WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Season 2 of Cobra Kai.
For the most part, The Karate Kid franchise has been male-driven. Though Hilary Swank starred in 1994's The Next Karate Kid, the original trilogy focused on Ralph Macchio's Daniel LaRusso and his testosterone-fuelled adventures, while 1994's The Next Karate Kid reboot starred Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. Now, Cobra Kai is telling the story of Danny's continued rivalry with William Zabka's Johnny Lawrence years later.
It's clear male characters dominate the franchise, and yet Cobra Kai Season 2 doesn't follow in the same vein of the debut season. As a result, its most interesting feud ends up being one which acts as a major step forward in terms of gender equality.
Season 1 dealt with Johnny's son Robbie (Tanner Buchanan) being trained by Daniel, and developing his own beef with Johnny's protege Miguel (Xolo Maridueña). Between both dojos, there was only one female fighter of prominence: Aisha (Nichole Brown). In season 2, the series shifts away from its overwhelmingly male-driven plots to explore the story of Daniel's daughter, the zen-seeking Sam (Mary Mouser), and Cobra Kai's new hot-headed karateka, Tory (Peyton List).
As Sam and Robbie learn under Daniel at Miyagi-Do, Tory and Miguel strike up a romance of their own at Cobra Kai, leading to a highly aggressive love quadrangle. It's a bit cheesy to have Sam and Tory fighting over Miguel (who Sam dumped for Robbie), but it does align with their teachers' story, as Daniel and Johnny initially warred over Ali (Elisabeth Shue) in the '80s. But while the love angle is there to add drama, the girls' true rivalry runs way deeper than boy trouble.
Tory believes as a newcomer to the L.A. Valley, she has to stand out by being the alpha. Deep down, however, Tory's just jealous of the upper-class life Sam lives. Working as a waitress and seeing how pampered the rich are at the Valley's club house shows Tory she's seen as the outsider. Sam, on the other hand, believes, like her dad, no one should back down from a bully, especially a judgemental one like Tory, who has no idea what her life is really like. And so, we get a feud that's built on substance and not style, with both girls defending their character.
What makes the setup so interesting is, you're not sure who to root for. Tory feels like the underdog given her poor background, but in terms of skill, she's the Goliath to Sam's David, as the latter's not as advanced in karate yet. Both have a degree of sympathy to them, which isn't something you can say for the other heroes in the franchise like Daniel, who you backed fully. Also worth noting is that while karate is used by both girls to cope with their teen angst, they both make it clear to their senseis, this is all about feminism and showing girls can do whatever they put their minds to, even in male-oriented dojos.
It's a breath of fresh air seeing a couple of young women have their own epic story, making up for Swank's Julie Pierce having to settle for fighting a bunch of arrogant meathead males in her film. Here, we get a female perspective on both sides -- the hero and the villain -- reinforcing that Cobra Kai is dedicated to telling a progressive story. Here's hoping the winging method continues if the series rolls into a rightfully deserved third season.
Starring William Zabka, Ralph Macchio, Courtney Henggeler, Xolo Maridueña, Mary Mouser, Tanner Buchanan and Martin Kove, Cobra Kai is currently available on YouTube Premium.