STARRING: William Zabka, Ralph Macchio, Martin Kove, Courtney Henggeler, Xolo Maridueña, Tanner Buchanan, Mary Mouser, Jacob Bertrand, Hannah Kepple, Nichole Brown, Griffin Santopietro, Vanessa Rubio, Gianni Decenzo, Peyton List and Paul Walter Hauser
When a new rivalry between opposing dojos is born in the aftermath of Cobra Kai’s controversial win at the All Valley Championships, Daniel realises his next countermove is to open his own karate training school called Miyagi-Do, in honour of his mentor Mr. Miyagi. What was once a personal feud between Daniel and Johnny escalates beyond their differences to engulf their students, who as teenagers, are already challenged to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Which path will they follow – Cobra Kai or Miyagi-Do?
Picking up immediately where season one left off, Johnny is surprised to be seeing a dead man in former karate teacher John Kreese in his dojo. As his former Sensei claims to be seeking nothing but forgiveness, Johnny, wanting to believe that people can change, allows Kreese back into his life and give him another chance by helping him out at Cobra Kai. Meanwhile, Daniel opens up Miyagi-Do Karate, creating a dojo not to show how to be a badass like Cobra Kai, but by showing others that there is a better way…balance. The rivalry between Johnny and Daniel now extends to their students, as Cobra Kai vs Miyagi-Do rivalry begins and leads down a course that could change their paths forever.
Cobra Kai continues to excel in its storytelling method of balancing 80’s tropes (the music, the karate montages, all the other kind of montages, that episode opener that’s shot like an 80’s music video is an absolute delight) with drama, comedy and absolute cheese. The Johnny Lawrence/John Kreese arc takes up a good portion of the first half of the second season, particularly if you’re a fan of the original films of The Karate Kid. We know Kreese as the evil Sensei, but here the season does a great job in actually making you sympathise with the Kreese of today as they humanise and humble him to the point that he seems regrettable of his past actions, yet you can’t help but feel there’s a more sinister motive at play from him here. Martin Kove plays this side of Kreese extremely well and provides another dimension to the series as we see how his ‘No Mercy’ mantra begins to affect Johnny’s students, especially Hawk. After how the All Valley Tournament final went down, Johnny seems more keen in bringing honour to the name of Cobra Kai and looking to make better men as part of his redemption arc, especially becoming more of a father figure to Miguel than he was to Robby, pointing out in a heartfelt moment with Miguel that “I failed my kid on his very first day in this world, and I’ve been failing him every day since”. William Zabka continues to impress as Johnny Lawrence, providing some real depth here that is genuinely Emmy Award winning like performances and witnessing Johnny taking to operate/get used to handling modern technology will never not be amusing.
Daniel LaRusso’s arc is interesting as Daniel tries to lure students into the teachings of Miyagi-Do Karate, and looks to be out of his depth as he realises that his style-teachings are not as flashy or kick-ass as Cobra Kai’s. Whilst not as flashy or focusing on the more offence-style of karate like Cobra Kai, we witness Daniel become a warm mentor and father figure to his students, from taking in Robby from a broken home, to how he tries to keep Demetri’s spirits up with Game of Thrones wisdom, it’s interesting to see the two sides of mentoring large groups between him and Johnny. The young cast prove to be just as solid here as they were in the first season. Mary Mouser gets more screentime compared to last season as Daniel’s daughter Samantha, as she joins Myagi-Do Karate and has he own karate rival in new Cobra Kai recruit Tory. There’s the will they/won’t they romance sub-plot between Sam and Robby, whilst we have the added dynamic of Robby moving into the LaRusso household. Demetri and Hawk also get more screentime as we see how their friendship from the first season flips 180 due to Hawk’s newfound confidence under Cobra Kai and how that affects Demetri. Xolo Maridueña is great once again as Miguel, who becomes conflicted with the ideologies between his Sensei and newest mentor Kreese.
For a lot of goodness the second season provides (a reunion episode being a particular highlight), there’s a few things that didn’t work for me. One of them was that Peyton List’s character Tory wasn’t developed much other than from a line of dialogue and that she had a chip on her shoulder almost every time she was on screen. Nothing against List’s performance, which I thought was good, just with the size of the ensemble for this second season, I felt her character wasn’t given enough time to shine. After all, one character they could’ve given less of a shine too was Paul Walter Hauser’s Raymond aka Stingray. As funny as he is as the character, he just felt misplaced in certain scenes. As great as the fight sequences are this season compared to the first, there is one particular sequence that took me slightly out of the realm of realism that the series has handled pretty well, but it’s more with the execution of said sequence that felt off for the show.
Whilst expanding its branches and not striking quite as hard as the first season, Cobra Kai still showcases why it’s becoming one of the most beloved series available at the moment, with William Zabka continuing to kill it as Johnny Lawrence. With a memorable finale, I can’t wait to see how season 3 pans out. 8/10