In the years since the release of 1984’s teen classic The Karate Kid, it has been fascinating to watch popular consensus on the film’s characters slowly turn around. Although at the time, it was meant to be the story of “underdog” Daniel LaRusso as he battles against douchey karate jocks and wins the girl, the audience view of Daniel has changed quite a bit over time. Whereas the film casts Johnny Lawrence as a villain, compelling video essays like the one below have pointed out that he only really fights when pressured into it by Daniel. In fact, upon further reflection, Daniel tends to come off as an arrogant troublemaker who consistently picks fights and instigates scenes of violence. Or in other words: He’s the real bully of this pair. Johnny is just a kid trying to do well in school and excel in sports, only guilty of behaving caddishly toward his former girlfriend.
It would seem that the creators of YouTube’s upcoming Cobra Kai series were taking these lessons to heart, because wow—the inversion seems pretty much complete in the new trailer for this series, which will stream on YouTube Red. In Cobra Kai, it’s Johnny who has completed his full transformation into protagonist, while Daniel’s cocky smarminess only seems to have been amplified in the 34 years since the events of the original film. Observe:
Johnny is now a down-on-his-luck drunk living in squalor, while Daniel is running cringey, karate-themed TV commercials for his local car dealership that surely would have embarrassed poor Mr. Miyagi. Daniel is also disrespectful to Johnny when he pays a visit, rubbing his victory in a karate tournament 34 years earlier in Johnny’s face.
But when Johnny Lawrence revives the defunct Cobra Kai karate gym to begin teaching a new generation of high school karate practitioners not to be “wangless dorks”—after beating the hell out of those kids, it must be noted—Daniel LaRusso isn’t having any of that. The mere presence of Johnny trying to succeed as a small business owner sends Daniel into a blind rage, and does it not look like they’re making him out to be the ultimate antagonist of this new series? He literally says: “He thinks he can bring Cobra Kai back to the valley? Not on my watch.”
It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how this plays out, but at the very least, this series is dipping into an unexpected grey area of morality for its characters. Cobra Kai arrives May 2 on YouTube Red.