Cartoon Catch Up | The Karate Kid: the Animated Series

Season two of Cobra Kai, a continuation of the hugely popular Karate Kid franchise, is back. This series looks to be an exciting addition to the Karate Kid canon. With four original films, a reboot with Jaden Smith and this series on Youtube Red, it looks like we have summed up all that Karate Kid has to offer. Right? Think again! The year was 1989, the network NBC. This was The Karate Kid; and it was animated.

A thirteen-episode series, short-lived as it was, managed to continue the adventures of Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi. However, this time they’re accompanied by a female accomplice, Taki. This series, much like many other animated adaptions of the time, took a somewhat more mystical theme. The overarching plot has our karateka hunting for a small shrine that had been taken from Okinawa. Cue the shrine turning up in random locations around the world, the gang stopping weekly villains, only for our artefact to be lost at the end of the episode, simply as an excuse to milk another globetrotting escapade.

Going into this, I didn’t expect much. I thought it would be on the same level as the Teen Wolf and Rambo animations of its day; a typical, cheap 80s cartoons. Surprisingly, it was not. Looking at the first episode only for this review, it was quite enjoyable, despite the classic visuals and reuse of backgrounds and shots. Sure, its age may put many people off, and one can’t say much for its flat grainy colours, but it is the pacing and energy that carries this show through.

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The plot of the first episode takes place in the Amazon with a villain who is laughable. Nevertheless, something special compels you to keep watching. It’s strange. The scenes all blend seamlessly together and the camera angles flow from one shot to the next. There’s something wonderfully pretty about the style here. There are fight scenes that show great use of animation principles and remind me of the smooth choreography of Jackie Chan Adventures.

Like most NBC cartoons of the time, the animation quality is far from bad and is accompanied by a score of fitting music. It’s calm and spiritual when it needs to be, mirroring Miyagi’s wise words. Then, when the fights kick in, it becomes more dramatic and forceful. However, not all of the audio elements are good. The voice acting is abysmal.

Created off the back of Karate Kid III, this series featured none of the original cast. Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, they are all absent and it shows. What we are given is a group of voice actors who half-heartedly try to impersonate the live-action cast and fail spectacularly. One of the standout aspects of the original films, as well as Cobra Kai, is the relationship between these characters. The lack of depth and emotion in the voices are what drags us out of the adventures.

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Putting that aside though, we see small episodic adventures that aren’t just about stopping the weekly villain. Unlike a lot of modern animations, the writers have thrown in morals and life lessons. The characters help others and Mr. Miyagi constantly tries to support his mystical beliefs through his cryptic words, somewhat channeling the style that Morita incorporated into his film role.

You have to realise that this series draws on the films, and not the other way around. This sometimes harms the show. It tries too hard to be the Karate Kid characters. In a lot of ways, the name of the show and its cast are the only connection to the original source material. The animation, despite occasional laboured attempts to imitate the movies, takes its premise, and our characters in a new direction, and on some level, you have to respect that.

This is a nice series. It’s fun. Nothing too heavy. Sure, you have to take most of it with a pinch of salt, but if you are looking for something light that will hold your attention, and you’re a Karate Kid fan, then a couple of random episodes of this might be worth checking out. Just don’t focus too much on the Karate Kid side of things and try to enjoy it on its own merits; for its stories, animation and style. It’s an adventure.


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