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The spirit of the original The Karate Kid movies (particularly the first two) supervises the entirety of YouTube Red's Cobra Kai -- a 10-part TV series that's available right now on the streaming service. Set 34 years after the initial movie, Cobra Kai catches up with longtime rivals Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), showing fans how the kick to the fact at the tail end of the All Valley Karate Championship affected the trajectories of both men. The series has a lot of familiar faces stopping by, but one who couldn't was Pat Morita, the original Mr. Miyagi, who passed away in 2005. Still, Cobra Kai took the time to pay respects to the legacy of the character Morita helped create, and the tribute kicked in around episode 5.
By the time we reach this episode, titled Counterbalance, we learn that Daniel (Macchio) has drifted away from karate... with good reason. Now the owner of a successful auto dealership, Daniel's busy with his professional life, as well as his personal life. He has a loving wife, two kids, and a full plate. But Daniel has been put back in the path of his childhood bully, Johnny (Zabka), so he visits the gravesite of his one-time sensei, Miyagi (Pat Morita), to talk out his problems.
In this episode, Cobra Kai makes the best use of old footage from the original films. There have been moments when the show has relied on flashbacks to the original film, but seeing young Daniel learning about balance from Miyagi really goes to show how the lessons this gentle man was bestowing on a teenager were meant to be lessons for a lifetime... and not just in the moment. Older Daniel realizes that having "balance" even in his current days is just as important as when he was trying to juggle Alli, school, his mother and karate. And so, Daniel returns to karate.
As the episode continues, the words of Miyagi -- and some of the music borrowed from the original movie -- inspire Daniel to recreate a tranquil dojo in a room in his home. He puts on his old gee. He goes through several graceful motions from his karate lessons of old. He hangs up a portrait of himself with Mr. Miyagi, his old trainer. And as the episode concludes, he puts on the bandana that so many of us instantly associate with his original appearance in the All Valley Karate Tournament.
Everything about Cobra Kai has been a nostalgic tip of the cap back to the magic created by the original The Karate Kid, and while I never thought that we NEEDED a sequel that catches up with the main characters decades after the fact, it has been a delight to see how Daniel and Johnny are still at odds... and what they plan to do about it. The tribute to the late Mr. Miyagi -- as well as to the guiding presence of Pat Morita -- was just another beautiful step for a series that made several nice steps towards honoring its roots. There are other nods to points that Daniel learned from Miyagi, but I'll leave them for you to discover on your own. For now, I'm glad that Daniel returned to karate in this series. I'm glad he rebuilt his personal dojo. And I love that a photo of his mentor, and his friend, hangs on the wall.
Cobra Kai is a 10-episode original series from Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald and Hayden Schlossberg that is available right now on YouTube Red. Have you checked it out yet? What are your thoughts?