The 50th San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone, and this year, the stars of the YouTube Premium series, Cobra Kai, were in attendance. For two seasons already, viewers of this continuation of The Karate Kid franchise have been following the rivalry of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) via their feuding dojos.
With tension at its peak following a near fatal accident in the season 2 finale, the cast was questioned on what to expect in the upcoming season. While mostly mum on specifics, Macchio did confirm that his character will be making a return trip to Okinawa, to discover the origins of the style of karate he was taught by Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) all those years ago.
Now with this confirmation brings some curiosity to mind, given a continuing flaw in the series so far. While Cobra Kai is an overall thoughtful continuation of where The Karate Kid left off, it has severely lacked in Asian and Asian American representation. Seriously, I can count all the Asian characters on one hand: the school bully Kyler (Joe Seo), All-Valley Tournament committee member George (Kurt Yue), and a boy in Season 2 who switches from Cobra Kai to Miyagi-Do (Nathaniel Oh). The lack of representation is an elephant that Vanity Fair wasn’t shy about pointing out in an article they published earlier this month, marking the original film’s 35th anniversary.
In one way, it’s not too surprising. While the creators Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald, and Hayden Schlossberg have proven themselves to be the Karate Kid fans they are, it’s also clear as day that they are three white guys who probably have overlooked this particular aspect of what made the films so special. On the other hand, it is a little surprising, especially for a show that is not only set in Southern California, but also that it is being a made in a time when Asian American representation in the media is really starting to improve.
It really is remarkable that so far, there have been more Asian characters in the Karate Kid films than in the Cobra Kai series. While Mr. Miyagi does embody some stereotypes, he ultimately is a well fleshed out character; especially in the pivotal drunk scene from the first film where Daniel learns about his past.
In The Karate Kid Part II, his past is fleshed out even more when he and Daniel return to the Okinawan village he is from. Miyagi reconnects with his old flame Yukie (Nobu McCarthy) and reignites the grudge between him and his former best friend Sato (Danny Kamekona), in between showing Daniel his old home. Everyone is multi-faceted with stories of their own, and that’s one of the beautiful things about that film. While it’s probably going to be emotionally difficult with Morita, McCarthy, and Kamekona now gone, it’s not impossible to set part of the next season in Miyagi’s homeland.
But in order for that to happen, something’s got to give, for it is long past time for Cobra Kai to step up its representation game. With this new detail about the upcoming season out in the public, instead of asking if Elisabeth Shue (Ali Mills from The Karate Kid) is returning, we should start pressing the question of whether we’ll see Tamlyn Tomita and Yuji Okumoto from The Karate Kid Part II reprise their roles as Kumiko and Chozen respectively.