary to his own master’s philosophy, the one who as we discussed last time, buried his own feud with his oldest friend peacefully and amicably through shared hardship. Suffice it to say, this does seem to confirm a level of sociopathy in the character of Daniel Larusso, that he really isn’t the ‘good guy’ he purports himself to be. He refuses to see things from another perspective, the one that Johnny is actually using, taking the darkness and pain of his past and transforming it into a positive force for the future.

Its even seen by the end of the show, in which (spoiler alert,) Cobra Kai wins the tournament. Daniel fully trains Robbie to take on Miguel and Miguel wins using similar tactics to what Johnny used to. Its at this point that Johnny fully realizes the fatal flaw of ‘no mercy’ is that it robs one of their honor, something he will likely work to rectify in season two of the show. However, when you look into Johnny’s face and see the emotions that Zabka expertly brings out in his character, he still, despite everything, showed concern for his son and finally some form of good sportsmanship.

Now notice I haven’t gone into much of the high school dramatics of Kyler and the bullies that Miguel takes down, or how some of the other characters change throughout the show. That’s because those aspects of the story are par for the course and tangential in the grand scheme of this series. The cheap love ‘triangle’ between the final rivals and Larusso’s daughter Sam is a cookie cutter ‘Romeo and Juliet’ affair, and the ‘Mean Girls’ bit with the preppy queen bitch finally getting her comeuppance with a nicely applied front wedgie is amusing comic relief, but is ultimately forgettable in the grand scheme of things. I will say that I find the push of the ‘current champion’ being this typical male feminist douchenozzle that quickly gets dispatched by Diaz cathartic to say the least. It’s also likely a commentary on how that is a negative change within society and we might want to side-step it.

Now we are going to tackle the arc with Johnny’s stepfather because it does show the full evolution of his character throughout the show. His stepfather was the typical rich asshole type that his mother likely married for his money. This being said, the stepfather did give his stepson everything he could, regardless, with the hope that Johnny would make something of himself. Having had a stern stepfather and tough love father myself, I know exactly what is going through the stepdad’s head. Though Johnny, even at the end, doesn’t see it, his stepfather does love him. He wouldn’t be bailing him out left, right and center if he didn’t. When Johnny repays him the last loan at the end, it shows him that he didn’t understand what Ed Asner’s Sid was pushing for. He, like many business-centric men, don’t know how to express their intents directly, as they have grown used to the backstabbing nature of the world they live in. When Sid cries out to Johnny that ‘he’ll be coming back,’ he isn’t talking about the money – he could care less about that. He is talking about the love he has for his stepson.

Since this will have a second season, anything more concerning these developments will have to wait for that to come out, but to finish this off we do have to talk about Miyagi having passed on. When Pat Morita died in 2005 there was a sense of shock, as he did always keep himself in decent health in his later years.

When Larusso visits his grave we do get to see something about their relationship. Larusso still sees the man as a father figure and genuinely misses him. Moreover we realize that Miyagi being around is likely what helped him mellow out and balance himself throughout his life enough to become as stable as he did. Now that he is gone (for 7 years in the story, having been said to have died of natural causes in 2011) Daniel has slowly started to revert.  As such, that has put strain on his relationships with his family.

With all this in here I know this is getting longer than my articles have been, but there is a lot to process with this.  I don’t want to give everything away because honestly I think you should watch it yourselves. If you don’t want to give Google your money just cop one of the free months they give every once and a while.

If you want me to cover season two when it releases let me know below in the comments, and hopefully we can tie up the loose ends from this article when those arcs are tidied up in the next season. Until then Please Remember To Game Freely!

Alex Tinsley
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.
Alex Tinsley
Follow me at
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.